Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Interviews as Inspiration ~ Marcia Derse

This is the sixth of a series of Interviews as Inspiration. I'm inviting people I admire; artists, authors, people I know, and people I don't. It should be fun! and hopefully inspirational for both you and me. 

Marcia Derse, fabric designer
I want to introduce you to Marcia Derse, one of my very favorite fabric designers. Here's a glimpse of some of her very cool designs:
some squares of Marcia's fabric
more small samples of Marcia's fabric
I met Marcia at the Houston Quilt Festival, and fell in love with her fabric and her witty personality. I've made a few things using her fabric, this prayer flag quilt and more recently these Recycled Circle quilts.
Recycled Circles in progress
Recycled Circles (by Jane LaFazio) created with Marcia Derse fabric
And my friend, Pokey Bolton, bought this fabulous settee right off the convention floor in Houston.
Pokey Bolton's settee, in Marcia Derse fabric
So enough introduction, let's hear from Marcia!

JL: How did your career as a fabric designer begin? 
MD: 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 7 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.

JL: When you create a new line of fabric, are you in the studio to do it, or (gasp) on the computer? Do you have a building and employees? Where is it located? MD: Creating a line of fabric for me takes place everywhere but the computer! I have a beautiful studio in my home but I never manage to contain myself there; each stage of the process seems to necessitate taking over a different part of the house.

 I find my inspiration everywhere, I’m a natural collector and surround myself with colors and shapes that inspire. I take all my inspiration and start by taking my one yard cuts of white muslin down to the basement where I dye a range of colors.

dyes, in the basement
Then I move out to the garage to put on the resist. I throw the garage doors open, listen to a book, add resist with squirt bottles, brushes and mono-prints. I laying the wet fabric pieces on newspaper all over the floor and when I run out of floor space, I quit for the day. Over-dyeing the fabric is next and I work through the hundreds of fat quarter pieces hanging them up to dry on anything that works. 
fabric hanging out to dry
Once I have created some new fabrics for inspiration, I begin the process of editing down to 8 designs to start the collection. I go through each and every one of my fabrics from my library and pull color combos that catch my eye that day~ by this time every surface and most of the floor in the studio holds little groups of fabric that mean something.
Marcia's hand dyed and painted fabrics hanging in the closet
I don't start with an idea or direction but let the colors and patterns inspire me. In the process of finding a series that works I discover the theme. I enlist the help of my family to name all the patterns. We seem to have a family vocabulary of memories and it's always an interesting conversation talking about what we are seeing and how they relate to our lives. We named one of my first pieces in The Gerta Collection (Gerta is my mother) Mulberry Bullseye for the mulberry tree at the old house where the kids snacked and stained countless pieces of clothing and; Spring Green Bullseye for all the trips to Spring Green, Wisconsin where family lives.
Spring Green Bullseye design from Marcia Derse
One of my new designs was inspired by my son's sideline project ~ a fridge mosaic – magnet puzzle. I made a mosaic stamp and can't wait to see the finished fabrics~ 

Marcia's son, Sam, created this VIDEO of his fridge mosaic:

Somehow, it all comes together in the end and the very last step, typically the night before I need it, I find a picture to capture the collection story.

JL: So how did you go from creating your original fabric to have bolts of your designs commercially printed? 

MD: Determined to have my fabrics commercially printed I started building up my arsenal of fabrics. My goal was to fill the very smallest booth (6'x10') at the Houston Quilt Festival to begin selling fabrics and networking to find a manufacturer. I built up my connections and found patrons for my fabric and while I was approached by people interested in producing my fabric, each time it fell through.
Rejection is wearing so I decided to take a break and turn my focus back to making artwork for a while. By chance this is when everything fell into place. My sister, Mimi, who is also a fiber artist had been a Troy customer for years. She was in the warehouse buying fabric and ran into Dorothy Troy who had just arrived back from a Houston Market. When my sister told her I was down there selling my fabric, Dorothy asked if I was interested in having it printed. Even though I had just told my husband this was the last time he needed to drive from Ohio to Houston with a van full of fabric, I immediately followed up on the lead and called Dorothy from the Festival. We made a detour on our way home through Chicago as we had everything in the van and showed Dorothy my fabrics. She understood my work immediately and asked me to create a collection of 8 designs in three colorways. I sent along all kinds of options thinking that if I was doing something wrong, she would correct it ~ but she printed everything exactly as I sent it with no changes. I have to come to realize that this was truly a remarkable gesture trusting me as an artist in an area I was really not familiar with, letting the work speak for itself. 

For a collection, my hand-dyed and painted pieces are sent to Japan where they paint the strike-offs by hand, create the repeat and the screens. It is really an amazing conversation in color as once it leaves my hands and I am so proud of the consistency and the quality of the commercial fabrics.

JL: I love that you name each of your lines of fabric, and include a charming image. Please show us some of those images, and tell us the story behind them. 
MD: Most of the pictures are from my childhood and many are my mother. She was such a powerful influence in my life and is one of the main reasons I work with fabric, she herself was a master seamstress. The first picture for my first collection ‘Gerta’ is of my mom, Gertrude, standing in front of my freshly laundered diapers with my fabrics substituted in. She looks as gleeful as I know she would be if she were still around to see my designs being produced. 
For Streamline, she is in our Streamline trailer (a permanent ‘tent’ my husband gave me as a birthday present to sit on our property in Indiana). 
Third in line is Gerta again, this time wearing my fabric. She always looked stylish and made many of her own clothes; I don’t doubt that she would have worn something like this to stand out in a crowd. 
Third in line
The picture for Shoreline is probably my favorite. Mom, my sister Sandy, and I on the beach at Cedar Point. My sister and I were wearing red and white checkered bathing suits which matched the red and white checked water tower we passed on our summer trips to Cedar Point. 

Line 5 features my dad in his army days ~ this picture was taken in Germany, the spotted graffiti fabric was named after we tried it on the wall. 
Line 5
Family archives temporarily depleted, I took a photo of our door mat that we step over everyday that inspired the Nouveau Chic filigree patterns. 
Doormat, aka Nouveau Chic
JL: What would your advice be to someone who wanted to start a similar venture? 
MD: Make yourself a space and give yourself time to create. If you are persistent and push yourself the work will follow. I am my toughest critic, I don’t chase trends and I always start by making pieces that I love. Of course deadlines and goals help but what is most important is making something that you are satisfied with. Once you have this you can start marketing and getting your work out there. It's hard and stressful but worth it.
Fabric dyed and ready to be ironed
JL: What is the favorite part of your day? 
MD: Every morning as soon as I wake up I take a three mile walk around town. It helps to jump start the day and I feel like I've at least accomplished something~ Occasional stops to the grocery store or library take care of errands and reading material and then I head into the studio where one thing leads to another. 
inspiration photo by Marcia Derse

JL: Tell us some title of your favorite books... 
MD: I just spent my summer breaks floating in the pool re-reading Beverly Nichols garden books, Down the Garden Path and the Merry Hall series ~ They always make me smile and occasionally laugh out loud. Anything and everything illustrated by Maira Kalman. Old habits die hard, from all the time I spent at the children’s bookstore I owned and operated and I still follow the scene. Also, one amazing book I recently read that should be on everyone's list to read: Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

JL: Future and dreams for yourself and your fabric line~ 
MD: For my work I'd like to see my fabrics available for the home decor market. My latest obsession is buying old furniture at estate sales to have reupholstered in my fabrics. The pieces are so bold and out of the ordinary that I think there is definitely a place for them. For myself I’d like to do more traveling. I love traveling abroad but I’m more interested in visiting our kids. They have spread themselves out on both coasts in wonderful places. We just spent the weekend with my youngest daughter Molly eating our way through New York and it was incredible.  Other than that all travel revolves around fabric shows! 

Furniture upholstered in Marcia Derse fabric
JL: Do you keep a journal or sketchbook?
MD: Having always been a fan of blank books and all the possibilities they hold until I get a few pages in~I am now loving filling books and previously owned journals with ephemera in my studio. There's only so much room on my walls so I'm putting everything into these books~seriously a wonderful part of any day...just making stuff.
Marcia's journal fodder

As Marcia was looking through her files, for photos for this interview, she came upon these, some of the photos she uses for her design inspiration. I adore them! It's a wonderful insight to her design process.
inspiration photo by Marcia Derse

inspiration photo by Marcia Derse
inspiration photo by Marcia Derse
inspiration photo by Marcia Derse
Now go over to Marcia's website and admire her gorgeous designs. You can buy them directly from her, as I do.

Links to my other Interviews as Inspiration:

Rachelle Archer, expressive arts therapist at a school for homeless
Cas Holmes, textile artist
Mary Beth Shaw, artist and Stencil Girl Products founder
Marcia Derse, textile designer
Lesley Riley, artist and author
Danny Gregory, artist and author
Judy Reeves, writer
Carlo Roberts, The Blue Walk travel company founder
Jane Powell, Random Arts owner 


  1. Great interview, Jane! I really enjoyed hearing about Marcia's creative process, and how her fabric line came into being.

  2. I can't help but be a little disappointed she sends her beautiful designs to JAPAN to be printed.......sigh.......

  3. Thanks for a wonderful interview, Jane. I have lusted after Marcia's fabrics from afar because I didn't know I could buy them directly from her! I see my Christmas list is going to be easy shopping for my hubby. Thanks!

  4. Thanks, Jane! I really enjoyed reading about her processes and how she developed her work and business. Now I have to go look at her site.

  5. We love Marcia Derse and are so fortunate to have her in our community!! I hadn't seen the furniture with her fabric - what a great idea!
    wonderful interview, thank you


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