How many sewists remember learning to sew by making clothes for their Cabbage Patch dolls? That’s how quilt artist Chris Marchini fell in love with stitching pieces of fabric together. Now he designs quirky quilt patterns inspired by music, stories and more, arranging easy-to-piece blocks in creative configurations. Chris shares his process on his popular TikTok channel.
How did you find yourself on a creative path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I come from a fairly creative family, and I’ve always been drawing/crafting/sewing/creating for as long as I can remember.
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What was your first sewing project? Why did you decide to make it? Did you learn from someone, or did you wing it?
I definitely winged it! I think the first thing I sewed was clothes for my Cabbage Patch Kid doll. If I were to see that creation today I’d probably cringe a little… but then it would also remind me how far I’ve come in my abilities.
What inspires you to create?
I pull inspiration from a lot of places – music/movies/stories/art. I’m pretty impulsive so when an idea strikes, I sometimes drop everything and hyper-focus on the new idea. An example is my “You Should See Me In A Crown” quilt. I was sewing something else, I don’t even remember what, and was listening to music. Billie Eilish’s song by the same name came on and as I was singing along the idea hit me. 6 days later I had the quilt designed, pieced, quilted & bound! It was literally all I could think about so I had to get it out of my head.
How did quilting become your passion? Why does it hold your interest?
After watching quilting videos on YouTube for years, in 2018 I decided to make a quilt for my mother-in-law for Christmas. That led to me making additional quilts for my sister-in-law and both of my children as gifts. The next year I wanted to make my husband a quilt featuring a houseplant, but I couldn’t find a pattern. That led me to writing my own pattern. I had no intention of actually writing or publishing the final pattern, but after my husband posted pictures online it got great feedback and lots of folks asking for the pattern. I’ve been enjoying focusing on and writing new patterns.
Did you start quilting with patterns, or did you create your own designs from the start?
The first several quilts I made were from patterns or online tutorials. That really helped me come up with my base style for my patchwork patterns. (It also helped me learn techniques that I don’t like.)
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My style tends to lean towards the spooky/weird side of things, something that’s not too common in the quilting world. My signature I would say is the scrappy method I use to make the design on my quilts; it is all made up from standard sized squares and rectangles with Half-Square triangles and Half-Rectangle triangles to give the illusion of curves.
What prompted you to explore TikTok? Is there a most important takeaway you want for your viewers? What kind of videos are most popular?
Like everyone else, I downloaded TikTok in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. I posted a few random videos in the beginning, nothing that got a lot of views… but in late February of 2022 I posted a video of my Poison Apple quilt that I was working on and it got a lot of attention. March is National Quilting Month, so on March 1st I posted a quick intro video (a 10 second video of “Hi, I’m Chris…”) and I quickly started gaining followers. Over the course of the next few months I saw a steady increase in followers (from about 500 in February to 28,000 as of July 7th).
My goal with my videos is really to inspire folks to be creative. I also want to show everyone that you don’t have to be perfect, it takes practice. Quilting should be fun!
By far the videos that get the most views are the ones where I am picking fabrics for a quilt out of my fat quarter stash.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
That’s a tough one… I used to be a lot more improvisational, but I’ve learned the value of pre-planning with my designs. I do still enjoy improv exercises to keep my skills fluid and expand my creativity.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Other than my fat quarter storage shelf, the rest of my studio tends to be a mess. I often have piles of fabric or other materials that travel from station to station as I need to use that space (the pile goes from my ironing board, to my cutting table, to the back of my long-arm, etc.). My studio is not very big; it is about half of a converted garage and my 10’ long arm frame takes up almost half of that. Most of my process is done on my laptop, so luckily that doesn’t need a lot of space.
I do have a “design curtain” that hangs from the ceiling where I can pin the sections of my quilts while I am working on them (since I don’t have any wall space for a proper design wall)
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I got a Big-Mat Rotary Cutting Surface which has helped immensely. That, along with my collection of rulers and rotary cutters, really makes it possible. Back in my early days of sewing as a teenager, the few quilts I made all had templates that I had to trace onto the fabric and cut out with scissors. If that were still the case, I don’t think I would enjoy my designs.
I am trying to show folks that you don’t need a lot of high-tech gadgets to make a quilt. I piece solely on vintage thrifted sewing machines, and my long-arm isn’t even computerized. Quilting can be a very expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
My sewing table is a shelving system from Ikea (Algot, which has been discontinued), and I cut the opening to sink my machine into it. I then routed out a channel on the underside and attached a magnetic tool strip from the hardware – it catches all the pins I pull out as I’m sewing. It also keeps my snips from sliding off the table as I’m sewing.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I used to use a bullet journal more regularly, but have gotten out of the habit. Now I usually start the sketch/mockup on my computer and let it sit until I have time to work on it and refine the details.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I usually listen to music while I sew – a lot of show-tunes and pop music. Anything I can sing along with really.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Both actually. I think everyone has some form of creativity in them naturally, but what that is looks different for each person. It may be sewing, painting, writing, cooking, teaching or a myriad of other special interests. I think everyone should be encouraged to explore things that spark their creative interests. Something is bound to resonate with them. Once you discover what your creative passion is, then it takes a lot of practice and learning to perfect it.
What (or who) has been your biggest inspiration in keeping your creative energy going?
Honestly, it’s been the comments and reactions to my TikTok videos that has really pumped me up and motivated me to actually put my designs out there. I’ve had several patterns sitting on my computer for over a year, doubting that anyone would like them, and then I found my audience on TikTok and it helped me realize that there is a market for my quirky quilt patterns.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability? How do you get unstuck creatively?
Sometimes I need to take a break from quilting/sewing and do other projects around my house (last summer I re-wired three bedrooms in our house). By the time I’m finished with that other project I am usually itching to get back in the sewing room.
Sometimes it’s important to not try and force it too much. I find when I do that I make a lot of errors or design choices that I end up not loving. It’s ok to step away and clear your head.
What advice do you have for new quilters?
Don’t stress about perfection! Seriously! If you’re just starting out, don’t expect your first quilt to be perfect – heck, it might not even turn out flat or square, but that is 100% OK! Finish the quilt though, all the way through to the binding! Everything that didn’t go according to plan is an opportunity to learn and make changes on your next quilt, and the one after that, and the one after that! Imperfect quilts are still completely functional! Use them as a blanket to cuddle on the couch, or take on picnics. Seeing that first quilt you made will remind you of where you started and how much progress you’ve made with each quilt you check off your “to-make” list.
What do you do with your finished quilts? Do you sell them anywhere?
I don’t typically sell my finished quilts, and there are many reasons. Mostly, it is the cost of a finished quilt is much higher than the average consumer is ready to spend on a “blanket”. Costs of materials can easily be $400+ for a queen size quilt, and then you need to add on labor so by the time all is said and done, a finished quilt is $1200+. So, rather than making and selling quilts, I changed my focus to producing affordable quilt patterns for others to follow and create their own version of design. I do post some quilts for sale from time-to-time on my Etsy shop (rosecityoriginals.com) to clear out space in my sewing room.
Interview post July 2022
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