Modern Quilt Studio – Part 1

Modern Quilt Studio Logo Inspired to SEW

Weeks Ringle preparing the next project.

Weeks preparing the next project.

If you Google “Modern Quilts” you will be whisked to the Modern Quilt Studio, co-founded by Weeks Ringle and her husband Bill Kerr. Weeks teaches a class on designing modern quilts on, another on and has written articles about modern quilting for American Patchwork & Quilting, American Quilter, Quilts Japan, Quilt Time (Japan) and American Quilt Retailer. When he’s not working in the studio, Bill Kerr is a professor and head of graphic design at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. They are the authors of The Modern Quilt Workshop, the first book ever published on modern quilting, as well as Quiltmaker’s Color Workshop, Quilts Made Modern, Color Harmony for Quilts, A Kid’s Guide to Sewing and Transparency Quilts. In 2011 they launched Modern Quilts Illustrated, the first magazine dedicated exclusively to modern quilting.

Bill Kerr’s sewing skills are not limited to quilts.

Bill’s sewing skills are not limited to quilts.

Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr are often referred to as the “founders” of the Modern Quilt movement. But, according to Weeks, “As is the case with any movement, lots of people have contributed to the growth of the Modern Quilt Movement.” Humility aside, Weeks and Bill are certainly pioneers of the movement.

There are many couples working together in the sewing/quilting world. Typically, the wife is doing the creative work while the husband takes care of the sales/business end of the operation.

But there is nothing typical about either Weeks Ringle or Bill Kerr. As individuals, they are bright, thoughtful and creative. But, together? They become more than the sum of their parts. Their energy as a duo creates spontaneous combustion…

A glimpse into the Modern Quilt Studio.

A glimpse into the Modern Quilt Studio.

One of the most unique things about their partnership is that Bill actually sews and quilts. He says, “My mother kept her old Singer in my room and to me it was just a mechanical toy to play with. It had a knee bar instead of a foot pedal, something I never liked. One day on my way home from school I saw an old machine on the curb on trash day. I ripped out the pedal, took it home and wired it into my mom’s machine, bypassing the awkward knee bar.

I used my sewing skills in many ways before becoming a quilter. In my 20s, I took half a year off and hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It’s a self-contained journey that requires careful packing and taking nothing but the essentials. I custom sewed stuff sacks for all of my clothes and supplies to fit my backpack perfectly. Not only do I sew quilts, but I enjoy sewing shirts for myself from our different fabric lines.”

Weeks’ story: I lived in Tokyo for almost eight years working at times as a teacher, an editor and mostly as a securities analyst for a French bank. I left my career in finance to get a master’s degree in landscape architecture. I met Bill when we were both working as VISTA volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee. After we got married, we moved to Chicago so Bill could attend grad school. I became the breadwinner, working 70 hours a week at a large architecture firm. At that time, Bill and I were the main caregivers for his mother who had a terminal condition and found it challenging to balance the demands of working at a large company and being attentive to family. I have always been extremely intentional about the choices I make and there was a time-frame in which I wanted to become a mother. So I started to think about how we could build a professional life that was more family-friendly.

In 1987, I made my first modern quilt after seeing an exhibit of Shizuko Kuroha’s indigo quilts in Tokyo. Bill and I began making modern quilts together in 1995. Four years later, in 1999, we quit our day jobs and began our business full-time. Modern Quilt Workshop was published in 2005, which coined the phrase “modern quilt.”

Bill’s story: I grew up in a creative home. My father was an architect and mother was a weaver. As a kid, I was a total math/science geek with an engineer’s mind. At university I took my first design class. After one semester I was hooked on art and ended up graduating with a double major in Art (printmaking specifically) and Anthropology (go figure.) I realized that my love of all things mechanical was really a love of making things.

2016 ­‑ Bill & Weeks continue the service work they began 20 years ago as VISTA volunteers in Appalachia.

2016 ­‑ Bill & Weeks continue the service work they began 20 years ago as VISTA volunteers in Appalachia.

To this day my math studies have served me well. I was a high school math teacher for two years in a village of 50 people in rural Kenya and now I love the calculations and planning in making quilts and in writing patterns. I was also a junior high school English teacher in rural Japan.

In Kenya, I fell in love with the print-on-print-on-print aesthetic found in the marketplaces. The women would all be using multiple printed fabrics as skirts, head wraps and baby carriers. And as different as they all were, they looked great together. Japan was quite the opposite. There I discovered how years of isolation had created a culture in which design was refined over and over to a point of purity and minimalism. More importantly, living in Japan is a great connection Weeks and I share. We know how to cook each other’s favorite Japanese meals, enjoy quirky idiomatic phrases and generally share a love of Japanese design (to be continued).

Click HERE for Part 2 of our Modern Quilt Studio blog.

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