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. clair says:

    I love all of them! They are gorgeous! It would be a dream come true to win!

  2. Nicole says:

    I was already a fan of Jessica’s work, but I had not really taken the time to analyze her designs. I really enjoyed reading about each one and the ideas behind them. I am loving the willow, but they are all gorgeous.

  3. Courtney J says:

    I love how graphic the prints are! The Berry colorway is great.

  4. Kim Black says:

    Beautiful fabrics! And such a great story, thanks for the give-away!

  5. Beth Woodman says:

    I love Jessica’s designs. All of the colorways are perfect together…..

  6. Emily says:

    Oh I’ve been drooling over these fabrics since I first saw them! so lovely! what a generous giveaway!

  7. love the fabric selection!

  8. holly p says:

    This is such a great post! I love the fabrics but I also loved hearing how the line came to be. Very inspirational!

  9. Emily says:

    Absolutely love Timber! I think Ginko and Magnolia are my favorites…thank you for the opportunity to win!!!

  10. Angie says:

    Wow! I am so glad you did the interview with Jessica- it was really cool to learn where the shapes come from and especially the Magnolia- I hadn’t looked closely enough before to see the birds and nests- that look at first glance like flowers! I would love to win fat quarters of these awesome fabrics! Thanks!

  11. Erin says:

    I love them all… it’s so hard to choose!

  12. Carolyn says:

    Gorgeous fabrics and a wonderful interview.
    Thank you for the chance to win.

  13. Megan says:

    I stumbled across Jessica’s website one day about 3 weeks ago and I can honestly say ” I’m ADDICTED” Before her’s, I had never read craft blogs – no I can’t stop. I’m from a VERY small town in the middle of Indiana – with NO fabric shops – but as soon as head out on my honeymoon next week – we may be making pit stops to look for her line along the way!

    Thanks for the interview!!!!

  14. Karla says:

    Love the interview! I LOVE Jessica’s fabrics! I am finishing up some current projects and my next is definitely a quilt from the timber collection! I would love to win some fat quarters!! The magnolia is amazing with the bird nests!

  15. Christine says:

    Wow… inspirational! Love the colors and designs in the line. So pretty made up into the girls clothes too!

  16. Vicki says:

    It’s so interesting to hear about the lives and backgrounds of wonderful designers. Timber is beautiful!

  17. Amber H. says:

    Wow! I’ve seen this fabric on the web in various places, and it’s caught my eye, but reading this interview with the designer makes it much more personable! I love it even more!

  18. Nicole says:

    Fabulous fabric. I love it all.

  19. Becky S says:

    Timber is beautiful!!! Thanks for the giveaway, I would love to be entered in the drawing.

  20. BEAUTiful fabrics *swoon*

  21. brown robin says:

    Wow. wow. wow. This is the first time I’ve seen this fabric. So glad I stopped by…

  22. duff says:

    What an awesome interview! I’m so glad I just found your website and subscribed to the feed. Now that I know how difficult it is to get ‘picked up’ by a manufacturer, I will definitely try to purchase more from new designers. thanks!

    oh, yes, I would love to be entered to win some fat quarters! I feel a hexagon quilt coming on….♥♥

  23. Kacie J says:

    Amazing looking fabric!!! I would love to use it in a quilt this summer!!

  24. Jessica C says:

    Ooh, I would love a FQ pack in the Breeze colorway!

  25. Alex says:

    Just bought some of the berry fabric, and I LOVE it. Need more :)

  26. Liann Cooper says:

    I just started sewing a month ago and am dazzled by all of the amazing fabrics designers come up with! Thanks for the read. :)

  27. Sandy K says:

    How generous to give us a chance at such gorgeous fabrics….thank you.

  28. Tally says:

    Very interesting interview, thanks.
    I like the collection very much, mostly the breeze colorway.

  29. Michelle Balletti says:

    I love the Breeze colorway!! It would be funny if I won because my birthday is on Friday…..anyways, I’m glad I found your website, I will poking around right after I leave this comment. I hope you have a great day!

  30. Lisa says:

    This is a beautiful collection. Thank you for the chance so win some!!

  31. Liz B says:

    Absolutely gorgeous, and thanks for the insight into what goes on when you are designing fabric! Thanks for the chance at the giveaway.

  32. Val Miller says:

    Great interview .. love hearing about the process, and great fabric too! Loving them!

  33. Jessica says:

    Thanks for the amazing interview. I love how she seems to be such a nice, normal person. Someone I can relate too! The designs are amazing, and I’d love to play with some of these prints!

  34. Amy Sp says:

    The breeze colorway is beautiful! Thanks for the giveaway. :)

  35. Tracey J says:

    They’re gorgeous! I love these fabrics…

  36. Kristen D says:

    I LOVE Timber…I already purchased a FQB in Berry and I need more. There’s not a print that I don’t love!

  37. Patty says:

    Very nice fabric line. I thought the Jessica did an excellent job speaking about the process of designing and selling her fabric. Good luck with future endeavors.

  38. DebbLou says:

    Lovely fabric and such wonderful ideas… thanks

  39. Barb in MI says:

    Timber looks like a winner to me: I love the colors & patterns and enjoyed following the design/ development process in the interview! Thanks so much!

  40. Ashley says:

    I like the nature theme without too many flowers and the bold but soothing colors.

  41. Grace Wong says:

    wow, these designs are beautiful, I hope I win!

  42. Kim S. says:

    I am so crazy about this collection. Thank you for the interview and giveaway.

  43. Esther says:

    It was great to read the interview (and so inspiring!) Thanks for the great giveaway!

  44. Alissa says:

    I love the Timber line. It’s nice to hear the story of someone who wasn’t an industry insider before this collection!

  45. Jenniffier says:

    Those are great. I really like Magnolia I didn’t even realize it was a nest until I took a closer look. Thanks for sharing with us.

  46. kate shafer says:

    love the fabric & I love the stories :)

  47. Cat says:

    Very beautiful fabrics! I love trees and agree they are very inspirational! :)

  48. LizzyM says:

    LOVE these fabrics! So pretty… My favorite design (if I had to try really hard to pick one) would be Magnolia. Just gorgeous!

  49. Kelli says:

    Wow, I love it all! These colours and designs are amazing! Thankyou for letting us in on your designing thoughts.
    xxx

  50. Cruz says:

    Wow, I love the colors and the lovely patterns!