An interview with fabric designer Renée Nanneman
Renée Nanneman entered the needlework industry in 1984 as a designer of original patterns for counted cross stitch. She has since published many books and patterns through her company, Need'l Love, featuring quilts, rug hooking, punchneedle, crochet, needle felting, home dec and soft craft items. Visit Need'l Love online to see more of Renée's work.
How did you get started designing fabric?
My focus as an independent publisher has always been presenting books with exciting new patterns for quilts, wool appliqué mats, hooked rugs, wearables and home decorating items. Planning exciting booths at Quilt Market is part of the fun process of sharing Need'l Love designs.
Six different fabric companies approached me at one market, wanting me to design for them. How does one make such a choice without a little research? I asked shop owners for their opinion on fabric quality and customer service. I chose to work with Andover Fabrics, basing my decision on their fabric quality, which is the best in the industry, and the fact that they would allow me to follow my heart with fabric design—not putting me in a box with just one style. I presented my ideas for my first collection at the Andover Fabrics offices in New York City in 2005 and my first fabric line, Daylily Days, was printed in 2006.
Can you describe the process of designing fabric?
The designs in my collections begin with vintage fabric pieces, most of which are over 100 years old. I'll find an old chintz on the back of a quilt or a large scale print that was a curtain panel or even an old dress. This first piece I fall in love with is the "mother" of the group. I then search for prints of various scales that could work as companion prints, often from my stash of antique scraps. The fabrics are scanned and the designs are cleaned in the computer. Then I recolor the group with current colors I love.
What do you like best about the process?
I love the thrill of the hunt for "new" old fabrics. Breathing new life into something that is old is soul satisfying. Fresh new color can change the personality of a print and definitely “marries” the group.
What inspires you? Where do your ideas originate?
Falling in love with an old fabric is inspiration in itself. Soft, faded colors that melt together often give a group its color direction. I love going to flea markets to hunt for antique quilts, old quilt blocks and anything "fabric." I just never know where the next idea will come from…an old apron, a feedsack or a curtain panel.
If you had the time, what kind of sewing/quilting/needlework would you do?
I want to do it all. I started Need'l Love 25 years ago as a designer of counted cross stitch. Stitching samplers is great fun, especially when using all the beautiful hand-dyed linens and threads available today. I've also been rug hooking for 23 years and I love the feel of the hook in my hand.
Andover Fabrics encouraged me to design 100% wools for them for rug hooking & wool appliqué. I'm so busy with quilt designing that I find I'm only able to hook one rug a year now.
Wool appliqué is fun to do when you need a take-along hand sewing project. I also love needleturn appliqué and I wish I had more time for machine sewing.
Anything else you’d like QM readers to know?
I'd love for us girls to get back to sewing clothing again. Our quilting fabrics are so beautiful now—many of the prints are perfect for a fun skirt or pretty blouse! In high school, I used to make all of my prom dresses and "date" outfits. I still have a cute little blouse that I made for a date when I was 16 years old. You'll never guess what I used for this blouse…Holly Hobbie fabric trimmed with yellow rickrack. We'd never catch a 16-year-old wearing Holly Hobbie today. Times change.
It's time to get back to expressing our personalities with what we wear, and making some of our clothes could be part of that expression. I miss touching all the lovely fabrics at the fashion fabric stores.