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


{ 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.


  1. stacy says:

    Great prints! I’ve always wanted to try a charm pack, too!

  2. Jill B says:

    So pretty and I love that they’re organic!

  3. Cynthia says:

    would definitely make a quilt for the fall with the brown colorway.

  4. Katie says:

    Great interview! I love that shirt!!!

  5. Wendy says:

    Love the colors! Exciting news!

  6. Kristy says:

    I love those fabrics. You know how in each collection there are usually one or two prints that you could take or leave? Not so in this bundle!

    I will most sureley be seeking these out as well as waiting (not so patiently) for the next collection!

  7. Mama Mel says:

    I love this fabric collection! I would REALLY love to win it! Thanks for the opportunity! :)

  8. Cathie says:

    So fun to see lots of color!

  9. Njeri says:

    Her prints are bold, vivacious and so unique, i would love to make a project.

  10. jackie says:

    I love her colors and the organic line.

  11. Cathy A says:

    It’s a great collection of fabrics, and even better that it’s organic.

  12. Violet Craft says:

    Great interview Kim! You asked Nancy a lot of the questions I had in my head and it was great to hear her responses. Having manufactured in the US for eight years I’m extremely excited to see the fabric industry re-expand in US production however slowly, but surely. Congratulations Nancy!

  13. Alison says:

    Really informative interview thank you

  14. sy says:

    thanks for hosting the giveaway, the fabrics are so pretty. i love the designs in mod green pod.

  15. Johanna says:

    Thank you for the giveaway and the interview!

  16. Karen says:

    I have been in love with this collection since the first picture I saw of it. Would love to win some as my fabric budget is all gone.

  17. Lisa says:

    What a truly inspiring line of fabrics! And it’s great to see ‘green’ fabrics becoming more easily available to all of us.

  18. Jacqui says:

    I love the fabric Nancy’s top is made from, the offset colours on the flowers give it such a wonderful retro vibe – and it’s organic! I’m always amazed how far organic fabrics have come from the old days of horrid stiff hemp clothes in dodgy shops.

  19. Vicki says:

    Thanks for a great interview and a wonderful giveaway.

  20. rachal says:

    wow, these look lovely!

  21. marg says:

    loved the interview and thanks for the giveaway

  22. Cathy says:

    I’m so excited about this fabric!

  23. Susana says:

    Thanks for a great interview. And the fabric; far, far, from beige and boring! Love the daisy print the best.

  24. i’m so thrilled about the momentum that organic fabrics are starting to gain in the “mainstream” market. that there is now a line that is both “affordable” and fashionable is wonderful! :)

    i hope the trend with more sustainable practices continues! :)

    great interview! :)

  25. Leandre says:

    These are great, happy prints. I would love to win them! Thanks for the interview and the giveaway.

  26. Every time I log onto your blog, I learn something I had no idea existed. Good work. Carolina

  27. Briana says:

    Thanks for the interview. It is exciting to see organic cotton making its way into the world of quilting!

  28. Wendy says:

    Oh! I love 10′ squares and this fabric is so different.

  29. Vicki says:

    Beautiful fabric – Love this blog!

  30. Katie B says:

    Thanks for the interview! Great fabric.

  31. Doris says:

    It’s fun to see these new-ish designers being released to a wider audience.

  32. Sequana says:

    I’d just LOVE to get a start on working with these fabrics!

  33. Susan Jonsson says:

    Gorgeous….Recentlyly purchased the squiggles and stripes…What fun it would be to add more to my collection. Thanks for the chance to win.


  34. Trasi Judd says:

    I’m so excited that your collection has expanded to quilting cottons! I am definitely going to be getting some of this to start sewing with in the fall. Beautiful patterns and color palette. Wish more fabric houses would go organic!

  35. Grace says:

    This fabric is so pretty. I would love a quilt made with it.

  36. ashley says:

    great interview and wonderful fabrics! I love the fact that they’re organic yet still affordable! I didn’t realize there were corresponding solids – must go searching for those! :) thank you!

  37. laura says:

    love love love!

  38. Anne says:

    Wow-what a collection!! I just love the vivid colors and the fact that they are 100% organic. I would be honored to make something.

  39. Tricia says:

    So fresh and fun!

  40. Dana says:

    Love how bright that line is, and it’s organic, wonderful.

  41. jodi says:

    Gorgeous! Never came upon these fabulous fabrics before.
    Thanks for the chance!

  42. Annie says:

    I love your interviews, Kim. It is always interesting to hear about the process behind the stunning fabrics we see here. I think it is people like Nancy and Mod Green Pod that will help our struggling economy get back on its feet. Also, great pictures to go along with the interview.

    If there is an award for best blog entry, I would nominate this one!

  43. Mitzi says:

    I love your blog and somehow have missed you’re a fellow Austinite. This city is so full of amazing and creative people. Thank you for highlighting Nancy. What a fantastic line of fabric!

  44. Jeannette says:

    Nice interview as usual! I love reading your blog and learn so much. Thanks for the giveaway and all your information!

  45. andria says:

    What beautiful fabric!

  46. Susan says:

    Interview with Nancy was awesome, her designs are beautiful and her American spirit is morale boosting! She will get more of my fabric bucks, that’s for sure!!

  47. Lisa says:

    Such a wonderful interview! Great designs!

  48. Janice says:

    The colors are just fantastic and the interview was very nice. Thank you.

  49. Megan says:

    SWEET! Love the vibrant colors.