Interview: Nancy Mims on Free to Grow (With Giveaway)

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{ Nancy Mims in her booth at Spring Quilt Market 2010 in Minneapolis — outfit by Kathie Sever of Ramonsterwear }

There were so many fabulous fabrics that debuted at Spring Quilt Market this year, and to me, Free to Grow by Mod Green Pod for Robert Kaufman was up there amongst the most exciting. That’s not only because Mod Green Pod co-founder and Creative Director Nancy Mims is a fellow Austinite, but because Free to Grow kind of represents the holy grail in the retail fabric world — a premium quality, 100% organic cotton print collection that is priced on par with conventionally grown and manufactured quilting cottons. And what’s more, it’s a beautiful, vibrant, and fun group of prints.

Nancy worked with Kathie Sever of Ramonsterwear (another fellow Austinite) to create one of her amazing custom Western wear ensembles out of Free to Grow. If you ran into me at Quilt Market, I probably cornered you while I located the pictures on my camera to show them you! What can I say, I’m a sucker for piping. This outfit has to rank amongst the best self-promotional outfits in quilt market history!

Free to Grow also has a companion group of 15 organic solids, called PURE Organic. There are three free patterns using these collections available through the Robert Kaufman site — the gorgeous Hanging Garden quilt by Scott Hansen of Blue Nickel Studios and Sew to Grow by Tina Michalik of Little Blue Cottage, and the sweet Itty Bitty Baby Dress by Made by Rae. See here for even more sewing inspiration.

I can’t believe I’ve never interviewed Nancy before here on True Up, but between Free to Grow’s debut and some exciting Mod Green Pod developments, now’s the perfect time. For your chance to win a Free to Grow charm pack, stick around till the end of the post …

{ Free to Grow fat quarters, Summer colorway }

I understand you have a long history as a surface pattern designer. Can you tell us about that and how it led to you co-founding Mod Green Pod?

I’ve been a surface designer for just over 10 years. For the first many years, I sold my artwork to mostly the apparel industry through a print house in New York and a swimwear/sportswear agent in Los Angeles. I LOVED the creative freedom that I had as a ghost artist because I didn’t have to focus on a branded style, and that allowed me to explore different styles and slowly focus on what has become my signature style.

As I began honing in on my own style, I had an increasing desire to make my own products so I could have complete control over everything from the designs to the manufacturing methods. I had a mental list of what I wanted my products to be: beautifully designed, but also environmentally friendly and produced ethically. Eventually, I paired up with my sister-in-law, who had a background in finance at Kate Spade, and she and I arrived at organic cotton home textiles (and soon afterward, we added non-vinyl wallpaper). We were first to market with high-design, printed organic cotton home textiles, showing the design world that green didn’t need to mean beige or boring.

I know one aspect of production that is important to you is keeping as much of your production as possible in the U.S. And that’s so hard to do these days with so few textile and printing mills still in operation. Do you think that the growth of interest in organic textiles and the growth of digital printing will help revitalize the domestic textile industry?

Mod Green Pod’s home decor textiles and wallpaper are all made in the U.S. It was a no-brainer for us from the very beginning and as soon as we started visiting our facilities — and seeing both the recent deterioration of the industry over recent decades as well as the great potential to bring back the industry in a bigger, greener way — we committed ourselves to sticking with our U.S. partners for our self-manufactured line.

The digital printing phenomenon is fascinating and exciting and I feel like it has helped revitalize the ENTIRE textile industry by just bringing more and more print and fabric fans to party. More and more people LOVE, want and use printed fabric (as YOU certainly know!) and having so many new options for prints and processes and price ranges is helping boost the entire industry. Hopefully the boost to the industry will help steer it to become a greener industry, too.

How did you start working with Robert Kaufman?

A mutual connection in U.S. textile manufacturing introduced me to one of the Kaufmans. The company was already on my radar because they were one of the few big textile companies to have already explored a few organic cotton fabrics. Indeed, they were looking to expand into organic cotton prints, so it was great timing. Immediately, I had a great feeling about the company, met with them in California and at the Houston Quilt Market in ’09, and the conversation quickly turned into “okay, let’s get this program going!” I feel really fortunate to be working with Robert Kaufman because in addition to producing high quality products, their team is made of wonderful people who love what they do and love working for the company. They have gone above and beyond my expectations for the Free to Grow collection and I look forward to the continuing journey.

I’m sure the hope is that more quilting cotton manufacturers follow Robert Kaufman’s lead … I know there have been organic collections from other major manufacturers but this is the first print collection, as far as I can recall …

Well, Harmony Art was the first company to launch a line of printed organic cotton sheeting & craft fabric; Harmony launched at about the same time that we launched Mod Green Pod’s home decor line and I have profound respect for what Harmony has done to spread the word about the importance of organic cotton.

Robert Kaufman is the first major textile company to launch a full collection of organic cotton prints, which is pretty major for the organic cotton world and for textiles in general. I love that Kaufman jumped into it in such a committed way. They have a great reputation for high quality textiles and they made sure that the Free to Grow collection was up to their own high standards AND up to very high standards for organic cotton.

How was it to design for another company rather than for your own, and to design a quilting cotton collection as opposed to the upholstery fabrics and wallpapers that you do for MGP?

Designing prints is definitely my favorite part of my job, so I love the opportunity to expand Mod Green Pod’s designs into another realm. The biggest challenge I face is making sure the designs look like Mod Green Pod signature designs but don’t look too much like the home decor prints. Home decor prints (fabric and wallpaper) have a simpler, more sophisticated look to them, where quilt prints can have more movement and whimsicality. The scale of home decor prints can be larger, to cover larger areas, while quilt fabrics need to look great in large or tiny pieces. Quilt designs need to be understood in a variety of sizes for a wider variety of applications. The colors are also different; I used a lot of my favorite colors — and some that are in the decor collection — but I got to go a little crazier with color on the quilt collection.

Free to Grow isn’t the only thing that’s new for you … can you talk a bit about Mod Green Pod’s new custom collection? How did that come about? How does it work? How do you recommend people go about choosing a custom palette? (I bet non-designers would be intimidated by this prospect!)

The custom program evolved from custom work we’ve been doing all along. Customers would call and say, “I love your Atticus print, but I wish you carried it in fuchsia” so we figured out a way to do it on large and small scales. Eventually, we realized that we needed to broadcast our custom capabilities, so we decided to do that by bringing out new designs that are exclusively custom. We’re still rolling out the program and hope to expand it in the near future.

Choosing a palette is sometimes challenging, so soon we’ll be posting a few standard suggestions on our website. Meanwhile, my best advice is to have fun with it. Start by pulling colors from the room where the piece of furniture will reside. If you are covering a side chair, pick out a color (or tonal shade of that color) from your sofa and perhaps the color of the walls to help tie the room together. We can accept paint chips or other fabric swatches to help make sure the colors match. Or send us a photo of your room and we can give suggestions. One of the things I aim to do with the custom project is help people get over their fears of choosing colors. Color selection should be enjoyable and rewarding!

{ PURE Organics Solids }

What is next for Mod Green Pod? And for your collaboration with Robert Kaufman, if you’re allowed to say?

My next collection for Robert Kaufman was just approved, so soon I’ll be working on the colors for that group. I’m hoping to find a little time in the next few weeks to actually play with the Free to Grow collection and make a quilt. I haven’t made one in years and really feel a need to with my own fabrics! Meanwhile, on the home dec side, we’re working on some exciting new partnerships and have several fun custom projects in the works. As always, I continue to build our design portfolio for future projects.

Thank you so much, Nancy! Nancy also says she’d love to see your projects made from Free to Grow, so please email her your pictures. How about making something out of a free charm pack (10″ squares), hmmm? I have one pack in the summer colorway (pinks/yellows) and one in the spring colorway (aqua/brown/yellows) — sorry, I don’t know what happened to my garden pack! Just leave a comment and I’ll draw winners next Wednesday, July 21, around 4pm CDT.

167 Comments

  1. Robin says:

    These are indeed beautiful.

  2. knittymama says:

    Such fun prints. Would look great in my living room!

  3. Fulvia says:

    I enjoyed the interview–thanks for sharing and good luck to you. I’d love to make a quilt with these, thanks.

  4. Christy says:

    These colors are gorgeous! I can think of so many things to do with them!

  5. Sue Goodin says:

    Great prints. love the colors. Thanks for the great giveaway

  6. Korie says:

    I LOVE this collection! I have ordered some of the “Loopy” fabric for some apparel sewing. I haven’t decided whether to make a skirt or dress out of it.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  7. Debra says:

    So pretty! Love the bright fun colors, would make such a fun quilt.

  8. Jennifer B. says:

    Wow! What a beautiful bold line of fabrics!

  9. So inspiring! Love to visit your blog for my fabric fix!!

  10. Hannah says:

    Thanks for the awesome giveaway!

  11. Melissa says:

    Beautiful fabrics! Thanks for the giveaway!

  12. katrina says:

    OOOH I’d love to win! thanks!

  13. carmel says:

    beautifullllll fabrics!
    love this collection
    thanks alot!!!

  14. Amy says:

    I love this fabric! Thanks for the chance!

  15. Jenny G. says:

    it’s great to hear that these sorts of fabrics are making it down to a more accessible price point!

  16. carrie says:

    I love the floral prints! So cool!

  17. Sheree says:

    This is such a wonderful, colorful organic cotton collection that I am excited to get my hands on!

    Thanks for a great interview, Kim.

    Sheree