FriYAY Friends

FriYAY Friends: An Interview with Kristin Esser

Happy FriYAY!

I think I'm almost human again post- QuiltCon... I was only there for one day, so I can't imagine how folks who were there all week must be feeling. I'm equal parts still exhausted and totally high on the excitement of it all. Whew!

Today, I'm pleased to bring you an interview with Kristin Esser. Kristin and I met online, and we've been talking more lately, and I just think she's delightful! Plus, she assures me that she cheers loudly and embarrassingly at her son's orchestra concerts, so clearly she's got the motherhood thing down. Her sewing, writing, and photography are all wonderfully beautiful, so I know you'll love learning more about her!

1) Tell us a little about yourself-- your family, creative background, other interests, etc. Hi! I'm a wife and mom of three teens living in Southern California. There is Chloe, age 18, and in her first year of college, Jonah, 17, and Ben, who is 14. The boys keep me busy with their sports and music activities—but I wouldn't have it any other way.

In addition to quilting I also knit, hand sew, read, blog, do a lot of cooking, and a little gardening.

I've always been surrounded by sewing. My mom made my clothes when I was little, she made the drapes for our home, and she even made both my prom dresses. One of them was actually a Vogue wedding dress! And I had her make it white! Pretty nervy for an 18-year-old.

I did a little garment sewing in high school and moved on to home dec sewing when I had my first apartment in my twenties. I also dabbled in embroidery. But in the early career years I sort swept all that aside. When my kids were small, I began to have the itch to start creating again. I wanted something to do with my hands in the evening when we were watching TV—the only "me" time of the day. My first thought was embroidery, but I wasn't really sure what I was going to so with a bunch of embroidered stuff. I discovered knitting and fell in love with it—but we don't have a lot of reasons to wear knitted hats and scarves where I live.

Then one day, Alicia Paulson published a patchwork quilt pattern on her blog. It was a full tutorial for making a simple, squares-only patchwork quilt. I bought it and decided to make a quilt. But it sat there unused for about a year, because I was paralyzed by making fabric choices. Then one day I bought a charm pack of French General fabric with absolutely no plan. When I got it home, I realized that if I used charm packs, all the fabric choices would be made for me! I went back and bought another seven packs and used Alicia's instructions to make my first quilt. And I've never looked back. It's still my favorite quilt.

2) You recently co-authored Sew Illustrated. What started your journey into sewing illustration, how do you stay inspired, and what are your favorite projects? One day, a few years ago, as I walked my son to school, I noticed that a new family moved in down the street. And there was a sewing machine in the front window! I decided to make friends with this new neighbor, and I won't go into the whole story, you can actually read it here, but that is when I met Minki Kim. And when she showed me the beautiful, unique work she was doing—I knew that the sewing community would love to see this and try it as well. My role in our book, Sew Illustrated, was to bring Minki's projects to life through the patterns and tutorials. We collaborated on the types of projects for the book, but the designs are all hers and the writing is all mine.

That said, I practiced sewing illustration quite a bit during the writing of the book and still enjoy using it to embellish projects. I love the simple, flat projects like coasters and tea mats because they are so useful and I love to use my handmade projects in my everyday life. I also love all things domestic and enjoy sewing little teapot and tea cup illustrations on quick projects and giving them away as gifts. There is also a tote bag project in the book with a typewriter motif that is one of my favorites as well.

I am inspired by domesticity. I love everyday kitchen scenes and sewing room vignettes. Things that we see every day and yet still overlook. I love to capture those. I know it's cliché, but I am also inspired by nature. Nature puts colors together in such interesting ways, if you really pay attention.

3) I love the way you photograph your work. What tips and insights do you have for taking pictures? Thank you! I am working hard on improving my photography skills. It is a whole other creative hobby! Honestly, most of what I've learned I've picked up from my friend Minki, who is a very talented photographer. Some of the things that I've learned from her are that the more natural light, the better! Creative use of some plain old white foam board can do wonders to reflect more light onto your project. Consistent use of a few backgrounds is a nice touch as well. I have a lot of brown wood in my house, which is not so lovely in photos. So I picked up a pack of white wainscoting at Home Depot and photograph a lot of projects on it. It really brightens things up—but it doesn't work for everything. Photographing blocks with a lot of white background fabric on a white background often doesn't work, so it's nice to have other options too.

And lastly, don't always go for the obvious, straight-on photo (or straight-down, aerial photo either). Be a little mysterious about it and photograph a project from an angle, or close-up, or even better, being used. Wrap the child in the quilt, put the coffee cup on the mug rug and then take a bunch of pictures. Don't be afraid to take a lot of photos. Experiment and find your own style. This is my advice from a very amateur photographer.

4) How is creative community important to your work? The creative community is huge to me! Until I met Minki, I had no in real life sewing friends. Discovering sewing blogs, podcasts, and most importantly for me, Instagram, made a huge impact on my creative process. I am inspired a dozen times a day by the quilts, sewing projects, knitting projects, even the food people are eating and photographing on IG. Sewing can be quite an isolated pursuit, so sharing what I'm doing and enjoying watching what others are making is hugely inspiring to me. I've been exposed to fabrics, techniques, projects, and people that I never would have known about otherwise. I screenshot a lot of projects on IG and keep them to scroll back through for inspiration when I need it.

In the past I have joined two quilt guilds to try to find more in-person community. Both were dismal failures, with me never quite breaking into the "cliques" exist in place like that. After volunteering for an entire weekend at a local quilt show and not connecting with a single person from that guild, I decided that my people were online. And I have made several wonderful friends through sewing social media—some of whom I have actually met in real life!

5) What advice do you have for makers and artists on their creative journey? Find time to be creative every day. Even if it's just for a few minutes. (I need to take my own advice here.) Creativity is a muscle that needs to be used constantly. The more you get in there and sew, or sketch, or whatever—the easier it becomes.

I love this quote from one of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, "What you do every day is more important than what you do once in a while." If you sew a little every day, not only do you get better, but how perfectly your seams come together on any given day is not such a big deal—because it is just one of many days. It takes the pressure off things being perfect when you sit down to sew.

A quilting teacher once told me to not completely finish a step before stopping sewing for the day. Leave that last seam to be sewn next to the machine so that it is easy to just sit down tomorrow and start sewing again. I have found this to be so true—trying to figure out the next step of a project is a barrier that is sometimes hard to overcome. Having an easy first step breaks down that barrier beautifully.

And lastly, experiment with lots of styles, colors, and techniques so that you can truly find the things that inspire you. Don't keep yourself in a box. I recently tried a couple of techniques that just confirmed—that's not me. And that is good information! Never stop learning and being interested in finding your style.

Kristin-- thank you so much for sharing with us today! Your work is beautiful! I love that advice to leave something ready to go in the sewing room-- I use it often and find it really helps! 

Y'all can find these beautiful photos and more on Kristin's Instagram @kristin_esser. I also recommend her blog, where she writes thoughtfully and beautifully. 

You can also follow along with what I'm up to on @stringandstory. I'm participating in #igquiltfest, and it would be super fun if you follow along, or, even better, join in, too!

Happy making!


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