Each week throughout the summer we’ll hear from a designer about a pattern or book that caused them to head in a new direction and helped form their career. It’s the pattern that changed their life.
I first met Rebecca Bryan online when she responded to one of my newsletters in which I’d written a little bit about my years teaching middle school in the Mississippi Delta. “I have no idea if you are able to respond to emails, but after reading this newsletter I had to try,” she wrote. “Were you by chance a Teach for America teacher? Your experience teaching reminded me of my experience as a Teach for America teacher in St. Louis, so I had to reach out. I’ve yet to come across another TFA teacher in the sewing industry.” Yes, I was! We bonded immediately.
I’m thrilled to have Rebecca visiting the blog today to tell us about the pattern that changed her life.
Rebecca is a quilt designer, writer, and teacher. Her first book Modern Rainbow: 14 Imaginative Quilts that Play with Color is available now. You can find her over at her blog Bryan House Quilts.
My mom and my grandmother sewed and quilted, so I grew up around sewing and quilting. My mom taught me how to sew and quilt and embroider. So I’ve always kind of known how.
Before I discovered how much I loved playing with color, I was probably fairly lukewarm to quilting. Making quilts was utilitarian for me. I made quilts as gifts mostly and I made one for my bed in college. But once I discovered playing with color I was pretty much obsessed.
Then I saw an antique quilt on an HGTV program with Sarah Richardson. She was renovating a farm house and had a red and white quilt on one of the beds. I have no idea how I ended up finding the name of the block, Katie’s Choice. It must have been a fluke. Now I realize, the actual antique quilt and pattern used rectangles, but I had acquired some Amy Butler charm squares. So I constructed my version with charm squares and filled in the background with white charm squares I cut from yardage. Naturally, I had to scour shops and the internet for more Amy Butler fabric.
I loved making it and I love the actual quilt. I made it in the summer of 2011, which seems so long ago. It wasn’t the pattern that changed my life per say but the whole journey from seeing the inspiration, to making the quilt, to having the quilt rejected from a quilt show that changed my life.
I loved exploring the layout of the pattern and found it extremely satisfying having my mind go quiet as I played with the arrangement of color.
I was so proud of my creation that I entered it into one of the top quilt shows. I took terrible last minute pictures. You can probably get an idea of the quality of picture just by looking at these old pictures (oof!); I’m sorry to say the actual picture I submitted was worse (think photo taken at night on the living room floor). I just had no idea of how to take good shots of quilts!
Needless to say it was rejected. But I’m glad.
It’s not that I expected my quilt to be accepted or that I was crushed or anything, but of course I was disappointed. Clearly, I realize now, the quilt wouldn’t have been a good choice even if I had taken quality pictures. Again, I really just had no idea. Sometimes naïveté works for you but in this case not so much.
Rejection does something to a person. One it hardened my resolve, and clarified what I needed to improve upon, but also illuminated what I wouldn’t compromise. As a maker I thought, “Ok, I didn’t get in – do I care? Maybe I don’t care. Maybe I’ll just keep being me. Maybe I’m not show worthy and that’s ok. I love what I’m doing and I’m content to be me and operate where I’m at.”
After comparing my work to the wonderful accepted work I noticed differences. Aside from the obvious quality of the designs, I realized that my work might not always fit in the show category and I became comfortable living outside of someone else’s definitions. I decided I wasn’t going to make my work fit into a box. Instead I was going to make what I wanted and loved to make and if it should someday be a good fit for a show, then I would submit my work.
I decided to cling to what I love: symmetry, repeating patterns, and color.
Rejection challenged me to improve. As an artist I thought, “I didn’t get in, and yeah, maybe I do care. Maybe I’ll think a little harder and try something new.” In looking at the accepted work, I was inspired to try new concepts. Though I committed to symmetry in my quilts, I’d never tried balance.
And I’d never really tried to use negative space before. What about if I use negative space in combination with my love of repeating pattern? That way I can try a new idea without abandoning my love of the all-over-design. Had I never been challenged to use negative space, I wouldn’t have made “Flame” (also from Modern Rainbow and accepted into QuiltCon 2015).
Ok, one more because I can’t overstate my love of symmetry, color, and repeating shapes. This one is Huckleberry (also from Modern Rainbow and accepted into QuiltCon 2015). Had I not committed to loving repeating pattern and color and symmetry I never would have made Huckleberry. And that would have been a shame.
So rejection forced me to evaluate my work. It defined what I love about my work and showed me what I wouldn’t compromise. Rejection gave me insight into how to improve my work and provided new ideas to try and for that I’m thankful.
Katie’s Choice was the pattern that changed Rebecca Bryan’s life.