Modern Quilt Studio – Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part blog about Modern Quilt Studio. Click HERE for Part 1.

Modern Quilt Studio Logo Inspired to SEW

Weeks and Bill both loved their careers, but they didn’t want to be forced to choose between having interesting work and raising a child. They envisioned a life where they could take their child to the zoo on a beautiful day, then go home and work while the baby was napping.

Bill was graduating from graduate school, and Weeks wanted to transition to a home-based, family-friendly business. They didn’t want to do street fairs, and they felt the quilt world was too conservative for their design ideas. Weeks’ philosophy is “Life Rewards Action.”

Weeks Ringle & Bill Kerr working in the studio.

Weeks & Bill working in the studio.

So, instead of attending Bill’s graduation, they invested their savings in a booth at the International Contemporary Furniture trade show in New York City. Weeks understood how buildings were built and funded. She also knew about decorating budgets. They went to that first show with the modern quilts they’d made. These were quilts people hadn’t seen before — all machine quilted. They weren’t trying to recreate nostalgia. They were making quilts that expressed the times in which we live. That trade show was the launch of their business. They scored numerous quilt commissions and established relationships with influential interior designers.

For the next five years, they sold finished quilts at museums in New York and had an eight month waiting list for commissions. A publisher approached them about writing a book and fabric companies wanted them to design fabric. Modern Quilts were starting to become embraced by the quilting world.

Bill, Sophie and Weeks at home with Kip.

Bill, Sophie and Weeks at home with Kip.

Weeks says, “Success didn’t come overnight. Sure, we had a bunch of quilts in the Oprah magazine, and we received lots of coverage in many prestigious magazines — but that didn’t just happen. We took risks and we invested our own money. Life rewards action — and we spent $5,000 for that booth. We printed a catalog, we sent out beautiful press releases (which looked like little fabric lunch bags). We worked hard and we took chances. We had a plan, and we were strategic. And now we have a workplace where, around 3:30 PM, when our daughter Sophie gets home from school, we make tea and a snack for ourselves and our staff. She’s a sophomore in high school. Our business predates her adoption so she always peeks over our shoulders to register her opinions on whatever we’re working on.

Although some quilters like to stick to one look or one technique, our work is quite varied. Our quilts are made using large and small pieces, hand and machine appliqué, hand and machine quilting and a variety of innovative construction techniques. We don’t want to end up in a rut so we are always trying new approaches to making quilts.”

Inspiration

Inspiration

When asked about where they get their inspiration, they had this to say:

Bill: We both keep sketchbooks on our desks and bedside tables to capture and share inspiration whenever it occurs. Weeks and I check in with each other to get opinions. I think the breadth of both of our interests and skills is vital to what we do. I tell my students that I hope they are as lucky as I in finding someone who is a great critic and editor of my work. Having a wonderful spouse whom you trust to give you honest feedback on your design, writing and business ideas is as good as it gets.

Weeks: Inspiration to us is not so much something you find on a shelf but a lifestyle choice. To be creative, you have to have a source of inspiration but you also have to have space in your head to do something with the inspiration. We find inspiration in the work of artists we follow, popular culture, and the desire to make quilts that are both innovative and practical. Every quilt we make is machine washable and dryable. Being able to use the quilt is an important part of making it for us.

It is hard to imagine what the Modern Quilt movement would look like if it weren’t for the partnership and influence of Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. It would be like a peanut butter sandwich without the jelly. A cartoon with Tom but no Jerry. Macaroni without the cheese? Needle without thread.

www.modernquiltstudio.com

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 Craftsy.com, another on iQuilt.com 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.

www.modernquiltstudio.com