Chris Hoover began sewing at eight years old. She focused mainly on clothes. One day, a woman showed her a quilt she made in a beginning quilt class. “It was either a log cabin or a rail fence quilt,” Chris says. “She had bought fabrics from all over the world, and it was really the fabrics that struck me. I thought it was absolutely beautiful.”
Later, she went home and drafted a quilt that she found in a JC Penney catalogue. After designing and stitching her first quilt, Chris Hoover was positive that she’d never make another one. She thought it was fun, but her real passion was clothing, which she went back to for awhile.
Five months later, Hoover and her family moved to Minnesota. One day at a playdate, another mother asked Chris if she’d ever made a quilt before. When Chris told her that she had, the two decided to make a quilt, an Eleanor Burns sampler, together. Despite swearing off quilting, Chris agreed.
The two drove over an hour to a local quilt shop and bought fabric. The next Friday, they sat down and finished the first block. “I had bought about ten different fabrics--blue and purples, I think--so when I went home that afternoon there were all these fabrics laying around,” Chris recalls. Looking at them on her table, she realized she didn’t want to wait until Friday to make block number two.
So she didn’t.
“I just wanted to keep sewing,” Chris says. “The first quilt was so much fun, and the thought of making another one with different fabrics just enthralled me.”
She went back to the fabric store and bought more fabrics (Chris truly is a quilter after my own heart), and over the course of the next week she made blocks one through six with the new fabrics. Despite finishing the new quilt secretly, Chris continued to work on the quilt with her friend. She never told her about her extracurricular quilting.
“So, I call it my Secret Eleanor Burns Quilt,” she says.
Chris has been designing and making quilts ever since her secret sewing sessions all those years ago.
It’s easy to see that those early experiences still inspire Chris’s designs. She’s always enjoyed variety, so she tends to design sampler quilts. As far as fabrics, the scrappier the better. “They didn’t have the diagnosis when I was a child, but I think I would’ve been diagnosed with ADD,” Chris says. “I just don’t want to sit and make 20 blocks that are exactly the same.”
She treats fabrics similarly. Chris believes the scrappier the better, and her designs often feature at least 10 different fabrics, all from different collections. Some, like Heritage Square, have quite a bit more than 10--closer to 30, in fact.
Her designs frequently employ batiks, and Chris is a self-avowed batik-lover. She also loves Moda’s line of Grunge fabrics. One or the other of these fabrics can be found in almost all of her designs: Heritage Square is composed entirely from Moda Grunge; Taos--perhaps my favorite of Stitchin’ Heaven’s block of the month programs--features a range of earthy batiks, accented with sky blue and aqua.
“Batiks, especially tone-on-tones, have a texture to them, and I can play with those so much more,” Chris says. “It’s so much easier for me to pull different batiks and come up with a look that I like. It’s also easier for someone to recreate my designs out of batiks, since regular prints will eventually go out of print.”
Color inspires Chris, and she finds that inspiration in the world around her. Taos was inspired by a trip to New Mexico: it’s earthy tones echo the stark beauty of the deserts in the southwest, while the aqua and blue mimic the unique blue of the New Mexico sky. The design itself is inspired and adapted from Native American quilting tradition.
Sea Islands is another of her geographically-inspired designs, this one from a trip to the coast of South Carolina (and having her own line of Island Batik fabrics doesn’t hurt). The long winters in her home of Minnesota inspired Midwinter Blues’ icy design and color palette.
Heritage Square is perhaps the most emblematic of Chris’s designs, however. It’s somewhere at the crossroads of traditional and modern. It is, of course, a sampler quilt and it, of course, features almost 30 fabrics. What is now Heritage Square began as a raffle quilt for her local guild’s, The St. Cloud Heritage Quilters, 25th anniversary. Chris solicited the guild members’ favorite blocks. The final quilt had over 40 blocks, 105 fabrics and 20 threads in the quilting.
When people asked Chris if she was planning on publishing the design, Chris, of course, said no. “If each block needed two pages, then with the number of blocks in that quilt the design would be over 100 pages long,” she says. “No one in their right mind would buy a pattern that long.”
People kept asking, though. Eventually, she decided to simplify the pattern for release. She took out the original design’s double mariner’s compass medallion, the paper-piecing blocks and the applique along the borders. She also made the block--originally nine inches--a little larger. This resulted in a much more manageable, though no less impressive, pattern.
While it would be easy to categorize Chris’s career as one of color and inspiration, her advice to would-be quilting designers is quite a bit more practical: “Learn to write really good instructions,” she says. “They better be clear and concise. I’ve learned over the years that people don’t know what I think they should. Be patient with them.”
As a long-time technical editor--of instruction manuals, no less--I have to say that I agree. Inspiration and great designs don’t mean much if the people trying to recreate them can’t do that.
Visit Stichin’ Heaven’s Block of the Month page to register for one of our Chris Hoover programs!
As always, Happy Stitchin’!