We first met Vanessa at the 2015 Fall Quilt Market in Houston, Texas where she was introducing her latest fabric collection for Moda Fabrics. She's a talented quilt maker, fabric designer, and somehow balances it all with being Mom to two young kids. Her fabrics have a fresh, upbeat feeling that make you want to shut yourself in your sewing room and create, create, create. In fact, her recently released Little Miss Sunshine collection inspired us to do just that. We created our own super cute Diamond Girl Apron.
Each and every one of the fabric designers we've been so lucky enough to meet through Sew4Home has a fascinating story. There's no standard career path into this creative line of work. Based on what we'd seen of her collections, we knew Vanessa's story would be just as interesting.
The first thing you need to know is that Vanessa's mom is Miriam Rawson, a fabric crafts designer and author who's published a dozen books and has had her work featured in magazines like McCall's and Better Homes & Gardens.
However, it’s never been proven that a love for sewing is passed along genetically (although there are many “creative families” in our industry). And despite her mother's successful career, Vanessa didn't really become interested in the craft until her teens.
When she was just a little girl, she loved playing in her mom's fabric stash, flipping through the tiny bundles of quilting fabric. But it wasn't until she was 15 that Vanessa created her first project, or at least finished it herself.
"I remember seeing my mom making a little sunflower quilt," she says. "And I asked her if I could make one too. I came up with this crazy border to make it lap-sized, and even embroidered a quote around the edges. I had such a great time making it all up as I went along."
Looking back, she appreciates how her mom let her put a very rough finish on the project.
"I learned that it didn't have to be perfect," she says. "And I learned that I loved to quilt."
After that, Vanessa continued to hone her quilting skills – even experimenting with her own designs. But she never thought she would make it her second career.
Her first career was as a banker in Manhattan, a very different world from small town Utah where she grew up.
Vanessa's daughter Olive (almost 6) has been the inspiration for several of her fabric lines. In fact, it was Olive’s birth that led Vanessa to pursue designing as a career. When Vanessa quit her banking job to stay at home with her new baby, she was looking for something to do during nap time.
She began selling her quilts on Etsy but soon realized people really wanted to buy custom-made ones where they got to choose the fabric colors and patterns. So she began offering her quilt designs for sale – let them do it however they want, she thought. Pretty soon, the business took off.
Vanessa remembers the day she decided she wanted to design fabric. It was when her mother took her to Quilt Market in Salt Lake City. Quilt Market in our industry’s twice-yearly, wholesale-only event. It's where the manufacturers show off what's going to be new and exciting in the upcoming needlecraft season.
"It was so exciting to see all that incredible new fabric on display," Vanessa says. "I came away thinking I'd like to try designing it."
With no formal training in graphic design, she bought a book on how to design fabric using Photoshop. She committed to working on it for at least ten minutes a day. Often that was all the time she had to give! Nine months later ,Vanessa had created the designs for what she hoped would be her first fabric collection. She submitted them to Moda, but at the time they weren't looking for new designers.
Undaunted, Vanessa scrapped that collection and six months later had come up with a whole new line, again submitting it to Moda. This time they said yes. Byy October 2015 her first line, Into The Woods, arrived in stores.
Since then she's shortened the time it takes to create a new line and now has several designs in the pipeline.
Little Miss Sunshine charm pack
One of Vanessa's early inspirations was the mother-daughter team of Bonnie & Camille (click to read our interview with them). Not only did she like their fabrics, she thought that if a busy mother like Camille could design, so could she.
But Vanessa's biggest ongoing influence has been her daughter Olive, who she credits with helping her come up with Little Miss Sunshine, as well as the line she's going to be releasing in just over a week from now.
This brand new collection, called Olive's Flower Market, will be unveiled at this year’s Spring Quilt Market over the weekend of May 20th. We got special permission from Moda to give you a very small sneak peak beforehand.
Vanessa says she was initially inspired by the way Olive loves to play out in their garden. She combined that with elements from the wonderful little flower shops she loved to stop by in New York City. And finally, she added inspiration from a place she's yet to visit in person – the vibrant flower markets of Paris.
She describes the new collection this way: "Imagine your dream cottage or bungalow and think of flowery wallpaper, lace curtains, and a little kitchen garden with herbs and flowers. From the balcony, you spy a little flower shop beckoning you to gather an armful of your favorite pink and white flowers to take home. The pink striped awning, chalkboard signs, and black and white tile floors remind you of a flower shop you would find in Paris."
From what we’ve seen of the collection, we’re sure Vanessa has another winner with Olive’s Flower Market. Our brains are already whirling with ideas of how to use it. Maybe we’ll get the chance to lock ourselves in the sewing room again to “create, create, create.”
Vanessa's designs are distributed by Moda Fabrics and available at fine online and in-store retailers across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. You can find her designs on her Lella Boutique blog, where her quilt patterns are also available for purchase.