Allison Richter is known as the “Queen of Appliqué” among quilters. And the pictures on her blog and Instagram channel confirm that she certainly deserves this honorary title. Doesn’t this dragonfly look absolutely mesmerizing?
Allison lives and works in Northern Germany, near Bremen, but originally comes from the USA, and more specifically the “Country Roads” state of West Virginia. In an interview with us, she details her creative biography and explains why her blog is called “Campbell Soup Diary”.
Perhaps you would like to join Allison’s quilt-along? If so, you should definitely take a look at the last part of this blog post, as a copy of the Purdy Bird pattern is being raffled there!
Oh, and in case Allison’s husband is reading this: please be careful with the fabric scissors (see “Fun Facts” at the bottom).
Interview with Allison Richter
Dear Allison, who taught you to sew? Why did you start doing patchworking?
Even though it was my mother who taught me to sew, my transition into quilting came much later in my sewing years. Since my mother was a Home Economics teacher (Hauswertschaflehererin), she showed me the proper way to sew and follow a pattern, but my interest never stuck with sewing clothes. Despite the fact that I always had a passion for fabrics and sewing, I really wasn’t interested in quilting at all, which makes it kind of ironic that I am designing them now. For me quilting projects just took too long (and they do) I started out with small patchwork projects, which grew into bigger projects, that eventually led to designing quilt patterns. Having grown up in the US where quilting is more commonly known, I was always surrounded by quilts, and very much appreciated them, but appreciated them the most when they were made by someone else. I never intentionally set out to design quilt patterns, but it just happened. The second part of my “training” came from my dad, who studied art at university, and later worked in fine art painting. He taught me about colors, contrast, lighting, etc. and we always had fantastic artwork around us. Every art museum visit was peppered with explanations about style, technique, and anything else that an artist in training should know. We were always encouraged to be creative whether it was crafting, painting, or another messy art project.
You are originally from the US. What brought you to Germany and made you settle there?
As it is often the case with many expats, following my heart to be with a certain tall, handsome German guy was my motivation for moving to Northern Germany. The first several of my fourteen years here, were spent in a suburb from Hamburg. We’ve since traded in “city living” for my husband’s hometown in the country, just south of Bremen. While the pace is much slower here, I always have the perfect photo background literally just outside my back door.
It was presumably quite a change to move from the US to Germany. What were your initial thoughts?
Since moving to Germany, I have a completely different view of my own country and culture. Living in another country makes you more aware of just how different cultures really can be. – “different countries, different cultures” is so true! Many of the differences took a long time to get used to, and learning the language was a big factor in the beginning. Being fluent has definitely made things easier, although when speaking on matters of the heart, it just has to be in my native language.
Your label and your shop are called the “Campbell Soup Diary”. Is Campbell your maiden name or where does the name come from? Is there a story behind your label name?
Campbell is my maiden name, and is the most well-known soup brand in the United States. Often when meeting people for the first time or telephoning, I would clarify any mispronunciation with “my name is Campbell – like the soup”. By naming my blog after my maiden name, it is my little way to sentimentally hold onto that person that I was known as the majority of my life. And no, there is no relation to the soup company.
What do you have on your blog / in your shop?
The early years of my blog are actually a lot about living as an American in Germany, and those “first” experiences. In many ways it was a way to process things, as well as a way for my family members and friends to get a little sneak peek into what my life is like here. When I owned and operated my own online fabric shop, it became a way to connect with customers. In recent years, I have fully shifted my focus to quilting, current projects, patterns, tutorials, and the occasional personal post, but always from the heart and usually with a story behind it. It is my journal, that just so happens to be open for the public to read. My website, which is under the same name, is more the business side of things with newsletter sign-ups and my online shop. Links to my blog, tutorials, and teaching information is also included here.
We love your quilting patterns. One of them is the Purdy Bird. Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
It doesn’t take much for a design idea to spark, and I often never know where the inspiration will come from next. One particular qulit, Lovebirds’ Garden, was inspired by a cross stitch picture at an exclusive historical grounds’ hotel & restaurant where my husband had taken me for a special birthday breakfast. I usually keep a folder with my little scribbles and sketches that I can refer to later. When I am working on a new quilt, I can pull them out and rework them, or try to take an idea and develop it further. Sometimes I will go looking for inspiration and other times, inspiration just finds me – usually in everyday things… billboards, architecture, walkways, advertising, etc.
What is your design process?
Usually I start with a sketch or drawing that I’ve come up with, and scan it into my quilt design program, EQ8. Then I draw the shapes on the computer, so that they are digitized and a useable format. I am very visual and hands-on when it comes to designing a pattern. Often, I will print the applique shapes on paper first to see if the scale is where I want it to be, and then adjust from there. At any given time, my design wall can look pretty wild with paper shapes pinned in between sewn blocks and applique shapes, not to mention fabric swatches. As far as colors go, I usually have very specific fabrics and colors in my head once I have come up with the actual design. I kind of work in reverse when working on a pattern, and then have to backtrack to figure out how I can actually translate it into a quilt. For my Purdy Bird pattern, the size of the drunkard’s path blocks for the wing were the determining factor that set the size of the other blocks. Usually I will make the quilt top, and then head to the computer for the writing part.
Do you have a favorite pattern?
Perhaps not a favorite design, but several favorite fabric designers. I tend towards bold and saturated colors, as well as strong designs. I use a lot of Basic Grey grunge fabrics in my designs, because they often bring a certain balance to a project, but are not flat like a solid. There is still a movement in the fabric without overwhelming you with the design of a busy print.
I’ve also been a long- time fan of Anna Maria Horner. When I work with her fabrics, I get the sense that she understands not only quilting and how quilting fabrics work together, but design and color on a deeper level. Her prints are often too busy for some, but for me, her aesthetic just can’t be matched. I use a lot of “almost solids” or two-tone prints from Alison Glass. They are way more interesting than a solid, and can often be just the right accent needed. Most recently I’ve found myself mixing prints and batik fabrics, but I can’t really say if it’s a phase or here to stay.
How would you describe your quilting patterns?
Combining traditional piecing and large applique, with a fun modern twist. As much as I love applique, sewing was my first love, which is why I like to combine the two. The combination of the starch applique method and XXL applique have almost become a trademark of mine, especially with my most recent patterns. People often assume that my applique is done by hand, but I actually don’t do any hand sewing – not even my binding!
I do like to think that perhaps extra-large applique shapes might have a wider appeal because traditional quilters would possibly be willing to dabble in light or easy applique shapes, as the idea of making 100 tiny leaves for one 8” block can be a little overwhelming. The bigger shapes are much easier than traditional small shapes, not to mention that it gives the quilt a more modern feel.
I only have one quilt pattern that is not with applique. In some patterns there might only be simple accents like circles, while other patterns focus heavily on applique. Even though my most recent work is with XXL applique, I don’t want to be labeled and feel limited to only large designs. Currently I am working on several quilts that read more like a series, and the shapes are not as large or in the same style as my current patterns.
What connection do you have to Quilt and Textile Art (www.quiltundtextilkunst.de) in Munich and how is your dragonfly quilt connected with it?
I met Christine a couple years ago at Nadelwelt, and from that meeting began the planning for a quilting course at her shop in Munich. For the course, I offered my “Fly High, Dragonfly” quilt pattern as an exclusive release before it was officially released to the public – that lovely group of German quilters were the first to get their hands on this pattern! It was so nice to see so many different takes on my pattern – and in person too!
We read on your Instagram profile that you also offer courses. Who are these aimed at and what do people learn in your courses?
Three years ago, I started teaching classes in Karlsruhe, Germany at Nadelwelt. That kind of opened the door for me teaching other classes with quilting groups and shops in Germany. Teaching in a foreign language has it’s challenges, but my class participants have been too kind to let my grammar mistakes slide.
My courses mainly focus on appliqué, specifically the Starch appliqué method. Starch appliqué is an appliqué method that uses a freezer paper template and spray starch to create a finished edge appliqué. The template is then removed before stitching, and can be finished either by hand or machine with a straight or blind stitch instead of a traditional zig-zag stitch. A small portable pressing board will be assembled in class, which is needed for the starch appliqué method.
I have tried every applique method out there from raw edge, zig-zag finish, freezer paper/glue method, as well as using an interfacing and turning the shape. Needle turn is the only method that I have not tried, but hand sewing is not my thing.
Your YouTube channel has a few videos about specific patchworking techniques. Will you be making any new videos soon, and if so about what topic?
My next video will be released with the start of my upcoming Quilt-A-Long that begins the end of August with my Purdy Bird quilt pattern. I hope to add more vidoes, but since it takes a while to make and cut them, as well as quiet time, I will have to wait until school has started regularly again.
What is a QAL and how can other quilters join in? When does your Purdy Bird QAL start?
A Quilt-A-Long, or QAL, is essentially several quilters quilting on the same project at the same time. The internet now makes it possible to sew along with other quilters literally from all over the world!
My Purdy Bird QAL starts on August 31st and goes through October 24th. Each week we sew a different section of the quilt, and then post about it on Instagram. But don’t worry, you can still be a part of it! You can already find the posts of the first three weeks on my Instagram account. A weekly newsletter goes out each Monday during the 8-week QAL, where I explain more about certain steps in the patterns, or I give extra tips and techniques.
In the newsletters, I can go into a more in-depth explanation than what I can include in the pattern. There is also a weekly giveaway on Instagram, and Basic Grey is joining the QAL as well as sponsoring fabrics.
One online fabric store, where I also teach, will be offering fabric kits and applique supplies for Germany and EU customers. One can sign up for the QAL newsletters either on my website or my blog, and even if you are not active on Instagram, you can still receive the newsletters and sew along.
Is there any advice you could provide to patchworking beginners?
Probably several of the same things that my mother told me when I was learning to sew: Take the time to cut properly. Always iron your seams. The sewing machine can be quite forgiving. It’s not a race, so take your time. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – start with easy patterns first and then work your way up. Since there are so many fabulous online tutorials for anything and everything, do a little research before you move on to a new technique. Be patient with yourself and don’t have such high expectations that the first time you do something, it will turn out perfect. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Something of particular interest to us: We believe that you use a BERNINA for sewing. Is that the case? Do you like your machine(s)? 🙂
Is there anything else but a BERNINA?!? When I first started getting more serious with sewing before moving to Germany, I asked my aunt, who has been quilting for 40+ years, what was the best machine to buy. Without hesitation or doubt, she said that a BERNINA was the way to go. I started with an Activa 240, and upgraded to a 740 a few years ago. For a quilter, the extra throat space is divine, and I love the precision. When I transitioned from my old sewing machine to my BERNINA , there was a marked difference of accuracy.
Do you have a favorite accessory?
Besides my walking foot, my ¼” foot and open toe foot are my most used feet. The open toe foot is ideal for my applique projects. I’m still waiting for Bernina to manufacture a cable that can be used on the beach! (wink, wink)
Quilts on the wall or on the sofa?
Daily use on the sofa
Do you prefer sewing on the weekend or during the week?
During the week, weekends are family time.
Unstitch or “ah, it doesn’t matter”?
Oh yes, it needs to be right – unstitch!
Do you have any particular (sewing) tricks?
Iron, iron, iron!
Tea or coffee?
I’m not a typical American in this regard – black tea twice a day!
Pins or clips?
Clips are for hair – pins!
Do you have experience with any UFOs?
Who me? What are those?!? (wink, wink)
Do you talk to your sewing machine? If so, do you converse with it in English or German?
Cursing is more effective in German.
Do you have a big stock of material?
She who has the most fabric when she dies wins – I’m getting a medal!
Neat and tidy in your sewing room or organized chaos?
Neat and tidy is only for photo shoots. #honestcraftrooms shots stress me out.
How do you react if someone uses your fabric scissors to cutpaper?
Raffle for a Purdy Bird sewing pattern
Have you also fallen in love with the Purdy Bird, and perhaps want to take part in the quilt-along as well? Then please leave a comment on this article and let us know, by 11:59 p.m. on September 30th, 2020, why the bird should fly to you. We will give away a copy of the Purdy Bird pattern to one of the readers who posts a comment.
The winner will be drawn on October 5th, 2020. Notification will take place by email within seven days. We are not responsible for failure to receive or late delivery of the notification. If no response to the email notification is received within 7 days, the prize will be forfeited. We reserve the right to interrupt or cancel this competition, or to change the procedure or rules, at any time. The decision about the winner is final.
Update October 1st
We drew the winner this morning. It is Naomi with her comment from September 25th. Congratulations! The raffle is now over.
Find out more about Allison Richter
More information about Allison is available on her online channels.