Monthly Archives: May 2013

Thomas Knauer Q&A: Fabric Design and Modern Quilting

Today, we are excited to have Thomas Knauer, a great creative mind, fabric designer and writer! If you follow Thomas’s blog, you know that he openly shares insight into the industry, the sacrifices involved in running a creative business and the importance of creating art. Read on to hear more about how he balances his creative endeavors with family time, his upcoming book and more!

Thomas, thanks for visiting Craft Buds to share more about your work as a writer, fabrics designer and creator! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how your work shifted to the textiles industry?

Until about five years ago I had spent my entire life in academia; I got graduate degrees from Ohio University and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and taught art and design at Drake University and the State University of New York. In 2008, I developed a rare neuromuscular disorder and had to leave both academia and the traditional work world.

Once we got my illness managed, I decided to make a dress for my then almost 2-year-old daughter. At about that age everything for kids starts to have corporate tie-ins and I though I could certainly figure out a dress for her. So, I made one, and then another, and another and another and another. She loved them, and I loved that she loved them, so I was hooked.

From there I decided to give fabric design a try and just dove in. There was so much I didn’t have a clue about, especially the industry itself, but by then it was about 20 years since I started my career as an artist, and all of those years did a lot to really help me jump-start things here.

Market quilt by Thomas Knauer in “Thesaurus” fabric

What would people be most surprised to know about being a fabric designer?

There are probably so many things that would surprise people, to be honest. The most likely is how much fabric designers make: generally 1-2% of the retail cost of the finished fabric. Certainly fabric design opens up some doors—it certainly has for me—but it also involves a remarkable amount of work to do really well.

Like any business there are always trade-offs, and in the end I am glad to be doing it. Certainly, there are a lot of personal rewards; I truly love figuring out how to tell a story or approach a conceptual problem through fabric design. At the same time there are only so many hours in the day. If you want to make a living doing this, you are going to need to do a whole lot of different things, and expect to devote and insane amount of time to doing it. Heck, I wouldn’t be able to do this if my wife weren’t a professor.

Actually, my advice to anyone trying to break into this world would be to do it part time for years while still working a straight job, or have a partner who can supply that steady income; it is a long, long road.

Doppelgänger quilt by Thomas Knauer and quilted by Lisa Sipes

I’m excited to hear more about your book with F+W Media, due out next spring. Can you tell us a little more about the book conception and writing process and what that looked like for you?

In my head, this book is something of a sampler, not a set of blocks to make a sampler quilt, but a sampling of quilts that illustrate a methodology, a conceptual approach to modern quilting. The quilts don’t all look modern, so I’m not really talking about modern in strictly aesthetic terms; each of the quilts in this book is a response to a specifically modern (or even post-modern problem). Each quilt starts out with a problem, a concern, and issue and I figure out how to translate a response into a quilt. In all but one case, the quilts are practical, usable quilts; the book is about integrating our values, our concerns, and our worldviews into the things we make and our lives, wrapping ourselves up in objects that speak to others and ourselves. One of my QuiltCon quilts—In Defense of Handmade—was made for the book. I wish I could go into greater detail, but that’s going to have to wait until we get closer to the release date.

As far as writing this book, it was a total dream. I waited until I found a publisher who I though was a really good fit, and F+W has been fantastic; they have really supported the project all the way through and allowed me to make the decisions that I felt I needed to make. I was lucky enough to have Lisa Sipes quilt all of the quilts for the book, which has been incredible, and have had the support of some fabulous piecers to help me get all of the tops done in time (you’ll hear about them in the book).

The actual writing really was the best part for me; I am a writer by nature as anyone who visits my blog can attest to. I actually wrote almost the entirety of the book in two four-days bursts. For one of them I took off to Philadelphia to see my neurologist and then locked myself in a hotel until I had finished the first half of the book. I can’t actually remember where I went the second time, but I wrote the second half in much the same way. The really great thing about this book is that F+W gave me a word count that could never really ever fit in the book length we had planned on, and I have to believe they knew that. It meant that they just wanted me go ahead and write, which is what I love to do.

Of course there was a lot of editing and revising; there always is. That added about two more weeks to the writing. The thing about a quilt book is that the making takes up almost all of the time, at least for me; luckily that is kinda awesome too. But the writing, that is definitely a bit like heroin for me; I am addicted and already looking forward to starting the second, third, and fourth books.

Blast quilt by Rachael Gander in Thomas Knauer’s “Asbury” fabric

How do you find a balance between your creative work and your personal/family time? Do you have any tips for creative entrepreneurs in this arena?

Honestly, sometimes better than others. That is just the nature of things here in the fabric/quilt world. Things happen in spurts and you just have to put in the time when you have to put in the time. For a while at the start I think I did a pretty mediocre job of balancing things, but now I am starting to say no to more things. I’m in a process of cutting down to the core of things that truly matter to me in terms of what I do in this industry, especially now that we have a new baby, and K is getting to work on her second book.

As far as tips, oi… So much of that depends on your financial circumstances. If you can afford to take things slowly then do it, but not everyone has that luxury; when it is sink or swim, you gotta do what you gotta do. My biggest advice for being a creative entrepreneur is to have a safety net, to have it be part time until the very last minute, and to have several back-up plans. Passion is a prerequisite, but it just isn’t enough. I don’t mean to be all negative, but I think it is important to hear. If you really want to succeed, don’t jump in too early; that is the best way to keep enjoying what you do and to have the space you need to prepare for a successful entry into doing this full-time.

What’s next for you?

That is always a hard question because I rarely know for sure. We are going to be living in England next year (K has a fellowship at Cambridge) and I hope to spend much of my work time writing another book. And of course I hope there will be a lot more fabric. I have just started a partnership with Janome and am diving in headfirst into machine embroidery, which I have wanted to do for a while. More than just cure stuff, machine embroidery can do some things that would be otherwise impossible, and that is what I want to do, some utterly insane designs that no hand could really do, or at least not in less that a couple of years…

I’m thinking I am going to start moving back toward the gallery a bit more after a long hiatus. While I am still in love with practical and usable quilts (and won’t stop making those), I am finding that I have a backlog of textile and stitchery ideas that are truly best suited for the galleries I used to haunt.

Beyond that, who knows? I have a feeling this is going to be a year of change…

Thanks for the thoughtful interview, Thomas! You can stay in touch by following his blog.

What did you find most interesting from this post? If you have questions or comments for Thomas, feel free to leave them here!

Q&A with Modern Yardage + Giveaway!

Have you heard about Modern Yardage, a new fabric design, manufacturing and retail company? Owner April Cobb and her team have just launched the business in March, printing fabric on-demand from their offices in Utah.

Modern Yardage offers designs from new and untapped talents who are professional designers. What is also fun about this new company is that the fabrics are based on 44″ designs, but they are printed on 58″ wide fabric, so the additional space in the margin is filled with fun extras!

I was excited to chat more with April about her launch of this creative business including the biggest challenges and what she hopes for the future. Read on, and be sure to enter the giveaway if you’d like to try out Modern Yardage fabric for yourself!

April, what is your background in, career-wise, and how did you become interested in modern fabric and sewing?

I have an advertising/marketing background. I worked in large ad agencies in New York City and Washington DC then after receiving my MBA, I worked in marketing and communications for the Intel Corporation. But I have been sewing seriously since High School (sort of freakishly, actually) and have always loved it. I spent hours as a teenager making my own prom dresses, bathrobes, and costumes. When I started staying home with my kids, I started a little business where I made tote bags and sold them at craft fairs and farmers markets. One day I walked into Pine Needles, a little modern quilting shop in the Salt Lake City area, and my life changed. I fell in love with modern quilting fabric. I hadn’t seen it before that moment. My bags became more beautiful because of this great find. This led to my designing a perfect, comfortable headband called the Macy Jayne Reversible Headband. From the beginning I used beautiful modern quilting fabrics as part of the design and people just wouldn’t stop asking where I got my fabric. The headbands became so popular and sold so well that I was going through fabric like crazy. I started looking into getting fabric wholesale, which got me more involved in the industry. Before long I was designing sewing patterns with Joel Dewberry and then started licensing my sewing patterns to Riley Blake.

Can you tell me about when the idea for Modern Yardage first started simmering? How did you create your plan of attack?

Through being a part of the industry and learning a lot from our friends and experiences in the industry, my husband and I became aware of the shortcomings of the fabric world. We recognized that there is an enormous lag time of 6 months to 1 year before fabric gets from the designer’s completed product to the arrival of the actual printed bolts of fabric into fabric stores in the US. This makes for a lot of speculation on trends. We recognized how from a fabric line, there are winner prints and there are loser prints. No one knows for certain which will sell and which won’t. So there are often too many bolts that get discounted and the designers, design companies, and the retailers lose money. Then the designs that do very well are in short supply and sewists and crafters can’t get them when they need them. Retailers miss out on the opportunity to sell those designs when they can’t get enough of them in time. Additionally, there are so many talented designers who don’t get the opportunity to get their designs on fabric. Traditional design companies cannot afford to give as many talented designers as they would like, the opportunity to work with them because their financial risk is too high and they often don’t even have warehouse space to house anymore lines of fabric.

My husband, Jay, and I were aware of the capabilities of digital textile printing and had learned a few things about it. I am not exactly sure how all of this came together into one brilliant thought. I only know that one morning, less than a year ago, Jay walked down the stairs and said, “I know what we need to do.” This is when he told me about his inspiration and his plan. I knew immediately that his idea of printing modern designs onto fabric, on-demand, had to be the way of the future. We leaped into bringing our vision into reality immediately and just 5 months later, was live on the web. We have added to his original vision and have innovated to showcase our technology and unique use of our tools. It has all come together extraordinarily well.

We scouted out talented designers, created a vision for the branding of our company, built a website, ordered and built equipment, then rented a space for Modern Yardage to call home.

What were the practical barriers that you had to overcome in order to start your business?

We were fortunate enough to have enough money to start our business so that we didn’t have to share equity and could keep full control of our company. We have had some challenges in staffing. The roles we needed filled from the beginning were few, but it was critical that we found people who could contribute to our vision and carry it out effectively. In the end, we have taken on more ourselves than we should because it is too early and formative of a time to put others in the position to create the path to fulfilling our vision.

When we approached our first 5 designers, we had a resounding YES! from each of them. We felt very blessed to happen upon such a great group of people who believed in our vision, supported our efforts, and had patience with us. Cindy Lindgren, Heather Dutton, Emilie Daly, Dana Morgan, and Katie Schrader all had enough faith in our big idea to sign an exclusive fabric contract with us before we even had a logo or equipment. None of them had ever even met us in person. They just recognized early on that what we were doing had to be the way of the future and provided a great opportunity for them to be pioneers with us. As far as legal issues go, we approach legalities very seriously because Jay is an attorney as well as an MBA. He is able to work brilliantly with licensees to make agreements that are beneficial to them as well as to Modern Yardage.

The technology has been challenging. It took us and our operations manager a while to get the hang of it all. We are still learning all of the time and have certainly had moments of frustration and have even shed a few tears. At this point we have the operations well under control and we are now focusing on leveraging our technology to bring some new, never-before-seen innovations to the fabric world.

What does your typical day or week look like? How do you find a balance?

Oh dear! I don’t know how I pull it off sometimes. I get up early and get my kids off to school then go to work. I answer countless emails from hopeful designers, fulfill requests from our current designers, and I answer questions from customers. I work on strategy with staff concerning marketing and operations and manage priorities and schedules. There is always work to do on our website and products to add. Fortunately we now have a great team at Modern Yardage that works well together. The commitment of everyone and support that I get from operations and marketing keeps me going. I leave to pick up my kids from school in the afternoon and then take time off until they are all in bed. Then I stay up too late tying up details and writing more emails.

I still have piles of laundry to fold each week that often don’t get folded and soccer practices and swimming lessons to go to with my kids. I have to figure out what to make for dinner each night and try to get my kids to where they need to be on time. I am like all working moms, but since I am in charge, I can create my own flexibility. I never want my children to feel like I am not paying attention or that they aren’t important to me so I have to keep things as separate as possible. Jay and I really enjoy working together and talking about Modern Yardage and our goals for the business. Like our children, our business also brings us closer because it is also our baby. I don’t have great balance in my life, but I am not sure I ever will. I just make the best of things, set my priorities and keep a positive attitude. Somehow things usually work out.

What is your vision for Modern Yardage, and how does this tie in with what you believe is the future of the textiles business?

Our vision for Modern Yardage extends far beyond where it is now. We think that what we offer now is great, but we do have some tricks up our sleeve. Over the next year, new features will be added to our site that will allow more customization. These options will blow the minds of our customers. In a few years, we plan to expand in a way that will entirely change the way that people buy fabric. We are building strategic alliances so that our fabric becomes more readily available. Jay’s main responsibility is implementing our strategic plan, which includes building key alliances and managing critical research and development both with our equipment and our user interface. We think that before long, as technology improves and becomes more affordable, digital textile printing will take over. The old fashion way of screen printing fabric and importing it from overseas will be obsolete and the possibilities will be endless in textile design. Imaginations will soar and the industry will never look back.


Modern Yardage is giving you the chance to win 2 yards of fabric of your choice! To enter to win, fill out the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winners! Spring Into May Giveaway

It’s time to announce the winners of the Spring Into May Giveaway. We hope you had fun discovering some new crafty sites to follow, as well as get some inspiration for your sewing stash!

And the Winner is . . .

Debra L.
(5/3/2013 15:25:11)


And the Winner is . . .

Abbe C. (5/4/2013 9:07:06)

And the Winner is . . .

Deborah H. (5/8/2013 7:50:04)


And the Winner is . . .

Linda M. (5/3/2013 14:28:1)


And the Winner is . . .

Mary S. (5/4/2013 23:38:27)


And the Winners are . . .

DeAnna C. (5/3/2013 12:17:55)
(Deanna, the e-mail address you listed isn’t working, please contact me at marij4 (at) gmail (dot) com by Monday afternoon to claim your prize!)

DeAnna C. was replaced with Diane H.
Jeanne B. (5/3/2013 10:27:20)
Moe W. (5/10/2013 17:01:18)
Cheryl G. (5/6/2013 22:29:55)
Diane H. (5/6/2013 11:07:58)
Rebekah B. (5/7/2013 18:41:08)
Debra A. (5/9/2013 15:27:08)
Sarah H. (5/3/2013 13:46:19)
Judy H. (5/6/2013 21:12:25)
Edith H. (5/3/2013 18:52:10)


The winners have all been contacted and all prizes have been claimed! A huge thanks to all of the great companies and bloggers that made this possible! Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Win a Janome Sewing Machine, Fabric, Thread + More!

With the arrival of spring and Mother’s Day just around the corner, we want to help you celebrate with a big crafty giveaway. Enter the Spring Into May Giveaway for your chance to win one of six HUGE prize packs. The total of all prizes is valued at more than $2,200!

Janome Magnolia 7325 Sewing MachineJo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores

Fat Quarter ShopSew SweetnessAurifilPellon

Coats + ClarkSewCanShe.comAndover Fabrics

Go To PatternsFreeSpirit FabricAurifilImagine Gnats

Sew South (Sewing Swag) • Kindle Fire (Blogger-sponsored prize)



To enter the giveaway, simply “Like” all of the Facebook pages below, and fill out the Google form letting us know you did. We know you will love them just as much as we do!

Make sure you only enter ONCE, because this form is shared on all of the participating sites. Duplicate entries will be deleted, and giveaway ends Friday, May 10th. Good luck!

Giveaway now closed. Winners announced in separate post.

No purchase necessary. For alternate entry, e-mail lindsay(at)craftbuds(dot)com with your full name and the subject line “May Giveaway Contest.” The sponsors will ship all prizes within 7 days of the end of the giveaway. Giveaway ends Friday, May 10th at midnight EST. Once the giveaway ends, winners will be chosen using and contacted within 24 hours by e-mail. This main contest post at will be updated with winners’ names once we’ve heard back from them. Winners will need to respond within 48 hours to claim their prize or another winner will be chosen. International entries are welcome; Some giveaways open worldwide.

Go enter more Giveaways at Sew, Mama, Sew!

Take a Free Craftsy Mini Course

Did you know that Craftsy offers free video courses? By registering for a free mini course, you can check out the Craftsy learning platform including video lessons that you can watch anytime, anywhere.

I thought it would be fun to share about some of the recent free Craftsy classes I took myself. Here’s my quick review of each one:

1. Creative Quilt Backs: I’ve only started to experiment with making pieced quilt backs. My husband doesn’t really “get it.” He always suggests that my patchwork quilt backs are weird, and that I should always use a solid piece of fabric. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to find a fabric cut large enough for my quilt back, particularly if I’m making something larger than a crib-size quilt.

Elizabeth Hartman to the rescue! In this mini class, you’ll learn how to create really cute and interesting quilt backs that tie in elements from the front of your quilt and extend the width of your backing fabric when necessary. I love Elizabeth’s work and it’s fun to get to hear her passion for modern piecing in her video course.

2. QuiltCon Lecture Series 2013: I was so lucky to be able to attend QuiltCon in Austin this February. Even still, I missed some of the lectures I really wanted to attend, because I was either exhausted from the trip or just got caught up in the exhibit hall looking at pretty quilts.

I am so, so glad that Craftsy offered a free video series of selected QuiltCon lectures. While I got to see Amy and David Butler’s inspiring talks in person, I missed out on many others. I actually watched the lectures from Heather Jones, Angela Walters, Jacquie Gering, and Mary Fons via the handy Craftsy iPhone app, because I didn’t have anything good to read before bed. Wow! I cannot tell you how inspired I was from their stories. If you are interested in quilting, you will not regret checking out this series!

The next 2 free Craftsy mini-courses I’m going to take are:

1. Sewing Machine 911: Give your sewing machine some TLC with the help of this free course. Learn to clean and maintain your sewing machine with tips and tricks taught in this class.

2. Modern Buttercream: Learn to use buttercream like a pro! Discover the tricks and tips to construct and create a beautifully finished buttercream cake.

Have you tried any of the Craftsy free mini-courses? What did you think?

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