Friday, October 4, 2013

House Guest designer Lee Heinrich of Freshly Pieced

Presentation1 Lee Heinrich

Lee Heinrich is one of the founding Modern Quilters who has influenced the way many younger generation quilters quilt. If it were not for ladies like Lee many of the younger quilters would probably not be quilters today. Lee is a take charge kind of gal who has had many of her works seen in Quiltmaker Magazine, Fons and Porter's Easy Quilts, Quilt Magazine, Fat Quarterly e-zine, Sew Mama Sew Blog, Moda Bake Shop, and she has also contributed to Martingale's Modern Quilts for the Blogging Universe.  Lee has also taken her pattern company to the next level by now having printed patterns available for all quilters to enjoy. Please grab that happy cup and join Lee and I for today's chat!

Jen: Hi Lee! How are you doing?

Lee: I'm great! Thanks so much for having me!

Jen: Oh, no problem I am really glad to have you here at the Gable house!

Lee: Its good to be here. I love your blog and I think its great that you're this series.

Jen: Why thank you Lee! I am glad to have a series like this. It allows awareness to the public that there are "fresh" designers out there that have a lot to offer. So I am glad to have it going.

Jen: Lee, you're going to have to forgive me but I went back into your blog's archives and read "Here I am" post. From that post to now how would you describe how much your life in the quilting world has blossomed since then?

Lee: Ha ha! I love that you went back and read my first post! Of course I had to go and read it too, since I couldn't even remember what I wrote. : )  Pretty funny how much has changed since then--I mean like everything has changed so much! You'll notice I said that I wanted to "start doing more quilts of my own design, rather than just working from somebody else's pattern." I think that pretty much says it all about my quilting "career" has changed since then. : )

Jen: I see. That's how I was too. My thought process was I could make that pattern from someone else but I can save myself some money and design my own. So I really hear ya on that!


Jen: As far as blogging is concerned when did you make up your mind to just go for it? Did you foresee or dreamed that it would take you as far as it has?

Lee: When I decided to go ahead with it, I had two goals: 1.) To connect with other modern quilters (who were really few and far between at the time),  and 2.) to keep a record of what I have learned, the mistakes I made, my successes, etc. Keep in mind that at the time I wrote that first post, I had been sewing for about two years off-and-on (with a lot of "off" time while I was pregnant with my younger daughter and after she was born). I was so new to quilting that I wasn't sure could make a quilt without following a pattern back then. So no, I definitely didn't foresee where this would take me. My blog has become a whole animal from what its started out as. 

Jen: Okay, that makes a lot of sense.

Jen: When you made the change from being a graphic designer to a quilt designer to be home with your family, how much of a change did you go through? Was it a smooth transform smoothly for you and your family?

Lee: For me, the change from graphic designer to quilt designer came about very smoothly and gradually. For a while quilting and even the blog were just my hobbies and they weren't my business at all. Then I was trying to earn some fabric money, as opposed to really make a living at it. In fact, I'm not sure I thought of myself as a "real" quilt designer until maybe this year? So that's probably been the toughest thing for myself and my family ---at what point do you start treating it  as just a fun thing to do in your spare time and start thinking of it as a real job, with the inconveniences and sacrifices that sometimes come with that? About six months ago, I was talking to my husband about going to Quilt Market in Huston this fall. It will be my third major quilting- related this year. My husband said, "this seems like a lot of travel for a hobby." I think the realization hit us both right then; My going to Quilt Market to promote a book I co-wrote. I guess this isn't just a hobby anymore. Now he jokes that I travel more for work more than he does. : )

Jen: All right Lee now that the hobby has grown into a career do you have any good advice on how to balance between family and the new founded career?

Lee: Advice? I'm still feeling my way along on that one! For me, this was the hardest part of writing a book, hands down. Katie, Faith and I agreed to an accelerated schedule for Vintage Quilt Revival, so it was not an easy balancing act, that was for sure. I guess for me its about staying organized, so I can make the most of my time when the kids are at school, my husband is at the baseball game, etc. I have a digital sticky-note on my computer desktop with my eternal to-do list, so as soon as I get a block of uninterrupted time, I'm ready to attack the next thing on the list.


Jen: I like that idea! The sticky note idea that is.

Jen: I know you all ready kind of mentioned this but when did you start designing quilts?

Lee: Around the time I started the blog. I made a few attempts prior to starting the blog that really did't work out. : ) But I think my designing really took off shortly after starting the blog.

Jen: What gave you your "Ah-ha moment" to become a quilt designer?

Lee: I knew I wanted to start quilting after seeing Denyse Schmidt's quilts on Martha Stewart Living many years ago. And pretty much from the moment I started quilting , I knew I wanted to design myself. : ) Being a graphic designer, it was kind of hard not to want to design them myself! It just took a while to learn enough about sewing and quilting to know how to execute the designs I was dreaming of! 

Jen: When you start designing a quilt, what preparations or design tools do you use? Also in your process of designing do you use mock ups or prototypes prior to putting the quilt together? 

Lee: Sometimes I start by drawing things out on graph paper. Other times I go straight to the computer and use either Adobe Illustrator or the Threadbias Quilt Design tool. Illustrator is my go-to program for creating paper pieced patterns.  

Not really. But  I am constantly re-evaluating a project even as I'm cutting and piecing, and I often change course in the middle of putting a quilt together. I think people would be shocked how many times I re-do blocks or even a whole projects because I don't think a design is working! It's always discouraging to decide that I needed to do something over, but if I don't, the project will just drive me crazy every time I look at it --or  I'll stop working on it entirely and it becomes UFO. I'm always happy I made the change, no matter how much extra time it takes.

Jen: lol...I know exactly what you are talking about when designs don't work out. I have been in your shoes countless times, so I know what you mean by not being content until its just right. Other wise I agree it just sits in the UFO pile.

Jen: Lee, do you use pattern testers before publishing your patterns? 

Lee: I wish I could have all my patterns thoroughly tested, but that takes time and sometimes the reality of deadlines just makes it impossible. Magazine project, for example, tend to be too last minute to allow for pattern testing. (But magazines do usually have technical editors who double check everything, or sometimes they even have their own testers.) I do think pattern testers are very important, and fortunately my friends in the  Milwaukee MQG are usually willing to test my patterns for me, when there's time! They've given me a lot of valuable feedback, not just on measurements being wrong or whatever, but on aspects of the instructions that needed better explanations or more detail.

Jen: Where do you usually pull your inspiration from for your designs?

Lee: All kinds of places, but mostly from antique quilts. I love taking a beautiful traditional block and figuring out what I can do with that block that's really  different and makes it my own. Two of my favorite resources are the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns by Barbara Brackman and The Quilter Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer. Neither of those books tell you how to put any of the blocks together, but they're a great resource for inspiration. 

Jen: I so agree to that. Matter of fact Barbara Brackman's book is actually on my Amazon wish list! And you are right Lee both books are great resources. 

Jen: Hey Lee, who has had the biggest influence in your design style?

Lee: Densye Schmidt. I just love her style. Something about it really speaks to me. 

Jen: Same here I have a lot of love for Denyse's work too!

Jen: Out of all the pattern you have done so far Lee, which one are you most known for?

Lee: Hmm. Tough one! I guess I'll say Chain Reaction, since it was my first pattern ever  in a magazine, and its probably my best seller as a stand-alone pattern.


Jen: What quilt or design was the one that set you on your way to being noticed by others?

Lee: I guess I would have to say Supernova! I was surprised at how surprised at how much people responded to that quilt. My Supernova Quilt-Along really gave my blog some momentum.


Jen: I do remember how everyone virtually went crazy over it. I am glad to hear it gave your blog a lot of traffic!

Jen: Lee, can you tell everyone how you keep your motivation for getting as far as you have in the quilting industry? 

Lee: I think I'm motivated just by my love of doing this. I'm sure I would be designing and making quilt even if I don't have a blog, patterns to sell, etc. I consciously try not to get overly ambitious, because that's a sure way to get stressed and burn yourself out. It's too easy to compare yourself to others in this industry, but if you do that you'll loose all the enjoyment of it! So I mostly try to do what I love, and if there's a way to make money from it later, so much better.

Jen: Oh, I know what you mean Lee by getting caught up by comparing oneself to another. That was my pit fall when I first started out. I am to the point where I dug myself out of that pit and I am all the better for it. Trust me when folks it is an easy pit to fall into and you do not want to go there because it will do you more harm than good. I will go on to say that once you find your uniqueness and what sets you apart from everyone else, you will flourish. If you have not found that uniqueness yet keep searching for what it is that makes you unique. In the end you'll be glad that you did!

Jen: When you get into a design funk or rut Lee, what else do you do to pass it by or what else do you do to occupy your time away?

Lee: I try to just set that project aside and not think about it for a while. I'll do some brainless sewing using somebody else's  pattern, or just some simple patchwork. I try not to force things, even though that's hard sometimes, especially when I'm on a deadline! But inspiration and good design work on their own timetable, whether we want them to or not.

Jen: lol, there is so much truth to what you just said Lee that its so not funny! Projects sometimes have their own minds!

Jen: I have to ask, who is your biggest supporter through out your design career?

Lee: That's definitely my husband. He get that I need this in my life. : ) He Listens to me talk about my design challenges or deadline stress or whatever, even when it probably bores him to tears. And more importantly, he does what ever he can to take some of the stress off, whether its just making breakfast for the girls and walking them to the bus or whatever. Every little bit helps. He's awesome! 

Jen: you're one lucky lady Lee! God bless your husband's heart!

Jen: Lee, my inquiring mind wants to know now that you have recently acquired your business licenses for the state of Wisconsin, at what point would you advise anyone who wants to open or own their own pattern company to start taking the steps in doing the same of obtaining a business license?  

Lee: I think you need to be "official" once you start selling anything to the general public, even if it is a PDF pattern on Craftsy or something. I sat down with an accountant several months ago and we talked about what paperwork I needed to fill out, how I need to track expenses and income, etc. There are so many things I wasn't aware of regarding sales tax, reporting sales versus royalties versus payments for services, etc. And the rules are different from state to state, so it is important to get advice from someone who knows the local laws. Going forward, I'm going to do all my own accounting and sales tax returns, but it was helpful to get some good guidance before I started.

Jen: That is actually some really good sound advice to take to heart because I don't think a lot of folks out there realize all what goes in to the business end of having a pattern company. 


Jen: You have also not only taken you pattern company to the next level with obtaining your business licenses but you have also recently taken your patterns from PDF to print, how was the experience going through that process?

Lee: From a technical standpoint, with my graphic design background, it was probably a lot less intimidating for me that it might be for someone who doesn't have that kind of experience. Taking a digital documents to print was a big part of my professional life in the past, so it was kind of natural for me to do it with my patterns. But from a business/investment standpoint, it was scary! I was spending a good chunk of money getting patterns printed, with no guarantee I would see any of it back.  That's money I could have spent on fabric! : ) So I started small (100 copies each of two patterns) just to test the waters. Fortunately, one of those two patterns (Chain Reaction) sold out with in six months, mostly through just two local brick-and-mortar quilt shops. That made me much more confident about investing in more copies and additional patterns!

Jen: Speaking of having patterns printed, would there be any printing company you would recommend to anyone?  

Lee: I've used several large online printers for my patterns, all with good results, but I think my favorite is . The offer free PDF proofs, as well as a thorough pre-press check to fix any technical issues with your file. Their prices are reasonable and their customer service is very good. They made a mistake on one of my files once and immediately offered to reprint it for me, free of charge.

Jen: Lee, if you could give any advice or tips for anyone who wants to become a quilt designer what would it be?

Lee: If you want to put patterns out there for sale, you should understand that actually designing and sewing is only a small part of it. You also have to be a technical writer, a graphic designer, a photographer, a marketer, a salesperson, and an accountant! The profit margins in this business are usually too small to pay other people to so those things for you. So I think you need to be a real "self-starter," someone who enjoys learning new skills and isn't afraid to use them. : ) I also highly recommend making friends with your local quilt shop owners! I have two shops nearby that have been incredibly supportive  of my patterns and quilt designs. I've learned a lot from the owners of those two shops, and without their willingness to put my patterns on their shelves and to have me into their shops to speak and to teach, I don't know if I would have been brave enough to explore the world of printed patterns.

Jen: Again thank you Lee for that good founded advice to take to the heart. I can not stress enough how well you put that Lee. There are not that many designers out there that would have given that kind of advice. So I do thank you!


Jen: With that said, I am giving you the floor to announce any up coming events or teaching engagements that re in your near future.

Lee: I am so excited to be teaching at the Modern Quilt Guild Sew Down in February in Portland! I'll be teaching a "Modern Traditionalism" mini quilt--it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm also doing a LOT of speaking engagements at local guilds and quilt shops in the Milwaukee area in the new year to promote my book "Vintage Quilt Revival," so if you live in the area, please come see me! Visit for my teaching and speaking schedule.   

 Jen: Thank you Lee, I personally would love to catch the Modern Traditionalism class, it sounds interesting. Also best of luck on your book too! But before you go I have one more question to ask. Do you have anything in store for yourself and Freshly Pieced within the next year?

Lee: At the moment I'm mostly concentrating on promoting the book and getting my patterns out nationally. But I could definitely see myself writing another book at some point, and I can practically guarantee you'll be seeing more patterns from me in the coming months!

Jen: Wow, cool, I am looking forward in seeing more of your patterns out on the market. Thank you so much Lee for stopping by today, and I loved having you as a house guest. 


If you are interested in keeping up with Lee you can go to her blog Freshly Pieced. Thank you everyone for joining us today!


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