|it all started with a book cover...|
When I started to get interested in quilting and fabric, I saw her name listed frequently on online fabric stores. They stocked her most recent collection, Briar Rose. When I started choosing fabrics for my first quilt, something made me want to pick a Heather Ross print. This artist was the first fabric designer I knew by name, and I thought that alone deserved a nod in my first quilt. I selected the print with the cricket and clovers. I made the quilt. I paid my due to the first name I knew, and that was that. For a couple of months anyway.
Patty brought a bag of fabric scraps to work to feed the hatchling quilt monster I was becoming. I leafed through the pieces of blenders, dots, florals, and stripes. Then I got to a tiny, pale blue scrap with a gnome on it that made me squeal and stomp my feet. Gnomes have fascinated me since childhood thanks to the books and illustrations of Rien Poortvliet my mom read with me, and further compounded by the movie Amélie I watched a dozen times in high school with my Francophile brother. I asked Patty who the designer was, and she answered Heather Ross.
|the little gnome that changed me (and a kitty paw)|
"I thought her only collection was Briar Rose," I said. It was the only collection I saw on any fabric store's site. I didn't yet understand that fabric collections have limited runs. She told me about all of the collections she did for Kokka and Free Spirit, her cult following, and how people bought $80 Munki Munki pajamas just to rip them up and sew with them. "I once paid $20 for a piece of a pant leg. It's crazy," she said. As a new quilter who already had a tough time swallowing the $10/yard price tag of high quality quilting cotton, I recognized that Heather Ross would be an expensive person to admire. So I avoided her. I never even did a Google image search to see what I was missing, because I knew that would be the end of it. In my universe Heather Ross was just Briar Rose and a tiny gnome.
It was that little piece of the gnome print that led me to make my first Scatterbrain Quilt. I needed a way to put him to a quilt that didn't make him look out of place. In the end, he may have been lost in the chaos, but I knew he was there. And so did Patty. When she gave me a bin of fabric scraps to make a Scatterbrain Quilt for her, she pulled out her treasured scraps of the nanny bee from Briar Rose, and the VW vans from Lightning Bugs & Other Mysteries, asking me to feature them. I have to explain the significance of this. Patty has a forest of fabric. I'm not exaggerating when I say I daydream about the stacks of gorgeous prints she has in her studio. When Patty, the fabric queen, said she treasured these pieces, they took on a whole new level of meaning.
I can't blame Patty for my affliction though. Instagram put the nail in the coffin, and once I saw a quilt block made with pieces of her Mendocino collection, the coffin was dropped into the hole and buried 15 feet under. I scoured #thegreatfabricdestash for weeks before I was able to snag a Heather Ross scrap bundle that included pieces from Mendocino, Nursery Versery, Far Far Away 1, Munki Munki, and Briar Rose. I used those pieces to make The Treasure Box, which was designed for the purpose of showcasing these scraps.
|i love the movement of the underwater sisters|
Since that first scrap bundle, I've been on a constant scavenger hunt for Heather Ross scraps and my collection has grown quickly, but carefully. As a twenty-three year old graphic designer, I'm not exactly making bank. Shocking, I know. That is why I became a *scrap* collector. The problem with scraps is it's hard to use them in patterns. They come in odd shapes and sizes. That's why I started making scrappy improv quilts.
I don't think I would be the quilter I am and am proud to be if it weren't for Heather Ross. Her work pushes me to find creative solutions. I can't objectively explain why her work means so much to me. It’s a far more emotional story.
|Heather Ross + Disney = Pure Joy|
I think people naturally try to find similarities between themselves and their heroes. They'll look to even the most superficial things to bring them closer, to feel like they could be that hero themselves.
I don't even know that it's possible to do that with Heather Ross.
I purchased How to Catch a Frog shortly after its release. With every page I read, I found that I had less in common with Heather Ross than I did the page before. She grew up in poverty, with a single mother who rejected every norm. I grew up privileged with a stay-at-home father who had a list of rules and expectations that resembles a roll of toilet paper and a working mother who was so loving it’s almost suffocating. Ross loved being outdoors, swimming in ponds and rivers. I drove my swim team coaches crazy when I woudn’t get into the pool because it was littered with floating dead crickets. Ross remembered being hungry and cold. I complained when my dad cooked fish and ate peanut butter sandwiches instead. She was independent at an early age. I'm twenty-three, married, and we live with my parents while we're saving money for a house. She dated bad boys and bearded men who don't find front doors to be a priority. When I was nineteen, I married my husband who is total homebody. She lived in a log cabin with no power for more than a year. I can’t last more than a couple hours without internet, let alone power. She is adventurous and tenacious. I am anxious, calculated, and borderline reclusive.
The only similarities I could find is that we both like animals, drawing, and sewing. How many millions of people could say the same thing? Given this list of overwhelming differences, what is it that made me feel so close to Ross while reading How to Catch a Frog?
I made a conscious effort to read the book slowly, a chapter per night at max. I've learned that reading too passionately is like drinking out of a hose. You just can't take it all in. I savored every story Ross told. There was something that really spoke to me in those stories that I could relate to. The tone of her writing undulates from nostalgia to a strange sadness. I think it's that feeling of looking at your childhood through the lens of an adult. Looking at who you used to be from a standpoint of who you are.
|as a sagittarius, i can attest to this statement|
The impression I got from How to Catch a Frog was that Ross felt her mother deprived her of a “normal” life. I think if I had known Ross as a teen or young adult, I would have been completely unable to relate to her because her life wasn’t just abnormal...it was completely off the map from where I was standing. And that has a lot to do with my father. He has a rigid definition of what it means to be “normal.” Had Ross been a classmate of mine, he probably would have branded her family a bunch of eccentric nutjobs who are never going anywhere in life.
While Ross may have felt her mother denied her a “normal” life, I feel that my father denied me a creative life. I learned very young that if I showed him my drawings, he would just remind me, “that won’t get you a job.” He indirectly taught me to be critical of myself. To this day, I feel internally dysfunctional because I need to constantly monitor my negativity to keep it from stifling my creative spirit. Sometimes I wonder if things wouldn’t be this way if my father had been different. Sometimes I blame him for feeding my cynical side. He didn’t try to stamp out my creativity, but he made it clear that I should never expect it to amount to anything. He raised me to see things in black and white. He was an accountant after all. Maybe he couldn’t help himself.
Improv quilting with my treasured Heather Ross scraps is a way for me to let go of the anger over the past and anxiety about the future. I can create without structure or rules, and the artwork reminds me to tune out the self doubt and criticism. While Ross may have longed for something to ground her, I look for something to set me free.
That’s why I can’t hate the unicorn anymore. It’s flawed. It’s rough. It’s something I would have erased a thousand times and eventually given up on. It represents something I am still learning to do: embracing imperfection.
|my super-special-awesome scrap bin and Heather Ross FQs|