The New New England Heirlooms
Favorite Simon Pearce piece: “It’s easier to ask me what I don’t like. I think the most unusual is the Woodbury bowl. It’s almost impossible to come up with an original design. You may think it’s original, but chances are it’s not. But the Woodbury bowl, our square bowl, is very unusual.”
Famous fans: Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy, Michael J. Fox, Sandra Bullock, producer Lorne Michaels (who gives a Simon Pearce bowl to every current and former Saturday Night Live cast member who has a baby)
Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont. 800-774-5277; simonpearce.com
Quilting, in many ways, is a simple and humble craft. But when Connecticut quilter Denyse Schmidt does it, it’s also an art form. When she makes one of her celebrated couture quilts, Schmidt might work from an existing design or create a new one. When it’s a custom job, she’ll first work with her client to choose colors; then she cuts fabrics and composes the piece.
“It’s like a painting,” she explains. “I add pieces of fabric in response to what’s there.”
After she sews the blocks together, Schmidt marks the top with quilting lines. The only step of the process she outsources is the actual quilting; she sends the piece to a group of Amish women in Minnesota, who quilt it by hand. “If I did the quilting myself,” she says, “I’d make one quilt per year.” With outsourcing, a couture quilt takes about four months start to finish.
Though Schmidt’s work has been lauded for its contemporary appeal, it’s deeply rooted in traditional patchwork. “My patterns are inspired by the quilts that I fell in love with when I started studying this,” she explains. “Many are more than 100 years old.” She’s currently writing a book about traditional quilt patterns. She’s also constantly thinking about new designs. “I keep journals and make sketches whenever I’m inspired,” she notes. “The inspiration could be anything–a piece of lace, a picture from a magazine, a couple of old houses next to each other in a striking combination of colors.”
Another inspiration–in a completely different medium–is fiddle music. “I listen to a lot of old-time music, and I fell in love with homegrown hillbilly music,” Schmidt says. “So I learned to play the fiddle. For me, it’s another way of taking a traditional craft and bringing it into today’s world.”
Schmidt’s studio, in an old mill building in Bridgeport, Connecticut, gives a nod to the past as well. “I grew up in central Massachusetts, and the small old mill towns so prevalent in that area are part of my inner landscape,” she says. “My mother sewed, and we’d make regular trips to the mill outlet stores in buildings that housed all the looms and old offices and had creaky wooden floors and dusty rolls of fabric everywhere. I’ve always had a strong affection for turn-of-the-century brick factory buildings. They feel full of history–and possibility.”