A Chat With Denyse Schmidt

JUL 14, 2015

Today we're sharing another inspiring designer interview as part of our SpoonChallenge: Creating a Fabric Collection with designer Bonnie Christine. We were so excited to sit down with renowned designer and quilter Denyse Schmidt about her creative process, daily life, and what makes her tick. As author of Denyse Schmidt Quilts (Chronicle Books, 2005) and Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration (STC Craft, 2012); fabric designer for FreeSpirit and Fabric Traditions; and co-instructor of the Creativebug Fabric Design Series, she has become an authority on textile art and creating cohesive collections. Enjoy! 
 

 Image courtesy of Amy Hodge


Describe your typical day

My cat Boo usually wakes me up early. First thing I do is get the coffee going while I do my chores (feed cats, clean little litter, make the bed). After coffee, I might take a walk or run or bike along the waterfront near my house. After that, nothing is generally typical — work is always varied and how the day goes depends on deadlines, projects, appointments, and my mood!
 
 Snake Trail, photo credit John Gruen
 
Describe your creative process
 
I think I'm not too different from other designers and creative people. I've learned over the years to recognize and respect the various parts of the process, even the ones that seem unproductive on the surface, like an initial phase of procrastination by cleaning for instance. Accepting (and planning for) these parts of the process means I get to the more enjoyable and productive parts sooner and with less fuss. I think there is an incubation phase that happens all the time, more subconsciously, where I am gathering information and influences, as well as more tactile resources like reference material. Then once I finally dive into things, it all happens relatively quickly, usually because of a deadline, but also because I  find I work best if I produce a lot of ideas and then have some time  to step back and review it all after a day away. I have a different perspective and can see what really works and what doesn't.
 
 
What do you find inspiring?
 
I am most inspired by makers who create because they love to – not for a job or for money, but because they love it. Makers who have little time or resources, but still somehow manage to find the time and energy to make authentic, beautiful work. It's humbling.
 
When did you know you wanted to pursue design as a career?
 
I think the seeds were planted when I was a kid. I had high standards for things, and sometimes creating my own Barbie apartment for instance, was way better than a store-bought one. I could make it detailed and I loved the process of making bits and pieces for my dollhouse, making softies, and clothes. What I wanted didn't exist or wasn't available so I think that is ground zero for becoming a designer. Maybe I wasn't thinking career at that point, but becoming a maker was embedded then.
 
 Image courtesy of Heidi Staples
 
Do you have collections or designs that you like better?
 
Sometimes, though I love each in their own way. Still, some are closer to my heart than others, for various reasons.
 
How many times do you revisit or edit designs before releasing final version?
 
I go through many (hundreds of) variations and color versions of things before I can select what I feel is the best grouping/options for that collection.
 
Hadley collection by Denyse Schmidt 
What's in your toolbox?
 
Pencils, Muji drawing pens, paper (no lines!), Adobe Illustrator, phone camera, thread, needle, scissors, fabric; gardening spade, shovel, and dirt. 
 
How have your experiences shaped your aesthetic/process/look?
 
I have had a free-ranging patchwork of experiences and influences over my 50+ years that manifest in a fairly eclectic look. I love juxtaposing old/new, and my love of vintage everything — music, textiles, quilts, objects, dance, and more — is clearly evident in my work. But I am also a product of the world I live in now, and what is going on in fashion, technology, art — all of those influences play some part in who I am and the work I make.
 
Tied & True Denyse Schmidt 
What’s your color?
 
Right now I'm enjoying some deep earthy greens. I'm painting the newly restored exterior of my 1915 bungalow Moss Glen (California Paints), a slightly warm, grey green. I painted my new IKEA cabinet fronts Studio Green, a beautiful dark cool green from Farrow & Ball. 
 
What's your favorite place?

The beach

What's your most irrational fear?

That I will stop having ideas.

student quilt, made using skills learned in a workshop taught by Denyse


About Our Guest Author

A former graphic designer and graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Denyse Schmidt has been sewing since she was a young girl, taught by her mother. As a professional seamstress, Denyse worked on everything from tutus and bishop’s mitres to fine clothing. She brings these eclectic influences together in patchwork quilts characterized by simple graphics, rich color, and quality workmanship.

Firmly rooted in the techniques of quilt-making in this country, Denyse reinterprets tradition to make modern functional quilts that are fresh and offbeat. Her Couture custom quilts, in production since 1996, are pieced to order in her studio and hand-quilted by Amish women in Minnesota. Denyse Schmidt Works, a line of machine-quilted pillows and quilts with an industrial-chic aesthetic, are made at her studio located in a Bridgeport, CT factory building. Clients of DSQ have included The Philip Johnson Glass House, Ralph Pucci International, Takashimaya, The University of Michigan Art Museum, The American Folk Art Museum, and The Whitney Museum Store. 

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