It’s truly one of our favorite things to meet people in this industry who show an unwavering passion for their craft– creating, innovating, and constantly pushing the boundaries. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Chris Hanson of Modern American Vintage, we’re sure you understand why we are so drawn to him and his spectacular quilting tools.
Each and every piece is handcrafted in a home-based workshop, developed and patterned much like an heirloom quilt. Chris seeks out naturally colored and figured exotic woods, experimenting with color and pattern in his designs. He listens to his customers, crafting new tools to meet specific needs. He is one of the most unabashedly humble humans we know, which is likely one of the reasons why so many makers and companies have become such MAV super-fans.
We first connected with Chris a few years back, orchestrating a collaborative giveaway that was the first step in what we know to be a fabulous partnership. Today, we are proud and honored to announce our very first collaboration — Modern American Vintage x Aurifil. This idea grew from an excited conversation between Chris, his mom Lisa, and members of our Aurifil team at QuiltCon back in February. It was one of those amazing meetings where you start in one place and the ideas continue to evolve and grow until you truly realize that the sky is the limit. Chris chose a favorite handle pattern that would allow him to feature 5 primary earthy hues. Once the tools were complete, sanded, oiled, and ready to find their forever homes, he and Lisa consulted Aurifil’s color card and selected 5 spools of our versatile 50wt thread. The result is a brand new kit that will hit Shop Aurifil on Tuesday, June 20.
If that weren’t exciting enough… our launch giveaway is live over on Instagram. Click on the button below to check out our collaborative post and enter for a chance to win one of these limited edition sets. Giveaway is open through 11:59pmCST on June 19. Winner will be contacted on Tuesday, June 20. We are so excited about this and can’t wait to see these popping up in your images through the Summer!
Without further pause, we have to introduce you to Chris. We know you’ll be as captivated by his story as we are and hope you’ll share a bit of your morning with us! HUGE thanks to Chris and his MAV family for humoring us with all of this!
Hey Chris! Thanks so much for joining us. We can’t tell you how crazy excited we are for this post and all the fun collaborations we have planned, the first of which truly kicks off today. To dive right, is there someone (or perhaps a few someones) in your life who inspired you to create Modern American Vintage?
My inspiration is my mom, Lisa Hanson of @pieceinlovequilting on Instagram who has been quilting ever since I can remember but even more so since my son was born. She helps me with all of my prototyping and helps me come up with new ideas for tools, and we’re even working on our first couple patterns that will hopefully be released this year!
How did you come up with your name?
When I first got into woodworking, I wanted to build rustic/farmhouse home decor and furniture as a hobby. This was right about the time that geometric wall art was becoming trendy and I thought that I could use old and reclaimed materials to make some really cool designs, so naturally I needed a name that would reflect a melding of old and new. I got into a few projects but then my mom’s old point turner broke! I knew I could make something much more beautiful and robust than the piece of bamboo she was using, so I made her a point turner with spalted koa handles on a quilted maple blade from a box of scrap exotic wood I had bought just to experiment with a few months prior.
Once I slapped that first coat of finish on that koa I knew I wanted to work with exotic wood all the time, so after selling a few more point turners on Facebook marketplace I decided I would make the switch. As far as the name of the business goes, to me, Modern American Vintage just seemed to fit even better as a luxury quilting notions brand since my work brings the age old arts of quilting and wood working together by creating unique, heirloom quality tools with a fresh design. Three and a half years later, here we are still uniting modern and vintage right here in the good ol’ U.S of A!
When you first started out, was there one tool that you featured? Which one was it? How did you go about expanding your product line?
The first tool was my mom’s point turner, but that quickly escalated to seam rippers, then hera markers, then clappers, etc! Most of my new designs come from either my mom or my amazing followers on Instagram. Every once in a while I get messages from people asking if I can recreate something in exotic wood or if I can put a fresh spin on something that has been in use for years. Over the years I have built quite a list of new tools that I can’t wait to finally dig into, some of which I am developing closely with some amazing people who are deeply involved in the quilting industry! I’m so excited to share with everyone when the time is right!
What is your favorite thing about the process of creating these tools?
I love the initial process of coming up with new designs and seeing what woods will work well together. I have a shelf of small chunks that I’ve accumulated over the years, and it’s really fun to pick out each piece and compare and contrast it with another exotic species to see if they will jive in some way. Once I decide to move forward with a particular design, I make a test kit to see if my hunch is correct and boy howdy is it fun to see how those tests turn out! Seeing that final coat of finish go on making the natural beauty of the wood pop is so rewarding!
Since some of our readers may not know that you create each one of these tools by hand, we’d love to hear a little more about the joys and the challenges of working on your own in the shop.
I take great pride in the fact that each individual piece is lovingly handcrafted from the beginning to the end. I don’t automate any part of the process so I get to make sure that I’ve got eyes on each item every step of the way to ensure the highest quality tool. I think the main challenge I face is figuring out more efficient ways to maintain the handmade aspect of each piece. The joys far outweigh the myriad of other challenges though. I used to work a corporate job when my son was first born and the commute basically made me miss his first year, so now that I work from home I get to see my family whenever I want to, I get to set my own schedule and goals and I get to listen to audio books, bible studies, history documentaries and music while I work for the most incredible community of artists! I still can’t believe that I get to make all this stuff. It’s a dream come true that I get to work from home, be there for my wife and kids when they need me, to create something tangible with my hands and to elevate the passions of so many quilters around the world. I know how much time and effort goes into each and every project after watching my mom’s projects come to life, so I love that I get to be a part of that in some small way.
We’ve heard that your business has a strong family base, including your mom, your sister, and your wife (and also, as they grow, your kiddos). How did this all come to be and what do you love most about working with family?
Believe it or not, Covid was a major factor in the growth of this business. I had been making point turners for a short while, but right at the beginning of the pandemic I was furloughed from my full time job and had no other income aside from a few small freelance animation gigs, so I had to figure out something to keep the bills paid. I reached out to my sister, who was also in that all too familiar situation that a lot of us had to deal with, and asked if she would be interested in making a little bit of extra cash and help me operate MAV as a small business rather than just a hobby. Since she had experience maintaining the website at her work, she was able to help me build my website and even took over all of the finish sanding of my hand tools! Ever since then, 99% of all MAV hera markers, seam rippers, point turners and stilettos have passed through her hands and thorough inspection and she does an AMAZING job! This business wouldn’t be where it is without all of her hard work.
My folks also jumped on board lending a hand whenever I needed some extra help! It’s awesome to have my dad with me in the shop cutting out blade blanks, prepping clapper bases and other preliminary processes. My mom has always helped me with learning the quilting process, prototyping new tools, designing our first patterns, etc. My amazing wife, Britta, has taken over all of the admin and financial work which has helped me to focus more of my attention in the shop creating new tools and developing new ideas and designs. Eventually I’ll have my kids, Chase and Brielle, in the shop helping me with small projects here and there and possibly doing some sanding as well. I would love to pass this business on to them some day.
Do you have a favorite wood to work with, or does it change depending on what’s available?
It is so hard to pick a favorite! I really like the rare exotics like pink ivory or tulipwood, maybe because they’re so novel and hard to come by, but I also really love buckeye burl which is marbled BLUE wood from California! Thuya burl is another favorite not only for the color and figure but because it smells amazing when it’s being worked! The oils in thuya burl were actually distilled and burned as incense in ancient Greek temples so you can imagine it makes the shop smell incredible.
I’ve also been able to work with a piece of cinematic history when I ran into the guy who owns the property where they filmed the oak tree scene with Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption! A couple storms blew the tree down and thank the good lord that he knew what he had on his hands! Instead of chopping that beautiful oak tree up for firewood, he was able to cut it up into slabs and smaller chunks for artisans all over the world to use in their own wood working projects!
How in the world do you find so many amazing colors?
Believe it or not, I do not use ANY paint, stain or dyes in any of the woods I use! Everything is 100% naturally colored and figured! Basically when I’m not out in the shop, doing the dad thang or sleeping, I am scouring the internet on all kinds of wood trader forums trying to find the most beautiful pieces of wood from all over the world. In the 3+ years that I have been doing this, I’ve established some great relationships with importers and wholesalers all around the country.
When did you first learn about Aurifil and what drew you to our company?
It was just before Thanksgiving of the year 2020 when I checked my Instagram notifications and saw that Aurifil started following me back! Just a few days prior my mom had been telling me about some of the products that she liked, one of those being Aurifil thread, so when I saw that notification I got really excited and decided to go for broke and slide into Aurifil’s DM’s. I was shocked when you all agreed to work with me on a giveaway! What really drew me to the Aurifil brand is how my mom described the process of making your thread, passing it through fire to knock off all the lint and hairs to create true, unadulterated value on a spool.
We are truly so excited about this first collab – can you tell us a little more about this combo tool? What pattern are you using? If you had to estimate, how long does each one take you to make?
I developed this double header with a client during that first summer who couldn’t decide if she wanted to try the hera marker or point turner, so I suggested why don’t we try both on one handle? Since then it’s been a hit! I based this particular design on my Clive kit with 5 different species of wood in the handle which include poplar, walnut, mahogany, maple and white oak. The oak in these tools actually came from one of my followers on Instagram in Knoxville who reached out after they had cut down an old chestnut oak in their backyard! They let me come out and take as much as we could fit in the truck which was just so generous. It’s tough to estimate the time it takes to make one of these since I try to batch them out as much as possible, but I think if I was to make just one it would take about a shade over an hour in between glue up stages.
How did you go about matching thread colors to the handle?
We went back and forth a few times comparing the colors in the Aurifil swatch book in both indoor and outdoor lighting. There is an unbelievable amount of variation in the color of wood from board to board, even from branch to branch on the same tree! So we chose the colors that would represent the most average tone in each type of wood.
Cats or Dogs: A man’s got to have a best friend
Shoes or Barefoot: Let ‘em breathe!
Country or City: You’ll most likely find me in the country
Favorite Summer Activity: Fishing!
To the Mountains or to the Sea: I will never get enough of snorkeling
Go-to workshop playlist: Either Luke Combs or Larry Fleet
Current binge-worthy show: My wife and I are currently on a Big Bang Theory kick
We have to thank Chris again for taking the time with us today. We are grateful for this partnership and have no doubt that our readers are going to LOVE this new special edition kit!!