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Carolyn Friedlander

Designing, sewing, and quilting with intention, by Meg Stively.

Posted in: Makers & Crafts • October 31, 2017

You know that feeling you get when you find the perfect fabric? It might be floral, some polka dots, or a graphic, geometric print—it’s different for everyone. Designing fabric requires a combination of thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and an artful consideration that comes naturally and is not forced. This is why some fabric designs resonate immediately; they leap at you from the bolt, and you can already visualize your project before you head to the cutting counter. Or, you are so excited about the fabric itself that you know you will find the perfect project for it, so you head to the cutting counter anyway.

Carolyn Friedlander is an artist with a background in architecture, whose modern fabric designs have delighted quilters and garment sewers alike. With a clear appreciation for the art, she designs quilting and sewing patterns and regularly quilts and sews for herself. Her affinity for slow sewing is present in her designs and her book, Savor Each Stitch: Studio Quilting with Mindful Design. A quick browse of her various fabric collections reveals a delicate understanding of color, tradition, and balance—along with all the excitement that textiles can offer.

We spoke with Carolyn about her design process and her admiration for slow sewing. Don’t miss more of her thoughts on slow sewing, also in this month’s issue.

You have a background in architecture. How do you think that comes into play when you are designing?

The awesome thing about quilting/designing fabric and patterns is that I feel like I’m getting to take the stuff that I really like about architecture—the design stuff—and mix it with a bunch of other stuff that I think is also awesome, like color and texture and functionality. Although you could argue that some of those things are in architecture as well, I just love the scale, scope, and prominence of them in quilting and sewing. Plus, like architecture, quilting has its own history and set of traditions which can be inspiring to learn from and think about when making current work. I find it all to be very compelling.

Your designs have a unique balance between traditional and modern, which really makes them feel longlasting. Does this require intentional design decisions or is it just a really awesome superpower that you have?

I love designs that can be interpreted in different ways, just like I love tools and techniques that can be used in different ways. As a designer, that’s definitely an important goal with anything that I create. In designing something with many possibilities, I know that I’m excited to explore it, and I know that I’ll love seeing how others explore it in their own way too.

When you pick colors for your fabric, do you start with a color palette, or does that come later in the design process?

It totally depends! I think we all go through color moods, and when I’m designing a collection, it’s no different. Certain colors and color combinations will be on my mind, and they might change with each collection. Then there are also colors that I can never get away from—like bright oranges and blues—that are constant favorites and will end up in most any collection.

Do you have any regrets with your work? Or things you wish you could have done better throughout the process? How do you try to improve yourself with each new project?

Whether it’s how something will work technically, how a certain color palette will play out, or how to create something to serve a specific purpose, I tend to make things because there’s a curiosity about it. Sometimes those things just don’t work out. I’m ok with that and with having regret, because if you didn’t try it, you wouldn’t know why you wouldn’t want to do it. Plus, I’d never want to not try something out of fear for regretting it later.  

Your blog is full of beautiful images and engaging content. Do you enjoy blogging? How has blogging changed for you over the years, especially with regard to social media?

Blogging and social media has changed so much over the years! I’ve only been blogging since 2012 or so, but even back then it seemed like people read blogs much more regularly and consistently than they tend to read them now. With Instagram and other social media outlets, it’s very easy to get quick glimpses of many things from a variety of people in just a few moments. This can be really fun, but I think that it can result in a shorter, less-linear attention span than I think may have existed previously.    

While blogging today may not be as linear as I think it used to be, I like how it can be a place to dig a bit deeper into specific projects and ideas. For that reason, I do enjoy blogging. I recently hosted my first Quilt Along on my blog, and I liked how it allowed me to expand more deeply on ideas over time and while building a project. It was also great connecting with others while they were working on their projects.

Let’s talk about slow sewing. You have patterns that are designed to celebrate the experience of sewing by hand. Why is this important to you?

Sewing by hand is such an incredible experience! Like many people, I started sewing on a machine, and I loved it immediately. Later, I was introduced to hand sewing, and I loved it immediately as well. It’s not that one replaces the other, it’s just that both can be wonderful depending on your mood and the project. 

With slow sewing, there’s something about being able to work on a project no matter where you are and whether or not you have power. Additionally, I find working by hand to be an even richer experience that helps deepen a sensitivity, because you can feel the way the fabrics, tools, and techniques are working. To me, it is the ultimate engagement.

You’ve partnered with some amazing companies and other designers. What is your favorite thing about collaborating with other makers?

There are many great people doing amazing things, and it’s been incredible to work with other designers and companies! In any collaboration, I’m drawn to the mixing of experience, style, and perspective that can result in something really fun and interesting.

In another way, I also consider it a collaboration between me and the people who use my patterns and fabrics. It’s always a treat to see how people use my work to create their own work. Seeing how others interpret or explore an idea is a great way to learn and grow as an artist yourself. It’s super fun working together! 

It’s always a treat to see how people use my work to create their own work. Seeing how others interpret or explore an idea is a great way to learn and grow as an artist yourself.

What do you love most about the maker community? Where do you see it going in the future, and how do you want to be a part of that?

The enthusiasm of makers is probably my favorite aspect of the maker community. We all come to making because we want to do it. We live at a pretty convenient time where most anything can be bought with the click of a mouse. Because of that, it says so much when someone decides to take the extra steps to make it themselves. 

I hope that the desire to make continues to burn brightly for folks, and I’m excited to see everyone’s work take shape.

It’s always been my goal to design fabrics, patterns, and products that will inspire others to make the work that they are most inspired to make. 

Be sure to visit Carolyn’s website for photographs of her designs, projects, and plenty of inspiration. Partnering with US-based independent printers—like Robert Kaufman—her fabric is widely available, and we look forward to her next collection!

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