With a long family heritage of sewing, becoming a quilt designer, author and teacher was a natural progression for Lee Chappell Monroe. Her designs begin with and honor the traditional, then take a modern turn with creative color and layout choices. This is what makes Lee’s quilts her own and how she hopes her readers and students will create quilts that express their own version of happy.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path?
I’ve always loved art and creativity. I was a double major in college in Art and Political Science. My art professor asked me if I chose a career in law if I would still be creative in my spare time. When I said, “of course!”, he said why would you not make your career what you feel passionate about. I went to design school and worked as a graphic designer before sewing and quilting took over and became my career!
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How did you first learn to quilt?
My mother taught me to sew from a young age, but I was always very utilitarian about it. So if I needed a pillow, I made one. But it was not until I saw a patchwork quilt on the cover of a Pottery Barn catalogue that I had to jump into quilting. I used my mother’s stash and learned a lot!
Why is your company named May Chappell?
My business is named for my great-grandmother. She taught my grandmother to sew, who then taught my mother, who then taught me. I wanted to pay tribute to the line of women that came before me. I wrote a great post about my family’s stitching and the story of the name.
How would you describe your work?
I describe it as Modernitional. Inspired by traditional designs and making them modern through design, color and fabric choices.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Jump Into Sewing?
A love of sewing! Jump into Sewing is a comprehensive guide to all things stitching, from sewing machines to fabric to thread to needles, as well as all the notions you need. I want sewing to feel approachable and the reader to know they can succeed in making the projects. (You can buy the book on Lee’s website.)
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Definitely a planner!
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I don’t like to count things like that, but probably about thirty. I am not afraid to get rid of a project that I’ve lost interest in. So pass it along to a friend and remove it from your mind! I’m a better finisher when it’s for a pattern, but my best friend’s kids are still waiting on their quilts.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes, my studio is small, but I love it. It’s my happy place! I live in a 1929 cottage, and the studio was originally a bedroom turned dining room. It has a built in sewing table which I love but don’t actually use. Here’s a link to a quick tour of my studio.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
Keep like items in the same space. All of my fabric must fit on the shelf, so no extra bins. If you can’t see it, then you won’t use it! I cut comic book boards in half to store my ribbons and trims. Because I can see them, I started using them a lot more. Also, label the size of your batting scraps – you’ll start using them!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I’m a big Bloc Loc ruler fan! They speed up my half square triangles and flying geese.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? If so, how does that help your work develop?
Yes! I start my designs with a pencil and graph paper. I design by hand before turning to InDesign to draft the design and test out colors and fabric. In addition, I design my patterns in InDesign.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I binge a lot of TV, anything that doesn’t require my attention. I also love podcasts and music. There’s a lot of musical theater happening at May Chappell HQ. I can perform a frightening version of Hamilton that no other human will ever see.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity needs nurturing. Everyone has some, but you have to develop it. It certainly comes easier to some folks, but I find a lot of different types of creatives find a home in quilting and sewing. If you want to design from scratch, you can! If you want to follow someone’s pattern and use one line of fabric, you can! And both will turn out amazing!! I teach a lot of color workshops and one thing I always remind students is that everyone has a sense of color. You just need to hone and develop it!
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes! I love to teach! You can find the information on my website.
What are the top three tips every quilter should know?
- Never stop learning!
- Patterns are a guide; it’s your project!
- Accurate cutting leads to accurate stitching:)
There are tons of tips on my Terrific Tips Tuesday posts.
Interview posted September 2021
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