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. Rosemary says:

    Oh my…I love the breeze colorway!

  2. Katy says:

    love it all && would absolutely LOVE to have some! :)

  3. Nancy B in Many LA says:

    Beautiful fabrics – love the prints and colors!

  4. Veronica says:

    I love the collection. Well done.

  5. Jessica b says:

    I love the fabric. hope I win. thanks for the giveaway

  6. gina Snyder says:

    Oh I love the fabric! Especially the dogwood!

    Hugs,
    Gina

  7. Jenna says:

    Lovely fabrics… I will have to pick up some to make that first dress for my daughter, who is just now 1! I love the beautiful way the color pallets blend together.

  8. beautiful palette! i love that maple is the solid – it’s perfect.

  9. Colleen says:

    What a beautiful fabric collection! It is so fun to hear about the whole process used to create it, and all of the samples are just beautiful. Thanks for the chance to win some!

  10. clarissa says:

    i love every fabric more than the last!
    these are gorgeous!!!
    xo
    -c

  11. Tracey says:

    Beautiful fabrics! And a great interview too!

  12. Ashley says:

    great interview! i’ve been following Jess for quite some time now, and it was fun to get an insider look at how she came up with the individual prints for her line. I’m definitely making a quilt out of it once I have some free time! :) Thanks so much for the great giveaway!

  13. Sandra Davidson says:

    Enjoyed the interview, the fabric is great I love how it is so modern but fun and the colors are beautiful. I especially love the berry and breeze colors and can see some beautiful quilts and wall hangings.

  14. Sara R. says:

    I love your fabric and your story about printing up your own fabrics on Spoonflower to shop them around is truly inspiring to all of us crafty people. Keep up the good work!

  15. Jan L. says:

    Terrific! I can’t wait to sew for my grandchildren with these fabulous fabrics.

  16. Kiza M says:

    Beautiful fabrics! All of the colorways are so nice, it’s hard to choose a favorite.

  17. kern says:

    Really gorgeous. I particularly like the clay colorway.

  18. hayley l. says:

    Lovely fabric line and each of the colorways are so great!

    Thanks for the chance!

    secretcake (at) yahoo (dot) com

  19. VirginiaK says:

    Who doesn’t like Magnolia trees, just beautiful. The colorways are so rich with the clay being my fave, so grounding. Thank you for Timber Jessica!

  20. Margaret says:

    Fab. Thanks for insight into the design process.

  21. Eloise says:

    How weird! I just bought 2 and a half yards of Pear (in the breeze colorway) to make a little sheath dress. I hadn’t heard of the line, but was really excited to see it in my large but none-too-contemporary local fabric store. It’s such a cool coincidence to see a breakdown of the whole line here.

  22. Nicole G says:

    Thanks so much. I love hearing from designers. It makes their fabrics that much more special.

  23. Yolanda Cunningham says:

    your line is so pretty. i love running into these type of blogs and learning so much about an artist’s process, it gives me hope in my own creative dreams. i tried to pick a favorite pattern and colorway…but i couldn’t because i love them all.

  24. Karen says:

    You have done a fabulous job on your first collection. I will certainly be buying some as soon as I can.

  25. Serena says:

    All three of the colorways are so beautiful. I can’t pick a favorite! I love the gingko leaves. ;)

  26. Rafael's mum says:

    Thanks for sharing your design process. I love your fabrics. Thanks for the chance to win.

  27. Elizabeth G says:

    I love the clay colorway! The whole line is beautiful.

  28. Jana says:

    Love the colors and the Design!!

  29. Johanna says:

    I have been following Jessica’s blog for a while and was so happy when she announced that she had a whole collection for us. She is sweet, has great ideas when it comes to sewing and now this amazing collection. Simply wonderful!

  30. Viv says:

    Gorgeous, I love the colours and fantastic pattern. Great work Jessica.

  31. amanda says:

    Wonderful. It’s hard to decide what my favorite colorway is!

  32. Stacey says:

    the fabric designs are so pretty!! I would love to give it a new home. thanks!!!

  33. Jocelyn says:

    Wow! Love the fabric. Beautiful line. Thanks for entering me :-)

  34. Gorgeous! I love the Clay colorway.

  35. Cindy says:

    I love this line. Pick me, please!

  36. LizM says:

    They’re all so beautiful–I will definitely be keeping an eye out for these!

  37. NorahS says:

    I am impressed! That fabric is lovely!

  38. Mary Ann says:

    Wonderful sense of color and design and the clay colorway is a great departure!

  39. Laurie says:

    What beautiful fabric! And great interview – so interesting to read how the designer process works once signing up with a company. Good luck to Jessica – pretty darn good for an electrical engineer!

  40. Ruth says:

    I LOVE Timber! I already used it for one quilt (a virtual quilting bee, actually!) and am eager for some more. :)

  41. Sharon says:

    There is so much beauty that the Gingko pattern can inspire.

  42. Anita Amodeo says:

    Love this fabric, the colors are glorious!

  43. Melanie says:

    What a lovely mix of fabrics!!

  44. Ali Hedrick says:

    I love this fabric! Thanks for sharing with us your inspiration behind each line!

  45. Kelly O. says:

    wow! so glad you highlighted the whole collection! beautiful–now I have to save my $$ so I can buy some!

  46. Amy C says:

    This collection is so beautiful. I just love the colors you chose, Jessica!

  47. Leslie says:

    the timber fabrics are amazing…they would make a awesome quilt. thanks for the giveaway

  48. Emily says:

    WOW. What a beautiful collection of fabric. I am drooling over it. I hope I win!

  49. Brittany says:

    Wow, I LOVE the Magnolia print, especially in Breeze.

  50. yvonne says:

    Your collection is beautiful. I want to make a quilt for my daughter and each and everyone of these fabrics would make and awesome quilt.