“Jack of all trades” is a fairly apt description for quilt designer Cary Flanagan. From jewelry to music to dance, to pottery, plus a stint raising pigs, (not to mention renovating a 140-year-old house and barn and a 20-year career in social services) she has tried it all! As quilters and quilt lovers, we’re thrilled that Cary has found a home in the quilt world, creating beautiful designs that we all can use. Keep reading to learn more about Cary and Something Sew Fine.
QW.com: You came into quilting after dabbling in many different artistic pursuits. Can you tell us a bit about your diverse journey?
CF: Yes – VERY diverse! I sometimes feel like I have lived a number of different lives, but that’s what keeps things interesting.
I have been designing and making things since I was little, and I have tried about every craft imaginable. In my early teens, I designed enamel, copper and silver jewelry. My dream was to become a famous professional jewelry designer and have my own shop. I began college as a music major and thought I wanted to become a professional musician. Then I was introduced to pottery making and continued my work in silver in the college art department. I joined an International Dance group on campus. I ended up majoring in Sociology and Anthropology and spent the summer before graduation working at an archeological dig in northern California. I spent the summer after graduation at the School for American Craftsmen in Rochester NY, focusing on silver-smithing and pottery. Whew – that was all before I turned 22!
I married a year after college, and worked as a secretary (ugh) at MIT for several years until we decided to join the “Back to the Land” movement of the early 1970’s, as well as working as full-time professional potters. We raised most of our own food, including raising pigs for several years. We did that for almost twelve years.
Eventually, the business began to take its toll on us physically and we decided it was time to grow up and get “real” jobs. I received a Master’s degree in Counseling in 1987 and spent almost seventeen years on the staff at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Manchester. I loved the work but became thoroughly burnt out by the time I left in 2004. I have been running my own quilt design business ever since.
QW.com: What got you started in quilt design?
CF: I began making quilts around 1990 and joined the Amoskeag
Quilters Guild in Manchester, NH. I became involved with making charity quilts as part of the guild’s programs. Soon after leaving full-time work, I designed a technique that made it possible to cut all the blocks for a quilt in very little time, which was ideal for charity quilts. It is what I now call a “stack, cut and shuffle” design. That block became the basis for my very first commercial pattern, “Rule of Thirds.” I enjoyed the design process so much I just kept designing! For me, designing is a form of play. However, turning those designs into a finished quilt and salable pattern is hard work.
QW.com: What do you wish someone had told you before you started quilting as a pastime?
CF: Let me broaden that question. What I wish someone had told my husband and me before we became full time potters, was how to separate our business lives from our personal lives. With the pottery studio covering most of the second floor of our house (and a morning commute of “just down the hall”), it was too easy to allow our professional and personal lives to become all one. That turned out to be a serious mistake.
Because of that experience, when I established my quilt design business I knew the importance of keeping my business and private lives separate as much as possible. You have to set some boundaries and priorities so that the business does not suck you in to the point of neglecting home and family.
QW.com: Who taught you to quilt?
CF: I am primarily self-taught but have read many quilt books and taken many classes/workshops over the past 20+ YEARS. I learned to sew very early from my mother and have made clothes, curtains, slip-covers and so on before I discovered quilt-making.
QW.com: Could you share one of your favorite quilting tips?
CF: I would urge anyone who does not already belong to a quilt guild, to join one. I have learned so much from my fellow quilters, not to mention making many really good friends. For the past three years I have joined other guild members in making brightly colored and cheerful pillowcases for seriously ill children in several local and regional hospitals. Last year, as a group, we produced about 2500 pillowcases. Our goal for this year is 5,000 and we are well on our way, thanks to many individuals and quilt shops who donate fabric for the cause.
Being part of an active guild is one of the best things I ever did as a quilter. If you live in an area where there are no conveniently located guilds, start one yourself or join one or more online groups, of which there are dozens.
QW.com: A lot of our readers tell us they have trouble finding more time to quilt. What advice would you give them?
CF: This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” responses. I am not nearly as organized or as disciplined as I would like to be. I have way too many interests and I become easily distracted. (True confessions).
So my advice is to get and stay as organized as possible (this is not to say you can’t have a messy studio – just don’t let the mess take over). Learn to stay focused. Make spending time in your studio (or wherever you sew/create) a priority, every day if possible. In my case I am either sewing, or designing, or writing most of the day, but I also make time for my husband and mother-in-law, (who turned 100 years old in March), and, of course, my friends and family. We have two dogs that we love and both of us enjoy going on long walks or playing with them every day. I also love gardening, reading for pleasure and for research, and so much more!
I am currently working on my first novel and hope to get that published in June or July of this year (2015), so that has been my primary focus for the last few months. The story is about a quilt maker growing up in the last half of the 19th and early 20th century in a small village in NH. Not coincidentally, the protagonist, Hannah, becomes possibly the first quilt pattern designer in New England and develops a successful mail order pattern business.
I am already planning a companion book which will showcase a variety of quilts that might have been made by Hannah and members of her Quilting Bee, along with diagrams and instructions for making these quilts.
One other tip – allow yourself time to do nothing, if that is what you feel like doing. Or do something for the sheer fun of it. I highly recommend it. As I get older I am letting go of the need to “do it all.”
QW.com: One more fun fact about Cary: Her “Take Four” Placemat Set is the top-selling Quiltwoman.com pattern of all time. Congratulations, Cary!