Please welcome Jessica Levitt to Craft Buds! Jessica is a first-time author of a new book about modern quilting. You may have also read her popular blog, Juicy Bits, where she shows of quilted creations and her fabric lines.
The book is titled Modern Mix: 16 Sewing Projects that Combine Designer Prints & Solid Fabrics (Stash / C&T Publishing) and includes 7 quilt projects plus 7 Quilts + pillows, bags and gifts.
Jessica, you must be thrilled to see your first book in print. Was this the fulfillment of a long-standing dream, or something that just transpired over time?
Yes, I’m absolutely thrilled, but funny enough, it was never my dream in life to write a book. In fact, in school I kinda hated writing. I was never bad at it, but it wasn’t my thing and I have a degree in engineering so I didn’t have to do that much in college. But when I started my blog, all that changed. I love writing there because I can write like I’m having a conversation with my readers. And it’s so rewarding to be able to share all the work, that I would do anyway, with the world. So, now I’m hooked. And the idea of making beautiful projects and having a real, live, printed book in my hand that I wrote is amazing. I can’t wait until I see some of the projects people make from my patterns!
Can you tell us about the process of pitching your book? How did you go about choosing your theme and communicating that vision to a publisher?
Certainly. The theme of my book was pretty obvious to me since I love modern quilts and sewing projects that use solid fabrics. I wanted to show readers many different ways to use them in their projects while still enjoying their favorite prints. Although quilting is my first sewing love, I knew I didn’t want a book that was only quilts because I love variety. I think it’s nice to have a cohesive theme that neatly ties all the projects together and makes your book different from all the general sewing books out there, but I do know it’s not 100% necessary. If you simply have a distinct style of your own, that can be enough.
When it came to pitching the idea to a publisher, I treated it a bit like a book report. I know every author does a totally different type of proposal, so this is just one approach, but it is important to know the publisher’s guidelines. For mine, I wrote a summary introduction of the book concept. I had the potential projects already divided into chapters. I completed one full quilt top (the one that ended up on the cover) and wrote out the full directions for it, including illustrations to show that I was capable of writing clearly. For the other projects I included computer sketches or pictures of similar previous work that I had done with a short description. The publisher had a couple of questionnaires to fill out, and I also included a small photographic portfolio of my work to give them an idea of my style and potential.
I sent all this information in as a hard copy, but I think many publishers prefer them electronically now. Then it becomes a waiting game. In the end, they didn’t want to include every project I pitched and I was free to alter some as needed, so the final book didn’t look just like the proposal. For some projects, they even asked for more information, like fabric selections, etc.
I was reading about your trip to quilt market when you pitched your fabric line Timber to several manufacturers, and you said it was a bit nerve-wracking. Did you feel that way with the book as well?
Honestly, not really. That’s because I didn’t have to pitch it cold to a bunch of publishers. In fact, my publisher, Stash Books, an imprint of C&T, approached me. Their acquisitions editor noticed my blog and asked if I was interested in writing a book. I probably wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t made me think of the idea. So I met with her when I was at quilt market and talked about the process, and when I was finally ready, I submitted only to her. And don’t think I’m super-special or anything. They ask plenty of designers for submissions and then can choose from amongst those. A blog is a great way to get known and also to direct them back somewhere when you do submit a proposal.
I know that it often takes more than a year to publish a book. What parts of the process were you most involved with, and what has the waiting game been like?
Yes, it seems to take forever. I did the bulk of the writing and sewing last summer so it does feel like along time ago. Obviously I was most involved in the writing and sewing. I had more that 6 months to do that all that, but it’s never enough time! I think next time I’ll probably do more projects up front before I even submit a proposal, so there is less work to do. It made for a crazy, busy summer. After I sent in all the projects and text, then the editing begins. Stash is excellent at reviewing the text and illustrations to make sure they are both clear and easy to follow, and technically accurate. There are several rounds of edits, and for each one, we went back and forth, making it the best book possible. At the same time, they take the photos and start the design. I had input into both processes. Basically I gave them guidelines and lots of examples of my vision for the book. But they took it from there and did the photos and design on their own. Finally I requested changes or reshoots as necessary. It’s so cool to see the basic Word document turned into a pretty picture book, but waiting for your advance copy is torture!
Can you tell me about one of your favorite projects in the book, and how you came up with the idea?
That’s a tough one. I get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.
The cover quilt, called Pebble Road, actually came the from the quilting idea first. I love round “pebble” quilting like that. I wanted to make a really big quilt (it’s king size!) that had a lot of impact but that was relatively easy to piece, so I got the idea to do a stripe of circles that really pop. I love the bright Kaffe Fassat fabrics with the grey background.
Another favorite is the Diamond Strands quilt. For that one I wanted to feature large pieces of large-scale print fabrics, so I made them into vertical stripes. And, I’m usually not one to use templates, but I loved the idea of diamond shapes rather than squares because it’s more unusual.
There are also a lot of fun smaller projects. I love bags, and in this book the Essentials Bag is one of my favorite. It’s a great size for carrying a wallet and a few other essentials. I wanted something that came together relatively easy and was a fun showcase for some print fabrics.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring author or fabric designer?
Oh boy, if someone has the answer to balance, I want to hear it. I struggle with that constantly, but when I get it right, it can be so rewarding. I guess my advice it that you don’t have to rush into anything. Figure out what your goals are, and then give yourself some time to get there. I took my time submitting a book proposal, waiting until I was ready to make it a real priority, and I’m so glad I did. I want to make sure I get enough time with my kids as they’re growing up, so that means sometimes passing up on a work opportunity. But I can’t say enough good things about blogging. Sometimes it can be a chore and I neglect it (like this summer), but it has helped me so much. There is a ton of inspiration out there as a reader, and if you get a decent following, it can open you up to a lot of opportunities. To get yourself more known, my advice is to offer something for free. I’m not talking just giveaways, but patterns, etc., that people will keep coming back to. And devote some time to communicating with other bloggers.
Stash Books is generously giving away a copy of the book Modern Mix to one lucky Craft Buds reader. Leave a comment with something you learned from this interview for a chance to win. We’ll pick one winner on Friday, September 30th. If located outside the U.S., winner will receive an eBook. This giveaway is now closed, congrats to #23, Jenelle!