Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle recently released their fourth book, Quilts Made Modern (C&T Publishing, 2010, $29.95), chronicling 10 quilt projects that reflect their love of simple, modern style. That’s enough right there to inspire any quilter to hit the floor pedals, and elevate Bill and Weeks to q-sainthood. There’s more to the story, though. This iconic couple is likely one of the first husband-wife teams to become recognized in the mainstream world for quilt design. From O: The Oprah Magazine to Time Magazine and Metropolitan Home, their work has graced print pages far beyond our quilt world. But their work is also readily accessible to us in pattern form in American Patchwork & Quilting (the first quilt magazine to feature their patterns and still a frequent publisher) and most recently, Quilter’s Home magazine, our former baby.
So what happens when a graphic designer meets a landscape designer? In the case of Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle, they fell in love and got married.
But that wasn’t the end of their story because they wanted a career they could share. However, Weeks knew she wasn’t going to turn into a graphic designer and Bill sure as heck wasn’t going to become a landscape designer, so they locked brain cells, took stock of their skill sets. Now, they both love to make things and both knew how to sew. (Hmmm.) With an added dose of inspiration stemming from Week’s several years living in Japan and learning how to quilt, presto! FunQuilts was born, and Weeks was able to fulfill her goal of getting out of a corporate tower to build a life that would allow her to be accessible for their family.
That was in 1999, and the fun continues. For couples contemplating this path, they strongly recommend not quitting both jobs and just going for it. (Practical concerns like health insurance can torment entrepreneurs.) That aside, they’ve carved successful careers for themselves designing and making modern and contemporary quilts. In fact, they were among the first quilters to make distinctively modern-looking quilts, a fact that makes them chuckle and ruminate as they watch the flurry of quilt artisans come out with modern-influenced designs. As you can imagine, they’ve got some comments about that …
Bill: It’s nice to see the resurgence. These things take a lot of time. When we released the Modern Quilt Workshop in 2005, we were facing the problem (of being a new style). Denyse Schmidt’s book came out within a month after. Those two books–when they came out–were really fresh. It was a much smaller world. I think it has to do with the Internet. It’s taken years for it to really take off.
Weeks: I think it’s great that there’s a new generation of people who have not been drawn to traditional quilting, but have been drawn to modern quilting. I think fresh blood is great for the art and to continue making the art form grow. But I am saddened when people put labels on techniques and disparage tradition.
Weeks and Bill design both together and apart, and both are involved in all aspects of the evolving quilt. Says Bill, it’s a total split where they’re both drawing, thinking and diagramming all the time. We asked them in the original design is usually what can be seen at the end of a project…
Bill: It usually is that one of us has a nugget of an idea and then it bounces back and forth. About 70 percent of the time it ends up pretty unrecognizable.
Weeks: I think that’s wrong. I think 70 percent of the time it ends up like the original! There was one quilt that didn’t recently and it must be coloring your memory. I think most of the time, if you look back at the sketchbook for Quilts Made Modern, a lot of those quilts are exactly what is in one sketch or the other.
Bill: But a lot of the color work and proportion work changes back and forth. We’re design geeks and we love tweaking things, and being critics of each other’s work.
Exchanges like this throughout our conversation reveal two people very secure and respectful of the other. Their work is a give-and-take process and likely mirrors their marriage as well.
Weeks: People ask us a lot how do we not kill each other… My very serious answer is that each of us really respects what the other person brings to the table. I know that he’s going to make me a better designer and his input is going to make the process better. If he’s telling me he doesn’t like something, he’s telling me because it needs to be worked on, not because he thinks I don’t have any talent.
Now in their 15th year of marriage, they share the joy of raising their 10-year-old daughter, Sophie. Weeks jokes that a marriage counselor would chastise them for how they work together.
Bill: We actually work side-by-side most of the day. I think it helps. That said there’s a lot of sketching in the evenings.
Weeks: I know that every marriage counselor out there would be horrified to hear this, but we actually sometimes have the laptop in bed designing quilts together. I know they would say that’s really bad.
Now, we wanted to do something beyond the norm for Bill and Weeks’ stop with GenQ on their book blog tour, so we invited them to a block challenge. Our Scott Hansen came up with the start of a block: and told our daring duo to each complete a block and color it without the other seeing it. Here are the results of the challenge. Don’t you love how their brains work?
The design frenzy isn’t over, though, and now it’s your turn! We’ve been given a copy of Quilts Made Modern to dangle before your eyes. You’ve got the weekend to finish your own version of a quilt block starting with this sketch and one lucky winner will receive a brand spanking new copy of Quilts Made Modern. If you want to play along, download the line drawing here, perform your magic with color and e-mail a scan or photo of your entry to Jake at email@example.com. Entries are due by 9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Monday, Aug. 1, and don’t forget to include full contact info in the e-mail, including your mailing address. The GenQ staff (and Bill and Weeks, if we can track them down) will choose the best of the best. And we’ll all have fun regardless of who wins!