Today we are meeting a talented creative that I have been Insta-stalking for a long time! I was pretty tickled that she offered to be a part of my Summer or Inspiration Series this year and I’m honored to have gotten to ask her all the questions I had. I’ve got a lot of respect for the modern designs and amazing inspirations that flow from the Whole Circle Studio, and if you haven’t seen her work until today, you will too! You’ll love the tips that Sheri shared with me about entering quits into shows and the story of Whole Circle Studio.
How did you get started with sewing?
Sheri started collecting quilting books years before she ever made a quilt (or knew how to sew for that matter). She recalls, “About six years ago, I needed a distraction. I dusted off a Denyse Schmidt book that I bought about seven years earlier, bought some fabric, and taught myself how to sew on a $100 Sears Kenmore machine I had bought years ago.” After that, she started making wedding quilts and baby quilts for friends and family using other designer’s patterns. “One day it just clicked—most quilts are just grids!” And off she went, using Adobe Illustrator, a program she was familiar with from her graphic design work, to design her own quilts.
How do you think your graphic design background has prepared you for the world of quilts?
“I approach quilt design and making as a trained graphic designer,” Sheri explains, ” and I believe that design and content have asymbiotic relationship. Both design and content need to support one another and require a strong concept to fuel them. Most of my designs start with a concept and the content or the story I want to tell. My design choices—through color, fabric selection, techniques, shapes, etc.—then supports the content. I believe that this intentional process leads to thoughtful design, making my final piece more meaningful and cohesive. Looking back, my previous positions at small design studios, a museum and even a dot com prepared me for both the creative and business aspects of Whole Circle Studio. Aspects at previous jobs, including designing, branding, installing exhibits, business planning, overseeing budgets, managing projects, writing proposals, negotiating contracts and managing client and content advisor relationships are totally applicable to running a successful quilt and creative business.”
When and how did you start Whole Circle Studio?
Sheri started Whole Circle Studio LLC in January of 2015. While quilts, patterns and licensed product are the main focus of her business, she has plans to branch out into other areas as well. Sheri shares, “My mission is to both enhance people’s lives through beautiful, meaningful design as well as to empower and inspire others to enjoy the process of making.”
You might have noticed by reading my other Summer of Inspiration interviews, but I’ve aways got to get the details on business names and the stories behind them. Considering my obsession with circles, Sheri wasn’t getting out of this interview without me asking: “When it came time to name my business, I brainstormed names for weeks. Even though I’m fairly new to quilting and sewing I felt that other professional and personal life experiences drew me to it or closed a loop. I kept thinking about things coming “full circle” or completing a circle. I’ve also always been drawn to certain shapes, including circles.”
Now that we know more about Sheri, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about how she got started with designing patterns. Sheri gladly shared her story; “There were a few specific events that slowly made be feel like publishing my own patterns was something I wanted to do and was capable of accomplishing. After my Picnic Petals quilt won the Modern Quilt Guild/Michael Miller Challenge in 2014, the editors at Modern Patchwork magazine were interested in publishing the pattern. At that time, I had never written a pattern before and they were gracious enough to help me write it. A few months later, I entered the first version of my Bzzzzzz quilt into the Quilt Alliance Annual Contest.” Not only was this amazing quilt part of an exhibit, but a panel of judges selected their favorites and then they auctioned off the quilts raising funds to support their projects. “To my surprise, Bzzzzzz won first place. In the months that followed, I received tons of emails from quilters asking for the pattern. At that time, I felt like the pattern was too complicated to fully explain to other quilters.”
In the summer of 2015, Sheri wrote her first official pattern. She further explains, “It was for a water/fish themed Row by Row block for my local quilt shop. I really loved the block and once it was published I decided to evolve the design into a full size quilt which is now my Little Fishies pattern. Going through the pattern writing and publishing process with this simple pattern gave me the confidence to go back and tweak my Bzzzzzz pattern and publish it a few months later. Once the rights for Picnic Petals reverted back to me from the magazine, I then gave that quilt an update and it was the third pattern I published.”
After talking with many makers this summer, I’ve been curious about their views on quilts. So, I asked Sheri,”You’ve gotten so many awards, publications, exhibitions…do you live by the rule of ‘quilts are meant to be used’ or ‘quilts are meant to be art’ when it comes to your work?”
I could tell that Sheri has given this some thought, “I’m not precious about my quilts. If I know the quilt will be in a gallery or show, I’m usually a bit more careful with it but in general, I believe that all of my quilts can be used or displayed as art. I do a lot of presentations and trunk shows and I always encourage people to look and touch them. I take a lot of care in both my hand and machine construction methods and use good quality materials, so they can always be washed. Plus, if something disastrous was to happen, I have all of my designs documented and can always buy more fabric and thread to make another!”
What was it like to enter your first quilt into a show or have it judged?
“I think being an undergraduate art student prepared me for entering my work into shows and having it judged. Some of my art school critiques were pretty brutal getting direct feedback in-person.” Having a similar undergrad education, I’d have to agree. A note mailed to you is much softer of a blow than in-person critiques! Sheri goes on, “I’m a strong believer that constructive criticism makes you a better designer and maker. That said, it’s also good to remember two things: (1) the comments are just a few people’s opinions and (2) their opinions are extraordinarily subjective! I’ve had the same quilt not accepted into one show and win a ribbon in another. While I’ve never witnessed the judging process of quilts, I know it’s a pretty similar process to other design competitions that I have been a part of. There are definitely specific criteria that the judges must adhere to. While most judges take their responsibilities seriously, they’re only humans.
Typically there is A LOT of work to review and I’m sure there are incredible quilts slipping through the cracks. Two pieces of advice I give quilters who might be interested in entering shows:
1. Make sure your photography is good! Get help from a friend if you are not good at taking photos. You can have the most amazing quilt, but with a poor photograph there is no way for the jury or judges to appreciate the design and craftsmanship.
2. Don’t get discouraged and keep trying if your work doesn’t get accepted right away. For everything I apply for or submit, I still get many rejections. Putting yourself out there is just part of being a creative.
Let’s talk Mini Quilts!
Alright, now onto the quilty goodness—you know, Sheri’s drool-worthy designs! I had to start with her variety of mini quilts…they are my current obsession right now! and I think Sheri would agree, “I love making mini quilts because they’re super versatile. Mini quilts can be turned into wall hangings, coasters, placemats, pillows, bags and more! They also can be completed faster than larger quilts giving the quilter an immediate feeling of accomplishment.”
My other obsession is foundation paper piecing, so this was another detail I was hoping to hear more about. Sheri said, “I love using this construction technique because I design and construct shapes that wouldn’t be possible to piece using traditional piecing. It really allows me more options with very precise results. I’ve also enjoyed designing some English Paper Piecing patterns—stay tuned for more details!”
If you haven’t been to the Whole Circle Studio blog, make sure you pay a visit to Sheri’s post about her Hawaiian inspired quilts. I’ll give you a little taste here, but make sure to check out these beauties!
Sheri shared her passion for these quilts with me and her Hawaiian origin story, “My husband and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii for the first time in 2010 and we immediately fell in love with the environment, vibe and community. It’s truly a special place and we’ve been fortunate to return a few times including a visit to Kauai as well. While there, I fell in love with the Hawaiian quilts that were on display everywhere (some authentic and others mass produced). My time there led to a series of my own Hawaiian-inspired designs. Others quilters became interested and I started teaching my approach to needle-turn applique designs. I also designed two quilts, Sun Salutations and Kona Sunset, which were inspired by the incredible island sunrises and sunsets. Both quilts are examples of taking simple traditional quilt blocks (Half Square Triangles and Drunkard’s Paths, respectively) and making them modern by color choices and slight modifications.
Speaking of blogs, you should definitely make sure you’re following along with Sheri. She’s got all sorts of goodness online to share! She gave me all the details, “I like to use my blog, Instagram feed and newsletter, Three Things Thursday, to document my process and showcase other makers work. I’m often fascinated not just by the actual finished products, but more so by the process and stories behind the work. I also love to give my tips, tricks and recommendations. I love encouraging others to create!”
Whew! What an inspiring time with Sheri! I’m so grateful for her taking the time to visit with us today and give us a glimpse into her awesome world of design. Make sure you check out her site and follow her on Instagram to continue being inspired every day!
As our summer is drawing to a close, make sure to catch up on past interviews and set aside some time next Monday to meet our next creative!