Spotlight: Joan Ford, Pattern and Notion Designer
Joan Ford started her career as an accountant, has used her business skills to grow a successful quilt pattern business, and now has even designed and produced The Nest to Your Nest™ Organizer, to help quilters and crafters keep their tools handy and organized! She is a knitter, embroiderer and quilter. Read more about Joan’s journey and inspirations.
You started your career as an accountant. How did you fall into designing quilt patterns, and now organizational tools?
If I look far enough in the way-back machine, I always wanted to be some sort of artist when I was a kid. But I also financed my own education and felt that a degree in accounting might pay off those college loans faster. And I was always really good at math. So I started my career in accounting.
When you think about the detail work involved in being an accountant and with writing quilt patterns, those two might seem at cross-purposes initially, but both involve quite a bit of accuracy, detail, a defined process, math and plain old logic. Only problem is that I was never really that happy as an accountant. The one missing element was creativity. ‘Creative’ accountants tend to end up in jail.
So the quilting stuff (eventually) fed that creative ‘monster’. Even as I was employed as a full-time corporate accountant, in my off-hours I found creative outlets like knitting and art classes. Although the transition to quilting wasn’t necessarily seamless (pun intended).
I moved back to my hometown of Syracuse, New York in early 2000 from Denver, Colorado. Colorado weather tends to be sunny and nice the majority of the year—Syracuse, not so much! A couple years after I moved back, we had a pretty snowy winter, Syracuse had measurable snow every single day in December and I got terrible cabin fever!
I was a knitter before I was a quilter, and made Norwegian-style sweaters that required a sewing machine for the final assembly. A basic sewing machine appeared on my Christmas wish list that year, then under the tree. I barely knew how to turn it on! On a suggestion from a quilter friend, I enrolled in a first-timer quilting class at the local quilt shop, and by the end of the class, I was hooked! That year I upgraded my sewing machine (from a very practical basic sewing machine delivered by ’Santa’ according to my very specific description) twice!
For the next 4-5 years I made quilts like crazy and developed basic projects for the local quilt shop. Writing patterns for larger distribution seemed like the natural next step. By 2007, I created and trademarked the ScrapTherapy® pattern series that was distributed nationally through one of the quilt industry distributors, then that process—a seven step process to sort, cut, and use scrap fabrics – became the basis for a book series published by The Taunton Press starting in 2011.
What different creative mediums do you play around with?
As I mentioned, I was a knitter for many years before I ever thought about using a sewing machine. I’ve dabbled in other fiber arts including embroidery and cross-stitching. And I’m dying to set aside some time to entertain some peyote beading. My interests gravitate to making smaller projects. And although I’ve tried – and embraced – many different quilting methods, I’ve never been drawn to any kind of garment sewing.
Do you plan your work out all ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
A little bit of both! I think the accountant in me is comfortable with a little more planning. But I’ve always liked taking traditional patterns or techniques and twisting them a bit to discover different methods to accomplish similar results. I’m a fan of trying new techniques and tools, but I also have firm likes and dislikes from the methods I’ve tried. And I’ve been known to ‘plop and sew’ to see where an idea takes me. By ‘plop and sew’ I mean that I’ll take a box full of cut-up scraps, and plop myself in front of my sewing machine and start sewing into whatever adventure presents itself.
What inspires you to create?
Color. Natural places. History. A good story. An intriguing technique or tool. A problem that needs solving.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
That’s an interesting question. I think it may be a little of both, leaning much heavier on ‘it chose me’ and continues to do so.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Be authentic. I think that in many industries, but especially in the quilting arena, there seems to be a search for popularity in terms of numbers. It’s not about numbers. I think it’s about being true to your craft, being the best you can be within your niche, and finding your followers – or allowing your followers to find you – not because of who you are but because of what you do and how you do it. It’s about finding joy and inspiration in the process of creating, and keeping your message clear and consistent. And above all having fun and inspiring others to feel that same level of enthusiasm.
How has your work changed over time?
I like what I like. So I follow my passions. I like tradition, I like technique, and I like when the construction of project makes sense. I like the whole process of making a quilt, start to finish. And I know that sometimes what I do doesn’t appeal to everyone, and that’s okay.
Are there indispensable tools in your studio? How do they improve your work? Where are they available?
It’s a never-ending battle to stay organized in my sewing room! The creative process can be messy and deadlines can wreak havoc on well-laid organizational plans. Tidy accountants like to be organized! And, worst of all, I can’t stand wasting time looking for things – whether it’s a piece of fabric that I *know* I have in my stash or a favorite tool that somehow got lost in the shuffle. Lately I’ve gravitated to those tools and techniques that force me to get and stay organized. I recently re-organized my fabric stash so that I can find fabrics more easily. I blogged about the transition with my online community in a series call the Tidy Fabric Club.
And Your Nest™ Organizer was developed to solve the problem of favorite rulers and rotary cutters constantly getting lost in the shuffle on my sewing table. Quite selfishly, I developed this tool to save my own sanity, and I discovered that others struggle to keep stuff handy in their craft rooms.
I must say that I resisted even creating this product for broad distribution. I’m a quilter, not a manufacturer and before I did the research, I automatically assumed that the cost to produce The Nest to Your Nest™ Organizer would be beyond my capabilities and would require building relationships with manufacturers overseas. Not my cup of tea. One day when considering my options, all the while lamenting what I was sure would be my fate should I decide to take this idea further, I did a google search, found a manufacturer in the US, in fact only about a 2 hour drive from my home, owned by women. A perfect fit! From that first call, my relationship with the company that manufactures The Nest to Your Nest™ Organizer for me has been nothing short of phenomenal.
On top of that journey, since Your Nest Organizer is so different than the quilting patterns and books that I do via Hummingbird Highway, it was suggested that Your Nest Organizer have its own home base and company, so Pudgie Parrot, LLC was born. My slightly ‘fluffy’ Amazon parrot that shares space in my sewing room and office while I work inspired the name.
Have you had a “never again” moment, then gone and did it again?
I have to admit to being a bit of a control freak. In my own defense, it’s perhaps not as much about ‘control’ as it is about communicating an understanding of the process behind the techniques involved in making a quilt. I’m fully accepting that there are lots of different ways to achieve the same end result, however, when I find a different twist on the road to that end result, I get pretty excited and I want to share it.
With that being said, I’ve submitted designs to publications or collaborative works and have been disappointed with the results after clever techniques I created for the project are usurped for standard, simplified publication formatting. I understand the publication process and the need for publishers to follow standardized instructions. I suppose, with each submission, I have hopes that ‘my technique twist’ might be the exception. I’ve said ‘never again’ several times. But each time I went against my best instincts and jumped in with my clever technique, the result disappointed. I just don’t do magazine or collaborative stuff much anymore – it’s more fun for me that way.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
Just start. Start with a pencil sketch or a computer drawing. Or a colorful piece of fabric. I try to visualize what end result I want to achieve or problem I want to solve, then start building from there. I think a lot of creativity is just an idea at the end of the sentence, “I wonder what it would look like if . . .” What follows is some trial and error.
Lots of ideas don’t get much further than the sentence. But some become patterns or projects. It’s also fun to banter ideas around with friends or with my husband, Dave. He’s not a quilter – far from it – but sometimes he makes a funny side comment and it’s those side comments, sometimes completely out of left field, that contain the seed for the best creative ideas. And sometimes, there is no other solution than just stepping away to clear your head. Watching a sunset or taking a long drive can clear out the cobwebs.
Creativity isn’t a forced thing. It’s about being open to whatever the universe sends you on any given day.
I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone who has read this far, that I’m a little crazy about birds. My companies (Hummingbird Highway and Pudgie Parrot) are bird-oriented. I named Your Nest Organizer after a bird-inspired home. So it has felt like a natural progression for me to create a monthly quilt block series called The FLOCK.
Each month, members of The FLOCK receive a complete pre-cut kit for a quilt block – representing a new bird each month. The kit is completely pre-cut and ready to sew. And, even though the blocks contain non-traditional shapes, the quilter pieces them, not paper-piecing or appliqué. Although each block includes a little bit of fusible appliqué for eyes, feet, or other details. This is a true passion project for me because the blocks are detailed, and creating the kits builds on all my quilting knowledge and experience, plus a fair amount of my math background and detail-orientation.
Birds have always been my passion. Quilting is my passion. Math and logic are strengths. And this project, which kicked off in January 2018, combines it all. My personal challenge with this project: create pieced blocks that quilters could sew without paper or special tools and build sense of community and creativity.
The FLOCK is an ongoing community, so new members are welcome any time!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I think this covers it! (Don’t you?)
Find Joan, her patterns and The Nest to Your Nest™ Organizer:
Browse through all of the artists interviews on Create Whimsy.