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Free Spirit Artist Trio #3: An Interview with Fabric Designer, Joel Dewberry

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First thing every morning, I see Joel Dewberry fabrics. I used two prints from his Deer Valley collection: Antler Damask in Gourd and Architectural in Goldenrod to make a 'hiding curtain' in my bedroom. Not only does it look marvelous, my husband and I came to immediate agreement on the fabrics - which we do not always do. In Joel's collections, there is a wonderful combination of strength and grace – intricate beauty and bold statements. We are so excited to have him as the featured designer for our third Artist Trio feature with Free Spirit Fabrics.

Joel Dewberry has been a Sew4Home favorite since the beginning. Take a look at these past projects that feature his collections:

Thanksgiving Tablecloth with Arts & Crafts Style Panels

Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Style Napkins

Tree Hugger Body Pillow

Turquoise 2010: Ottoman Slipcover

Earth Day: Here Comes The Sun Pillow

Earth Day Strawberry Fields Pillow

Earth Day: Free As A Bird Pillow

Liz's Hiding Curtain

Scrap It: Give Card Case or Biz Card Holder

Yesterday and later this week, we feature three new Thanksgiving Traditions projects, which take full advantage of the rich patterns and color palettes of Heirloom. At the end of the week, Free Spirit has put together a to-die-for Great Giveaway of Heirloom fabric cuts and Joel's patterns.

Today, you get to meet Joel and find out a little bit about the about how he created and maintains the Eclectic Modern brand, what it's like to balance family and fame, and why he's finally come to terms with the fact that he'll never have a chance on American Idol .

S4H: I understand you are the second oldest of seven children! Growing up in a large household, it can be a challenge to carve out your own space and identity. How has this impacted your creative growth as well as the growth of your own business?

JD: Being one of seven children created a unique experience for me while growing up. Sharing bedrooms, being a part of the hand-me-down line of fashion, and being known in school as "so and so's brother" were rights of passage. Being one of the oldest children, I enjoyed the experience of helping my younger siblings in significant ways like babysitting, assisting with homework and my fair share of cooking. As a result, at an early age, I felt very autonomous and independent. I also felt capable and competent of achieving the things I set my mind to. I certainly see now how this attitude assisted me in starting my own business at a time when I had little experience in the industry.

As far as cultivating my own distinction in a large household, I was fortunate to be the only one of seven children who demonstrated a real interest in the arts. I was also fortunate my mother just so happened to be an artist herself, and spent the time to nurture my abilities and provide opportunities for me to exercise my creativity. She invited me into that part of her life and opened up a whole world of possibilities.

S4H: After graduating from BYU with a degree in Fine Arts, you chose a rather "corporate path" in brand strategy and product design. Did it feel like you'd turned away from your "artistic passion" or was it simply a different type of creative outlet? Are there elements of the corporate design process you implement in your fabric design? And, what was the catalyst that caused you to move from employee to entrepreneur?

JD: I don't believe I ever caught the bug of rigid ideology that some fine artists experience, so I never wrestled with the feeling of having "sold-out" to pursue a more corporate career. From the beginning, graphic design was alluring because it reached the masses. I had a vision of elevating the otherwise mundane with good design. This same attitude and vision has carried over into textile design, which is now my outlet for personal expression.

The catalyst that caused me to move from employee to entrepreneur was a desire to be more in control of the outcome. Now I am my own client and able to make the calls on what gets from the design board to the customer. It also puts me one step closer to realizing that original vision of elevating spaces with good design.

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S4H: 2012 will be your fifth year as Joel Dewberry Eclectic Modern - that's quite a milestone. How has the business matured, and what advice do you have for the aspiring designers in our audience?

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JD: Joel Dewberry Eclectic Modern has been a very rewarding venture. We are ecstatic to be where we are today, but also have a longterm vision of where we can be in five more years. I feel we've matured naturally by building a loyal following, increasing in exposure throughout the world and among many industries. We're also grateful for our success as we delve further into the licensing industry and introduce our new sewing pattern line. I believe the success I've had can be attributed to doing something I love and by always ensuring my next efforts fit into the theme of my brand or are an extension of something already started. Being clear about who you are and true to what makes you distinctive as a designer is what becomes memorable to your customer.

S4H: In that same vein, your wife Laurie wrote a recent blog post about how the two of you were asked to be guest judges for a fashion show at Utah State University. The challenge: to create an entire outfit from recycled materials... very much along the line of your brand positioning: Eclectic Modern! What was it like to be surrounded by all that young talent?

JD: It was nothing short of inspiring. We were so grateful to be a part of their event and were extremely impressed with the talent and creativity. More than anything else, we were gratified to see first-hand the interest and passion this younger audience has in an industry we ourselves are attempting to keep relevant and exciting.

S4H: I know everyone asks you about your inspiration, and I can't ignore it either. As outsiders looking in, we're fascinated by how the beauty comes into being. Can you speak about how you set the stage to create a new collection? Do you work with color boards, stare out the window, doodle on a napkin... all of the above?!

JD: My ideas and inspiration for fabric designs come from a number of different sources. As an artist and designer, I make a habit of observing what is going on in the world around me. I get inspired walking through a park, garden or nursery. Nature is at the heart of my design collections and my process. There is an unending supply of content and energy there. I also enjoy the experience of walking through a shopping mall. From window displays of fashion to home interiors, I use this opportunity to keep current on trends and styles. Another source of inspiration for me is design antiquity. I have evolved as a designer through my study of the many genres of design, everything from Victorian to Post-Modern. The fun part of my design process is sifting through the inspiration to find trends and connections that blossom into a cohesive collection. Along the way, I'm sketching constantly in my sketch book and capturing moments, details, and color with the camera on my iPhone.

S4H: Another recurring theme in interviews is the observation that you are a male succeeding in the traditionally female-dominated world of fabric design. But if you look at the preponderance of male designers in the world of fashion apparel, I'm actually surprised there aren't more male fabric designers! What interests me instead is understanding how you feel your gender impacts your design. How to you get that 'wonderful blend' I described above as intricate beauty delivered with a bold statement? What are the themes you swirl together to create such universally appealing collections?

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JD: While not overtly intentional, I do feel my gender impacts my design. I think my collections demonstrate I do not shy away from florals or the traditional feminine palettes of color, but I also see a sturdiness and sophistication that surfaces in each collection. While subtle, I believe that hint of masculinity presents a slightly different design aesthetic people notice and perceive as fresh and a little different. I've also noticed my color palettes reflect this characteristic. My designs stand out because they are portrayed in strong and determined colors.

S4H: You grew up in Florida and now call Utah home. What experiences from these very different parts of the country come through in your designs?

JD: I believe my affinity for aqua, a color I use more as a neutral in many of my design collections, comes from my roots in Florida and close proximity to the coast and beaches. It's fresh and invigorating and I connect it with great memories.

My very rustic, lodge chic collection I named Deer Valley was a very literal interpretation of my experience living in Utah. Everything from the deer that invaded our yard each evening to the columbines that greeted us each spring along our front walk.

I hope to continue to draw on childhood memories and new experiences to create inspiration for future design collections.

S4H: With four kids and a fifth on the way, you and your wife have your hands full with a growing family; how do you encourage creativity in your children?

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JD: We encourage their creativity by providing lots of opportunities for them to participate and by sharing our own creative process with them. My wife is amazing and has established art-and-craft cabinets and closets in our home where our children have free access to an amazing assortment of materials. We also invite them to participate as we renovate their rooms, design a new quilts for their beds or create a piece of art for a bare wall.

S4H: Here at Sew4Home, we are all about inspiring non-sewers, new-sewers and returning-sewers to give their creativity a chance. What would you say to convince someone who's not sure how to turn on a sewing machine that she or he can make something beautiful, unique and useful?

JD: I would say be determined and don't feel as though every stitch or technique must be executed with precision. I am a believer that beauty and charm are often found in the imperfection of the craft.

S4H: Your latest collection, Heirloom, is the fabric we are very excited to be working with for our Artist Trio Series with you and Free Spirit. The richness of the colors and depth of the patterns more than live up to their jewel box names: Jade, Amber, Sapphire, Ruby and more. Can you talk a little bit about how you play with color and pattern? How you mix floral bouquets with geometric motifs?

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JD: The harmony of designs and color are my method of redefining my brand mantra, Eclectic Modern with each respective design collection. It is a delicate but rewarding dance to marry very different design motifs into a singular and harmonious collection. The unifying element is color. The unique juxtapositions and unexpected combinations are pulled together into a family through the use of bold colors. This unique formula creates a distinctive, and I believe, a very memorable style.

S4H: Heirloom comes in quilting cotton, home décor sateen, voile and laminate. What was it like designing in these different types of fabric? Do you see adding even more variety in the future, maybe knits, organza, canvas, wool?

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JD: Absolutely, we hope to explore many more new substrates in the future.

S4H: You are such a prolific designer, artist and craftsman: fabric, patterns, your wonderful book, Sewn Spaces. But there has to be a goofy side in there someone. Can you please give the rest of us hope and tell us there is something you are NOT good at?

JD: There is a long list of things I am NOT good at. Perhaps at the top of that list, and my kids and wife will attest to this, is my lack of raw vocal talent. I have alway wanted to be a singer, but I was just not born with any vocal ability. I like to embarrass my children by breaking out in song at unexpected moments. The shock and terribly off key notes I deliver are almost more than anyone can bear.

Follow Joel Dewberry Eclectic Modern on their website and blog.

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Comments (10)

Karen Jensen said:
Karen Jensen's picture

I am having trouble locating the free download of the Heirloom quilt pattern.  Can you direct me please.

Thanks.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Karne Jensen - this interview is from 2011; it appears that Joel has removed this free pattern. So sorry. 

Leigh Anne said:
Leigh Anne's picture
Love the interview and the fabrics.....amazing!
JJRiemer said:
JJRiemer's picture
Terrific interview. I officially LOVE his fabric.
MN2NM said:
MN2NM's picture
I love the Heirloom line, especially the Citrine colorway. The colors are gorgeous! Thanks for the interview!
BridgetteO25 said:
BridgetteO25's picture
Joel Dewberry is my new fave designer. I'm fairly new to sewing and thanks to sew4home, I know where to look for fabric and designers I like. Loved yesterday's apron. I can see the trained eye and design skills in Mr. Dewberry's fabric, and it's so fascinating to learn about his experience. Exceptional interview.
gmitchel said:
gmitchel's picture
Great questions for the interview, especially about the creative sources and process! JD's designs incorporate such great colors with bows to nature and architecture. I paged through several of his designs just yesterday and gotta admit, loved them ALL.
Kate (www.freemotion-kate.blogspot.com) said:
Kate (www.freemotion-kate.blogspot.com)'s picture
Great interview, I can't wait to see the projects this week. I'm currently working on a baby quilt using the Heirloom voiles and the fabrics are divine!
Jean Creates said:
Jean Creates 's picture
I sooper dooper LOVE JDs fabric designs! Loved Deer Valley, made a bed runner from that. I'm jones-ing for a FQ bundle of Heirloom. And Aviary 2? Major swoon action!!!!!!

Love it! Love it! Love it!

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