We are so thrilled to announce the winner of our 2017 Quilt Designer Fellowship: Sylvia Schaefer. Cue the much-deserved applause!
A scientist by day (with a Ph.D. in marine science!) and a quilter by night, Sylvia’s designs are a whimsically beautiful mix of modern-meets-traditional, and generally draw inspiration from — you guessed it — the scientific world!
And although the competition was particularly stiff this year, the judges were exceptionally impressed by what Sylvia brought to the quilting table! “I love the unique takes on some of the natural elements,” said Roxane Cerda, Acquisition Editor for C&T Publishing. Not to mention, “on her own she has been able to identify multiple channels to promote herself and her work, which I feel is the key to success in this industry.”
Lucky for us, we were able to chat with Sylvia ourselves, and get a sneak peek into her creative mind! Read the interview below, and take a peek at a few of Sylvia’s own designs — neither her words, nor her quilts, are to be missed!
Craftsy: You’ve been quilting since 2007. How did you get into quilting in the first place? What do you love most about it?
SS: I have always been “crafty,” but despite learning to sew as a child, quilting was never really on my radar since I didn’t have any family members who were quilters — I was mostly into rubber stamping and card making. When I arrived at graduate school, I was promptly invited by my fellow students to join regular craft nights, and we all ended up introducing each other to new crafts. Several members of the group were into quilting, and the level of creativity really intrigued me, so I decided to pull out my childhood sewing machine and give it a shot. One quilt later, I was buying a new machine, and the rest is history.
Craftsy: How has your background as a scientist influenced how you quilt and the kinds of projects you like to take on?
SS: I really enjoy making quilts that are in some way inspired by science (my background is in environmental science and oceanography). Sometimes it’s just a detail from the natural world; other times it’s an interesting scientific concept. This has been part of my quilting journey from its beginning; the second quilt I ever made was ocean-themed (and I’m still swimming in fish fabrics left over from it!).
More generally, since science is all about discovery, it has made me pretty adventurous in diving in and trying new things. I’m also unfazed by a little quilt math, which is of course an integral part of pattern-writing. I once wrote myself a computer program to calculate setting triangle measurements!
Craftsy: If you could describe your design aesthetic in 3 words, what would they be and why?
SS: Modern: I really appreciate the aesthetic behind the modern quilting movement, and I tend to strive for clean geometric designs. I’m particularly fond of negative space, which provides space for the quilting stitches to shine.
Quirky: I like to have fun with my quilts, too, and take a break from the more sophisticated designs with something like a terrible pun or a creepy Halloween quilt.
Dynamic: The designs that I find most effective tend to be the ones that have motion in them, and it’s something I often think about explicitly when working on a design.
Craftsy: Who would you say is your “target audience?”
SS: While I try to create projects in a range of difficulty levels, they tend to be geared a little more to the intermediate and somewhat more advanced quilter. Quilters who appreciate the whimsical and slightly geeky, as well as those who like modern traditionalism, will hopefully find patterns to love.
Craftsy: What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a quilter thus far?
SS: Besides figuring out when enough is enough and a scrap really needs to go (I’m still struggling with that one…), it took me a while to really find my style as a quilter. Like many, I started out learning from traditional quilting books and making more traditional quilts, but the fit wasn’t quite right, and I’d find myself wanting to sew but lacking inspiration. After I found the modern quilting movement, I learned to approach quilt design from a more methodical perspective, and the designs started flowing much more easily. Going through that journey was probably a good thing in the end, because starting with traditional quilts made me try complex designs like the Mariner’s Compass, Lone Star, and Double Wedding Ring that built my skills and left me with a love of adapting traditional patterns, but there were some frustrating times.
Craftsy: What does winning the Quilt Designer Fellowship mean to you?
SS: I am thrilled and honored that Craftsy has selected me as their 2017 winner, and am so grateful for the opportunity! Having support and mentorship from more experienced quilting professionals as I prepare for my first Quilt Market will undoubtedly help me make far more of the experience than if I were heading there without knowing anyone. I’m hoping to make contacts with distributors and shop owners to carry paper versions of my patterns; I’m also looking forward to meeting others in the industry with whom I could explore collaborations in the future!