Donna McLeod designs modern quilts that she can put together in a single day. Her designs are approachable and versatile. Donna is a finisher! You won’t find a stack of UFOs in her studio. Look to Donna for clean lines and quilts that come together easily. Shop her patterns, sign up for her email, or just draw inspiration from her interview.
How did quilting find you?
In 2016, I wanted to make my kids something they wouldn’t outgrow in six months. I remembered a whole-cloth quilt that my mom had given me years ago that I still use today. I gave quilting a shot and immediately fell in love with the process. It’s such a forgiving, therapeutic craft. No matter how fabric pieces are sewn together, the result is still a functional, usable item. There were so many mistakes with my first quilt, but my kids didn’t care. They loved it, anyway.
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Have you always wanted to do what you are doing?
My background is in film editing and coordinating events. I naturally enjoy putting pieces together to make something work.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
The Wonder Years series (released in 2021) is a four-part pattern collection of minimalist designs to reflect the simpler times.
When the pandemic began, I found myself thinking about my childhood a lot. I didn’t have the most magical time growing up, but I was missing my mom and my family. Next thing I knew, I was doodling the things that meant a lot to me while growing up: playing video games (Arcade), playing outside after homework (Sunset Bliss), reading lots of books (Story Hour), and moving around (This Way Home). It was a cathartic experience. I felt a weight off my shoulders when the last pattern of the series was launched. I was emotionally and mentally drained, but I also felt lighter.
Working on the series also revealed a lot about how I want to operate XOXSEW . It was the first (and only) time I had the release dates planned out for the entire year. The patterns were written and most of the samples were made well before that summer. I realized that planning a year in advance was not for me. It kept me organized, but I prefer to release them when I’m good and ready, not the other way around. I have designs that were conceptualized almost a year ago that are still waiting to be released, but I’m ok if they continue to wait. I’m protective of keeping quilting as my happy place. I’m grateful to have that kind of flexibility with my projects.
What do you do differently? What makes your work stand out as yours?
My patterns are typically pictorial and approachable. I tend to keep the maker’s time and space at the forefront when I’m designing. Although I enjoy block-based patterns from other designers, I like being able to piece up a quilt top in one afternoon for my own designs.
When I’m developing a pattern, I’m not huge on resuming piecing for another day because if it’s not in front of me, I start to lose interest. On top of that, I don’t have a lot of space to store incomplete projects. Now that I think about it, it’s probably why I don’t have a pile of unfinished projects!
I also love to make sure my pattern is versatile. It’s important for me to know that you can get a lot of use from my pattern. It’s also equally important for me to make sure I can make multiple samples of my own pattern without getting bored. If I can’t make more than one sample of my own design, then I’m not putting it out there. So to summarize, my capricious attitude towards my patterns plays a huge role in the designs.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
Practice and most importantly, not worrying about making mistakes, are key. It can be challenging when we’re hard-wired into wanting to be good at something right away, but I try to remind myself to appreciate the skill-building process.
What is one thing you wish someone had told you about quilting and pattern design before you started?
There’s so much I don’t know about the business side of it all. From wholesale, to accounting, to social media – these are my energy vampires that, unfortunately, come with the territory. If there’s a step-by-step procedure on how to start and run these non-sewing necessities in a manageable way, I am all ears!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Planning my colors and fabrics is one of my favorite parts of quilting, so I’d have to say that color cards, cut into individual swatches, are essential. It’s such a great way to experiment with colors. It’s also a more accurate representation of a fabric’s color and texture than the digital swatches you see on the screen. Read my blog posts about organizing your color swatches here and here to help get you started.
Ergonomic tools and equipment may be a bit more expensive than their standard counterparts, but I’m a firm believer that anything that prioritizes your health and well-being is a worthwhile investment. For instance, I’m prone to injuring my back so it’s important for me to have an adjustable height work table that allows me to alternate sitting and standing throughout the day. I also tend to hurt my wrist so a ruler grip (that old-phone-receiver looking thing that attaches to your ruler) is super helpful for cutting fabrics.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I traded spaces with my kids’ room a few years ago. It gets great natural light, which is wonderful for taking photographs. All of the furniture was custom-built by my husband. He does woodworking for fun, so I try to use his talent and skills to benefit me as much as possible – ha!
Each piece of furniture is on wheels so I can reconfigure my room at any time: from basting a throw size quilt to shooting tutorial videos for my YouTube channel.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I try to approach most of my work through a beginner’s eyes. I want everything to be easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate. I’m currently in the process of adding a lot more tutorial blog posts, along with brief and informative video tutorials to my website.
I also hope people will join the newsletter! I typically send them out once a month and it’s the best way to keep in touch with my latest projects, get glimpses of life behind the scenes, as well as opportunities to win exclusive giveaways throughout the year.
Interview posted January 2023
Browse through more modern quilt projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.