An interview with Tula Pink

A few weeks ago, the fabulous Tula Pink spent an evening with the lucky members of the London Modern Quilt Guild. Her talk was so interesting, I wanted to try to capture some of it in an interview to share with you. So read on to find out how Tula (and her family) got their start in the quilting business, the story behind her next collection and what it’s really like when quilting is your life! Then head to the shop where we’re stocking the beautiful purple colourway of The Birds and the Bees.

The Village Haberdashery: You first started quilting as a teenager and now it is a family business. Tell us how it all began!

Tula Pink: I am an accidental quilter. I don’t come from a family that has ever sewn. When I was 14 I found a little quilt shop and loved all of the fabric and asked my mom if I could take a class. The class was all day and would keep me out of her hair for seven whole hours so she was all for it. I really just liked picking out fabric and I loved that you started with these great fabric prints and then cut them apart and sewed them back together to make yet another pattern. The whole idea seemed really strange, that you buy something beautiful, destroy it and then make it into something else. I loved it. I eventually got my aunt and cousin into it and the three of us got my mom into quilting. Now we all quilt, my mom owns a quilt shop and my whole family is involved in one way or another.

Tula talking to the London Modern Quilt Guild

TVH: What is your process for designing fabric. How has it changed over time?

TP: My process for designing fabric is still very much the same as it was when I started. Concept, drawing, repeat, color. I begin with the main piece and that is what guides the narrative. Every piece after that has to work with that first piece. I design fabric very much the way it has been done for years. all of the thinking is done in the drawing which I do with a pencil and grid paper. I don’t go to the computer until the drawing is was close to perfect as I can get it. The computer mainly just a tool of execution for me. I don’t do any of the designing or thinking when I get to the digital stage. The drawing is the foundation and everything is built directly on top of that.

TVH: You are an incredibly prolific designer, especially for someone so young! How do you keep your ideas fresh with a minimum of two new collections coming out each year?

TP: Obsession. I think about fabric constantly. I think about quilting constantly. Ideas are not that hard to come up with. People have a tendency to fear the idea of “ideas”. But I allow myself to have bad ideas and that takes the pressure off because I know that another better idea is right behind the bad one. When I remove the fear of bad ideas from my mind then they flow like water. The hard part is the execution. There is never enough time for me to do everything I want to do. I have never gone to bed thinking “well, I got a lot done today”. I am in my studio about 16 to 18 hours every day that I’m not traveling. I am drawing, designing, sewing and pondering so it doesn’t feel like work. When I give myself a day off I usually end up doing exactly what I would have been doing if I was “working” only in a less organized way. Some of my best ideas have been born on official non-working days. It’s all fluid for me there really isn’t any separation between what is and is not work. That’s what happens when you love what you do.

TVH: You mentioned that each collection you design has a story to go with it. What is the story behind your Fall 2012 collection Salt Water?

TP: I grew up on the coast of Southern California and the ocean has been a major player in the backdrop my life. Everything revolved around the tides, the weather and all activities surrounded the beach. I have always been fascinated by the mysteries of the sea. A few years ago I designed a fabric collection called Neptune and people seemed to really love it. It’s long out of print now and I don’t reprint old collection, I would rather move forward than backwards. Saltwater is sort of a part two to Neptune but also collects everything I have learned about designing fabric in the last few years. I am always striving for each collection to be better than the last one and I wanted to give people a new take on Neptune. Salt Water is the next evolution of that collection. It’s more sophisticated, smarter and more detailed. I am really proud of it.

TVH: Your new book, Quilts from the House of Tula Pink, was recently released. How did you find the process of writing a book? Will you do it again?

TP: Writing the book was a lot more work than I had bargained for but it was also an incredibly rewarding process. There is something about having your name on a book that feels like an accomplishment. The book is a more complete vision of me, it talks about fabric, sewing, has more of my personality and allowed me to spread my wings a little bit. A pattern is more to the point but a book has room to expand a point of view.

I am currently working on a new book that will be out sometime next year. That’s all I am ready to say about that.

TVH: What is a typical day like for you? What is your favourite part of your job?

TP: A typical day for me can be pretty intense. I love what I do which can be both a blessing and a curse. Fabric and sewing are basically all I think about. Ever. I try to take care of all of the boring stuff in the morning when I first get up so the rest of the day can be open to new ideas. I tend to work on one thing at a time. Almost obsessively so. I have three main modes; designing, drawing and sewing. Something that I do that day will end up in one of those three categories unless I am traveling and then talking is the major theme for the day. I live in a very rural part of the country. I stay pretty isolated while I am working but I travel about half of the year. When I am working I work but when I am playing I definitely play. I get really engrossed in whatever I am working on. I will have to remind myself to eat or take a break. Basically if I won the lottery and was suddenly a millionaire I would still do exactly what I am doing I just wouldn’t have to worry about selling it, and I would probably be doing it on my own island with someone serving me colorful cocktails and continuously refilling my bobbins for me.

TVH: Finally, tell us about your visit to England – any favourite bits?

TP: I had an amazing trip! London was really beautiful. I was staying essentially right in the center so every evening I would walk in a different direction to see what I could find. I adore exploring in a new city so I couldn’t have asked for more. I met some great people both inside and outside of quilting. Overall is was pretty fantastic.

Thank you Tula!

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