Interview: Sarah Fielke on From Little Things

One of the coolest surprised of Fall Quilt Market for me was sitting down at the Lecien schoolhouse session and learning that Sarah Fielke, the co-author of the amazing quilt books Material Obsession and Material Obsession 2 and creative director of the Australian sewing supersite SEWN was one of the speakers, and was there to introduce her first fabric collection. The collection is called From Little Things. The prints are fresh, vibrant, a little funky, and completely different from anything I’ve ever seen before — a perfect complement to Fielke’s quilting style. I was really interested to know how the collection came to be, and to learn about the experience of a first-time fabric designer. Sarah answered these questions and more — including giving us a sneak peek at her third book — via email.

{ L-R: Jazz Hands and Maple Leaf Rag quilts from Material Obsession 2 (co-author/designer Kathy Doughty); Bye Bye Birdie and Pomponella quilt patterns from Sarah Fielke }

Will you describe your quilting style, for those unfamiliar with your work?

My quilting style is best described as Contempory Traditional. Many of the quilts I make are quite traditional in pattern, but never very traditional
in colour. I like to take old patterns or ideas from antique quilts and play around with how they go together and change the look of them.

How did the fabric collection come about, and how did you start working with Lecien?

I had designed a range of fabric previously for another company and the fit just wasn’t right, for me and for them, so we mutally pulled the plug and I really wasn’t thinking about fabric design, just working on my new book and enjoying not having the responsibility of owning a shop! I travelled to the Netherlands to teach and while I was there I saw the Lecien people, and had dinner with them. We had met before that around the place. They asked why I wasn’t designing, I explained and they offered – and the rest is history!

I am SO glad to be working with Lecien. They are so wonderfully friendly and helpful with the process of designing and the fabrics are such beautiful quality and well printed. I really do feel like I fell squarely on my feet.

What was it like designing fabric for the first time? Being a former quilt shop co-owner, and a prolific quilter, how did that inform your design process?

I have to say that despite having graphic design in my past and lots of quilting/ fabric experience, designing fabric was very daunting at first.
Especially since I had been asked to design such a large range – there are 41 pieces in From Little Things. As I went along though I found that the question I really had to ask was – would I use it myself? Because there’s no point having tricky repeats and computer graphics and all the bells and whistles, in trying to make something look a certain way, if what comes out at the end isn’t something you would buy yourself. As a shop owner I was always very conscious that if I didn’t like a range or find it useful, then I would have trouble selling it to someone else. I have always just done what I liked and gone with my own instinct with my quiltmaking and so I decided that was what I would do with the fabric. As a result it’s a bit quirky and unusual, but then so are many of my fabric choices.

What is the big idea/inspiration behind the collection?

When I left Material Obsession, I had a goal that I would write another book and design a range of fabric within two years. It seemed a huge task to go out and achieve on my own, but I wanted my own little business to grow wings. The idea behind the fabric is just that – that from a little idea and a small beginning you can grow big and exciting things. That’s the idea behind my new book too.

Will you tell us about the new book? What can fans of Material Obsession and Material Obsession II expect? Is it an Australia-only release for now, and are there plans to release it in the U.S. and other countries?

The new book is called Quilting: From Little Things. At the moment it will only be released in Australia, New Zealand, Britian, and Europe, with the US to follow later. I’m not sure how much later yet but I hope it won’t take too long.

The idea of the book and the idea of the fabric grew together. The book is arranged into pairs of 10 quilts. There is a dolly quilt (no larger than 20″) and a larger quilt in each pair. The idea is that you can try the technique out by making the dolly, and then decide if you want to make the larger quilt before you have to commit to a large project.

I’ve been making dolly quilts for a while now, and I run two dolly quilt pattern programs: Sarah Fielke Dolly Quilts through Rhinetex in Europe and Dollies Online, with Amy at Mrs. Schmenkman Quilts. I love them for their teaching ability as well as for their cuteness. It’s such a great thing for a student to make something in an easy, bite sized bit and then carry on with the technique in their own time.

The book is a very personal one. It’s the first book I’ve written on my own, but fans of the MO books will find a similar flavour to my quilts. The book is quite different though and reflects more my style of quilting. It was photographed mainly in my own house and in my family home, so leafing through the pages you get a sneak peek into my studio, my stash and my life. My dog Madam is even on the back cover!

If you are in the US and you want to order the book you can get it from my blog — I will warn you though that the postage is a little scary as the book weighs a kilo!

What are the latest developments at Sewn?

We are a little on hold at the moment. My husband, who owns and runs Sewn (I just write for them) has been pretty ill for a year or so
now, and so we are updating a lot more sporadically than in the past. This will change soon though, he is getting better and we will be back to out
usually busy schedule on Sewn soon I hope. These are the problems you manage when you run your own businesses!

{ Cosmo embroidery floss sample card. Image from Sarah’s blog, The Last Piece }

Please tell us about the colorways of From Little Things — what is your process for choosing colors, and how did you settle on the colors you did?

I wanted FLT to be a bit fluid, to have all the colours in all the colourways able to work with each other, and I think I did that quite well. All the prints from each colourway tie in with the others, and you can mix and match the prints throughout the whole range.

Lecien have a range of embroidery threads called Cosmo, and so the easiest way to start was with their colour card. I use primarily a lot of saturated colours in my quilts, but also a lot of white. I like lots of contrast and crispness, so the colours I gravitated naturally towards where the apple greens, candy pinks, red and aqua. I usually don’t like purple but I ended up with a lot of it in this collection and the purples are my favorites. I especially love the dark dusty purple stripe. I also used a lot of grey in the range because I love using grey and it’s really hard to find good grey fabrics.

{ All the prints from From Little Things. Image from sarahfielke.com }

Also please tell us about each print and how it fits into the collection.

Oddly enough I started first with the spots and stripes when I began designing the range – I am a complete nut for spots and the idea of having
my very own spots with my name on was just too much excitement for one girl. So I coloured those first, and then the stripes to co-ordinate with them, and went on from there.

The largest floral in the range is a medium sized, easy to use floral fabric – I wanted something that would cut up well for smaller piecing but also make a dramatic border. The flowers I’ve been told are a little scary – they have spikes and are a bit Dr Seuss looking. I didn’t do that
intentionally, they just came out that way.

Aside from the spots and stripes, the co-ordinates are designed to mix and match with the larger florals. The colours run across all the prints. There
is a large curvy flower with spots on it, which makes beautiful borders and backings, I also have a tote bag made out of it! There are two other graphics – a large 1″ check with a vine curing over the top of it, and a wallpaper stripe with tulips that reminds me of my bedroom when I was a little girl.

Then there are the birds. They’re a bit funky again, all wearing little hats with spots on and kissing over a flower. They were the print I was least sure of until I saw them as proper artwork, and now I love them! They’re fantastic to fussy cut and they would make gorgeous little dresses!

Thank you so much, Sarah, and our best wishes to your husband as he recovers!

5 Comments

  1. Jona says:

    What a fun interview! Sarah has such a unique style and it’s really interesting to read about her inspirations and vision. I must have that book!

  2. Vicki says:

    Thanks for the great interview! I love the greys and purples and birds!

  3. Lisa Gapen says:

    Looking forward to re-reading this with a nice fresh cup of coffee in the morning! Need to pick out some of these to make some of our Chic-n-Stix!

  4. Ann Ferguson says:

    Really interesting interview, thanks. I love the purples and stock them in my shop!

  5. Helen says:

    Good interview and the pics are excellent! Love it.