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Free Spirit Artist Trio #2: An Interview with Fabric Designer, Anna Maria Horner

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We gave you a hint last week, when we started our own set of Travel Tidy projects in her luscious LouLouthi fabric collection, that we had a new Free Spirit Artist Trio Series coming your way. This time we feature Anna Maria Horner, later this month she'll have a unique table linen Guest Tutorial with some of her beautiful hand embroidery, and then... another Great Giveaway prize package from the generous folks at Free Spirit. Today, we share some stories with Anna Maria; imagine the orange trees, chickens and gypsy weddings in the streets of Greece; and understand a little about how important it is for her to shape things by hand.

When I met Anna Maria at Spring Market in Salt Lake City in her Free Spirt Fabrics booth, we chatted a bit about the questions she gets asked over and over, "How to you do all it all... with all those kids?"; "Where do the ideas come from"; "What is your favorite this/that/or the other thing?" I've endeavored to come up with a slightly different set of questions for our chat here, in hopes of showing our Sew4Home fans a different Anna Maria... or at least the same Anna Maria from a different angle.

S4H: You are often quoted as saying your mother, aunts and grandmother were sources of inspiration for you. What are the lessons you hope your own children, nieces and nephews are learning from you?

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Top left: all six children; bottom left: oldest daughter and frequent model with scarf she crocheted; bottom center: absorbing creativity under one of a houseful of beautiful quilts; right: Anna Maria and youngest son. How could you not develop an appreciation for creativity dressed in such a jaunty jacket?!

AMH: I hope they see me taking joy in what I do, though so much of it is not just for personal enjoyment, but rather for a living or to fill a need... as it was for each of the women in my family you mention above. I do love it when I get to create just because, or when my work allows me to relish in the making of something by hand, and then that something goes on to serve a need for my business. I hope each of them comes to understand that the best parts of life are made by hand.

S4H: Your "formal" schooling gave you a Fine Arts degree with an major in Drawing. How has this morphed and evolved as you've moved through the "school of life?" Which dreams were dashed and which burned brighter than you ever imagined?

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AMH: My education in Fine Arts taught me how to take an idea and grow it into a series. During school, this often meant I created a series of drawings and paintings around a theme or a concept - an emotional idea or a more visual challenge. We would have to defend our works every few weeks by discussing them in a group critique, where successes and failures would come to light. No matter how many of each of these I had, I always went back to the studio inspired to go at it again. Sometimes continuing along the same path but exploring new media; sometimes changing directions altogether. That concept of how to take an idea and grow it still runs through me, and it's how I operate when I develop collections of fabrics, patterns and writings. As a drawing student in particular, the time spent just drawing and drawing and drawing created an internal tool I use every day. It's a gift I'm so thankful for, and one I so rely on.

I think when I was in school I imagined myself buried in a studio, painting and drawing for months at a time, coming to the surface only now and then to present a collection or participate in a show. Not quite real life. And while fine art is not exactly my medium, I do certainly bury myself in work and resurface with something new every few months. Despite the constant workload, I love the cycle of it all so much.

S4H: Another recurring theme in previous interviews you've done is an obvious pride in your Greek heritage. In fact, your new line, Loulouthi means flower in Greek. I've never had the thrill of visiting Greece myself, so my images are drawn from the movies, which always show the blended blues of the sky and the sea laced with white-washed houses clinging to the hillsides. What a perfect palette! Can you paint us a picture of the scenes of visiting Greece in your childhood that led to the dramatic designs of Loulouthi?

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AMH: Earth washed stucco walls, geraniums everywhere, worn stone paths, hand loomed wool blankets, bright floral table linens, needlepoints, crochet flowers. Table scarves, napkins, pillowcases, sheets all enlivened with little embroideries of flowers and trailing motifs. Long black dresses on widows, who manage, however, every now and then on a brighter day, to cover their heads with a floral scarf instead of black. Orange trees, chickens, gypsy weddings in the streets. Herds of sheep walking along a distant mountainside, bells chiming across the wind. Village churches, their architecture in the shape of the cross, modest on the outside yet knock-you-over-breathless on the inside with walls laden in Byzantine mosaic icons depicting the life of Christ, marble, carved wood. The ornate vestments of the priests adorned with symbolism in the regular patterns of the cloth. My 'Triflora' print was inspired by the pervasive design symbolism of the Holy Trinity through many of the textiles used for the church's beautiful, ritualistic services. Sorry that was all a bit stream of consciousness... I had to close my eyes to do it!

S4H: It's the end of the day, the kids are in bed, the dishes may or may not be done, the energy that swirled through the house all day has finally started to ebb... if you sat still for a minute at just this point in time, where would your thoughts wander?

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Anna Maria is well known for her beautiful and inspiring handwork.

AMH: My thoughts usually settle on what I did or didn't get done that I was hoping to, and I imagine the tasks all drifting just a little further with me on a journey that may have to be a little longer, but will be good and finished eventually. These thoughts usually happen over some quiet evening handwork, next to my husband on the couch, either accompanied by conversation or a good (or maybe not so good) movie.

S4H: Slap me down if I'm wrong here, but I get a strong tactile sense from you. In other words, I feel that, for you, touch is key to your design work. Drawing and painting are literal extensions of your hands; your children are so often within arm's reach, and even in your textiles, there seems to be fewer repetitive or graphically-based patterns and more of a loose, freehand style. Would you agree or have I run off the rails?

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Anna Maria's studio.

AMH: I would agree entirely. I feel an obligation to let the finished work of my designs be as much like how it first came out as possible, to let it have my stamp, and completely belong to my hands. In this process, though I coerce them into my own sort of perfection, I come to recognize these little shapes and flowers and such, as my own; they belong to me and I know them each well. So yes, as I described above in my inspirations from Greece, it's not just the images, but the memories, the smells, the air, the texture of wool blankets, these embroideries... it all informs my decisions. The thickness or thinness of my lines is directly related to what type of material might be inspiring the piece. Maybe I haven't given up fine art all together!

S4H: In this same vein, one of your latest ventures is the beautiful pearl cotton and floss that came out in colors to coordinate with Loulouthi. What was it like to design a thread line? And, do you see more people becoming interested in what might be considered the "vintage art" of hand embroidery and embellishment?

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AMH: It was like getting to design a box of paints! So, so wonderful, and not as easy as it sounds. Choosing from the already gorgeous (and huge!) Anchor palette was both a joy and a challenge. I had to think about what most people would want in a palette collection as well as put my own mark on specific color choices. I did use Loulouthi as an inspiration, so that was helpful. Color choice seems to be a big challenge for lots of folks, so hopefully these collections are helpful and inspiring. I am so excited to be part of what I would call a reawakening of needlework arts. There have been huge advances in design and manufacturing in the yarn and fabric world, and I think we are just now starting to see interest return. It's really thrilling for me, particularly, how this all rolls together with fabrics and quilting; what a gorgeous combination of efforts!

S4H: I know I keep coming back to Loulouthi, but we've had such fun working with it for our Travel Series projects. Something that was particularly fun was the fact that you not only have a full selection of cotton, but also some laminates and voile. There seems to be a bit of an evolution in designer quilting from standard quilting cotton to voile, laminates, knits, and canvas. How do you decide which fabrics to include -- does that come from Free Spirit, or is it your thing? Are there other fabrics you're interested in working with?

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Left: Innocent Crush – Jewel velveteen, center top: Little Folks voile, center bottom: Loulouthi – Twist laminate, right: Little Folks – Dobby Dots.

AMH: That is indeed my thing, and I was so proud to be the first to do laminates, voiles, dobby dots and velveteens with Free Spirit. When I first introduced the voiles a few years ago, I think everyone was nervous and I spent a lot of time explaining why I chose to do this. I was astounded that the quilt industry – an industry created to serve an art form traditionally built from so many beautiful types of fabrics – had come to rely on one, single, particular, cotton, woven substrate. How did that happen? I love the standard cotton (especially Free Spirit's), but which of us only wants to knit with the exact same type of yarn all the time? Suffice it to say, all the information I need about what type of fabric I design with comes from what type of sewing I want to do. If I want new fabrics for new sewing projects, I'm guessing I'm not the only one!

As for future fabrics, I am currently messing around with a heavier linen that would be suitable for home décor, as well as the base cloth for some wool crewel work. We are also investigating various modal/cotton varieties, which would create gorgeous knit jersey for clothing. Exciting times!

S4H: Our main focus here at Sew4Home is to turn on the lightbulb for non-sewers - to find someone who swears she/he couldn't possibly have the skill set for sewing, and give her/him the inspiration and the confidence to try and succeed. Have you taught others to sew... possible your own family or friends? What do you say to convince them to turn on that machine and their creativity?

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AMH: I've taught some of my kids to sew, but they didn't need any convincing! And usually when I am in a teaching environment, I am already surrounded with really eager women. However, I do always find myself saying, especially in regards to curtains, pillows and table linens, "It's just a straight seam, one straight seam!" And I am a firm believer in just starting; the inspiration will come later. Picasso said something along those lines, however not in regards to sewing. Ha-ha! It's all still creativity, isn't it?!

S4H: In a recent blog post, you mentioned a new venture called "Visiting Artists." Can you tell us anything about this yet?

AMH: Yes! I am so excited about this little venture! For years, I've seen so many, many gorgeous items people make with my fabrics, and I've always tried to help showcase them through the Flickr groups that I host. But in the past several months, I've been inspired to take it a step farther and curate a small collection of goods at my website that are handmade by a group of artisans I handpick. I've been so inspired by their work, and want to help support what they do. I also very frequently hear from people who love my fabrics but don't sew. This will be a beautiful little selection of frequently changing goods anyone, sewers and non-sewers, can browse through: gifts, toys, home goods, clothing and more. All one of a kind! What's not to love?

S4H: Everyone asks about and talks about the triumphs that have led them to success. Can you tell us about the failures that might possibly have been even more eye-opening; the times you fell down and got back up much wiser than before the fall?

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In her spare time, Anna Maria has written two popular books.

AMH: My own self analysis is constantly on top of whatever endeavor I might be in the midst of or about to try. That, coupled with the fact that I am a ridiculously optimistic person, means I find it hard to ever point to anything that is what I would consider a failure. I prefer to see a less-than-desirable situation or outcome. (You see? Ridiculous optimism.) In almost every case of things not going quite the way I hoped they would, the answer was always to be truer to myself, to better acknowledge who I am and what I need. Honesty isn't just a value, it is a rule of life, that if broken can lead you down the wrong path. And not just honesty in terms of telling the truth, or being forthcoming with those you are in business with, but honesty in terms of being sure you are telling your story and creating your products in an authentic way. Why else would you do it?

S4H: We recently celebrated Best Friends Day on Sew4Home with a fun giveaway. Do you have special friends who've helped you on your journey?

AMH: My husband is my very best friend and has been since I was 18. He helps me every single day in every way you can imagine. The fact that he works in an entirely different field (computer systems analysis) is actually a benefit to me at the end of the day. Decompressing out loud to him can be answered with an out-of-the-box, unrelated opinion.

S4H: Finally, what is your favorite guilty snack food... the one you eat during that end-of-the-day moment described above?

AMH: Would you believe me if I said that I'm not a big snacker? I rarely eat after dinner time. But every once in a while, we've been known to polish off a pint (or two) of Ben & Jerry's in front of a movie. I am always more likely to have a cold beer though!

Keep up with Anna Maria on her blog and her web site.

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Comments (14)

Tommy said:
Tommy's picture
Most inspiring interview to have given us viewers. The fabrics are impressive also.
I hope you can continue to find such great inspirations.
Maureen Cracknell said:
Maureen Cracknell's picture
This interview was wonderful! You did a great job! Anna Maria is my absolute favorite fabric designer and her Good Folks line is the reason I finally began to sew, which has added just so much to my life! She really is amazing!
karen lepage said:
karen lepage's picture
Thank you so much for this wonderful interview!! Anna Maria Horner is my very favorite designer.
jennifer s. said:
jennifer s.'s picture
AMH is so brilliant -- her fabrics are the ones that got me completely hooked on sewing (and that started my now considerable fabric stash!). She combines color and print in such unusual and beautiful ways...I think she is just is amazing. Thanks so much for this interview!!
Holly Clark said:
Holly Clark's picture
My all time favorite designer... what a wonderful and insightful interview... really good questions. Thank you sew4home and Anna Maria!
Kristi J said:
Kristi J's picture
Great questions! I swear that AMH has the best insights to offer on creativity and inspiration. I love reading her interviews and sewing with her fabrics smilies/smiley.gif
Beth T. said:
Beth T.'s picture
What a lovely interview. Anna Maria's personality shines through. It's a treat to get to know her through conversations like these.
Jon Murphy - General Manager WFI said:
Jon Murphy - General Manager WFI's picture
Anna Maria is one of many creative FreeSpirit designers that we @ Westminster Lifestyle Fabrics are pleased to be associated with. However, there is no doubt that she may be one of the most prolific (both professionally & personally!)
Thank you for featuring Anna Maria & Jenean Morrison (in April) and we all look forward to your third FreeSpirit artist profile in the coming months.
javadiva said:
javadiva's picture
Anna Maria Horner is one of my faves! I recently made a pair of the adorable reversible pants from the Handmade Beginnings book. I want to make everything in that book! I loved this interview, very cool how insightful it was to get to know her. I'm so excited about her voile!
Ellen Ban said:
Ellen Ban's picture
One of my favorite fabric designers! Thanks for the great interview.
MarciaW said:
MarciaW's picture
Great interview - indeed, your questions were different than standard interviews and helped me appreciate AMH's work even more.
mamadub said:
mamadub's picture
Anna Maria's designs are just beautiful. Thank you for such a great interview!
Rebecca Makas said:
Rebecca Makas's picture
What a fantastic interview! Thank you so much for the insight into Anna Maria's creative style!

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