Thought it was time to have some interesting (hopefully!) articles again. For this one, we interviewed one of our favourite pattern designers, Debbie Bowles of Maple Island Quilts.
Debbie very graciously answered our many questions from her home in Minnesota.
I was teaching at a local quilt shop and often would teach a design of my own. The students worked from a typed but hand drawn handout. Much to my surprise, friends of the students began to ask me if they could buy the handout. That was the beginning of Maple Island Quilts.
Yes, I have People! My skill set is the idea and design. It takes a village to go from an idea to a saleable pattern. I have always outsourced the graphic design, printing and website. As my business grew, I was able to hire an assistant to handle much of the office work.
Pre Covid my assistant handled the office part of the business including shipping. She has not been to work since mid-March 2020. I now divide my time between the mechanics of the business and the design part of the business this past year. It has been a challenge.
I have been so blessed with testers. For many years 4-6 quilters gathered and sewed for a day once a month, testing new designs and concepts every month. It was great to have immediate critical feedback about the ideas and instructions. Some ideas went on to become patterns and others went to recycling!
These quilters are still testing but we no longer meet for a day of sewing. I have early-stage and late-stage testers when the pattern is nearly done. Testing has been a critical and important part of Maple Island Quilts.
I do love a good curve! The first idea for the curves came from wanting to create an achievable technique to cut and sew curves for a contemporary look. The concept became a book and quite a few patterns. It was always fun to teach the curve designs because it felt like I was opening the inventive door for some quilters.
I have always loved the big print and wanted to create a pattern where the big print was the focus. At that time (2004) the big prints were just beginning to be popular with the fabric companies and quilters were buying the prints but didn’t want to cut them into small pieces. There were very few patterns that put the focus on the main print in a large-scale format. I was very nervous about BQ when I did my first presentation at Quilt Market that year. Who would use a 12” square as a segment in a quilt! Thankfully, the shop owners and the consumers embraced the idea and BQ went on to become a staple for many.
We have done a BQ pattern every 3 years since 2004. The simplicity of the frames makes them the perfect vehicle to showcase whatever the maker wants.
Usually, my favorite is whatever new design I am working on! I have a special place in my heart for Yikes and all the BQ’s. Yikes was originally a Block of the Month and one of the first that had a contemporary feel. We re-published it in a booklet style format a few years later. It makes a beautiful project that every quilter loves. We have a Yikes quilt on our bed most of the year and is one of my husband’s favorites.
I do the piecing and binding but not much finish quilting. My machine quilting skills are only adequate. I do just enough machine quilting so I can give advice on easy ideas for our patterns.
What would you love quilters to know about your journey?
I have loved the opportunity to connect with quilters via email, phone and in person teaching.
Every quilter has their story and it has been fun to hear so many of them through the years. I retired from traveling and teaching 3 years ago and miss being with quilters in person.
What is one word of advice you would give quilters?
I have two pieces of advice. One is emotional and one is practical!
Keep stitching and learning. Don’t get in a rut with colors, techniques and design! There is always going to be a new pattern or technique that might be fun for you!
My other advice is to remember that the pattern designers are trying to make a living and if you photocopy their work (or post it on social media) and give it to a friend you are stealing from the pattern designer and from the quilt shop that is also trying to make a sale. Support your local quilt shop!
For me, quilting soothes the soul and I am always so happy to be at my sewing machine. This year has taken a toll on so many and our industry is struggling. We are all hoping that this year may bring a brighter way ahead.
Thank you, Debbie, for your generosity in wading through our questions and for your “boldly inspired” patterns!
Head over to our shopping page and do a search for Maple Island to see which of Debbie’s great patterns we have in stock! https://cobwebsandcaviar.com/