Spotlight: Tammy Silvers, Quilter and Pattern Designer

Sound Waves by Tammy Silvers

Spotlight: Tammy Silvers, Quilter and Pattern Designer

When Tammy Silvers jumped into quilting, she stuck the landing and took off running! She has designed dozens of quilts, markets her patterns and teaches so that other makers can share the joy of creating.

Tammy Silvers Headshot
Photo by Bonnie McCaffery

Why quilting? How did you get started?

Fun fact! I did NOT come to quilting with open arms. My dear SIL actually deserves credit for me being a quilter. Years (and years and years!) ago she asked me to take a quilting class. I did so – VERY reluctantly! I was still dealing with scars from a childhood sewing class and a mother that accepted nothing less than perfection. So I had stress and perfect seams on the brain. Nevertheless – I took the class, and for some reason, the bug bit – HARD!

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After that, I took any and every class I could, and made all the usual mistakes, and few new ones. Over time, like most of us, my skills improved and quilting became a passion. My husband would say an obsession, but really, isn’t that just perspective?

When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?

Ah, great question! By heart, by nature I am an improviser. But as a designer who wants to sell patterns and partner with companies, I have to be a planner as well. In fact, I’m 90% planner now, and only indulge that improviser side of me occasionally.

Stack of quilts by Tammy Silvers

Where do you find your inspiration?

Honestly – and it seems like a pat answer, but it is the truth – everywhere! Some of my quilts were inspired by literature (another fun fact – I taught literature, mostly British and AP level). Some are inspired by textures or color combinations I stumble across. And some are inspired by need and time frame.

For example, Ashley Elayne was in response to a need to create a quick quilt gift for a student and friend of mine. She wanted something special for her college dorm room. So the quilt is quick to piece because I had to whip it out fast, and it is named after the recipient, much to my daughter’s dismay. In fact, my daughter (who has received a TON of quilts – literally, if we weighed them, probably right at a ton) now has a quilt named after her, but AFTER Ashley Elayne came out. She NEVER lets me forget this!

Do you do anything special to get your “creative juices” flowing?

I hit those creative blocks, too. Usually when I’m overly committed, overly stressed, or super duper tired.

What works for me is playing around in another medium. I LOVE making handmade cards – not good at it, mind you, but I love playing with paper and stickers and stamps, and generally making a mess.

I also have a secret – well, I guess it isn’t a secret now, is it? – passion for weaving. Playing around with different weaves, different fibers and textures can break me out of my creative funk.

Sound Waves by Tammy Silvers
Sound Waves

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?

Honestly, I believe that we are ALL creative. I don’t think it goes away with childhood. I think we THINK we have to be responsible, solve problems and be generally responsible IN A CERTAIN WAY.

Creativity is not painting a painting – I can’t paint a picture. I can make a mess, spread paint everywhere, and have a good time. But paint a picture? No.

Creativity is not drawing a picture. Or carving a sculpture. Or making a quilt. It CAN be. But it can also be making someone smile by breaking out a funny face. Or whipping out a ridiculously amazing rhyme. Maybe crafting a delicious meal. Or organizing your closets so that they look like something out of a decorator’s magazine.

So learn creativity? Eh – but learn to relax and trust themselves – definitely! I would say to anyone – trust that you are an amazing individual with a creative spirit and a talent for expressing your individual thoughts and ideas through your unique talent. Trust that fact and embrace it. Then creativity will flourish.

Do you have great bursts of creativity or does your creativity flow continuously?

Ah if only it flowed all the time. Can you make that happen? That would definitely be my fairy godmother wish! That and the winning lottery ticket numbers.

No, it definitely comes in waves. Usually at those moments when I can’t write it down. In the shower. Driving. Right before I wake up. Note to self – add notebooks in the shower and by the bed!

What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?

I grew up in a family of makers, so I remember playing in my grandmother’s scrap basket as a small child, and creating (to my mind at the time) stupendously glamorous gowns and fashion forward outfits for my Barbies. I’m sure, looking back, that those raw edge scraps that were tied, twisted and knotted around poor Barbie made her look like she was being tortured rather than runway-ready, but my dear sweet grandmother continued to encourage me. Thanks, Grandmother!

Little heart angels by Tammy

You have designed a LOT of quilts. How many quilts of your own design had you made when you decided to launch your pattern line?

Interesting question! Only a few, actually. And back in the day (yes, I’m THAT old and it was THAT long ago!), designers were encouraged to have a library of designs/patterns before being considered serious.

So I kept designing. And now I have the opposite problem – more ideas than I can fully explore. But what fun I’m having!

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I absolutely adore when the light bulb goes on for someone, that switch is flipped, and suddenly they are a quilter! They are passionate, excited by new designs, thrilled with new fabric choices, and looking for the next project and the next class.

The other aspect of teaching that I love is seeing the different interpretations of a pattern. It is amazing how choice of color and fabric design can have a distinct impact on the overall look of a quilt. I find so much fun seeing others stretch their creative wings and make a project truly theirs.

It is always gratifying to unlock that creativity, to give someone the tools to express themselves in color and pattern, and to empower them to make their mark, to create something that can live on.

Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?

Well, I am now! For the most part….some failed design attempts top the UFO pile. Before I started designing hot and heavy, I had a LOT of UFOs. I like to try new things, but color choice, design, and piecing are my strong suits. Quilting – the actual act of joining backing, batting and quilt top into one – has not been my strength. It is a bucket list item, for sure – to develop my quilting skills and have a quilt created by me, from start to finish.

Tammy's cat helping quilt

Tell us about your studio. How is it organized? Favorite storage tips?

Organized is a relative term. For me, it is organized. I keep fabric lines together, as well as solids by color. I am a huge fan of Ikea’s Kalax line of storage, because I find the cubbies easy for storing fabric and tools.

While it is wonderful to see all the fabrics at a glance, I also know that light will fade those luscious fabrics. So I have curtains over my cubbies to keep light off the fabrics. The solid white curtains also keep the space looking bright and clean, and in a pinch, can double as a design wall.

My best storage tip: closed storage, but not plastic. Fabric needs to breathe, but it needs to be kept away from direct light and away from dust as much as possible.

Fabric and thread for a project

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

Once I became a Certified Studio 180 instructor, I don’t seem to be able to make anything without at least one of my Studio 180 tools. They are definitely one of my go-to items.

I love LOVE love die cutting – and try to incorporate basic shapes into my fusible applique projects whenever possible, because die cutting makes things SOOOO much easier and faster!

And I am a HUGE fan of fusible. Steam-A-Seam 2 light is my go-to fusible. Yes, I know others will rave about other products. And that’s great. But I’ve found that Steam-A-Seam 2 light is reliable, easy to use, easy to obtain. I can iron as much as I want and the bond won’t break down. I can feed it through my printer. So yeah – I’m a fan!

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? What kind?

I usually have the TV playing in the background, with some series on that will play episode after episode. It is more background noise than anything, but I do like something on. Secret confession: I am a sap about Hallmark Christmas movies. Yes, I know the plots are predictable and they are ridiculously sentimental, but I totally completely LOVE them and have them playing from Thanksgiving until New Year’s – but just in the studio. My family isn’t quite the fan that I am!

When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?

Oh my gosh – that hasn’t happened in years! Or maybe it has and I just turned them into patterns. Maybe not my best selling patterns (LOL). I have a bit of a quirky side and like slightly off the wall things – like my Retro TV pincushions. They were inspired by the motifs from my first fabric line, Batiks Go Retro. I love that mid-century modern vibe, and just thought I’d try my hand at pincushions. They came out great! I’m especially proud of the legs of the pincushions. I know – a weird thing to say, but I wanted those angled pointy legs – and I figured out a way to get them!

Next up – and kinda a “me” project – are Retro TV pillows! I think they’re cute! Who knows if anyone else well – so I guess that makes it a “me” project!

Tammy Silvers Retro TV Pin Cushions

Tell us about your blog and website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?

The website is the commercial side of me – here’s what I have to offer, here’s where I’ll be next. The blog is where I think folks can really get to know me. I write – or try to – just like I talk to folks, so I hope that readers feel like they are a friend.

I want to encourage and inspire folks to explore their inner creativity and feel the freedom to express themselves. There is joy in creating, in taking a piece of fabric, a spool of thread, and make it into something completely different. There is power in mindfully making something for someone else, imbibing it with love and hope and happiness with each stitch. I hope that idea comes through and that readers of the blog are encouraged and empowered.

What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?

Success is relative. So just the term is challenging. What does it mean to be successful? That’s a personal definition.

But the other challenge is in comparing. When you compare yourself to what others are doing, making, saying, posting – well, it is super easy to feel less than adequate. To feel you come up short.

For me, I try (ok, I am not always successful in my attempts) not to compare myself to others in my field and just follow my own muse.

Please share the best piece of advice you’ve received.

Be true to yourself. Don’t try to be what everyone else is – or what you think everyone else wants you to be.

Sage advise. Easy to say. Super duper hard to do.

Tammy Silvers Quote

What do you hope the next year will bring?

Ah, the year has already started off with a bang, and I really hope that things continue! There is definite power in collaborative design, so I hope to have more collaborations with awesome designers.  

I have been fortunate to get numerous guild engagements, and I hope to get even more! I really want to teach at some national shows, and am working to make that happen.

My audience continues to grow (on social media and on the blog), and I hope to continue to grow the Tamarinis Tribe. I feel so fortunate to be able to be a creative and help encourage others, and I look forward to continuing that endeavor!

Interview published February, 2020

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