I remember the exact moment I met Marcia Derse. No, actually I remember the exact moment I saw the work of Marcia Derse. I had been roaming the aisles at Quilt Market and was a bit zoned out by all of the booths of fabric and patterns and quilting goodies. As I passed by her booth I literally stopped in my tracks! I stood there in this yummy trance of wonder. The collection was called, Gerta (named after her mother.) Never before had anyone approached designing fabric for quilting in quite this way. It was a delight. And I was not the only one that thought so, her booth was buzzing with activity which overflowed into the aisle. I had to wait my turn to introduce myself and get to know this lovely creative authentic designer. She is one of a kind and a true delight!
Marcia Derse currently designs for Windham Fabrics, featuring her latest collections called Bookends and Palette. These collections will be in independent quilt and fabric shops this August.
Marcia please tell us about the inspiration for your latest collection?
I recently moved to Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest. I spent my whole childhood and adult life living in the Midwest and bookends ended up being my fabric farewell to my longtime home in Ohio. I don’t really plan my collections in a rigorous way, I start with an idea or small inspiration and I let the colors and patterns direct me. In this case I saw snowstorms, screen doors, lightning bugs, museum trips, frog ponds, and endless corn fields in the patterns and colors that I was making.
What advice would you give a designer about putting a portfolio together for this industry?
Know your voice and edit your work. It helps to have an unambiguous, strong point of view when you are presenting your work to others, versatility is definitely a good thing but I feel that a designer who can present one idea clearly has a better chance of being understood in this industry. My work has changed and evolved over the years but I am always very mindful about what I want to say with each collection. I am a brutal editor of my own work. Even if I love a certain piece, if it doesn’t read as harmonious within the collection, I cut it. Sometimes that means it gets stashed away for later but sometimes it means that it will only be seen by me in my studio and I’m happy with that.
Please talk about the business side of this type of business.
Behind the creativity of designing fabric and the fun of playing with color is the marketing, research, calendar juggling, bill paying, and order filling work that fills the days. Every licensing agreement is unique and limited in duration. My advice, if you are interested in getting into the business, is to research contracts, ask questions and be prepared to talk business when entering into an agreement with a company. Above all don’t lose sight of what you are doing artistically. I sometimes have to force myself to step away from the business and give myself space to work. It can feel like a guilty pleasure working on anything that isn’t directly related to painting and dying fabric but this is where some of my best ideas come from.
Can you make a living from licensing?
There are some ‘fabric rock stars’ that manage to do so but they don’t rely on one licensing agreement. Other ways of marketing your work in this and related industries would help to make this into a profitable career including teaching, writing books, creating patterns, etc.
Alongside my career as an artist, for 24 years I owned a children’s bookstore. I raised a family, sold my favorite books, and worked in my studio in my spare time. Slowly but surely as the bookstore became more independent I transitioned towards spending more of my time on my art, adapting my techniques and refining my aesthetic. When I sold the store 10 years ago, I knew it was time to push myself in a different direction. I had a vision of seeing my hand dyed fabrics on bolts. Even though I loved that my fabrics were all one-of-a-kind, it was this thought that drove me to take my hand dyed fabrics and get them ‘published’ as it were.
When I started, I didn’t even know what a colorway was. Now after putting together a handful of collections I would consider myself a fabric designer. I still paint fabric for myself but I also think about a wider audience. I am able to take what I have done with each previous line and bring something different yet complimentary to the fabric world.
Any parting words of wisdom for our readers?
Do what you love and trust your voice. Go to Quilt Market, walk around the show, talk to people, look at work and take in the big picture. Spring Quilt Market felt very different to me than the last market I attended a year ago. The creativity is always overwhelming and inspiring to me.