When Mark Dunn started Moda in 1975, the company sold fabrics designed and produced by other companies. Most of these were fashion fabrics and their fiber content, weave, and patterns weren’t always suitable for the kind of stitching Mr. Dunn had in mind—quilting. In the mid-1980s the company started producing its own fabrics, which were largely designed in-house. By the mid-1990s, Mr. Dunn and Cheryl Freydberg, who today is Moda’s vice president of design and development, started walking the aisles of Quilt Market, looking for designers. One of the very first they found was Sandy Gervais.
Sandy was a greeting card designer who’d expanded into the quilting world, creating patterns for “little quilts.” Because St. Louis wasn’t far from her Iowa home, Sandy and her husband Bruce decided to set up a Pieces of My Heart booth at the 1994 Market. Sandy still remembers when Cheryl and Mark stopped by. “I was totally taken aback—I wasn’t even really sure what they were talking about,” she says. “And I was so enamored of Mark’s clothing. He had on a linen sport coat with a black Aztec print shirt and black linen pants. It was rare to notice what a man had on in those days.” (You’ll note that Sandy is no slouch herself when it comes to fashion.)
Sandy’s first line incorporated images from her little quilt patterns, in borders and “tossed on” the fabrics. Sandy also designed small prints to accompany them and her first line had 99 pieces (18 to 40 is typical today). “We were all pretty new at this, it was a miracle it worked out,” she says with a laugh. It obviously did, as Sandy has gone on to create more than 115 lines for Moda.
Over her designing years, Sandy’s seen numerous changes. “To begin with, we didn’t email, we faxed,” says Sandy, who remembers WATTS lines as “a really big deal.” “We got our strike-offs [the early samples of fabric] just before Market and figured out we could hand wash them and cobble together a quilt—there was no scanning fabrics or designing patterns on a computer,” she says. Changes to fabrics at the mills in Korea and Japan had to be sent by next-day air.
Today’s faster turnaround time means that Moda now gets its fabrics on shops’ shelves in a more timely manner. Sandy remembers that Christmas fabrics didn’t used to arrive until September or October. “By the time the shop owners got samples made up there was hardly time for customers to get things done by Christmas,” she says. “Now fabric ships in May and is available in summer—that’s a big change for the better.”
Other changes Sandy’s seen include the fabrics’ selvedges, which now include designer’s names, the fabric line name, and the SKU, and individual portfolios of designer’s lines. “They used to be just a blue school folder, not even with a Moda logo. The branding has really changed,” says Sandy.
And the fabric design has changed significantly, too. “I’m really embarrassed by my first quilt, but that’s what was ‘in’ then,” says Sandy. “Images were outlined, but not in register, and now they’re more refined. Quilts have gone from primitive to ultra modern.” But everything old is new again, too. “We were making little quilts and now minis are so popular. What goes around comes around.”
Sandy’s career was never planned, but she greatly enjoys her work. “I hand paint my designs, which I love to do,” she says. And as for sticking with Moda for 21 years? “They give me design freedom, they’re great.”
She tells the story of an early Quilt Market, when the Moda crew dined at Josephine’s one evening. When they returned to their hotel she realized she’d left her purse—“I’m notorious for that,” she admits—and the restaurant was closed the next day. “The owner of the company surely has so much more to do than look for my purse, but somehow he got them to open up and got my purse for me,” she says. That personal touch is part of what she’s loved over the years. “Designing fabric has changed my life a lot,” she says. “Moda is a great company to work for—I’ve never had any reason to leave.”
Do you have a favorite Sandy Gervais line? (She admits that she does—it was Tranquility.) Let us know!