FriYAY at last!
I don't know about y'all's weeks, but mine felt like it just dragged on and on. Full disclosure--I have more quilts going than I really have time for, so I haven't been sleeping as much as I ought. That's never a best practice-- even for me who doesn't need much sleep any way! I'm brainstorming some ideas to get more quilty time, but in the meanwhile, I'm just going to show myself some grace.
I have my "Dance" playlist going, and I just noticed that I'm about to go from Tao Cruz's "Dynamite" to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." But that is neither here nor there. What IS here, that I am more than thrilled about, is an interview with the ever-lovely Christa Watson! As Frances over at the Off-Kilter Quilt likes to say, "She's famous, but she's one of us." Yes. Just yes.
Outside of my regular art-related interview questions, I nosily asked her what it's like living in Fabulous Las Vegas, and I think her response fit perfectly:
"The rest of the city [outside The Strip] is typical like any other with all the normal stuff of life - hanging out with the kids and running errands and stuff. We are very outdoorsy so there's lots of places to hike and camp which is really nice. It's really hot here but thank goodness we don't have humidity so it's doable and there are swimming pools everywhere to keep cool."
She's famous, but she's one of us. Enjoy, dears!
1) How and when did you start quilting? What did your first quilt look like?
I made my first quilt way back in 1994 as a newlywed at the ripe young age of 21. Feel free to do the math ☺
A friend from church had invited me to help tie quilts for charity and I thought it was the most fun and tactile thing ever! Later, I used what I learned from that experience to make a tied flannel quilt for my husband Jason. I remember excitedly combing through cotton and polyester remnants at the discount fabric store, and borrowing a sewing machine from my mother who was an avid seamstress. I remember her trying to get me interested in garment sewing when I was younger, but to no avail! To this day, I have zero interest in making garments, bags, or other “3-D” sewing!!
When I made my first quilt I really had no clue what I was doing. But I vividly remember the joy I felt cutting out a bunch of squares and sewing them together, one nine-patch block at a time. I didn’t even know what seam allowances were, but I dove in anyway and it was love at first stitch.
2) How did you "take the leap" into designing? What does your design process look like?
Although my mom is a great seamstress, up until I started quilting, she’d never made a quilt. Once it became my hobby, (really my obsession), my mom became my first quilting student and my number one fan. Soon after I taught her how to make a quilt, she recommended me to a new quilt shop in town that was looking for quilting instructors.
I was really only a step or two ahead of my students but I found I had a passion for teaching and loved seeing that spark of joy on a student’s face when they realized they could make something that was both functional and beautiful.
As an instructor, for some reason I didn’t like the idea of teaching other people’s patterns, so pretty much from the beginning, I designed and made my own class samples. The sad thing is, it took me about 15 years before I finally started publishing my designs.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that people would pay me to tell them how many squares you can cut from a strip of fabric. Quilt math has already come easily for me, but a successful pattern designer friend finally convinced me that not everyone’s brains work that way!
My design process is usually deadline driven. I have a set of parameters to start with such as “I want to make a triangle quilt, or I need to design a fat quarter friendly pattern.”
Then I go through dozens of iterations, working in EQ7 until I finalize my design. It can be a very long process to finalize just one design, but in the meantime, I usually come up with a spark of an idea for dozens more. I save all the in-process ideas and pull from them when it’s time to design the next quilt.
I’m not one of those people that can design intuitively as I sew. I have to have it all planned out ahead of time, including the fabric choices, or at least similar colors. Then when all of the creative “thinking” is done, I can simply enjoy the process of making. I really enjoy getting into the zone and listening to quilting podcasts when doing when I engage in “mindless sewing.”
3) You've published a couple of lovely books in the last year, and, I believe, just finished up a significant amount of work for another. Can you tell us about the publication process?
It’s not really hard like people might say, but it is really involved and requires a lot of work and planning up front. So it’s really a big commitment when you decide you want to write a book.
It basically works like this: research a publisher that might be a good fit and take a look at their book proposal process. Spend 3-6 months fleshing out your idea, writing a thorough book proposal, design all the quilts and submit it to the publisher. Some publishers may want finished samples, while others don’t, depending on how their system works. Be sure to follow their guidelines exactly for your best chances of getting approved, and it’s best to stick to one main idea for your book rather than trying to be all things to all people.
Then wait up to 3 months to hear anything. If they accept the proposal, you’ll sign a contract and then work like mad to finish by their specified deadline, usually 4-5 months later. It’s amazing how many books don’t get published because the author falls through and misses their deadlines.
It really helps if the publisher knows who you are and has seen your work before, or if you’ve had experience working with magazine publishers. It also helps to have a decent following because you will be doing a LOT of marketing when the book finally gets published.
4) How is the quilting community important to you? Who are some of your "mentors" and colleagues who inspire you?
The number one thing the community gives me is a sense of belonging and great friendships. Although I’m a homebody and somewhat of an introvert, I love hanging out with others who share the same interests!
I’ve had a lot of great mentors and inspiring colleagues all of whom I’ve gotten to know through networking at quilting industry meetups and events. One of them is Pat Sloan who hosts the American Patchwork and Quilting Podcasts. I’ve been on her podcast a couple of times and she’s someone who seems to know everything and is friends with everyone. I love how she’s always kind and genuine, and she answers emails and blog comments (though don’t go flooding her inbox after reading this, LOL!!)
Three others have definitely had an influence on my success in the industry: Angela Walters, Leah Day and Jacquie Gering. Angela and I met at the first QuiltCon and we bonded over machine quilting. We ended up putting our knowledge of machine quilting from two different perspectives into our co-authored book The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting.
Leah Day’s blog is one of the first I read when I found quilting blogs back in 2010. She helped me realize that you don’t have to wait until you are retired to be a quilting professional and get published. We’ve become really good friends since then and will actually be presenting a schoolhouse on book publishing together at Fall Quilt Market.
I call Jacquie Gering my “modern muse.” I also met her at the first QuiltCon, and she’s now chairman of the board of the Modern Quilt Guild. We co-authored a magazine article about QuiltCon for the National Quilting Association, which is sadly no longer around. Jacquie has helped me better understand the modern aesthetic and she’s really passionate about her work. I’ve learned a lot about drive and determination from her, and to continue to do what you love even if others don’t.
5) Outside of directly quilty things, what other arts or activities or places inspire you?
I love to read, play board games, and run outside in the desert. I find that when I’m doing other non-quilt related things I often get the most quilt inspiration! I love interesting architecture and lush, beautiful places, which is kind of funny since I live in the dry barren, desert!
6) What word of advice would you give for quilters to take their work to the next level?
Be passionate and honest about what you are doing and don’t be the one standing in your own way. Even if you get rejected 99 times in a row, keep going until you get that first (or hundredth) acceptance. It will happen if you put in the time and effort and don’t give up.
I think most people just want to enjoy the “dream” of being successful without actually put in the hard work that it takes to get there. I’m just now starting to see the results of my hard work paying off, most of which started at least 5-10 years ago!
Thank you, Christa! I especially value your insights into publishing and your reminder to work hard as we chase our dreams. After all, good things come to those who hustle! And, boy, are you hustling'! Thank you for being a kind and wise voice for all of us today! (And for sharing such beautiful pictures!)
Happy Fall, Y'all!