Sarah Maxwell of Designs by Sarah J is one of those magical unicorns of the textile industry. She is a designer for Marcus Fabrics, an Aurifil Designer, an Aurifilosopher, a pattern designer, an author, AND she owns and runs a brick & mortar shop, Homestead Hearth. She also has her own line of acrylic templates, has a BOM with Marcus running this year, is the featured designer for the 2020 QuiltMania BOM, and is kicking into a brand new year of wonderful industry collaborations with companies like OLFA & Grace, and with other respected designers.
We are ever in awe of Sarah and honestly have no idea how she gets it all done! We’ve loved working with her over the past few years and it’s been a delight to watch her business grow.
Full Circle is her latest thread collection. A set of 10 small spools including 50wt, 28wt, and 80wt, the collection represents Sarah’s go-to colors and thread weights for piecing, quilting, appliqué, and more! The colors were selected to coordinate with her latest Marcus Fabrics line, but were also chosen as the perfect range to accompany both the Marcus Reunion BOM and the 2020 QuiltMania BOM. So many amazing reasons to snag a set and start making!
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THREAD COLLECTION DETAILS
10 Small Spools, 100% Cotton
50 wt: 4644, 2625, 2125, 2615, 2437, 6735
28 wt: 1103, 2890 || 80 wt: 2310, 2620
Hi Sarah!! Thanks so much for taking the time to share some of your story with us. For our readers who are meeting you for the first time, could you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in this creative textile world?
I’m actually a lawyer by training and have an undergraduate degree in Economics and Russian Studies. It’s always interesting to me how many fellow quilters have degrees or training in very technical fields. My theory is quilting gives us all a much-needed break from stress and regimented work.
Early in my married life, while pregnant with my first child, I decided I needed to create something for the baby’s room. I had used a family quilt as a bedspread throughout college so decided a quilt would be the perfect item. I went to a local store, bought a Teach Yourself to Quilt book and cut out a baby quilt using cardboard templates and scissors and then hand pieced it.
Luckily, we had an active quilt guild in my hometown, and those wonderful ladies introduced me to rotary cutters and machine piecing, and I was off and running.
What drives you to create?
Creating and designing are my go-to stressbusters. I can just get lost in rearranging pieces of fabric to find new combinations and secondary designs. And I love experimenting with color combinations and mixing and matching lots of different fabrics. Because I find so much joy in quilting, I want others to have that same experience, so I love to create patterns that allow others have success in expressing their own creativity.
Do you have a favorite project?
It’s almost always whatever I’m working on at the moment. Overall, my River Rock quilt is one of my all-time favorite designs because it allowed me to combine 36 different batiks in a fun setting.
And most recently, Interspaced, my pattern using Giucy Giuce’s Declassified line, showcases my interest in pairing a traditional block with modern fabrics.
You’ve been on the move in the industry and we’ve been super impressed with all that you’ve accomplished. You’re particularly good at collaborative marketing — connecting the dots between your work and the companies that help you out along the way. What are some of your favorite partnerships?
I love working with people and companies who share my values—companies that offer exceptional value and customer service to their users and offer products that I actually use and believe in.
For many years, I dreamed of owning a long arm but just couldn’t make it work with the space available in my home or budget. Once I became an empty nester, I got serious about finding a long arm that I could afford but that still had all the features I wanted. I was thrilled to discover all the options offered by the Grace Company and decided on a Grace Q’nique 15R on a Continuum frame. Starting in January, 2020, I’ll be sharing my journey from domestic machine quilting to long arm quilting in conjunction with the folks at Grace.
I use Olfa products daily so they have been a natural fit for me.
And, of course, Aurifil thread—having so many weights of thread in a huge range of colors, lets me customize every project exactly how I imagine it.
How did you first discover Aurifil and what makes it your go-to thread?
For many years, I shopped for thread based on price. But I was always annoyed at how quickly my bobbin case filled up with lint. And I kept having “bird’s nest” build up on the back of machine projects and snarls and knots when I was hand piecing or hand quilting.
I was at Quilt Market several years ago and received a sample spool that I tried when I got home. Game changer. I immediately noticed less lint and all the knotted threads and snarls disappeared. I started with 50 wt and then quickly discovered all the options. I use Aurifil for every type of project now. Now, I love being able to match colors across a whole spectrum of weights in a project.
Do you have a favorite color and weight?
My daily go-to is 50wt color 2615—I use it for machine and hand piecing, literally every day.
Over the last year, I’ve been focused more on hand piecing and love 80wt because the stitches just disappear. For hand piecing, I always carry 2615 and 2620.
Full Circle is your latest Aurifil thread collection, newly launched back in October at Fall Quilt Market. Can you tell us a bit about the threads you chose to include and why they are significant to you?
My early days in the quilt industry focused on using 1800s reproduction fabrics in super scrappy quilts. I discovered the modern movement a few years back and now focus on combining classic, traditional blocks with more modern settings.
While I love lots of modern fabric lines, I’ve always felt some of the classic reproduction prints could be amazing in updated colors. So my Full Circle fabric line is my fresh take on some classic prints by Judie Rothermel.
I selected the threads to support a variety of projects. Of course, there are great greys in 50wt for basic piecing. Then, I added a couple of 80wt neutrals because I envision some broderie perse projects using the large-scale floral from the fabric line.
There are some coordinating 50wt colors for applique work. Finally, I selected the perfect red and green in 28wt for machine quilting and machine applique accents.
You’re the featured designer for the upcoming 2020 QuiltMania Block of the Month. What can you tell us about this and where can people go if they’d like to participate?
I am SO excited about being the Quiltmania mystery designer. I designed the Full Circle fabric line because I had long had an idea for combining more traditional fabrics with a contemporary quilt in terms of design and setting that could bridge the gap between traditional and modern. The wonderful team at Quiltmania agreed and we’ll be bringing quilters one of my favorite original designs, ever, throughout 2020.
Fabric kits to make the project are available at select retailers worldwide and quilters should know that there is an exclusive mystery fabric that’s part of the project which is only available through those retailers.
You’ve also got a BOM in partnership with Marcus Fabrics for 2020. What does that quilt look like and when does everything kick off?
The Reunion quilt is a more traditional quilt project that I also designed to support the fabric line. It’s being offered by quilt shops around the world. It features lots of pieced blocks in a controlled scrappy setting—definitely a throwback to my earlier design days with blocks that have lots of pieces with a bit of controlled chaos. Shops will be offering it starting in January 2020. Click HERE and HERE for more info.
Because we’re always curious, how in the world do you manage to work on all of these projects, put together fabric collections, thread collections, patterns, books, AND run your own brick & mortar business?
Some days I ask myself that same question! Seriously, though, when my kids moved away to opposite coasts and I started having serious empty nest syndrome, I found the best way to manage was to stay super busy. I also feel so blessed to have opportunities to share my work with other quilters. Things don’t seem like work when you truly love what you are doing.
How does being a shop owner help to inform your decisions as a designer?
I’m in a unique position because I understand the challenges shop owners face. I get the concerns about selling through a fabric collection, not just the backgrounds or lead prints. I understand dollars to invest in inventory are limited so items have to offer exceptional value to be worth an investment. When I design projects, I try to incorporate multiple construction techniques to appeal to a wide range of quilters.
We know what you’ve got going for BOMs next year, but where can we find you and what else should we look forward to for 2020?
My next fabric line, You Are, debuts in February. It’s a perfect match, color-wise for my current Fearless with Fabric thread collection so I’m looking forward to sharing lots of projects with it. It features a digital panel print, a text print and coordinates. This is one of my favorite projects coming from the line:
I’m launching an educational series with the Grace Company to document how I’ve been transitioning from machine quilting on my domestic machine to a long arm.
I’ll be teaching a variety of quilting classes at the American Quilter’s Society Spring Paducah show in April and at the International Quilt Association Long Beach show in July.
My new book, Fearless with Fabric: Fresh Quilts from Traditional Block, comes out in January. It’s going to be a busy and amazingly awesome year.
Sarah’s love of quilting stems from her college days, when her mom sent her pink dogwood quilt to grace the bed in her first apartment. The quilt was a comforting reminder of her home in the Lake of the Ozarks, where the dogwood blossoms always signaled the start of spring.
A few years later, married and expecting her first child, Sarah caught the nesting bug. Inspired by the treasured dogwood quilt, she bought a Teach Yourself to Quilt book and crafted her first quilt. She continued to improve her skills through classes at local quilt guilds, as well as learning from gifted teachers throughout the United States, fully taking advantage of modern conveniences, such as rotary cutting and computer design, as they became available.
Today, Sarah is a fabric and pattern designer for Studio 37 Fabrics, a division of Marcus Fabrics, with countless quilts to her credit. Her work has been featured regularly in both McCall’s Quilting and McCall’s Quick Quilts for the past several years. Additionally, Sarah’s quilts have appeared in Make Modern, Simply Moderne, American Patchwork & Quilting, and Quilts & More, as well as many other magazines.