Quilt: Pickets by Cheryl Arkison

Calgary's pretty lucky to have quilt author and educator Cheryl Arkison. And I was fortunate that Cheryl generously offered advice on my design and colour selections as I made my way through the fabric design process.

Last November, I invited Cheryl (with her cute son!) to the studio to see the sample rolls that Windham Fabrics had sent over—and to select what inspired her to make a quilt for the Look Book.

She decided on a low volume selection of prints, including the metallic silver dots and alphabet, with hits of turquoise and red/pink/orange. Cheryl's the master at improv quilting, so I was excited to see what she would make!

The quilt is called "Pickets" and you can see the repeating vertical picket-like shapes throughout the design.

I love the variety in scale throughout. The details are gorgeous—it is quilted with a repeating U motif, as you can see in the photo above.

I highly recommend Cheryl's quilt books, particularly A Month of Sundays that is beautifully photographed around Calgary's Heritage Park. Cheryl chronicles her (many!) projects on the go on her blog, Dining Room Empire. You can also learn from Cheryl in person and online.

Detail photos and finished project photos by Kirstie Tweed of Orange Girl Photographs.

Q & A with Mickey Krueger at Windham Fabrics

Windham pins and a bundle of UPPERCASE fabric on display at QuiltCon earlier this year.

Windham pins and a bundle of UPPERCASE fabric on display at QuiltCon earlier this year.

Windham Fabrics is the quilt cotton division of a long-running family-run mill, Baum Textile Mills, which was founded in 1955. With a corporate history spanning so many decades—and changes of fashion—how does Windham balance traditional offerings with contemporary designs?  

Traditional designs and their history are of particular interest to me. My office is filled with 19th-century document fabrics and quilts that offer some of the most stunning surface designs. Like in fashion design, the tastes of those buying our fabric evolve and change over time. We deal with trends and changes in the mood of the marketplace the same as any other creative company. Considering our depth in designers and their varied styles, sometimes we follow those trends, and sometimes we buck them. We like to think that no matter what the sewist is interested in, Windham will have something that attracts them.

What are the hallmarks of a best-selling design?

This is a question that we constantly ask ourselves, but have yet to find a clear answer. Because of the nature of our business we are designing for so many end uses, which makes answering this question even harder. When considering traditional versus modern designs there are some basic differences in the aesthetic of what is popular. But even considering designs for the same audience we have seen what we think are home runs fail, and ho-hum designs become best sellers.

What is the best part of your job?

Although I do not consider myself artistic, I do love the design process. We work with so many designers, and the way a collection is developed is different for each designer. It is always satisfying to see a well-done collection receive critical as well as commercial success. This is best when the collection comes from a designer who might not be well known within our industry.

What qualities do you look for when sourcing new designers or surface pattern designs?

We have a customer base with divergent tastes, and a variety of needs. As a result we are always looking for designers offering something that we don’t already “have.” I suppose the designers that I look for are those who are true to their own aesthetic, but can still stay within the “bounds” of what we know our customers will find pleasing. While I am not afraid of taking chances with designers, I am still running a business and must prudently consider what we think will sell. For this reason I like to get my sales and design experts involved in the selection process because everyone brings something unique to the table.  

Display wall in the Windham Fabrics booth at QuiltCon.

Display wall in the Windham Fabrics booth at QuiltCon.

Are their specific trends in colour or motifs that you have noticed that are either ebbing or emerging?

I keep seeing clean lines, and simple motifs with generous use of negative space. With the help of the Internet, design proliferates very quickly. As a result, artists (and end users) pick up on trends very quickly, which can lead to a kind of sameness in design. The best designs come from those artists who can lend a uniqueness to a trend that separates them from the rest.

What is your advice for folks hoping to break into fabric design or to have their work licensed?  

Always be true to your own aesthetic, but don’t take for granted the needs of your client (or potential client). Be flexible, and be fast. If you are targeting a specific industry, learn a little about that marketplace, and present your designs in a way that the client will best understand in their own language.  


(This interview was originally published in the digital update version of the UPPERCASE Surface Pattern Design Guide, available as a free download when you sign up to the weekly newsletter. It was also published in issue 28.)

Step by Step

There were a lot of steps involved once Windham Fabrics said yes to an UPPERCASE collection. Here are the highlights of the process.

Decisions, decisions.
The first part of the process is to whittle down two dozen spine patterns into a more practical number.

Which colours?
Next, I survey the typical UPPERCASE colours and create a representational palette of hues used most often.

Colour corrections
I go through lots of ink cartridges printing off swatches and designs. I pair each design with the others to make sure everything is cohesive.

Subtle shades
Getting the colour just right takes a lot of comparison. It’s so subjective as well as being at the mercy of technology.

Strike offs
Once the designs and colours have been approved, Windham creates handprinted strike offs so that I can approve the colour and printing registration.

So thrilling
How exciting and fulfilling to see my name and logo on the selvedge! Shown here on the fabric strike off samples.

Project design
I design quilt patterns and select existing sewing patterns and projects that will best show off the beauty and versatility of the UPPERCASE collection.

It’s really real!
Weeks later, and 29 rolls of fabric arrive at my door. It’s still top secret. I have to create a look book that will be used by sales reps to sell the collection to fabric stores.

Sew, sew, sew.
Time to set up my sewing machine (and enlist the help of some friends and my Mom) to start sewing the samples.

Make (and admire)
Some of the projects combine paper and fabric, like these recovered sketchbooks in all sorts of enticing patterns. I can’t wait for the collection to be out in the world!

From pixel to paper to fabric

Back in 2009, as I sketched the initial design concepts for the launch issue of UPPERCASE, I knew one thing for certain: the magazine had to be thick enough so that it would have a perfect bound spine. This decision determined how many pages of content I would need—and also set the foundation for one of the most recognizable design elements of the magazine: the patterns that grace its spine.

With each issue, I design a repeat pattern that references the content within. The inaugural issue had circles as a recurring motif—bubbles, balloons and polka dots—so it was natural to start with a simple dot pattern. The second issue had a melting ice cream cone on the cover and so I drew a waffle hatch. In issue 5, I moved away from simple geometrics to a motif I call “butterfly floral,” simple ditties that echo the butterflies that appear in the cover illustration.

Lines, waves, bow ties, droplets, zig zags… the spine patterns were stacking up nicely! Each had their own personality, but over the years, an UPPERCASE style and colour palette began to emerge—and so did the inkling of an idea. Wouldn’t it be lovely to turn these spine patterns into fabric some day?

I’ve always been personally interested in surface pattern design, fabric, sewing and quilting—and I know many of my readers are, too—so it was illuminating to find out more about the industry in issue 21’s Surface Pattern Design Guide. The guide featured 100 designers and illustrators as well as advice from industry experts and was released in spring 2014.

UPPERCASE  issue 21 , cover by Molly Hatch. (Low inventory left—order this back issue soon if you'd like it for your library.)

UPPERCASE issue 21, cover by Molly Hatch. (Low inventory left—order this back issue soon if you'd like it for your library.)

The  UPPERCASE Magazine Surface Pattern Design Guide  as part of issue 21. Art by Jan Avellana.

The UPPERCASE Magazine Surface Pattern Design Guide as part of issue 21. Art by Jan Avellana.

A short while after that issue was released, I received exciting news from Jan Avellana, the artist featured on the cover of the Surface Pattern Design Guide—Mickey Krueger, president of Windham Fabrics had noticed her work and signed her to contract. In fact, Windham found quite a few new artists through that issue. 

In January 2015, I was invited to be a judge for QuiltCon and spent three intense days looking at hundreds of quilts. It was an amazing experience and quite a learning one, too, since I’ve never actually finished a quilt... yet! I did notice that there could be a niche for my patterns: simple yet interesting designs that could read as solids in both modern and traditional quilts.

In February of that year, I was filling subscription orders when I noticed that Mickey had renewed his subscription, so I sent a thank you email. The notion of UPPERCASE fabrics was still on my dream list, but I didn’t do anything about it just then. Later that month, Mickey wrote from Austin, where he was attending QuiltCon, to say that he was also fond of the quilt I had chosen for my Judge’s Choice, a stunning self-portrait by Melissa Averinos. I wasn’t able to attend QuiltCon in person, so I mustered up my virtual courage and sent the following message, with an attached photo showing a stack of magazines:

“I’m sure you have no shortage of ideas, but I’ve often dreamed that the spine patterns I create for each issue of UPPERCASE could be really nice for quilt fabrics!” 

Just hours later, he replied, “Fabric? Wanna talk?”

And the rest, as they say, is history. 

The UPPERCASE collection from Windham Fabrics will be on sale in fabric stores in June!

Sewing my first garment since Grade 9 Home Ec!

Photo by Crystal Reynolds /  Crystal Ink

Photo by Crystal Reynolds / Crystal Ink

With rolls and rolls of fabric, it seemed like at least one of the projects I needed to tackle for my Windham Look Book was to sew a garment! I was daunted... I haven't sewn any clothes for myself since high school. Rather than leave it for last—what I thought might be the most complicated thing to sew—I decided I should start with making a shirt first! I figured if it failed miserably, I would still have time for a plan B.

Luckily, I had help... in the form of a very thorough video tutorial "Sew a Sailor Top" hosted by Fancy Tiger on Creativebug. After downloading the pdf pattern (comes with the class!), I was able to follow along step-by-step. It was so helpful to watch the video before as preparation and then during the project for guidance... If you've never sewn a shirt before, I highly recommend starting with this one.  

It turned out great!

Photo by Kirstie Tweed /  Orange Girl

Photo by Kirstie Tweed / Orange Girl

I used two fabrics with the same turquoise and black, to add some interest at the collar... and a little surprise as a lining in the sleeve hem.

photo by Kirstie Tweed /  Orange Girl

photo by Kirstie Tweed / Orange Girl

Once I got started, the project went quite quickly. With my pattern cut out and prepared, I could easily sew another top (or two!) with some other colours.