Friday Favorites: Meg Callahan
I am inspired by so many things, I decided that on Fridays, I will highlight a favorite person, thing, or idea. Maybe you will be inspired too! See all past Friday Favorites here.
The other night I was at a Seattle Modern Quilt Guild meeting, sitting next to Season (another interviewee here on the blog, coincidentally), and who should sit beside me? Meg Callahan. Meg (who is the cutest, by the way) is a quiltmaker whose work I have long admired, and I think I was the last person to realize that she’d moved to Seattle about a year ago. (I’m so lucky to be around such talented people!) Anyway, I really wanted to know more about her work and she agreed to let me dive a little into her process.
Blair: Hi Meg, I’m so excited to share your work with my readers. And I’m so glad you are in the Pacific Northwest now! I moved here in 1996 from North Carolina, and it probably took a year to truly feel that this was my home. What do you think of your new town so far?
Meg: Hi Blair! I moved to Seattle exactly a year ago today. It has been an adjustment, but Seattle is a beautiful and unique city, and being close to epic nature is truly outstanding and a real privilege.
Blair: Your quilts have a modern and calm feel to them, yet the lines of color create beautiful movement. Can you talk a little about your process of beginning a quilt? Do you create sketches? If so, are they computer or hand drawn? Or do you go straight to the design wall with fabric, experimenting as you go along?
Meg: Usually it starts with a sort of day-dreaming…I zone out a lot, and usually a piece will slowly begin to formulate in my mind, and it comes more in the form of a feeling or mood that I want to be able to communicate visually–i.e. zen, anger, apathy. Only until a thought begins to really stick with me, do I begin to sketch. I will draw things over and over, making small changes here and there, slowly developing the composition and relationship of shapes.
When I’m ready to bring it to life, I will then translate the sketch into the computer in order to work out more of the technical aspects of production as well as the process of execution, and then…make it!
Blair: Where do you gather inspiration? How do you seek out new ways to inspire your work? Or is inspiration more of a process for you?
Meg: I am inspired by traditional construction processes. Learning and executing a new technique sparks my mind, and watching and learning how other makers have developed their own techniques generally leaves me in awe and motivates me. I once watched “Nanook of the North” in an anthropology course, and it blew my mind.
Landscapes, people watching, materials, artists, food.
Inspiration also tends to be delivered in different forms. Sometimes I will seek it out, and sometimes it will happen: I will witness something that affects me, or I will accidentally sew something incorrectly but it looks pretty cool and informs a piece later on.
There is a great quote by Madeleine L’Endle: “Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.”
Blair: Did you grow up amongst quilt makers? If yes, how did this influence your view of quilt making? If you found it as an adult, what led you to it?
Meg: I did not–at least not directly. My mom is a painter/architect, and there are always drafting and drawing tools around our house. My mom had a sewing machine that her grandmother had given to her, and my mother never used it, but I loved playing with it, and grew up sewing. Our household was very creative, and conducive to projects and messes, and because of that, I think I have a tendency to be attracted to processes that are handy. I was never particularly drawn to quilting, but rather craft in general.
I was studying Furniture Design in college, and was researching patterns for a project. I stumbled upon quilting, and it really incapsulated everything I was interested in at the time (furniture, sewing, math, design, composition, construction, etc.). So I made a quilt for the project, and was completely taken by the process.
Since then, my respect for the tradition, the craft, and the craftspeople has grown exponentially.
A collaborative piece with Terrain.
Blair: You have done several wonderful collaborations with some well-known brands, like Terrain NYC. Can you talk us through what its like to work with a brand/company on a collaboration? Did they come to you with an idea? Or did you approach them? What’s the process?
Meg: It was a very abrupt adjustment to come out of school where there are beautiful facilities, amazing tools, and a community of teachers and peers, to making work on your own with no resources. When that change happened, I realized that I lack in a lot of skills, and that resources are a privilege. Collaborating with established brands/people was a way in which I could compensate my weaknesses with their strengths, and be able to continue learning.
Each collaboration is a different process–I have approached some, and some have approached me, and each collaboration has involved a different process that is dependent on the brand, and the project. Generally, a project will be proposed, and then there is a good amount of back and forth about design, production and logistics. I try to approach each project with an open mind, and use it as an opportunity to learn from the people or the establishment I am working with.
A collaboration with O & G Studio.
Blair: Do you have a dedicated quilting space or studio? How has your workspace evolved over the years?
Meg: I don’t know how to answer this question without embarrassing myself.
I have had some lovely dedicated work spaces in the past, but the move to Seattle has admittedly set me back a little.
Currently, my studio is my room in the apartment I rent. Sometimes my bed turns into fabric storage, and currently my sewing machine is propped up on a shoebox to match the height of my chair. I am just now beginning to look for a studio space. But I take a long time to make decisions, and I want to make sure it is financially viable, so until then–I will be sleeping with threads tangled in my hair.
I do have studio dreams.
Fabric storage, large cutting tables, efficient organization, my own long-arm machine, and lots of windows. Preferably with a good bakery/coffee shop a walk away.
Blair: I just love the way you photograph your quilts! The photos make me want to be out in the world, I just love the juxtaposition of the quilt against the surrounding landscape you choose. I’ve found it to be challenging when photographing quilts outdoors, but you definitely seem to make it work (and well!). Could you tell a little about how your quilts are shot? Do you seek destinations for photoshoots? Any tips for those of us shooting our quilts outside?
Meg: Thank you!
When I moved to Seattle, my boyfriend and I made a road-trip of it.
My family is big on road trips, and I am constantly inspired by the American landscape; shooting the pieces against that horizon had been slowly brewing in my mind, and seemed like the perfect opportunity. I am also fortunate that I have a patient, and spirited boyfriend who is handy with a camera (Andrew Mau).
For the road trip, there were not specific destinations in mind, but I was constantly glued to the window looking for a good spot to pull off. For other times, I do pre-determine a location based on the quilt itself, or I see a spot and keep it in mind. I usually gravitate towards spots with good dirt colors.
I sew a removable sleeve onto the top and bottom of the quilt–the top sleeve is used to hang from a photo stand, and the bottom is for a slat of wood to help weigh down, and straighten the bottom. If you have a destination in mind–wait for a non-windy day, and either try to do it in the morning or the evening when the light is not too bright. Befriend a photographer and clearly communicate ‘your vision’ (or become a good photographer!). Don’t be precious with shots; take a lot of photos–the more you take the more choices you’ll have, and a better chance of getting a good one.
Sometimes you might need to get in, take the photo, and get out fast. Like maybe you’re on private property, its windy, and the ground is muddy. For this situation, pre-prep the quilt: load onto the photo-stand pole, roll the quilt up around the pole. That way you can set up the stand, load the pole, unroll, snap the photo, re roll and run. This also helps keep the quilt from falling on the ground and getting dirty.
Also–sand bags! Two sand bags to place on the bases of the photo stand so that it wont fall over.
Blair: For me, a perfect work day these days is a combination of getting some of the “have-to’s” out of the way, efficiently, and having time for some of the “want-to’s”. Right now, doing bookkeeping and answering emails in the morning, then allowing myself to play with patchwork for my book in the afternoon feels like the perfect day. Describe your perfect work day.
Meg: Your system sounds perfect, and something I strive for. All too often do I get over-whelmed with a deadline, or task and my work/creative balance becomes askew. I currently have a full-time job working for a multi-disciplinary studio here in Seattle, and therefore my personal work usually happens early in the morning, late at night, and on the weekends. Generally, I stick to business in the morning, production in the evenings, and creative time on the weekends.
My perfect work day: I would have gotten up early, exercised and eaten something delicious for breakfast before my day even began and I feel healthy and balanced and great! Then I would head to my not-yet-exsistent studio–coffee in hand–and fully focus on a creative task. Maybe I will cut and sew all day and there will be some amazing podcast on, or a perfectly curated playlist! And all my cutting tools are sharp!
I tend to do my best technical work early in the morning, and have loosened up enough to relax and think/sketch later in the day, and would love to shape my days around those tendencies. I would also like to carve out time to explore/research art, design, techniques, etc. Whether it be spend an afternoon at the library, walk around a museum, or take a class.
More and more I realize how time can get the best of you, and that to really get what you want out of your day, you have to be extremely intentional. However, a little dis-organization, spontaneity, and craziness generates a certain type of creativity that I thrive off of.
Blair: How do you envision your work evolving?
Meg: I think it will evolve by process. I want to continue learning about quilting, and other textile techniques and I am interested in seeing how my work would translate and change with other forms of making and other materials.
Blair: What’s next for you?
Get a studio, and transition to doing my work full-time.
A collaborative piece with Terrain.
Thank you Meg!
Find Meg at her website