Designer Interview: Sarah Maxwell | OLFA - Craft OLFA – Craft

Designer Interview: Sarah Maxwell

From pattern designing, to developing fabric lines, to running a quilt shop, Sarah Maxwell is one busy woman! After learning about Sarah be sure to head over to see the beautiful chenille project she created for OLFA this month. Here’s a glimpse into Sarah’s life.

O: How long have you been quilting and designing patterns?

SM: I started quilting in 1990 and started designing my own patterns in 2000. Initially, I focused on quilts that incorporated as many fabrics as possible—with so many great fabrics to choose from, why limit yourself to a single line in a quilt? In the last couple of years, I’ve focused on designing quilts that are modern interpretations of traditional blocks. Finding new ways to interpret tried-and-true blocks is a lot of fun.

One of my all-time favorite designs is my quilt, Radiant Reflections. It combines 36 different bright batiks in a fun sampler quilt.

An example of one of my “use a million fabrics” quilts is this Sew Many Squares quilt that appeared in American Patchwork & Quilting a few years ago. I cut every one of those squares out individually with my trusty Olfa cutter so I could use as many fabrics as possible.

And an example of modernizing a traditional block is my Coming Unwound quilt. I enlarged a traditional spool block and added color shading elements to create the illusion of a spool coming apart.

O: You’re a quilt shop owner in addition to being a designer. Tell us about your store.

SM: Homestead Hearth  opened in 2002 as a destination shop in our small, rural town of Mexico, MO. The store initially focused on 1800s reproduction fabrics as there were few resources for those fabrics in the area. Over the years, we’ve expanded to carry a wide range of fabrics to appeal to a variety of customers. We now have batiks, contemporary prints, woven plaids, hand-dyed wool and reproductions.

Because we’re in such a small town we know we have to be a destination—a place you want to come and spend the day. We decided early on that we didn’t want walls of white shelves, we wanted unique vignettes and lots of nooks and crannies to explore so we kept a lot of the structural elements a previous owner had installed as part of a restaurant and bar

We typically carry an entire line when we buy a collection so customers come to us knowing they will find all the prints in a line. We make new samples every month so there’s always something new to see.


We took a break from offering in-store classes the last few years, but we’ve seen renewed interest in classes so we’re currently working to reconfigure some of our mail order space so we can again offer classes. For our far-away friends, we maintain an active website & we ship all over the world.

O: How many fabric collections have you designed?

SM: I design for Marcus Fabrics . Over the years, I’ve designed more than 20 collections including cotton prints, woven plaids and batiks. This fall, for the first time, I’ve been able to coordinate timing so my cotton prints, batiks and woven plaids all coordinate color-wise so I’m excited to design some projects combining the fabrics. My Prettiful Posies line features florals and geometrics in bright pastels.


My Sew Sweet batiks include some of my favorite motifs including a kite tail image I first did as a print. They include several textural designs that expand the rainbow of color in the prints.


The trend in the industry right now is for smaller lines—fewer total pieces within a single line. By having batiks match my prints, I’ve created the larger color palette that I love to work with in projects. Next up on my cutting table is this new quilt I’ve designed that combines the prints and batiks. I’ll have the pattern available later this winter.


O: Where do you design? Do you have a studio?

SM: I’m fortunate to have a room in our house dedicated to my quilting.  In my imagination, it’s one of those Instagram-worthy, perfectly decorated and organized studios. In reality, it’s a mess—I’m generally working on multiple projects at once and because I like to use lots of different fabrics at once, I have lots of piles and stacks. It looks like chaos but I generally know where things are.

In the last year, I have, at least, add a few mini quilts to the walls so I’m still hoping some day it will be that perfect showcase. Sharing photos of my workspace always gives me anxiety because it isn’t the perfectly decorated showcase. I’m going to blame the current state of disarray on the fact that Market is in less than a month!


O: Do you specialize in a specific look or technique?

SM: In addition to designing super-scrappy quilts and working on a series of quilts that feature modern takes on traditional blocks, I’ve recently focused on hand quilting and hand applique. Watch for some new patterns featuring those techniques soon.

I also love creating chenille quilts. When I first started quilting, there were lots of brightly-colored woven plaids on the market & I tried several times to make a chenille throw—a quilt where you sew channels of stitching close together and then cut through all except the bottom layer to create an entire quilt of frayed edge texture. Initially, the tools to cut those channels were so frustrating to use and almost guaranteed to result in cuts through the bottom layer—rendering the quilt unusable.

When I discovered the Olfa Chenille Cutter, I knew it was time to convince Marcus Fabrics, my design partner, to offer some bright plaids so I could try the technique again. My Color Crush plaids have been perfect for showing people how easy it is to create a snuggly, warm quilt using the chenille cutter. I’ve enjoyed demoing the technique at shows and in classes because people are always amazed at how easy it is. A chenille quilt is the perfect gift project that will be used every day. My new Sew Sweet plaids are available next month and feature the bright pastel palette of my Prettiful Posies line—I expect to see a whole new array of chenille projects soon.

I’ve created a booklet to explain exactly how to create your own chenille masterpiece and my free project for OLFA is a mini-tutorial on the technique.

O: What craft or hobby did you do prior to sewing? Do you still continue?

SM: I started my crafting life crocheting afghans. I haven’t touched a crochet hook in decades!

O: Where are you from? What is your community like?

SM: I live in a small, rural town in northeast Missouri. It’s a typical, Midwestern farming community. Farming is such an integral part of the area there’s even an annual Soybean Festival which celebrates one of the primary crops.  Mexico is also home to the American Saddlehorse Museum.

O: How have your quilting and sewing tastes changed over time?

SM: I’ve actually come full circle. When I first started quilting, I loved batiks and bright colors. One of my favorite memories is attending a workshop with a well-known teacher in the ‘90s who used lots of country-style fabrics and dark colors—I took in fuchsia and orange batiks for my project. She was very diplomatic and encouraged me to do my own thing which I appreciated. I then spent years focusing on 1800s Civil War prints and recreating antique quilts. Today, I’m back to loving bright colors and I love finding ways to use contemporary prints in traditional blocks.

O: What is a typical day like for you? How do you spend a free day?

SM: I wear too many hats so my typical day generally involves work, work and more work.  Over the last year, I’ve made a conscious effort to spend free days working on projects just for me—things that aren’t connected to a deadline or a pattern for sale. I’ve been rediscovering my love for quilting and that’s a good thing.

O: What don’t people know about you?

SM: I have degrees in Economics and Russian Studies.

O: Besides OLFA, what are your go-to quilting tools?

SM: I use Judy Martin’s Ultimate Point Trimmer to snip off the point-y ends of triangles before sewing them into patches. It makes everything line up better. I always over-pin everything using Clover straight pins and fork pins.

O: Please give us a quick tip.

SM: My best tip is decide on a scrap project that you can work on long-term and then cut up leftovers and scraps to that size so you can build a truly scrappy project. I am currently working on a log cabin quilt—so anytime I cut fabrics for a project, I cut an extra strip or two the required width—I will end up with a quilt with hundreds of fabrics without the effort of pulling out and cutting that many different pieces all at once.

O: What have you dreamed of doing but haven’t yet?

SM: Since I first started sewing, I’ve admired antique Baltimore Album style quilts.

51.94.1 Baltimore Album Quilt

With their intricate applique, varied blocks and interesting design elements, this style has always seemed like the perfect way to create a personal statement of items that are important and meaningful. If you study the historical Baltimore Album quilts, you’ll find the makers often included images of their family, their pets, their homes and found ways to incorporate the significant social events going on around them. So the technique is perfect for designing your own quilt and making a family heirloom.

When I first started stitching, I wasn’t confident enough in my skills to really commit to such a project—the quilts generally included multiple types of applique—traditional needle turn, reverse, dimensional. Now, I am confident in my skills but never feel like I have the time to devote to such a project. One of my goals for 2019 is to just start on a block and let the quilt wander where it may. The focus on fast and easy sometimes makes it hard to justify starting a project that won’t be completed in a week or a month or even a year. But, I’m determined to make 2019 be the year I just start.

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