There are a lot of things going on in my life right now that sort of orbit around “what is my style?” From designing a block for the Cloud9 Blog Hop to taking a number of classes and exploring the world of surface pattern design to having lately made the decision to pursue building a house – I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what constitutes my Signature Style.
It’s almost harder to come up with your own unique style in the world today that bombards us constantly with styled photographs of house interiors, beautiful sewing studios, lovely quilts, and even artfully arranged workspaces. But have you ever noticed that you can walk into some folks’ homes, and feel like you’re IN a catalog layout. It’s lovely – but it doesn’t speak about its residents. Mass market styling is, to me, a lot like making a quilt from a kit. There’s nothing wrong with it, and you end up with a lovely result. But it lacks the soul of something that was made to be unique – its own thing in all the world.
I gained some insight on that from the man we’re discussing building a house with. He and I have known each other since the 8th grade, and I’ve enjoyed watching his career as a builder progress and blossom. He’s learned things, and he’s happy to share. I’d mentioned that a kitchen designer I’d spoken to had dismissed apron sinks as something that will look dated in 10 years, and we had a conversation about what makes a house timeless. He said, “it all depends on context. If you put that apron sink in a farmhouse style home, with white subway tile and wood floors – it will always look right. If you put it in a craftsman home or another style, yes it will look dated in 10 years.” He related a story about a house he’d built for himself – a red brick colonial – that he’d put ledge stone in. While it garnered compliments – at first, it was the first thing to look dated and the first thing to go. Because it wasn’t right for the house.
I think finding your style in quilting is much the same. Which is not to say that you can’t re-think a vintage design with modern fabrics. Only that it has to be carefully done. My Farmer’s Wife quilt is using a more modern blend of fabrics, but carefully curated to straddle the line between outright modern and purely vintage.
And a lot will yet depend on how things are laid out into the final quilt. I’ve seen a bunch of finished tops already, in the sew-along. Some are simply stunning. Others…. rather make my retinas bleed. Is that just my style? Maybe. Or it might, also, be the result of someone who hasn’t yet FOUND their own style. And therefore, their work doesn’t speak from the right place.
It can be hard to get there, I know. I’m still…. reaching. I’m settling into my general “design” style, but I have a ways to go before my quilt pattern style is really recognizable. And I’m just beginning to figure out what my surface pattern design style will be.
How do you get there? Ask yourself some questions, and look around:
What do you like?
What are you drawn to? What do you gravitate towards, even when you’re supposed to be looking for something else? Where are you when you’re most content?
Not all of it. But the softer, sweeter side of vintage. Things that tie me to what went before. Grandma Mildred had a set of Pyerx bowls in this pattern. So I collect it because I love the color and it reminds me of a simpler time in my life.
I love Bonnie and Camille’s fabric lines. I usually pick up at least portions of most lines they do. Some of that is because they all work together. Some of that is because they vintage/modern blend they showcase speaks to me and my aesthetics. And I think, some of it is their color palette. Because I came home from Quilt Week with this:
Until one noses into the rest of my stash.
Gooseberry, by Lella Boutique:
Are we seeing a pattern, here? I’ve also got Daysail, Summerfest, Offshore, Strawberry Fields Revisited, Farmhouse…
Do you see a pattern? When I shop with no other plan in mind, I come home with things that run heavily in the red/pink/aqua/blue/green range. And/or have a nautical theme. These are the colors I love, and what I reach for, instinctively.
I love comfort. So, in designing a new house, I’m keeping my quilt style in mind. I want an orchard ladder in the corner of the living room, so that I can hang quilts on the rungs – on display but in easy reach when you need a cuddle. In my world, things are made to be used, loved, and bring comfort. There will be no formal dining room, but instead a long, trestle table in the kitchen. Family. Relaxed.
What Do You Do Best?
I’m pretty good at patchwork. I really struggle with improv. I like English Paper Piecing, though I’m less fond of the traditional designs.
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t add a new technique to your repertoire. I’m coming to actually enjoy Foundation Paper Piecing. I even have more blocks prepped:
I haven’t yet written up a paper pieced pattern, but it’s not outside the realm of possiblity. On the other hand – I’m no Violet Craft. Her stuff is amazing, I’m in love with House of Hoppington – but I just don’t think that way. I might someday make one of her patterns, with my own little vintage twist.
However, if something is always a struggle and you don’t enjoy the process – that’s just not your style. I’m not an “art quilt” sort of girl. I’m not an entirely a modern girl. I need a little structure in my life. Simplicity, Tradition, Freshness.
What Do You Never Get Tired Of?
We all have it – that quilt we made that we’d really rather not display. Everytime we see it, we think of things we’d do differently. A different color choice, a different way to set the blocks – a different pattern altogether. Maybe it was a kit. Maybe it was an early effort or for a class. Something about it was not wholly “ours.” It followed a trend, that has now passed by. It was influenced too much by people who “knew better.”
And then there is that piece that we love, always. No matter how long it sits in its place of honor, on the arm of the couch or the foot of the bed, we still love everything about it. Still find new sub-patterns among the blocks, or nuances in the fabrics. Still adore every stitch. It’s the one that people always comment on, notice how “you” it is. Not just for sentimentality, but the way the whole piece came together, it will stay your “signature” piece.
Trends come and go, and we all cringe a little at our hair in high school photos or the colors of our first kitchen. But things that we really love, we always love. Things that were OURS to start with – not just following the masses – always belong to us. Heartfelt. Treasured. Timeless.
How Do You Define YOUR Style?
Make a mood board.
What’s a mood board? It’s a visual construct that helps you keep your inspiration close at hand. It can be a physical collage of magazine clippings and found objects. It can be a digital file. It can be a Pinterest board. In fact, you can and should set up a board for whatever moves you. Pinterest really is nothing but collections of digital mood boards. However, if you want it to help you define YOUR style… you need do more than just “pin” something that catches your attention. Devote a board to quilts you actually would make. Devote another to fabric collections you want to add to your stash. Curate. Edit. Have separate boards for seasons, holidays – sometimes I have a new one for each project. Be prolific – and yet selective. Because if you pin JUST those things that you really would love and want to have, rather than just anything vaguely interesting, you’ll see your style start to become more defined.
Make a list.
Did you notice a list of words at the end of each section, above? When you’ve put together a mood board of things you love, make a list of words that you associate with it. They should evoke a feeling, an essence, a portion of that “mood” that you want to keep. For instance, if I was working on a fall-themed quilt with apples on it, I might make a list like, cider, crisp, shiny, cinnamon, sweet, tart, cool air, brisk breeze, pastry, orchard. Things that help focus on the subject, and clarify the feelings you want to evoke. Go open up Pinterest, type in a random search term, and then make a list of words describing it. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to generate that list if it’s an image that appeals to you.
If you’re shopping for fabric to make a quilt to welcome a new baby, you might make a list of feelings you want to encompass in that quilt before you go shopping. That way, you won’t come home with a pile of bright, new fabric only to discover it doesn’t really feel right when you get it laid out.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
The best way to discover your quilt style is to make quilts. Lots of quilts. But not just at speed, for the purpose of cranking out volume. Thoughtfully, carefully making each quilt – and then deciding if it’s really “you” or not. Sometimes, you’re making it for someone else and it needs to be very much not you. Other times, you’ll make a quilt with the intention of keeping it, only to find that it isn’t really right.
Remember, too, that “your style” won’t be static. While you don’t need to be trendy, your own personal style will change and evolve with time. Think of Tula Pink, and the changes that have taken her from her “Full Moon Forrest” to “Chipper.” Bonnie Christine’s collections can be very different, but still very Bonnie. Spending time thinking, making, and editing is what will help you develop your own style. Rita, of Red Pepper Quilts makes mostly very simple quilts, but does so in such striking color and fabric choices that they’re always very truly Rita.
All of which brings me back to my own personal brand tagline: Enjoy. Relax. Create.
There are no rules but your rules. There is no style but your style. Go find it.