Giveaway / Q&A: Jessica Levitt on Timber

Nearly a year after bringing her fresh designs to Spring Quilt Market 2009 to find a home, new designer Jessica Levitt sits down to share with us the tale. After you are thoroughly impressed, please enter our giveaway for one of three fat quarter packs of Timber — details at the end of the post.

Hi, Jessica! Thanks so much for talking with us. We’re all very excited about the release of Timber, your first fabric collection for Windham.

Thank you, it’s wonderful to have the chance to talk to all your wonderful fabric-o-holic readers!

Let’s start by talking a bit about the behind-the-scenes process for getting a fabric design from idea to finished bolt. How did Timber come about? What was your inspiration for the line? How long did it take you to refine your ideas into something you could show prospective companies?

When I start a design project of any kind, I almost always start with a theme. +I sort of hate to say that word because it evokes over-the-top kids’ birthdays (which I also love to do) and I try to go for a less literal theme-y look. I find that having a particular concept in mind limits me, but that limit also challenges me. In the case of Timber, it’s pretty obvious that the inspiration is trees.+I+really wanted to do something in nature, but I didn’t want to go too floral. +started looking at trees everywhere and thinking about their leaves and roots etc. And my favorite aesthetic is a modern version of Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts style, so I was sure to carry that through to each design.

I worked on the collection for quite a long time, probably about a year. +I’m not really a natural illustrator or painter, so I don’t just sit down and paint a pretty picture. Instead I conceptulize it, then sketch, then scan into the computer, then spend forever tweaking the design and the colors.+I wanted something that was more sophisticated than playful, so with each design I asked myself “would I want this as a pillow on my living room couch?”

And once I had the basic designs done, I had to draw on my knowledge of quilting fabrics and work on scale and value and all that. It was helpful that I’ve been sewing and quilting for so long, so I knew what I, as a consumer, would want from a collection.

You shopped your prototypes around at the Spring ’09 Quilt Market in Pittsburgh and had several bites by the end of the show. Can you tell us what the process is like finding a home for your designs?

First and foremost, it was nerve-wracking. You’re really putting yourself out there, and I don’t care how confident you are in your talent, that’s hard. Some of the developmental year was spent on the presentation I wanted to show manufacturers. I worked on beautiful printouts, and I also had the designs printed on fabric (using Spoonflower) to make samples. I made children’s clothing and even a whole quilt to show. I know that really helped manufacturers to see how it all worked together, and it was an added plus to them that I could sew.

I really didn’t know many people in the industry when I set off for Quilt Market the first time, but immediately I met tons of supportive folks, from shop owners to other designers (and of course you!) +Despite having to peddle my wares everywhere I went, I had a blast. It was amazing to meet so many people that just “get” the whole crafting/sewing thing.

As you said, there were several companies interested in my designs, and in the end I got to choose who to work with.+It was actually a tough decision because there were so many factors and really you just don’t know until you try it.

{ Timber on display at the Windham booth, Fall Quilt Market 2009 }

So what happens after you shake hands and sign on the dotted line? What happens to the designs that you created?

The next step is to review them with whatever company you’ve signed on with.+It’s a joint process to figure out exactly what makes the best collection. A manufacturer obviously has a good idea of what sells and what you need to include in your collection, so you might have to adjust scale or colors or sometimes cut a whole pattern. It turned out that I had spent so much time editing myself, that the changes to Timber were pretty minor. I felt like Windham really respected my artistic vision and for the most part deferred to my judgement.

After the designs are finalized you send them off to have samples printed, called “strikeoffs.” Then you work on those to get the colors just right.

And now here it is: Timber! Can you tell us a bit about the colors you chose and the inspiration for each print?

Sure. The colorways just basically started with my favorite colors (or what I’m into at the moment anyway). I love blues and greens so those came first (The Breeze colorway). They worked with the natural look and I kept them pretty soft. Then brown is one of my favorite neutrals so I decided to go for an earthy palette with Clay. And finally I felt I really need something pink or purplish for all the little girls (or little girls at heart) out there, so I added the Berry colorway. Each group coordinates because some of the colors carry over, but you can create totally different looks depending on your taste.

Now for the patterns … I think it all started with Gingko. I’m just crazy about gingko leaves. Probably because they’re used in Arts and Crafts design quite a bit. I started looking at some actual leaves and then flattened and simplified them to make the pattern more graphic.

Next was Dogwood. I knew I wanted a large, but fairly simple floral, and for this one I actually found some Nouveau clip art to start with. I changed some elements and added some and played with colors. Once I had those two done, the feel of the collection was set and it became easier to do the rest.

I added Bamboo because I’m crazy for stripes. I think they’re so useful in quilts for things like borders and bindings and more, plus they are always good accents in any lifestyle project. A lot of the stripes I’ve been seeing are varied in widths and colors (which I love and use a ton) so I thought a gradated version where the stripes were all uniform in width would be a cool change.

And it turns out Willow is almost a stripe too, although much softer. For that print I actually traced a bunch of willow leaves, and took the best and scattered them along long, never-ending branches.

Pear is based on a fairly popular almost mushroom shaped Art Nouveau tree.+I felt like repeating it in a very straight, simple way made it more graphic and “mod.” Of course I added the little “partridge” in the branches that gave it it’s name.

Maple acts as the solid of the group. I love those little seed pods. Remember sticking them on your nose or making helicopters out of them as a kid? So I thought they made the perfect little icon to show up in a very basic print.

And finally, we have Magnolia. This one wasn’t based on any real tree (I just chose Magnolia as the name because their leaf shape was the closest I could find).+I wanted to used the type of rose shape that Charles Rennie Mackintosh made so popular, but in different way, so I turned it into a nest. I don’t think it’s readily apparent that it isn’t actually a floral, but it’s fun that when you look closer and see the birds in the background, you get it. This was the most hand-drawn of all the prints. I did a ton of sketches and scanned in the best. I don’t often feel that’s my strength, so it was a step outside my comfort zone and a lot of people tell me that’s their favorite, so I think it paid off.

Beautiful. And now for a little of your background: how long have you been into fabric design? What has your career path looked like so far? Has your prior work life in (engineering, right?) informed your current processes at all?

Yup, I have a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. But I’ve always been a sewist and crafter. And I loved the idea of something more creative as a career. I’ve tried a bunch of other avenues from event planning to interior design, but I’m pretty passionate about fabric, so being a designer was always a dream (or at least since Amy Butler entered the scene and showed us all how it’s done).

I only started to do actual design with this line, Timber. I doubted my ability since I’d never used Illustrator or done much design on the computer, but it did come naturally. My previous career definitely helped with the computer end of things. I feel like I learned pretty quickly (it doesn’t hurt that I have a Dad and a sister who do graphic design and I could ask them a ton of questions). Also, there’s a planner/project management element to engineering which I carry over to all my creative endeavors.

Anything I have forgotten to ask, or anything more you would like to share with us? (I have baby brain right now, so I am sure there is more I wanted to ask!!)

Hmmm … the only thing I can think of is: what’s next for me? +I am working on a second collection, but I’m taking my time. I don’t want to disappoint my new-found fans! So you should definitely see some new designs by the end of the year. Otherwise I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy, including my two little ones at home. +:)

Thank you so much, Jessica! Can’t wait to see what everyone makes with your creations. Way to go!

My pleasure! +This was lots of fun.

……..
Giveaway Time! Just leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a fat quarter pack in one of the three colorways. Comments will close and a winner will be drawn next Friday, April 9, 2010, around 3pm Central U.S. time.

398 Comments

  1. Beal says:

    It’s great to hear the story behind the designs. They’re so gorgeous!

  2. Allison S. says:

    I LOVE this collection–my favs are the Helicopter print and the Ginko leaves. I’d love to add some of this to the (queen size) bed quilt I’m planning!
    Jessica, keep up the good work–I’m already looking forward to your next collection.

  3. Beth says:

    Timber is gorgeous!

  4. ChrisDavis says:

    The designs and colorways are beautiful. I’m looking forward to your next design.

  5. Jannette says:

    Lovely fabrics… I really like the willow, the maple, h I like them all!!

  6. Andrea says:

    I think William Morris would love all of these, especially the willow.

  7. Great interview! I’m so glad that I stopped to read it. This post has inspired me to pull the trigger and actually go BUY some of the Timber line. I have been drooling over it since I first saw it. My favorite? Pear, in the berry colorway.

  8. Erin Compton says:

    I have been following Jessica’s blog for about a year now and it was so fun to follow along as she revealed bits of this process. She’s a very inspiring person and I LOVE her fabric line, I can’t wait to see what she does next!

  9. June says:

    Great interview and gorgeous fabrics. I love all three colorways.

  10. Erica says:

    This is a wonderful giveaway. I love the colors of these fabrics, all of them! And the motifs look so nice, bit of early 20th century style….they would look so nice in my house!

  11. Meghan says:

    What a beautiful collection! It’s so cool to hear how it came to be.

  12. Gina says:

    Great fabrics and I love the insight of creating a fabric design.

  13. Laura Pearce says:

    So pretty! Just look at Pear in the Breeze colorway, seriously to die for!

  14. cassie says:

    I looove the Breeze colors! I’m using Pear in Breeze for my nursery. so cute!!

  15. Lynne says:

    Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous!!!

  16. thank you for the interview! It’s really interesting to see where the ideas come from.

  17. Nikki says:

    These are great fabrics! Thanks for the insightful interview and the very generous giveaway!

  18. Sally says:

    Oh I just love the fabric.

  19. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful designs and colorways! Can’t wait to see her next collection!

  20. Meg says:

    I love Timber! It definitely has style!

  21. Joy says:

    Lovely collection! Thanks for another great interview and giveaway.

  22. Terina Medina says:

    Wow such an interesting interview. Thanks for another great opportunity to win such a fabulous giveaway!

  23. lisa says:

    I absolutely adore this fabric line, and can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m already imagining a dress in the willow fabric.

  24. delitealex says:

    Great interview. I would love to win this fabric. Thanks for the chance to win.

  25. Mary Freeman says:

    Great fabrics and interview. Thanks for the giveaway!

  26. Heather says:

    I love this collection!

  27. kelly says:

    adorable fabric! the interview is great, so nice to understand where the designs originate. -kb

  28. Julie says:

    This was a really fascinating read, thank you – I’m always interested to learn more about the design process and what really goes on behind the scenes in businesses like this. I saw a few of these fabrics online the other day and wondered where they came from, I wonder if they’ll be available in the UK eventually? They’re all lovely, but the Breeze colorway is simply stunning!!

  29. jane says:

    Very good interview, always like to read what designers and thinking and actually doing. Love all these, but breeze is my favorite.

  30. Jolene says:

    I love reading these interviews. Makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of Timber. Especially the breeze colorway.

  31. Jenni says:

    Loved learning about your design process!!!

    I used fabrics in the “clay” colorway for some burp cloths and other baby things for my oh-so-sophisticated friend’s brown and orange theme.

  32. angela lashley says:

    although I love them all, the berry is definitely my favorite. I love the simple yet bright colors.

  33. Robin D. says:

    I love the maple and willow fabrics, thanks for the giveaway!

  34. Sharon says:

    beautiful — some of my favorite inspirations and motifs

  35. Alex says:

    Absolutely love this collection! Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this giveaway. :)

  36. Bonnie says:

    New fabric is such a happy thing.

  37. Sylvia says:

    So pretty! Love the ginkgo!

  38. kat says:

    already have a little bit of this line! would love to have more!!! ^_^

  39. SheilaC says:

    Great interview!! I love these fabrics…. in all colors, but I choose Breeze….

    thank you!

    SHeilaC

  40. WOW, what great interview; I feel so inspired! It’s so fascinating to hear about people’s creative process and how that gets melded with the technical and practical side of producing a product. Thanks to you both for sharing, and thanks for chance to win some of this delicious fabric!

  41. Fern says:

    The berry colourway is awesome!

  42. SoozeM says:

    Mmm just lovely, really like Breeze, but Berry and Clay and gorgeous too!

  43. Anita says:

    Beautiful fabric, I would love to be included in the give away – happy easter!

  44. PJ says:

    Love the collections. The ideas are just swimming in my head. I especially love the berry colorway.

  45. [...] love fabric, it’s true, and over at True Up, Kim has an interview with Jessica Levitt on her new fabric line, which I can’t stop thinking about. Also, leave a comment over there [...]

  46. Teri says:

    Breeze is such a perfect name for that colorway. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

  47. yaiAnn says:

    Love this line. So great! I’d love to be entered in the giveaway, thanks!

  48. Elizabeth says:

    I see so many fabric lines in my Google Reader, but this one made me stop and read the interview carefully. Good luck with your collection–I hope to snag some when it’s released!

  49. SoDucky says:

    Wow! I love the breeze and berry collections a LOT!

  50. Emily says:

    oh, man. they’re all so great, but I love the nests the most.