Interview: Violet Craft on Peacock Lane

Sunday Stash #109

{ the Peacock Lane collection. Photo by Red Pepper Quilts, used with permission. And see what she did with it! }

 

With Fall Quilt Market being only six-ish weeks away now, manufacturers are feverishly putting together samples, designers are sewing 24-7 to show off their new patterns and collections, everyone’s printing up a fresh round of business cards … and aspiring fabric designers are getting together their portfolios in hopes of wowing a company at market and becoming next year’s new big thing. That was  Violet Craft, mama, Portlander, and children’s clothing designer, in spring 2010. And at Quilt Market in Salt Lake City this past spring, she debuted her beautiful collection Peacock Lane for Michael Miller. I think her tale will inspire those preparing for Houston this year (and those preparing to prepare for a future Market!). In this interview, Violet also talks about how she brought a little Portlandia, a little retro Formica-esque crosshatchin, and a little inspiration from gourmet ice cream to come up with one of this year’s most vibrant and exciting fabric collections.

 

{ Violet with some fierce shoes at Spring Quilt Market 2011 }

 

Alright. First off. I’ve been dying to know, since I missed the whole phenomenon at Spring Quilt Market: what is a Sweet Hot Yam? Or is it like Fight Club and #1 rule is you can’t talk about it?

That question opens a whole can of yams. One of our one thousand mottos is “What happens at Yamcamp stays at Yamcamp … unless it’s on Twitter.”

The Sweet Hot Yams are my sewing circle … if only it were that simple. That’s how we met – or at least how all 13 of us came to be gathered in every corner of the Sew, Mama, Sew! headquarters with food, drink, fabric, and projects sprawled around us. From just about any topic under the sun, appropriate or not, you can hear the roar of laughter roll from the offices and travel all the way to the Twitterverse. But my real answer — the Sweet Hot Yams are my family; my sisters, my friends, my peers, my support, my guides, and my confidants in this crazy, crazy creative life.

Now it has sort of become a goal in my life to spread the love. For me, the party we threw at Spring Quilt Market in Salt Lake City was a little reflection of that love spread throughout our larger community.

 

Now, I remember sitting with you, Melissa Averinos, and Beth Dunn on the ground at Spring Quilt Market last year in Minneapolis when you shopping your designs around. You let me see your portfolio, and I was impressed with your designs, as I am now! Take us from that market to the release of Peacock Lane. Was that your first market at which you showed your designs? Were you expecting to find a match with Michael Miller? Did your designs change much?

Thank you so much Kim! I clearly remember sitting outside of school house sessions the day before market opened, meeting you in person for the first time and sharing my portfolio. I was thrilled to get your feedback and honestly as the weekend of appointments went on and my confidence ebbed and flowed I frequently thought of our little group sitting on the floor chatting and looking at my portfolio. When one of my appointments would criticize my work negatively I would remember the encouragement of that moment on the floor and I would think, “Obviously these are not my people.” And I swear to you, that kept me going to my next appointments.

When I planned to attend market and shop my portfolio I set up several appointments in advance. Some of the people I was meeting I have known for years as I was a fabric buyer and quilt market attendee for my children’s clothing line, Kung Fu Bambini, since 2002. Others I had never met and networked my way to meetings with them. Some of my appointments were with sales representatives, some with design directors, others with various jobs or titles. One of the sales representatives I met with has a grandson on the same T-ball team with a friend’s son. Everybody knows somebody and that somebody might know the person who has the ability to change your future.

Michael Miller Fabrics was my first choice and when I found out my appointment was pushed back to the last day I was a little devastated. I had this really pretty picture in my head of meeting with them, having them love the collection and being able to cancel everything else. You know, like winning the lottery. In hindsight, the way it happened could not have been more perfect.

I then began to work through the biggest emotional roller coaster of my life for three days! I started off with an encouraging appointment with a major company. They loved the concept, but wanted to me to entirely change my style to look similar to everything they already sell. Having no idea what to expect, I was initially pleased as punch with this review. I then had an appointment that wanted me to go home and draw what they wanted me to draw and come back to them.

The third appointment was just bad, bad, bad — but I expected as much from this company. Our styles were very different. When I booked appointments I wasn’t picky with them. I wanted as much opportunity as possible to have meetings with anyone and everyone that would see me so I could get the experience and learn about the different companies. They are all very different in how they handle their art acquisition and even this bad review of my work was beneficial for me. It was clear though these were not my people. So, after the first day I had a company willing to work with me as long as I was alright changing who I am as an artist. It was bittersweet.

Day two was again up and down. I met with a smaller manufacturer, whom I greatly admire and they LOVED it. This was the most enthusiastic review I had. The deal breaker for me was they buy their art outright. This means as an artist you receive a one-time payment for your design and they own it forever. This was not what I was looking for. A few more appointments that day and I was exhausted from being literally judged for two days straight.

Day three and my Michael Miller Fabrics appointment was approaching. I had one morning appointment and then was introduced to the design director at one more company that heard about my portfolio and was very interested in seeing it. (I can not stress enough, NETWORK!!!) I scheduled that appointment for later in the day after MM.

After lunch I met with Debi Porreca and then with Kathy Miller of Michael Miller Fabrics. I have a hard time putting into words what that appointment was like for me because it was such a hugely personal experience. Imagine if you will … this is THE company that I wanted to be with. This is many years of work culminated into one little binder of paper. This is my passion. I felt like my designs would fit into the Michael Miller portfolio and I already knew how much I loved this company for several reasons. Their quality is amazing, their design is clean, their Quilt Market booth is always stunning and I equate Kathy Miller to the Coco Chanel of Quilt Market. I swear to you I still shake when I call her on the phone. And this icon of fabric has just asked me to be a part of the Michael Miller family – and she didn’t want me to change myself one bit. These are my people. It’s all sort of a blur. We shook hands and I walked away completely awestruck. I was super hush about it until weeks later when the contract was in my hands and signed. I couldn’t believe it was true. I still pinch myself occasionally and have been known to head into a few local quilt shops lately just to see it on the shelves. It’s still so unbelievable. I truly hope I never get used to it!

 

 

What is Peacock Lane all about? The first Google search result is about a street in Portland that does it all up for Christmas, but of course your Peacock Lane isn’t a Christmas collection. But it has peacocks. And elephants. And beautiful, lush florals. Are there some local influences in there?

Peacock Lane is an eclectic fusion of my family’s life in Portland, OR. The real peacock sometimes lives in my mother- and father-in-law’s garden; although they will be happy to tell you how it has not been invited to do so — but my children love trying to see it when they visit. The elephants are residents of the Wildlife Safari in Winston, OR, where my in-laws worked for many years and where my husband worked his teenage summers in the snack shack — and again, a place that my children love. The fence from which many sister elements throughout the collection were derived is a conversation piece handcrafted in the early century especially for a home in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Portland where we currently live. Peacock Lane, the collection’s namesake, is the “Christmas Street,” also in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. The trees, ahhh, the trees … well, the trees came to me in a dream the night before I left for Quilt Market to show the collection. I popped out of bed and whipped them up and into the print minutes before having to leave for the airport. The florals are all flowers I have grown or admired on my walks and runs. I photograph them in detail at all stages of their life from seedlings to bursting blooms and from all angles. Then I draw them in bouquets as I’d like to see them. Every piece has a story, something I’ve seen, something I’ve experienced, something I’ve dreamed.

 

What are some of your favorite projects so far sewn with Peacock Lane? Did you design the collection with projects in mind?

I’m not sure I could pick favorites. I have really loved everything I have seen so far, and am amazed by the diversity with which it is being used! The most fun I have had sewing with Peacock Lane was at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show this year. I sewed pajama pants for all the Yams that stayed in a rental house together. I think I sewed nine pair of pajama pants that night and two matching pillowcases. I loved seeing which prints they chose to pair up together for their pants.

When I designed Peacock Lane I definitely had projects in mind. With my background in children’s apparel, my Portland Modern Quilt Guild influences, and my love for making home decor items, I wanted Peacock Lane to work for every one of those categories. For apparel, there are large print repeats with great contrasting geometrics. For quilting all of those large prints have small moments throughout that are perfect for fussy cutting. The prints have a sweetness for children, but a modern freshness for adults as well. I imagine them mixed and matched in so many ways to create clothing for adults, pillows for your living room, the sweetest nursery or a graphic, modern quilt. And the falling flowers prints come in nine colors to be mixed and matched as modern basics in any patchwork project. I wanted everything with this collection!

If I had an extra day (or three?) to do nothing but play with Peacock Lane my first splurge project would be an entire nursery in Cherry Chip. I have no new babies in my future, so the nursery would be entirely to fulfill my fantasies. The second would be a quilt made only from Ticking Stripe in green with solids. I would use the Ticking Stripe cut on the 90 degree angle and pieced into mitered corners cut from all different areas of the stripe. That stripe does amazing things when mitered. You never know, I do have a habit of getting an idea and staying up all night to see it through.

 

{ Rainbow Sorbet }

 

The two colorways have ice cream flavors for names (OK, I know sorbet isn’t technically an ice cream). Did you start with the names or was it the other way around? And how did you come up with the colorways?

When I was working out colorways I just couldn’t wrap my head around a second colorway. I kept making it all one very large color story — even now if you look at the two colorways, they do still make one large color story. At one point Kathy Miller suggested I should consider pink and brown. I was not happy about this. With my background in boutique children’s clothing I’ve stared at pink and brown together for girls for over a decade. And in my true stubborn way that is exactly what spurred me to try it.

Kathy said I should try “doing it my own way.” I thought about Cherry Chip ice cream – really, really good Cherry Chip ice cream with the deep bright cherry red against the rich dark brown. Now that was exciting to me! Cherry Chip was developed with that love of bright cherry red mixed in with the different shades of pinks and browns and a dash of pistachio green. Menagerie in brown, Wallpaper in pink and Parade Day in pink just sing to me. It just shows how a classic standard can be modernized and changed to be fresh and new again. Yes, it’s still pink and brown so it’s not threatening to someone unsure of making a bold, modern choice, but it’s rich and fresh in a bold, modern way. And it mixes so well with the Rainbow Sorbet if you do want to really push a modern mix with the grays and blues and yellow! I am dying to see a nursery done entirely in each colorway — so much so that I may have to do it myself just to get it out of my head!

So … when the collection launched and I mentioned that conversation to Kathy and how she had suggested it – she didn’t remember doing so! Oh, the power of suggestion.

 

{ Cherry Chip }

 

And while we’re on the subject, what’s your favorite ice cream?

I have problems with favorites of any kind because mine change daily … sometimes more than once a day. My youngest daughter frequently makes things for me and she is always asking my favorite color – and she knows to ask, Momma, what’s your favorite color today?

Right at this moment my favorite ice cream is Triple Chocolate Cherry Stout that the Mr. Craft and I made this last weekend — fitting, right? And now it seems to be moving in another direction … possibly creamsicle-ish. I’d say my food, design, apparel and everything-else favorites change daily depending on my mood. So yes, that just might be a hint as to what colors I’m working with right now, but don’t get comfortable with it! It might change tomorrow.

 

Stout, as in with beer? OK, that sounds good. As does the orange-and-vanilla-sounding direction for the future. So is it safe to assume you’re working on a follow-up collection?

I am! I am working on an early 2012 fabric release for Michael Miller Fabrics simultaneously with what I hope will be another 2012 release as well as some new sewing patterns and a few other surprises :)

Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell the stories of Peacock Lane!!!

 

Thank YOU, Violet!

13 Comments

  1. melimba says:

    wow! these are so great! congrats on such a beautiful line, Violet! Love that Rainbow Sorbet colorway SO much.
    And, Kim, love your interview questions you came up, as always!
    Great stuff!

  2. tracy_a says:

    Thanks! What a fun interview and a great line.

  3. This is a great interview with Violet Craft. I love and own Cherry Chip Peacock Lane!

  4. Great interview Kim and Violet! Knowing Violet personally, I still learned a bunch…and am even more inspired to get moving on my Peacock Lane quilt!

  5. happy zombie says:

    YAMSTASTIC!! LOVED reading about Violet and her sharing all the goodness that is her, and her fabric, and her stories, and that she’s just one of the most amazing and wonderful friends ever. But I was a little floored when I read “I popped out of bed”… REALLY? Violet… in bed? Possibly S L E E P I N G? Surely not, as I’ve long suspected Violet never sleeps. ‘Round the clock creative rockin’, that Violet.

  6. heather says:

    YAMMY-LICIOUS!!! Violet is one of the more creative, hard working, and inspiring Yams in the group!! Plus she sleeps in her panties when we share a bed!! LOL How can you not love her and her designs!! <3 Thanks Kim for sharing this love for our girl! xoxoxo

    Heather

  7. RD says:

    Great interview. It only touches on the talent and hardworking attitude Violet displays every day.

  8. SewLindaAnn says:

    that was a great interview. I loved when she interviewed with MM and they became “her people.” it was so emotional. I never realized the different personalities of dealing with different fabric manufacturer’s.

  9. shelly says:

    What an honor it is to call Violet my friend.
    She is an incredible designer too.
    Thanks for this interview b/c you asked some of the questions I’ve been meaning too!

  10. Laurie says:

    I love this line and I am wondering if it is underrated- it doesn’t seem like everyone is carrying it!

    • Violet Craft says:

      Laurie… thank you so much! You know, I have heard that. As my very first line I am not sure what I could have done to get the word out about it any sooner. I posted it on my blog, but unfortunately as a new designer… there weren’t many people there listening :) As the word gets out now orders are coming in – I am hoping it will continue to gain momentum and stores will order. Tell your local quilt shop! And thank you again!

  11. Thank you for this great interview! I loved reading about the market meeting process (hello, stress!) and really appreciate your honesty. I think your designs are really fantastic and I hope to see some of them in person soon. Make your stripe quilt!