Today we are continuing our interview series with an interview with the one and only Fran Gulick of Cotton & Joy. She is a new quilt fabric designer with two collections she has designed for Riley Blake. Her fabrics and quilt patterns will make anyone and everyone smile! Fran brings so much color and joy to her work. Let's jump in and find out more about her journey into design!
Did you always know you wanted to be in a creative field? What did you study in school? Or, what did you originally see yourself doing as a career if not this?
I did not! I’ve always enjoyed being creative and crafting, but I never imagined I would make a career out of it. I went to college and got a degree in Philosophy and then got a Masters in Library Sciences. My path was always headed towards becoming a librarian. However, after my oldest was born I decided to stay at home (he was a very sick, preemie baby). At the time, I was a lifestyle blogger who did graphic design on the side. So, I continued doing that for “extra” cash.
I learned how to quilt while pregnant with my oldest, but didn’t fully pick it up as a hobby until after our second son was born. I was suffering from some pretty bad postpartum depression at the time, and quilting became my escape. It felt like I was putting myself back together one stitch at a time. At some point, the designer in me couldn’t help herself and I started dreaming up quilts designs. One day I got the wild idea to start a quilting Instagram, from there one thing led to another and I released my first quilt pattern in November 2018. I fell in love with the process and left my graphic design business after eight years to focus on quilt pattern design and I haven’t looked back.
How long have you been a quilter and fabric designer?
I learned to sew about eight years ago, while pregnant, as I mentioned. But I wouldn’t say I got fully into quilting until about six years ago. That’s when I found “modern quilting” was a thing on Pinterest. I was feeding my, at the time, newborn son and found a Suzy Quilts patterns that use those words “modern quilt”, I searched for that and next thing I knew I had about 20 projects I wanted to make from various quilters.
As far as fabric design, I’m a brand new one. I signed with Riley Blake Designs in January 2021, and my very first collection just shipped to stores this March.
How many years were you working in this industry before you felt like you had the career you dreamed of? Or are there still larger dreams you are working towards?
I would say this year feels very much like a dream. Even if this isn’t the career I pictured for myself when I was young, I love my career. I have so many fun projects, collaborations, and things coming up. I keep telling my husband and friends that I cannot believe this is what I get to do for a living. That said, there are always bigger dreams and goals I’m working towards. I kind of can’t help myself!
What other artists, musicians or creators do you find to be inspirational?
Bonnie Christine is a huge inspiration to me, in her classes she always says something along the lines of “all you need are 30 seconds of courage” because that’s all it takes to send that email or request for a collaboration. Hitting that “send” button can be so scary, but if you just gather up those 30 seconds of courage, you never know what could happen! She is also a fellow artist that did not go to art school, so to see the success she’s had without formal art education is inspiring to me, specially when I’m feeling that impostor syndrome.
A blank page can be so intimidating. Where do you start when designing a new collection? Photographs? A theme? A color? Or does it just build organically?
I usually start with an overall theme — it can be a word, or memory. My first collection was based around memories I have from the family garden we had while I was growing up. The second collection is all based on memories from our first year in our forever home. Other collections I’m working on are based on quotes or themes I want to capture.
From there, I write down a list of motifs that fall within that theme, and then I work on illustrating things from that list. At some point I sit down and begin to think of what colors I want to use. While sketching I always choose some random shades and do all my rough sketching in those colors, before finalizing patterns and a color palette at some point.
I always find color to be intimidating. Where do you start when selecting your color palettes?
Some of it depends on the theme, and some of it is personal preference. I always gravitate towards blues and pinks (and you’ll see my two first collections use these colors in abundance!), but narrowing down specific colors takes me a while.
I try to think what feeling I want the collection to emanate. Do I want this to feel springy or romantic? So even though my two collections both have an abundance of blues and pinks, they feel different, because the specific shades and tints used are different.
What do you have coming up over the next year? Any exciting projects you want to share about?
I have a few things I’m working on! Quilt patterns are always on the table. My next pattern is one I am very excited about (think Christmas and gnomes!). I also have a collaboration with Aurifil coming up that I am very excited about. And of course more fabric collections — my second fabric collection, South Hill, ships in January of 2023, and I’m currently working on finalizing my third collection so keep an eye out for that!
How can people best follow you along your creative journey?
Social media is always fun (sans the algorithm woes) — I’m @cottonandjoy on Instagram, Tiktok, and YouTube. The best way to keep in touch is through my newsletter — you can sign up for that on my website cottonandjoy.com
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