salty oat spotlight: susan fitzgerald of spin spin

This is the third in a series of monthly interviews with inspiring and creative people---including fabric designers, shop owners, quilters, and other makers. You can find all of the previous Salty Oat Spotlight interviews here

This morning, I'm so excited to introduce you to the very talented designer, Susan Fitzgerald. In addition to being the owner of Spin Spin, a design and screenprinting studio which produces textiles, ceramics, and paper goods, Susan is also the latest fabric designer to have her fabrics join the Salty Oat shop! Five Spin Spin designs are now available in an exclusive palette of black, navy, peach, olive green, and metallic gold. These limited-edition fat quarters are printed on an organic, quilting-weight cotton, and are truly special! 

Read on to learn more about Susan's design process, see some beautiful photos of her workspace and materials, and get all of her recommendations of things to see and eat in Melbourne, Australia. And be sure to pop on over to the shop after you've read the interview to snag a fat quarter or two!

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

Caitlin: Tell us a bit about your background and how you got your start. What was the path that led you to where you are today?

Susan: I started out in web design, doing fun personal projects and working for a long-gone search engine (pre-Google!). After doing that for a year, then a couple of years living overseas, I decided to go back to university and study graphic design. At that time I never thought I'd end up doing design work for a company or even as a freelancer (at least, not full time)---the plan was to use my skills to develop, refine and create my own ideas/designs/products. I wasn't quite sure what form my work would take, but being tied to the computer at design school pushed me in another, much more tactile and hands-on direction. I started by screenprinting covers for books I was making for class, and then fabric to make gifts for friends. And here I am, nearly 10 years later, and I'm totally hooked. I also recently started making hand-formed and painted ceramic pieces, and am hooked on that, too.

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

C: What does a typical workday look like for you? Can you describe your workspace?

S: I work on my business part-time and there is definitely no such thing as a typical day! I try and squeeze all the many bits and pieces I need to do into the limited time I have and never feel I get half of what I want to do done. I'll usually walk my dog first thing each morning, to clear my head, and then start working on whatever's top of the to-do list---whether it's planning the colour scheme for my upcoming fabric release, making or refining some ceramic pieces I'm working on, printing some fabric or taking photos for Instagram (addicted!) or Facebook. I also spend a bit of time on my website, online shop and working on email mailouts. Computer work does take up a lot of time, but I don't mind that so much these days. Most of my designs start out as a drawing or painting, but being able to scan, manipulate and then get that refined idea onto a screen for printing is pretty amazing. Getting that screen in my hands, ready to print, is always one of the most thrilling moments!

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

My current workspace is a room in my home, which suits me pretty well as it's so convenient. It's got a big, custom made printing table and a sewing table on one side, inks and screens in the corner, my computer, and then my trusty pegboard on the wall, holding all manner of goodies---clipboards, washi tape, scissors, rulers and so much more. I fluctuate between being super neat and super messy, but generally find that I have a clearer head and get more done when things are neat and organised.

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

C: What are your sources for inspiration? Can you walk us through how an idea goes from your sketchbook to fabric, and how you refine design elements and select colors and base cloths before committing to printing the final design?

S: I'm inspired by so many things---the nature I see on my neighbourhood walks with the dog, the decaying industrial world near where I live in Melbourne's inner west (lots of old factories, warehouses, shipping containers, etc.). Travel is the best for inspiration---I find I notice every tiny thing and want to capture little fragments. In terms of aesthetics, I love simple, minimal designs with limited colour palettes and natural materials, so am drawn to Japanese and Scandinavian design. I also love imperfect things---singers who don't always sing perfectly on key (hello, Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Jason Molina), ceramic pieces that are a little wonky, screenprints that don't quite register 100% correctly.

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald
Over the years I've tried to develop working methods that feed, rather than stifle, my creativity. So if I just feel like sitting at the kitchen table, in the sun, drawing or painting (or making some ceramic pieces), and I've got time for it, I'll do that. That way I end up with lots of doodles and patterns on file. I'll look through them now and then and if something stands out, or if one of them's stuck in my mind for a while, I'll work with it and develop it. That can take an hour or a couple of months of tweaking, forgetting, going back to, etc. Sometimes it can be hard to get an idea translated into a design, and there are a couple of them that are stuck in my brain and have been for a few years. I figure they'll find a form some day...

If the design is hand-drawn, or stamped, I often like to translate that look from the page to the computer screen and then fabric. I'm not really into the clean vector/Illustrator look at all---my work is the antithesis of that, really. I'll usually scan artwork, use Photoshop to crank up the black/white contrast and then use Illustrator to work with colours, ideas, to repeat the pattern, etc. Each design is different, but usually I'll arrange the pattern so it looks the way I want it to, then print some of it out on an A4 page, at 100%, to make sure the scale is correct. I'll also print the whole thing onto an A4 page to make sure the overall look and feel is right. Then it's a matter of sitting on it for a while, looking at the print-outs upside down and sideways, tweaking the design and then settling on something that 'works.' 

 Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

Every few months a colour will stick in my head and when I get time, I'll pull out the Pantone swatch book, try to match what's in my head to the book and then get the ink formula from there. Getting the ink colour right is far from an exact science---you've often got to tweak it a lot to get it right, but it's a fun process generally, especially when you do the first print run and it comes out just how you imagined it. I love natural fabrics---hemp, linen, cotton---and use organic where possible. I tend to use light-coloured basecloths, but would love to find a pale grey linen---the holy grail! Fabric selection is often limited to what's available in organic, and also by cost---I try to keep my fabric affordable.

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

C: What three words would you use to describe your aesthetic?

S: Imperfect, minimalist, natural.

C: What projects have you or your customers made with your fabrics?

S: I've made a few quilts and really want to start on another---I need the mojo to get started, as it takes a while to complete a quilt. I also have a footstool which was upholstered with some of my custom-printed heavy weight hemp fabric. I also produce a range of cushions, zip purses, baby dribble bibs, onesies and more. I really want to make a lampshade or two soon---that's the next thing, hopefully.

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

Little Noggi from Melbourne recently made a hat range using a custom print run of my fabrics. Bonbies in Hong Kong uses my fabric to make adorable children's shoes. And you can see lots more with the hashtag #hellospinspin on Instagram. You've also inspired me to make a page on my website with customer creations. :)

C: Tell us a bit more about Melbourne. Where are you favorite places to shop, eat, or spend time with your friends and family?

S: Melbourne is renowned as a place where people wear a lot of black and drink a lot of coffee. It's the home to many of musicians and artists and has a long history of supporting independent creatives. Melbourne is in the southern part of Australia---that means it gets hot in summer, but in winter it gets cold, and people hunker down and make things. There are lots of big and small galleries, all sorts of creatives tucked away in studios all over the place. Food is something Melbournians are REALLY into and there are so many great cafes around, as well as pubs/restaurants/bakeries/coffee houses/craft brewers, etc. 

Around where I live I love Guerilla Espresso, Brother Nancy, Post Industrial Design, The Little Man and Rudimentary for breakfast/lunch and for later in the day, Plough Hotel, Ovest, Ajitoya, Station Hotel, 8bit and Littlefoot are all amazing for food and/or drinks. The best places for coffee, in my opinion, are Market Lane and Patricia, and they're worth [the drive] to the city for. For homewares, you can't go past Sedonia and for art goods, West Art Supplies.

Image source: Susan Fitzgerald

C: Where can people find you online? 

S: My website is spinspin.com. You can buy my wares via Etsy. I'm also on Instagram, Facebook, and sometimes Twitter.

Thank you so much to Susan for taking the time to answer my questions! It's always so fun to learn more about the designers whose work I carry in the shop, and to get a peek into their part of the world. 


throwback thursday: summer breeze picnic quilt

Back in 2012, my friend Kait and I set a yearlong challenge for ourselves: each month, we would make one of the projects from the book Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts---and we did! It was such a fun project, and it was a great way for me to stretch myself to sew things I might not otherwise have.

I realized recently that while I had shared photos of the Summer Breeze quilt top I made in May of that year, I had never shared photos of the finished quilt. So this week I draped the quilt on my quilt ladder in a few different ways, and snapped some pictures.

This quilt has been our go-to picnic and beach blanket, and many a nap have occurred under it this summer. I used a batting with a higher loft than I normally use, and kept the quilting rather minimal, so it's quite squishy. It's also super soft thanks to the vintage sheet back and the lightweight chambray I used in the top.

Just for fun---and in case you weren't a reader of this blog back in 2012!---here's a round-up of all of the projects I did that year, all in one place:

January: Colored Pencil Roll // February: Stacked Coins Quilt (quilt top and finished quilt) // March: Pieced Pillow Quilt

July: Little Bits Pillow // August: Kelly's Pincushions // September: Color Wheel Quilt (quilt top and finished quilt)

October: We took a break for Sewing Summit! // November: Bird Ornaments // December: Quilted Coasters

P.S. Are you on the Salty Oat email list? A new newsletter is going out tomorrow, so be sure to sign up now to not miss out!


teal-and-chartreuse diamond mini quilt

Ever since I received the latest batch of Maze and Vale fabric panels for the shop, I've been itching to sew with the new designs. I'm quite smitten with the trio of prints that are printed on a gray organic cotton base cloth, so I picked this gorgeous teal heart print to use for my first project, and paired it with coordinating teal and chartreuse prints from my stash.

When it came time to figure out what I wanted to make, I almost immediately thought of the yellow-and-white diamond quilt that I posted recently, but actually made quite a while ago. I loved how the pattern worked with solids and almost solids, so I decided to have a go at making another, smaller version, this time using only prints.

I auditioned a few different low-volume fabrics for the background, before settling on my favorite black-and-white polka dot.  For the backing, I used a scrap of Marimekko vine fabric (I love the pop of eggplant from that lone bud!).

I used the same method of quilting for this version as I did with the original: white outline quilting in the background, and angled teal quilting lines within each of the diamonds. A pretty diamond pattern emerged on the back as a result.

The teal heart print plays so nicely with the other prints, and I really love the mix of hand-printed and commercially printed fabrics. This quilt is now available in the shop, as are individual panels of the heart print. I would absolutely love to see what you would pair this fabric with in your own projects!

Quilt Stats
Finished dimensions: 16" x 21"
Fabrics used include: LoveHearts in Deep Peacock by Maze and Vale; Firefly Whisper from Hello, Bear by Bonnie Christine; chartreuse prints from Chicopee and Hope Valley by Denyse Schmidt; and teal prints from Botanics and Doe by Carolyn Friedlander.
Block tutorial: Half-Rectangle Triangle by Latifah Saafir for the Modern Quilt Guild


cultivate blog tour + a new wall quilt

Good morning! Welcome to my stop on the Cultivate Blog Tour, a blog hop celebrating Bonnie Christine's latest fabric collection, Cultivate. I've sewn with Bonnie's fabric and ribbon before (using them in both a lined tote bag and a round zipper pouch), and I must say that the colors and patterns in this latest collection are among my favorites.

In case it's your first time here, welcome! My name is Caitlin, and I'm a full-time quilter working out of my studio in southern New Hampshire. In addition to selling quilts and patchwork goods in my online shop, I also stock hard-to-find and exclusive screen-printed fabrics from indie designers. You can find me on Instagram and keep up with shop news by signing up for my newsletter.

Now on to the project: I knew that I wanted to make a wall quilt with the four fat quarters from Cultivate that I selected, but it wasn't until Sunday when inspiration for a quilt design struck. While selling quilts at an outdoor craft show in Boston, I spotted this geometric tea towel by Cat Wagon Prints in the booth across the way. I was immediately drawn to the design, so I purchased a towel and started sketching out ideas on how to translate the shapes into a quilted piece.

When it came time to start constructing the top, I decided to use needle-turn appliqué in lieu of traditional piecing, since it would allow me to more easily layer the shapes on top of one another. I cut out circles from the navy blue floral---the print that initially drew me to the collection---and thread basted and then sewed the circles to a piece of unbleached muslin.

Once those were stitched down, I started on the pink and chartreuse/yellow triangles. I initially started with half-square triangles, like those in the original tea towel, but almost immediately gave up on that shape when it came time to turn under the acute angle corners---my needle-turn appliqué skills are not there quite yet! So instead, I cut out equilateral triangles and arranged them across the top, stitching them down and practicing and perfecting my angles as I went.

Once everything was hand-stitched, I machine quilted over all of the shapes with my favorite grid design in natural-colored thread, and then machine bound the quilt with a pink and white stripe from the collection.

This turned out to be such a fun experiment in quilt design, and though the hand appliqué process was definitely time intensive, I think the results were well worth it.

Would you like to see some more projects using Cultivate fabrics? Be sure to check out the onesies Bonnie made out of knit for the little girl she's expecting this month (!), the knit tops her mom made, and the project Sandy from Crafty Planner will be posting tomorrow. And in the meantime, you can now find this quilt listed for sale in the shop.

Quilt Stats
Finished dimensions: 20.5" x 21.5"
Fabrics used: Unbleached muslin; Plotted Farm in Autumn and Moss, Floriculture in Midnight, and Row by Row in Lit, all from the Cultivate collection by Bonnie Christine.
Quilt design: Original by Salty Oat