Get to Know: Sam of Hunter's Design Studio
Are you familiar with Hunter's Design Studios? Sam Hunter sews and designs from her studio in Portland, Oregon and has designed dozens of quilts, written a book on paper piecing the alphabet, Quilt Talk, and has taught quilting for more than 20 years nationwide. We wanted to get to know her a little better, so we invited her to a little Q&A:
When did you start designing your own patterns? And what motivated you to embark on that adventure?
I started at the end of 2011. I had bought a cute pattern that I planned to teach at my local store, and was really frustrated by how poorly it was written. Like many of my friends, I had often re-written patterns I bought before I could use them. When I grumbled to a friend about this pattern, she challenged me to write my own. So I did! The pattern is Mouse Trap, a quilt pattern for fat quarters.
What is your favorite part of making quilts?
I love choosing fabric, and I love cutting it. Making the top can be fun or not – sometimes I just feel like the construction worker, getting it done, as most of the problems have been solved by that point. The pushing and pulling of the color is a joy to me – I use a design wall relentlessly and have fun walking back and forth to it, looking at the whole idea, and moving things around until I’m happy.
I probably like the actual quilting the least. I can do complicated stuff, but it’s not my fave so I tend to do simple echoes and a lot of straight lines or stippling – or I send it out to one of our wonderful local long-arm artists. I love binding – the rhythm of the handwork finish is soothing, and it’s a time where I can put my thoughts and energy for good into the quilt for its recipient.
What's been your biggest “Oops!” when making a quilt?
Fabric values, every time. If I’m going to face-plant, it will be because I got seduced by color and ignored value. The ability to check my values with a cell phone camera is a major saving point.
How many patterns have you made so far? Do you have a favorite?
I have 25 released at the moment, with a few of those retired. All of them have something special for me - I design what turns me on, not necessarily what I think the market wants – and my favorite part of the process is figuring out how to take an idea and break it down into makeable parts. I have a particular affection for ones that made me stretch in both the making and the writing/drawing of the pattern. Chunky Wee Bag is one that pushed me in both – I made 17 versions of the bag before I was ready to send the pattern out (you can read the story here).
I have a soft spot for Relatively Dimensional as my son helped out with the design (such a rare treat to share that time with him). Of the newest patterns, I would have to say Five Stars is a favorite. The puzzle of nesting the stars was fun, and finding a way to make it cut accurately with all the triangles was a worthy challenge.
What inspires you?
So many things! Shapes and colors and words and nature and fonts and patterns. When I’m out and about, I tend to see colors first, and pattern textures next. I love looking at old buildings and the interaction of the shapes. I love text and font design, and follow a lot of text and poster artists on-line.
You have a Fine Arts background, so how did you land in the quilting world?
I have a Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in Intermedia, which I chose to interpret mostly in fiber. My first degree is in electronic engineering, but I started back to school at 30 to study art (I had always wanted to do art but my parents were utterly against it), and I just chunked away at it for years while working full time and being a single mom. Once my son was out of high school, I finished up my BA in sculpture and took the leap for graduate school.
I started quilting long before any of my arts education, and it has always been simmering in the background. When I graduated the MFA in 2010 I thought I would pursue college teaching, but the jobs in academia were scarce – it was a bad time to come out of school and look for work. I designed my first pattern mostly on a challenge from a friend, but then I dug into it, and now I’m thrilled to be part of this industry. I still miss college teaching, but I get to teach quilters and that’s just as great.
The skills and knowledge of quilting has been passed down the generations in deep traditions of women teaching women (with a nod to the guys in the field). I had many smart and giving women help me get started, and I feel strongly that, now that I have a few years under my belt, it’s my turn to honor the tradition and help others. I love showing people how easy it can be to make something beautiful, and I especially like showing them that you can make things with wobbles and points that miss, and it’s still a wonderful thing. While I think it’s good to aim for strong skills, I think perfection is utterly overrated and steals the soul from handmade things. I feel so lucky to help students grow – it’s like I have a cool present in a box, and we get to unwrap it together and play with the new toy inside!
Any new patterns coming out?
Yes! I have 4 new ones almost ready for Spring Quilt Market (mid-May), and that might turn into 5 by the time we get there. I’m sure you’ll see them at Fabric Depot soon!
You work with a lot of fabrics; do you have any favorit designers?
Not really – I love a LOT of different fabric. I tend not to work in a collection unless commissioned to do so. I feel comfortable working in most genres of fabrics, but lean to modern, contemporary, and batiks. My least favorites are probably the reproductions of eras like the Civil War and the 30s. I like a lot of bright and rich color, so you’ll seldom see me play with anything dull or muddy. Orange is my favorite color, so I collect a lot of that, and I have an affinity for prints that include text, words, typewriters, and that sort of thing.
We're happy to have Sam joining us this Sunday for her Big Block Tumble class and would love for you to join us!