Spotlight: Patty Murphy, Quilter and Author
Patty Murphy grew up with needles and threads. When she made her first quilt at 18, there was no turning back! She has been quilting ever since and shares what she has learned through writing quilting books, designing patterns and teaching. With her latest book, Piecing Makeover: Simple Tricks to Fine-Tune Your Patchwork, now in its second printing, Patty shares tried and true techniques to help each quilter fine-tune their skills.
How long have you been quilting? How did you get started?
I’ve been quilting for 26 years. I made my first quilt when I was 18.
I grew up sewing. It was, and still is, a passion that my mother and I both share. Mom taught me to sew, craft, do needlework and quilt. I remember making a pink and white seersucker pillow for my Dad when I was about 6 (best Father’s Day gift ever, right?) and I was always into some kind of craft, needlework, something. As I got older, I did some serious dressmaking – that really took off when I was about 13 – but when I was 18 I decided I wanted to make a quilt. Mom took me to a LQS and we picked out fabrics. I was hooked immediately and put aside my dressmaking scissors for a rotary cutter. I’ve never looked back.
Who or what has inspired/influenced/empowered you?
I’m really lucky and I’ve had a lot of incredible people inspire, influence, and empower me throughout my entire life. My mom, of course, my dad and my sister, grandparents, and a long list of women (and a few men). I have always been fortunate that I have had admirers who encourage my work, even when it was not the coolest high school hobby.
I think one of the first people I met that looked at fabric and pattern differently than me is my friend, Sarah Phillips. She has a great eye for pulling things together and she helped me see how to mix/match/blend/mingle fabrics in an invaluable way. My friend, Taffy McLaughlin, did the same; so did all the ladies in the Atlanta Intown Quilt Guild – the guild has so many talented, inspiring, creative, wonderful women and Ray, and I’m lucky to know them.
My friend, and fellow C&T author, Mary Abreu, encouraged me to approach C&T to write my book. I would have NEVER done it without her encouragement (and hand holding). First and foremost, I’m grateful that she’s my friend, but she is such an inspiration to me. Mary is an unbelievable seamstress, and her work is simply amazing!
And my husband, Mike….he has 100% supported me writing a book, designing and selling patterns since I decided to go down this path.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I make creating a priority and will schedule time into my weekly schedule to sew. Some days it’s an hour or two, and some days I keep my schedule free and can spend 6 hours sewing. If I’m highly motivated by a project, I’ll sew at night after my kids go to sleep. I usually create something every day. Sometimes it’s other creative projects – art or sewing for my kids, drawing, designing a quilt, sketching, even just pulling fabric to use in a quilt.
Creating can also be freeing space in your mind TO create. For example, if I’m in a creative rut, I’ll go for a walk, go to the gym, rearrange furniture or my mantel. Seeing things differently helps get your creativity flowing. Sometimes it takes a few days, but if I clear some of the “must do’s” from my list and get the minutiae of life out of the way, then creating tends to flow more.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Piecing Makeover:Simple Tricks to Fine-Tune Your Patchwork?
I think the most important takeaway is that there are several ways to do something with regard to piecing. I showed you what works for me, but want you to find what’s best for you, and use that method.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
As it relates to quilting and the creative industry: be you. Do your own thing, and don’t copy anyone else. Own your uniqueness. Be YOU!!
As it relates to life: Unabashedly advocate for your children. Don’t be afraid to make waves. Do the right thing. Pray every day. It’s okay to go against the norm. Sometimes you need to rebel. Find your people. Be kind. Kiss your kids more than they’d like. Thank people that help you. Small gestures of kindness can go a long way. Tell people you appreciate them. Don’t underestimate the power of being able to influence people. Listen.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I think the most challenging piece I’ve ever made was Jacqueline de Jonge’s Be Colourful quilt. I bought the pattern, started working on it, and just struggled. A few years later, I picked up the pattern again and was able to finish it.
I think when I first started the project it was too advanced for me, and I wasn’t ready. I was close but not quite able to tackle it. Time and learning a few tricks along the way helped. When I started to work on the quilt the second time, I was able to dissect the pattern differently in order to make it. I’m not sure what the pattern looks like now, but when I bought it, there was a 50″ square pattern inside. I didn’t want to trace each section from the original NOR did I want to cut apart the original so I went to the local copy shop and had the pattern printed in reverse. So I cut the pattern apart by sections and was able to successfully piece them, then sew the pieces together.
I trusted myself to tackle the pattern in a way that made sense to me, and in the end, I was successful.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?
I think some people are naturally talented and creativity is very much a part of who they are. My 8 year old son is wildly creative. He’s been a maker since he was little. My 11 year old son is a talented artist, as well, but he doesn’t enjoy it. I can’t make him paint (but his art teacher can). I think later in life if he wants to nurture that talent, he’ll be able to do it. Or not. However, I also think that if a person wants to explore any creative endeavor that the talent can be developed. You just have to learn and practice.
How do you keep your skills fresh?
I design all my quilts so I keep my skills fresh by constantly making mistakes. Okay, not always, but some of the quilts I design are a little more complicated than others so I have to learn and figure things out as I go.
Also, just sew. Even if you aren’t doing something fresh, and new, and crazy, accurately piecing ANYTHING is always a good skill builder. Don’t underestimate the power of making a quilt entirely from HST’s, Flying Geese, or 9-Patch blocks.
How many UFOs do you think you have?
Entirely too many. I think I have 15 or 20????? I’m slowly knocking them out. I figure I’ll be caught up in about fifteen years.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
My sewing nook is in the basement. It’s well lit, and a fairly large area to make quilts. I have a cutting table with storage underneath, a design wall, cabinets for my fabric, a peg board for tools, a cart to hold thread, feet, etc. next to my sewing machine table, and my desk and computer just off to the side. I’m not completely finished organizing post-renovation, but I’m VERY happy with my space.
What is your favorite storage tip for fabric?
I have a few, actually. My fabric lives in IKEA Besta cabinets. I like these cabinets because I can close the doors on any fabric mess and generally contain it INSIDE the cabinet instead of on the floor. They are sturdy and fairly deep. I wrap any pieces of fabric larger than 1/3 yard around a comic book board and stack them in the back of the cabinet. Smaller pieces are stacked in front of those.
I have my fabric organized by color and a few categories, Asian, batik, specialty and regular quilting cotton solids.
What are your favored/most used tools and materials? How do they improve your work?
Oh, goodness….I have a lot, I think.
My seam ripper and I are good friends. I will take seams apart and sew again until it’s perfect. That requires patience, which isn’t a tangible tool, so to speak, but I think it’s absolutely necessary when piecing. I remind myself to slow down frequently and it makes a difference with my work. If I’m rushed, my work shows it.
I have a 2 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ ruler that I use all the time! It’s great for smaller pieces and because of its smaller size, it’s easier to manage than larger rulers, especially when I’m trimming up smaller pieces/blocks.
A sharp blade on my rotary cutter and good thread are two other invaluable tools. Avoiding nicks in fabric, or pulling cut pieces apart only to realize the blade didn’t make it all the way through the fabric, are problems I like to avoid. Don’t underestimate the value of good thread. My favorite is Aurifil. I started sewing with it many years ago (right after it came to the American market) and I was immediately hooked! It doesn’t produce a lot of lint, sets nicely between the pieces you sew together, and I love that even the 50 weight is so beautiful and fine (plus they make the thread in all my favorite colors!).
Good lighting. You need to be able to see what you are doing. We recently renovated and improved the lighting in my sewing nook significantly. BUT if renovating isn’t in your plan, bring in task lighting. Before our renovation I had lights EVERYWHERE so my sewing nook was well lit.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Music. Loud music. Some might say I have it blasting. I usually have on my favorite Pandora station – Pop and Hip Hop Power Workout Radio. Even if it’s another station it’s the kind of music I can’t play with my kids around. I might also sing and dance in my studio when I work.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I do! I’ve taught regularly at Intown Quilters in Decatur, GA for 14 or so years, and I’ve traveled to give trunk shows and teach classes. The best way to get in touch with me is via email. My contact info is on my website.
What’s next on your creative horizon?
I’d like to approach a distributer to see if there’s interest in selling my patterns and at some point in the future I’d consider writing another book. I enjoy teaching so I’d like to teach more, as well.