How do I put this. Denyse Schmidt is kind of amazing.
I’m stoked to ‘have’ her on the blog today, talking about being a modern quilter and modern woman. Denyse has been referred to as the mother of modern quilting and the Wall Street Journal called her ‘The Queen of the ‘Neo-Hillbilly’ Quilt’ With a background in graphic design and graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Denyse’s style is strong and distinctive. Enjoy this insight into Denyse’s life as a modern quilter and a modern woman.
Tell us about how you started quilting and how you found modern quilting.
I learned to sew garments from my mother. She had learned from her maternal grandmother (I have her old treadle machine), and made clothes for her 4 kids and for herself. I grew making softies, doll clothes, and clothes for myself. In high school I made a double-breasted suit for myself, with bound button holes and horse hair interfacing – I used traditional tailoring stitches on the lapels – the whole nine yards. In college and through the years, I’ve held some random sewing jobs: a season in the costume shop at the Boston Ballet, making ecclesiastical vesture at a monastery to name a few.
As a quilter I am self-taught. I found out after I started my business that my grandmother made utilitarian quilts, but none of those survived. When I started my business, I took a workshop with Nancy Crow to get some momentum, as I was still working full time. My career track before starting my business was graphic design, and learning to draw and design with a computer at a time when it was a nascent trend in that industry has served me well in many ways, such as being able to earn a living while launching my business, being able to translate my sketches into quilt designs to scale, and being able to quickly audition color variations. Now however, I feel like a dinosaur! Keeping up with technology and more recently social media can be a career in itself, and it has deeply changed how we do business and how we interact with one another. Lately, I find I suffer from social media fatigue. The challenge is to find the balance between connectivity and being disconnected, a balance between seeing what everyone is making vs. actually making myself. My process seems to require a degree of working in a vacuum, otherwise I am too distracted/defeated/bored.
What does it mean to you to be a modern quilter and a modern woman?
I’ve always considered myself a modern woman (by default) and an artist/designer. When I started my business in 1996, I used the word “modern” to differentiate what I was doing from contemporary art quilts and more home-spun traditional or folk quilts. I identified very strongly with the history and romance of quilt making in America, but what I felt most inspired by (antique and vintage quilts that were imperfect/quirky, improvised, or super simple) wasn’t being replicated in the various quilt realms at the time. I wanted to reach an audience of design-savvy customers who weren’t necessarily aware of the sources I was looking at, so it was a way “in”. I’ve never been really comfortable with labels, or being pigeon-holed in any way, and now that “modern quilting” has somehow become more of a marketing term, it can rub the wrong way at times.
Which quilt that you have made represents you and why?
This is like being asked what is my favorite color! I have created a lot of quilts over the last 20 years, and there is a range of styles and approaches that represent different sides of who I am, and how I think. There are quilts I’ve created as ‘one-offs’ for exhibitions, and these I approach as an artist – I create a series of pieces that tell a story (at least to myself), that have an underlying context or idea. Other quilts, such as my early Rugby Stripes quilts in my Works Collection, were made with my designer brain – to solve certain parameters, to meet the needs of certain customers, and be sustainable in a cottage-industry way of making.
How do you connect with other modern quilters? What does it mean to you to have this sisterhood of modern women?
I connect with my colleagues in the industry through the trade shows and through shared endeavors like teaching workshops. My closest friends are creative, modern women in other mediums and industries, and all of these relationships were developed over the years at school, jobs, or through mutual friends. I have met with a group of friends (we call it Girls Group) for nearly 20 years. We still meet monthly, though how we help one another in our endeavors has changed as our experiences and businesses have evolved. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without them!
Want to connect with Denyse?
Did you know you can take an online fabric design class with Denyse? The Creative Bug workshop is equal part amazing and beautiful. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to design fabric, this series will walk you through the creative process step by step. Learn from fabric design experts Denyse Schmidt, Heather Ross and Lizzy House as they share their process from inspiration through design, color and building an entire collection. The series covers designing repeats by hand as well as in Photoshop and Illustrator. Also have a look inside Spoonflower’s headquarters and get candid advice from industry experts on breaking into retail fabric design. Whether you aspire to see your name printed on bolts of fabric – or you want to soak up design tips that apply to other fields – this series will inform and inspire.