As I write this, I’m surrounded by the latest fabric collection from designers, Pillow & Maxfield: the gorgeous Gypsy Bandana for Michael Miller Fabrics. Pause with me as I siiiiiiiiiigh deeply, because, once again… we love it all. We decided we simply HAD to get to know the brains behind this beautiful fabric, Val Pillow and Anne Maxfield. Luckily for us, there was an immediate bond. Turns out we love them and they love Sew4Home! After exchanging our love, we got down to business and asked Val and Anne some insightful questions about where they came from, where their designs come from, and what gift wrap has to do with it all.
Gypsy Bandana is the third collection by Val and Anne for Michael Miller Fabrics. Their first was the bold and beautiful Whimsy. The second was Pretty Bird, from which we’ve made a number of great projects here at Sew4Home, including our Big Ruffled Pillows.
Their collections make me feel as if I’ve melted into one of those incredible Italian mosaics or perhaps tumbled down a kaleidoscope. Everywhere you look is another rich color, another brilliant design, another intricate pattern. These fabrics cross the genres with ease, looking as great in home décor as they do in garments and quilts. Browse the inspiration archive on their website and you’ll want to make it all!
Spend a few minutes with us and find out what makes these talented designers tick. Then stay tuned; we have a full slate of projects, seven in all, coming up in the Gypsy Bandana Jewel colorway. And, Val and Anne have generously agreed to do a Great Giveaways with us to celebrate this upcoming series we call, Gypsy Romance.
S4H: You’ve been quoted a number of times as having “met working for the same company.” Were you rodeo cowgirls, Wall Street brokers, nuclear physicists, singing telegram messengers (I was one of those, so maybe we met before)? People are always interested in the varied careers designers had prior to expressing themselves in fabric. What paths did you take to get here?
P&W: We both had long careers at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, essentially starting there right out of college. We worked in the Creative Division in a number of different departments with a number of different responsibilities. In fact, it was just last year, 2010, when we both retired to focus entirely on our new career.
Val: I spent my first ten years as a Product Line Designer, then seventeen years as a Designer and Illustrator, primarily for gift wrap and paper party products.
Anne: I spent many of my years as a Product Line Designer, planning gift wrap product lines and working with both internal talent and freelancers. In the early years, I worked with many of the outside companies who licensed Hallmark artwork for their products.
S4H: Your extensive backgrounds in art and design explain a lot about your absolutely stunning color choices and brilliant graphic style. What other media have you (or do you still) work in? Which skills translate well to fabric design and which don’t?
P&W: We both love painting and embellishing everything that stands still: home décor projects, repurposing furniture, making jewelry, collage, mosaic and assemblage. It keeps us entertained and out of trouble! We definitely use our skills from visualizing and designing gift wrap and creating coordinated gift wrap collections to create our fabric. But that’s just one part. All of our experiences combine to give us a real eye for what works.
S4H: I’ve read a little bit about how you like create storyboards with sketches and color pallets when you are first dreaming up design directions. Can you tell us a little more about the process of working from idea to finished fabric?
P&W: Storyboards, style boards, inspiration boards… they can be called a number of different things, but they are one of our favorite ways to work together. It’s always collaboration time well spent; we throw our ideas out there and just have fun with the possibilities and the next new direction. Traditionally, we start with a foam core panel, approximately 24″ x 48″. To this board we add sketches, color swatches and other pieces of inspiration. These ‘other pieces’ could be pictures, bits of nature, beads, jewelry… you name it. Once we feel really good about the overall direction, Val begins designing it digitally on the computer. As things begin to take shape, we continue to collaborate and develop as a team, until we have a strong group of designs we both feel great about.
S4H: We recently interviewed mother-daughter design team, Moda Fabrics. But most of the designers out there are solo acts. How do you two collaborate on a design? Do you each have your area of expertise, or is it more of a joint effort? Do you ever get into fist fights… I mean design disagreements?
P&W: We have very similar taste and style, and for years we’ve seemed to gravitate toward the same design ideas. We make a great team and firmly believe two heads are better than one. No fist fights here! Val is a real wizard on the computer; creating designs, layouts and color combinations. We both love, love, love the creative aspects. Anne also has experience in the areas of licensing, marketing and communications. While everything we do isn’t exactly a total joint effort, it is definitely all a joint decision.
S4H: Inspiration comes from so many sources; the people, places and things around us every day and in our travels catch our eye and spark our imagination. When I look at your third collection, Gypsy Bandana, I can hear a tambourine, see a headscarf flashing in the firelight, smell the pepper and spices. What are the real stories that inspired these bold fabrics?
P&M: Wow! We’re so glad you see all that when viewing Gypsy Bandana! The vision of our initial storyboard was to create a very eclectic collection with a lively mix and match of patterns, full of bright and energetic colors. In fact, its working name was, ‘Eclectic.’ However, about half way through the design process, it took on a Gypsy’s life of it’s own. It was a great collection to design that just kept getting better.
S4H: Your collections are so rich and vibrant and varied. Do you have any advice for our readers on how to choose and combine fabrics? How to take risks?
P&M: Contrasting colors next to one another creates a strong look with more impact. Putting fabrics next to each other that are more similar in color creates a quieter feel. Also, mixing a larger scale fabric design with a smaller scale one creates a great contrast. We put a lot of thought into creating fabric collections that have a well-balanced variety of designs, colors and scale. And we pay particular attention to combination possibilities. We want it to be easy to mix and match.
S4H: When you design fabrics do you have specific projects in mind; ie. do you envision the clothing, bags, pillows the fabric will become or do you need to wait until the collection is done to decide what you want to use it for?
P&W: When we’re in the design phase, we have a number of conversations around that exact point. Often, one of us will say, “Oh, this fabric would make the greatest purse or dress or…”. We also put each collection through a kind of a litmus test, going through each and every design and brainstorming about all of the possibilities for finished projects. If those possibilities don’t come quickly enough, we rethink the scale and other design elements. We constantly put ourselves in the place of the sewer and make sure inspiration is both easy to see and exciting to consider.
S4H: Do you consider yourselves avid sewers? What is your favorite type of thing to work on: clothing, quilting, home décor?
P&M: Because our focus is fabric design, we aren’t avid sewers right now… unless we are getting samples ready for a trade show! Right now, we’re focusing on designing great fabrics for the beginning sewer and the avid sewer alike. We both totally understand the great feeling you get when you see fabrics you love and just can’t wait to make something with them.
S4H: Do you remember the first project you ever made?
P&W: We were both very into sewing when we were younger and created many one-of-a-kind fashion statements of our own. We would sure love to see them now!
Anne: I was really into making fabric dolls by hand from scraps of fabric. The principal at my grade school asked for one to send to her sister in Europe. I was flabbergasted!
Val: When I was a teen, I loved fashion and buying clothes, but my babysitting money only went so far. So I started making my own clothes by recycling my Mom’s old dresses. I did get approval on which ones I could take apart!
S4H: What is the one sewing tool you absolutely couldn’t live without?
P&W: The seam riper… no just kidding. A really nice pair of scissors.
S4H: Our goal at Sew4Home is to inspire folks who are new to sewing… to convince someone who’s not sure how to turn on a sewing machine that she or he can make something beautiful and unique and useful. What do you say to friends who swear up one side and down the other that they could “never sew… never do what you do”?
P&W: “Oh yes you can!” I would say just find someone who can sit down with you, side by side. That first step would probably take just half an hour. Get a feel for the sewing machine peddle and practice sewing straight lines on a scrap of fabric. Learning to thread a machine and reading pattern instructions can come later, just get started and you’ll get hooked. You’ll instantly be ready to move on to a simple pillow case. Encourage your friends; it’s so gratifying to say, “I made that”!
S4H: What is your favorite guilt snack food?
Anne: Great cheeses… oh, and great breads to go along with the great cheeses.
Val: Dark chocolate and tortilla chips… but not together.
S4H: Anything new in the works?
P&M: Yes! We are in the midst of creating our fourth collection. We’re working with a new licensor, and it’s a secret for now. So you’ll just have to wait and see! We also just finished refreshing our website with lots of project inspiring photographs and six free tutorials that use our Gypsy Bandana squares.