Episode 5. Quilting with Bhiravi Rathinasabapathi of Strawberry Creek Quilts

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34. This Long Thread: A Community Episode The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this week's episode, we're using This Long Thread, a book by Jen Hewett, to guide our discussion. Jen is a printmaker, surface designer, teacher and author. In addition to designing and selling her own products, Jen also licenses her work to fabric manufacturers and large retailers. In the press for her first book, Print, Pattern, Sew, Jen talked about growing up mixed race – her dad is black and her mom is Filipina, and Jen's experience as a woman of color in the crafting world informed the creation of This Long Thread. Learn more about Jen at jenhewett.com or @jenhewett on Instagram. In this episode, we'll use the questions Jen asked for This Long Thread to ask you, our community, about your experiences in the sewing and fiber arts world. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-34-this-long-thread/  If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective  

This Week’s Guest: Bhiravi of Strawberry Creek Quilts

On this week’s podcast, we’re talking to Bhiravi Rathinasabapathi of Strawberry Creek Quilts. You can purchase her patterns and handmade goods on her website: strawberrycreekquilts.com. You can follow Bhiravi on Instagram at @strawberrcreekquilts.

Links

Patterns & Designers mentioned

South Shore Romper by Ellie and Mac

Zadie Jumpsuit by Paper Theory

Grove Quilt & Floyd Quilt (coming soon) from Toad and Sew

Workroom Social

Alderwood Studio: Pattern Writing Academy 

Quilting resources

Let’s Talk: Garment Sewing vs Quilting ??? YouTube video from Craft Gemini

SuzyQuilts

“5 Reasons Why a Hera Marker is the Best Quilt Marking Tool” from SuzyQuilts

Featured designers in the Mary Go Round Membership for 2021 

Sewing Threads & Uses 

A note from Bhiravi:

I would recommend that beginners start with patterns that are simple, don’t have curves, and don’t have too many tiny pieces. Clear diagrams and instructions are super helpful. 

I have made & can recommend “beginner” or “easy” patterns from the following designers: Then Came June, The Blanket Statement, SuzyQuilts, and Broadcloth Studio.

The Color of Connection Quilt is also an excellent beginner pattern, super easy with graphic impact! The sales from the pattern go to support Color of Connection, an org dedicated to providing quilting resources & workshops to folks who might not otherwise have access.

There are plenty of great designers out there! I think the key is to start with a true “beginner” pattern, and not “advanced beginner” or “confident beginner”, if you’re looking for a not-frustrating first quilt experience!

Quilting books

Please note, we are a Bookshop.org affiliate, so we may make a small commission if you choose to purchase books via these links:

Show Transcript

Nicole: Question for you.

Ada: Okay.

Nicole: How much longer do we have on our no buy challenge?

Ada:  At the time that this episode comes out? I think we will have one more week left. 

Nicole: Okay. Okay, I have a list. So future Nicole is going to be very excited.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. 

I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare. That’s C-H-U-A-N, and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole, I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Filipinx-American woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.

Ada: So before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about your current sewing project?

Nicole: I’m actually not sewing anything right now or working on anything, but I do have a project lined up for a strike sew.

Ada: Okay, you’ve used the term strike sew with me a few times, but I have to ask what is a strike sew?

Nicole: Fair question. And a strike sewer is someone who works with a fabric designer. So folks who design patterns on fabrics, they receive samples of their designs once they’ve designed it often in different fabric types. So you could have one pattern on the fabric, but it comes in bamboo lycra, French terry and swim fabrics. Then they’ll send out the samples to strike sew if they’re happy with you know, how it printed and how it feels, they’ll send it out to a strike sewist.

I am a strike sewist who will make a garment from the fabric for themselves. It’s always for myself, like, you know, for family members, children sometimes. And it’s kind of like pattern testing. So we talked about pattern testing in episode three, every designer has their own asks of strike sewists. The terms and conditions, the relationships are all different. Maybe we’ll do an episode on it. Like we did pattern testing. If you want to learn about strike sewing, let us know and we’ll queue it up for another season. 

Anyway, I received my fabric and it’s a really neat black and white animal print-ish design. It’s not quite zebra, but what I’m really excited for is that it’s bamboo lycra. It’s so soft. I requested three yards. I know I love it. I just like, I love the feel of good fabric. And I have three yards to work with. And you said it yourself. It’s the summer of the jumpsuit. So I think that’s what I’m going to do. But that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. You have any ideas for patterns for jumpsuits?

Ada: It’s a knit so didn’t you make another knit jumpsuit a few weeks ago?

Nicole: I did. Yeah. It was the Ellie and Mac Southshore Romper. I love it. It was such a great make. So yeah, maybe I’ll do that.

Ada: Or you could do a top, a matching top and bottom. I’m all into the coordinated look right now.

Nicole: That’s true because you know, ease of using the bathroom is probably better. But you know seperates are great, versatile. Oh, I like that. Yeah, I’ll put that into consideration. I just got to think it through a little bit. How about you Ada? What do you got going on?

Ada: As you can see behind me I’m still working on this pink twill Zadie jumpsuit. It needed a bit of a timeout because perhaps I skipped ahead on their instructions because I felt I already knew them and accidentally sewed the pants crotch seam all the way around instead of up to the notch, you know? And so there’s been no way to get in and it was late and I was going a little too quickly and should have stopped to do that. So I’m hoping to finish that this weekend. I also got a new-to-me serger, so maybe I can serge, I don’t have to do French seams on everything anymore. I can perhaps surge the edges and make this a little bit faster. For myself.

Nicole: Congrats on the serger I found that serging was a game changer for me.

Ada: Thank you. I am never rethreading this machine again. Sergers are totally off topic for today’s episode though, because this is our first quilting episode. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve bought some quilting patterns. I just haven’t actually made a quilt before. Nicole, have you made a quilt?

Nicole: I have not. But I am very impressed with all the designs I’ve been seeing lately.

Ada: I feel like most people often identify as a garment sewist or a quilter, I even had this come up in the comments, with a very good friend of my sister’s’ mom, who taught at my high school, also sews apparently and I found her on Instagram. Hi, Mrs. Gikandi! And she said she was more of a quilter than a garment maker, and that she had all these patterns that she hadn’t made yet. And I think many of us, if we identify as one or the other, we have a perception of the other right?

Nicole: Yeah, I saw a video from Vanessa, Crafty Gemini, that talks about this. Each one thinks the other is more difficult. Which one requires more precision, which one takes longer? Quilting needs precise seam allowances and piecing, but the clothes also need to fit. So personally, I think I can get away with being a little sloppier with my garment sewing. So I totally admire the skill of quilters.

Ada: And today we’re going to be talking about all things quilt-y with Bhiravi of Strawberry Creek Quilts, who is both a garment maker and a quilter. And a quilt pattern designer. And you can find her at StrawberryCreekQuilts.com and on Instagram at @StrawberryCreekQuilts. Welcome Bhiravi, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bhiravi: So my name is Bhiravi. I’m 27 years old and I’m Indian American. My parents are South Indian. They’re Tamil. I grew up in Gainesville, Florida. So right in the middle of the state of Florida, Florida can be kind of an odd state. So like kind of Southern, kind of weird. And I was in the little blue dot that’s like right in the middle of it. I lived there for most of my life. And then for college, I moved to the Bay Area. I moved to Berkeley, California. And that’s where I live now. 

Nicole: Cool. So how did you get started sewing? Like when did you start sewing and why?

Bhiravi: I started sewing when I was 12 or 13 years old. So like middle school years. My dad bought my mom a sewing machine as a gift. She really wanted one. And he got her a Kenmore. She signed up for a sewing class. And she was going to make a vest and she made like half the vest and finished the class and then never sewed again. And I kind of just took over her sewing machine. And it was like my Kenmore!

Ada: Did you go with her to that class?

Bhiravi: I did not. I did not. I think it was just for her and she wanted to do it.  

Ada: Okay, so you started on what was your mom’s machine and what eventually led you into quilting?

Bhiravi: I made garments for a long time. In fact, my first garment was probably like a dress made of quilting cotton. It didn’t turn out very well. It was like the cheap quilting cotton from Joann’s and it was not meant for dresses. I’ll say I sewed garments for a long time. I still sew garments, I love it. But a few years ago, I picked up the book Simple Geometric Quilting by Laura Preston. And it has like a bunch of simple patterns like really bold, graphic modern patterns. I basically made one of the quilts from there, and I kind of fell in love with it.

Ada: Wow.

Nicole: I can definitely appreciate the difference between quilting cotton and garment fabric because I started with cotton because I was making masks and I think I have just random cheap-y cotton tank tops that I made at the start. And I’ve evolved since then. But definitely. So we talked a little bit about the differences between garment making and quilting. So what have been the differences that you’ve seen between garment making and quilting?

Bhiravi: I feel like when I started quilting, I’d been sewing garments for a long time. So I was like, I know this, I know how to sew. And I was not one of those people that was like, “Oh, the other thing is so hard.” I was kind of like I know how to sew, how hard can it be to like make a quilt? Turns out, it is kind of different. 

I was surprised by the precision, right? Because I had been sewing garments. And if a seam allowance was a little bit off on most things like it’s not going to make or break your garment. But if you’re quilting, things can go awry really fast. Like there’s lots of trimming. There’s lots of matching. Your seam allowances have to be a quarter inch on some patterns or it’s not gonna work. Oh my gosh. So I think the precision of quilting is where I like, really saw a difference and then with garments knowing you end up with more of like a breadth of techniques, you have to like do a buttonhole or add a zipper or like sew all kinds of curves together. And in quilting, it can be a lot simpler and more repetitive, but more precise at the same time. 

Ada: Interesting, selfishly, I would love to know, like, do you have any advice for garment sewists like ourselves who are interested in quilting, but perhaps the precision part, it seems a little intimidating?

Bhiravi: I would say, just try it. Like, I feel like that’s the best way to learn is just to do it. And there are lots of patterns that are made for the true beginner. So you don’t need to know like, how to match all of your points and have exactly a quarter inch seam. It’s just rectangles. And there’s no matching, and it’s easy to start with one of those. 

Ada: I could do rectangles. 

Bhiravi: Exactly.

Nicole: I don’t know if I can.

Ada: No, I was gonna say it’s triangles are the ones that I’m like, “Ooh, that, that seems a little tricky.” It’s like a crotch curve like that, slightly tricky. Once you figure it out, it’s ok. But triangles, ooh. 

Bhiravi: Exactly, and I will say, too, when you start sewing garments, like you don’t expect everything to be perfect. You make a lot of things that don’t fit, and they don’t look good. And when you make a quilt, I mean, it doesn’t have to fit, but it might not look good. Like my first quilt does not look good. So I would say just give yourself room for mistakes to happen.

Nicole: So since you do both, how do you balance the two? Do you find that you gravitate towards one more than the other?

Bhiravi: Yeah, I love quilting and garment sewing. But ever since I started my quilt pattern business, it’s been like 99% quilting. And it’s just a garment here and there. So I’m still trying to find a balance.

Nicole: I do have another question. So as a strict garment sewist, like me, who can read sewing patterns for garments, what are the biggest differences between reading garment and quilting patterns? What I’m trying to figure out is, can I do this?

Bhiravi: You absolutely can do this! You are going to be able to make a quilt if you want to make a quilt that is not going to be a problem. And you can do it.

The biggest differences are like quilt pattern designers don’t often go down to like the very basics of creating a quilt, they’re not going to tell you like, “This is how you press.” They’re just going to say press your seams, things like that. I would say that if you’re new to quilting, but you know how to garment sew, I would still go with a pattern that is marked beginner and not advanced beginner, but like genuinely beginner, because it’s going to cover more of those basics for you as if you don’t know what you’re doing at all. And that can be a really good thing. 

Yeah, and like when I started quilting, I did not know that you were supposed to use a quarter inch seam allowance. I didn’t really understand how or why people pressed things. When I sew garments, I will press things but sometimes I will skip that step. We can be lazy, it’s fine. Yep. You can’t really do that in the same way with quilts because the impact is a little bit different. On top of that, like the first quilt that I made, I made with Gutermann polyester all purpose thread. And you’re not really supposed to make quilts with polyester thread. You can, people do, but there were lots of things like that, that I would have saved myself all the trouble if I’d started with a beginner pattern. And then also just tried to like Google and like educate myself or look up beginner sewing tutorials on quilting.

Nicole: Can I bother you to find out why you’re not supposed to use polyester thread?

Ada: Yeah, that’s what I was planning on using.

Nicole: I have lots of Gutermann polyester in my stash.

Bhiravi: This is great. I’m actually an Aurafil Artisan this year, so I’m partnering with them on my projects to use their cotton thread. And I could tell you about why it’s excellent. But there are a lot of reasons, there are a ton of reasons why people say you shouldn’t use polyester. And I don’t know how many of them are true or not. But people say things like, you know, if you use polyester, it’s gonna like mess with the weave of your fabric. Like, I don’t know if that’s true. That doesn’t sound right. 

But there are things like your quilt will be stiffer if you use a polyester thread to quilt it versus a cotton thread. And as well as different thicknesses, right like, your all purpose thread is probably a little bit thicker than the cotton 50 weight that you would use for like piecing a quilt. Usually, it’s something I’ve personally observed that quilts that I make with polyester thread like my early quilts, they are stiffer especially if the quilting lines on top are also polyester. It just has a different feel to it than when it’s all cotton.

Ada: Yeah, it’s like you wouldn’t use jeans topstitching thread to put together most of your clothes. You can but it would be very thick thread for that purpose.

Nicole: Is that right? I’ve never made jeans.

Ada: I have purchased all the things you need to make jeans. 

Bhiravi: I’ve made half a pair of jeans. 

Ada: Half a pair? Like one leg or like shorts? 

Bhiravi: Oh, no, sorry, I, I started a pair of jeans. This was pre-COVID. This was two years ago. And halfway through, I just kind of got lazy and I put them in my work in progress pile. And I haven’t touched them since and I’m pretty sure that now they would not fit me, like the size would not be the same size.

Nicole: Fair enough. 

Bhiravi: Yeah, that’s fun. 

Nicole: So my takeaways are, try to stay away from polyester all purpose for quilting and don’t use your jeans topstitching thread. So with regular stuff. I’m learning, listeners are probably face palming right now, when they’re hearing you, but we’re all learning. It’s great, it’s fun. So can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re making right now?

Bhiravi: The current project that I’m working on is a pattern test for Taylor from Toad and Sew, and she has a pair of quilt patterns that are coming out called the Grove Quilt and the Floyd Quilt. And I think they’re coming out in a few weeks. I don’t think there’s a release date yet. But she does these big medallion style quilts with like, striping around the middle. And then one version of her pattern uses like curves or on the outside and the other uses like pass per triangle, so all straight seams. And so you kind of have two options to like pick and choose. So I am pattern testing that. And I’m currently cutting all of the fabric.

Ada: That sounds like a lot of cutting work. 

Bhiravi: Quilts are always a lot of cutting work. 

Ada: Many pieces. Do you have any favorite tools or favorite fabrics that you like to work with?

Bhiravi: Definitely. In terms of tools, I used to sew with not a lot of tools because I learned to sew as a kid and I used whatever was in front of me. These days, my hera marker is my like, all-time favorite tool. And for people who haven’t used a hera marker, it’s just a piece of plastic that used to like mark your quilts and it creates like an indent on the fabric, almost like a line that’s kind of like pressed into it, instead of using like a pencil or a washable marker or something. So it is my favorite tool. And then there are plenty more than I could probably tell you.

Nicole: What about any of your favorite quilting techniques that you like to use? Tried and true techniques, so to speak.

Bhiravi: Again, there’s a lot of techniques, if I had to pick one thing that felt really special and like really fun to do, it would be big stitch hand quilting.

Ada: What is that?

Bhiravi: A lot of quilts like you make the quilt top you put it together with your body and your backing. And you use your machine or you send it to a long armer to sew through all the layers. Big stitch hand quilting is just exactly what it sounds like you take a really thick thread, and you hand quilt with a needle. And you’re making stitches that are usually like a quarter of an inch big. And it’s basically a running stitch every quilt. So it has a really cool look and feel to it. And it takes more time. But I’m a huge fan of that.

Ada: I think I’ve seen it. I wouldn’t have known what it was called. But I remember seeing lots of running stitches and being like that’s interesting. 

Bhiravi: Exactly, exactly. So I do love the handstitching.

Ada: That is respect. Respect for that. Everybody. To each their own.

Nicole  Fair enough, for sure. So I guess my last question for people who are thinking about starting to quilt, where did you find resources for quilting apart from the book that you picked up when you first got started?

Bhiravi: I did a lot of googling. And I’ll say that a lot of times I landed on Suzy Quilts page, which is a great resource. There’s tons of tutorials and patterns. And I really love the way that she breaks stuff down. That was where I started. It was also a lot of like trying things that didn’t work like for a long time, I did not understand how to make flying geese. So flying geese are like the little rectangular unit with like the triangle in the middle. And I remember, as a garment sewist I was reading a lot of tutorials on how to sew them because I liked how they looked. But it took me a really long time to figure out like what was actually happening when people sew flying geese, I couldn’t wrap my head around that. So sometimes it was just trying things until it made sense.

Nicole: And now you’re an expert at flying geese, I assume.

Bhiravi: I don’t know if expert is the right word, but I like to make them and I make a lot of them.

Nicole: Very cool. So the balance of your work is quilting. It sounds like at least for now. And you recently left your full time job to work on Strawberry Creek Quilts. So before we dive into your business, we’d love to know what is the name origin of Strawberry Creek Quilts?

Bhiravi: I live in Berkeley, California. It’s a beautiful town. And there is a creek that runs through the middle of it. And it’s called Strawberry Creek. So it’s kind of a reference to where I live. And it’s also in a lot of businesses in the area. Actually, if you look around, there are quite a few Strawberry Creek things, too. So I’m not the only one who had that idea.

Ada: I didn’t know that. I mean, I lived in the Bay Area. We talked about this before, when we were just chatting. I lived in San Francisco for many years. And I had many friends who were Berkeley alum who still live in Berkeley, and I did not know that. 

Bhiravi: And I love Berkeley! 

Ada: Thank you for, you know, explaining why they’re all called Strawberry Creek. 

Bhiravi: Yeah, I agree. I went to Berkeley for college. And one of the reasons that I know Strawberry Creek is because there’s a part of Strawberry Creek that runs through the middle of campus. There’s like a little glade and like a pathway that crosses the creek.

Ada: I know where you’re talking about. And this makes a lot more sense now, as someone who did not go to Berkeley but visited often. I’m curious, you attended a pattern writing academy before you started your business or in the process of starting your business. So can you tell us a little bit more about that experience? And why you decided to start a quilting pattern business and go into it full time?

Bhiravi: Yeah, absolutely. It was kind of a whirlwind. I knew that I wanted to leave my job at some point and do something creative. And as things started to fall into place, I realized quilting was where I really enjoyed designing. And I felt confident that I could teach as well. And so that’s kind of how I decided I wanted to start a business in the quilting space focused on patterns. And this idea had kind of been in the back of my head for a long time. And then COVID happened. And we all went home, and we worked from home. 

And suddenly there was so much risk in the world at large that I think there was part of me that was like, “What am I waiting for to start a business?” Like, why am I at this job, that’s not really fulfilling to me, if like, life could turn upside down tomorrow, like we could get sick tomorrow. And so that’s when I kind of looked at my bank account. I was like, I think I can afford to leave my job. I think I can like pull this together. I’m just gonna go for it and give myself a chance.

Nicole: That’s amazing. That’s funny. I love that origin story. What an amazing, trying last 15 months that have been full of growth, which I think is really neat. I want to pivot just slightly and ask you, what has it been like, as an Indian American woman, to give up your job and start a sewing business?

Bhiravi: It has been really cool. It’s been really fun. It’s also been challenging. And I think that one of the things that impacts my experience is that my parents are immigrants. And they came to America for academic jobs, they wanted their kids to get a good education, and have a lot of stability. So I can’t speak for all Indian families or anything. But at least in my family stability was really important. My parents always wanted me to have a good education and a stable job that will provide for me, and like, let me have a easy, easier life. That was a big priority for them. 

At the same time, I think like corporate tech, which is what I was in before, was really not for me personally. And I think my family and those people who are closest to me, got like a really good look at that and how it impacted me, which is that I was stressed all the time. And I wasn’t fulfilled by the work. So on a personal level, I think they absolutely understood, especially like several years of working after college. I think they understood like this is not fulfilling to me. 

And so when I told my family that I was leaving my job, they were actually incredibly supportive. And I don’t think that would have been the case when I was younger. I remember telling my parents that I was like, 13, like, I’m not going to go to college, I’m going to open a coffee shop, I want to be an entrepreneur. That was like the big dream when I was 13 years old. And the response to that was not “Go open your coffee shop”, the response was, like “You get to get a degree.” 

My parents are both academics. My dad’s a professor, my mom has a master’s in chemistry. And so my path right now is really unconventional. But I think by seeing the struggle that I’ve gone through and the struggle I went through with my corporate job, my parents understood that this was a way that I was building a path for myself that was more sustainable. And speaking honestly looking at Instagram, for example, there are not that many Indian American or even people of color that I see in the sewing community or even if we just hone in on quilting. So what has it been like to be Indian American and starting a quilting business and being in the quilting world full time?

When I started the quilting business, when I thought about what I wanted to build and what I wanted to do, I wasn’t thinking about who I was in relation to the quilting world, it was just a craft that I like to do. I saw other people building businesses in that space. And I was like, I want to go for this too. I want to give it a try. 

But what happened pretty quickly for me is, once I got on being part of like, quilting Instagram, I realized that it was predominantly white women. There’s nothing wrong with there being a lot of white women in quilting, but I just did not see a lot of representation of people who looked like me. And there were definitely moments when I was starting my business that I would like, turn around to my boyfriend who was sitting next to me or something. And I would, you know, be like, should I do this? There’s nobody that looks like me in this space, am I going to be the odd one out, am I going to fit in? Am I going to be welcomed? 

And so that was more of like a personal hurdle for me that was understanding that there was not going to be representation unless people showed up. And even though that’s scary, sometimes it was something I personally was drawn to do.

Ada: That makes sense, I can identify with that. There are not many non-white people in the self-care, wellness and natural skincare world. It’s very, very white, which again, not a bad thing. But if you don’t see yourself represented in something, it’s hard to see yourself wanting to buy that product or benefiting from it. And so as somebody who also left tech and found it wasn’t for them, you know, I think we have had many conversations, shared similarities. 

I think also friend of the pod and fellow Asian American sewing business owner, Jennifer of Workroom Social, recently shared some thoughts with us, and she said, “I think one thing I struggle with a lot as a maker, business owner and Asian American is a feeling of being less than, and a feeling of not being worthy of being seen or taking up space. I think, who cares about what I’m doing. My colleagues, so many of them who are white, have no problem taking up space. But I really struggled to do the same. And I’ve noticed over the years, how it’s really held my business back.” 

So hearing her thoughts, I’m curious, do you identify with these feelings at all? And can you share a little bit more about what your goals are for your business. And if there’s been anything that since starting has held you back or even helped you move forward and make progress?

Bhiravi: I relate to that statement so much. And I think the part that I relate to is being able to look into a world whether that’s the sewing world or the quilting world and not seeing yourself represented, and then that can kind of morph into self doubt, or just this idea of like, do I belong here? I think that shows up in different ways for different people. And I think for me, it was very much like, “Will I be accepted?” was the question I was asking. I’ve seen a lot of friends struggle with it as well. And it’s not easy. And I think what has helped me is understanding that those kinds of feelings and ideas are often not intrinsic to who I am or what I’m doing. But they’re really coming from looking outside and not seeing representation. And being able to know that like gives me kind of the motivation to just keep going and not listen to those voices as much.

Ada: I love it. Do you want to share a little bit about your goals for your business, too?

Bhiravi: So my primary goal was to build out Strawberry Creek Quilts as a pattern writing company. And basically just make patterns that are fun to make that are easy to make, that are a little bit of like a teaching moment to that people are going to be visually drawn to as well. I wanted the visual design to be something that spoke to me and hopefully to other people in building that out. 

Like one of my big focuses is that I want the process of making one of my patterns to be fun for the person who’s sewing the quilt. Like I think that’s so important. And it’s one of my favorite things about using patterns. There are some designers that I know that if I make their quilt or I make their garment, I’m going to have fun doing it. And it’s not going to be like too much at once. Or it’s not going to be confusing. So one of my personal goals and goals for the company is to really learn to create these patterns that are extremely fun to make.

Nicole: So in your business, is there anything that you think you took from your previous jobs that aren’t really sewing related, but that have been really helpful for launching your business? 

Bhiravi: Absolutely. So before this, I worked in tech, and I worked kind of on the customer success side of things. So it was working with clients and companies that had already signed with us and setting them up on their new software, training them, managing a lot of projects and timelines. And a little bit of people wrangling as well. So that was my background previously.

And when I came into quilting, I think a lot of the training work that I did in terms of writing documentation for people, and putting together a three day on site training or something, those are things that I feel like I’m bringing here as well. And like, I know how to educate people or speak to their skill level. So I think that was like the biggest thing I brought with me.

Ada: That’s such a good skill to have, just in general

Bhiravi: I guess so, I learned it on the job. 

Nicole: I was just thinking that I love how what we pick up and things that are not related to whatever the thing that we need to be doing now is how transferable skills are, I think I take for granted what I know how to do sometimes. So it’s really cool to see how skills from something that you’ve learned and invested in translate to you being able to open up your own business in a totally different sphere. That is very cool.

Bhiravi: I think we all have skills that we bring with us from like past jobs, past experiences into sewing. And it can be really cool to see them in a new context. Because sometimes you don’t realize that skill is like with you until you need it somewhere else. And you’re like, “Oh, I actually do know how to do this”. I do know how to write instructions and train people or whatever that might be for you. Maybe it’s like math skills. I don’t know.

Nicole: I was gonna say math, that is exactly what I was going to say. So I did want to ask, when you started your business, where did you find support and advice and inspiration for your business?

Bhiravi: That is a great question. When I wanted to start my business, I found a lot of support, and my friends and family who were really encouraging to me. And I think that my therapist helped a lot. And I think just having kind of the emotional support and like strength to like, do something new, and try something new, and believe it’s gonna work is really important. And that’s something that’s really important to me personally. 

But then when it came to actually quilting, I stumbled on Pattern Writing Academy, which is run by Amber from Alderwood Studio. And she was opening it for the first time. And it was an online six week course that would teach you how to write patterns, and put you in touch with other people who wanted to do the same thing. So I ended up taking that course. And it really taught me all the basics I needed to know. And it put a lot of things on my radar like this is how you do the quilt math. This is how you decide what your fabric requirements are all of that stuff. 

And then it put me in a cohort of more than 100 other people who wanted to write patterns, whether that was for themselves or professionally, I felt kind of like instantly welcomed to the quilt world. So instead of just being off on my own, I just felt like I was surrounded by other makers. And then once I started interacting with people outside of that group as well, the community was really welcoming. So that helped a lot. 

Ada: It’s like your own little cohort of pattern designers. I love it. 

Bhiravi: Exactly.

Ada: What you’ve said before on your Instagram, I think, is that you release new patterns once a quarter. I sense a little bit of that kind of coming through from tech, perhaps. But I’m curious, like, what is that once a quarter cycle like for you as the person making those patterns and releasing them and going through the whole testing cycle? And can you maybe tell us where you are in that cycle right now?

Bhiravi: Absolutely. I’m working on my second pattern right now. And I’ve only done the once a quarter cycle one time so far. So I don’t know, that I haven’t nailed yet. But I definitely needed the whole quarter the first time. Essentially, I start with a lot of sketching. And I just like to try to sketch designs that are visually appealing. I do paper sketching, I take things into Adobe Illustrator. And I play with them until I find something I like. And that can basically take as long as you want or as like little amount of time as you want. So it’s pretty freeform. 

Once I have that figured out, I start the writing process. And a lot of that is deciding on math. It’s deciding: How big does a quilt need to be? How big is the design going to be? Are you able to cut your fabrics in round number increments in order to like piece the block for example, which let me tell you on my first pattern, I use eighth inch cuts because I was used to eighth inch cuts. And I was like it’s not a problem to have somebody cut three and three eighths inch. People were not a fan of that. Like I think people still liked the quilt but I think they were like I don’t, I need like a half inch. I don’t want to cut to an eighth inch. So there’s all kinds of decisions that you make that are just based on like the physical like how the quilt comes together. And what is the experience of sewing it.

And then once that part is complete once you have the math you kind of have it like rough form. And then you start looking at how many yards of fabric would I need to cut enough pieces to make this quilt, what colors what sizes, you also write the instructions and do diagrams and stuff. And then you sew your own pattern. And this is something I learned from Amber at Alderwood Studio is that, if you write your entire pattern, start to finish, and then you make your sample, you’re going to have a much easier time because you’ll catch your own mistakes. So you can actually see like, “Oh, I wrote this instruction, it does not work that way”, versus looking at it in retrospect is a lot harder if you’ve already made your calls right. 

After you’ve sewn your sample, for me, like kind of like halfway through my sample, I opened up my testing period. So I did a call for testers. And it gave people I think it was about five weeks to make a quilt top, and then coralling the feedback and doing the launch. Because that’s, that’s a lot of work. 

And that’s why I started with a once a quarter cycle because it was like I can’t do this once a month, and like still be a balanced person. So I started with once a quarter. And what I’m finding after the first pattern release is I really liked the pattern release process. And I think once a quarter might be too slow for me. Like it might become once every two months or a month and a half or something. Because I really like being in that cycle of focusing on like one design.

Ada: I mean, that’s good to know, about yourself at least right? 

Bhiravi: That’s true.

Nicole: Is there anything you can share about what’s on the horizon for you either near term or long term? Like are you going to continue on the quarterly schedule? I think you said you’re thinking about speeding it up a little bit.

Bhiravi: So I have a pattern that will be coming out in early July. So right now I am completely focused on that pattern and sewing samples. I think my entire month of June is going to be focused on that. After July, I think my patterns are going to be once every two months. And some of it is up in the air. It’s based on what kind of schedule works for me as I continue to experiment. I will say that I also have some fun collaborative projects coming up.

Ada: Mmm hmm.

Bhiravi: There might be a freebie if people sign up for the email list or just following along on Instagram. There might be something coming up there. But I can’t say too much. Intriguing secret sewing. 

Ada:  

And you’re also part of Mary from Mary Go Rounds Quilts, say that fast. Her featured designer project too, right? Can you tell us a little bit more about like what that means?

Bhiravi: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things if you are someone who is a minority person in quilting, it can be really hard to find people who are representative of your community. Mary Go Round Quilts with M-A-R-Y at the beginning, is a pattern designer herself. And she really loves to share other designers of color every month. Like if you sign up for her membership, you get to download a pattern from the featured designer, you’ll get an interview, you will get like an underground railroad block of the month, I believe. And then she also has certain patterns that she’s releasing, and those will go out to membership members as well.

Ada: So it’s not a secret club, because it is open. Yeah, but it is like an additional quilting sewing club that you can be in.

Bhiravi: Exactly, like you can go to her website, you can sign up and then you get access to all this like membership stuff as well.

Ada: That’s amazing. I love all of it. Maybe I will get my quilting in order. But you’re featured. And we can follow along. I’m curious, you’ve also spoken on your Instagram stories about this a bit. But we would love for the audience here to know, what is it like for you to be part of a group that is underrepresented in the online quilting community?

Bhiravi: It’s difficult. And it’s not the same every day. Like there are lots of days that I don’t notice that I’m part of an underrepresented group. And it’s not like a part of my day to day. There are times that like, that voice creeps in of like, “Where do I fit in? Are there conversations around things like cultural appropriation that are happening without any minority voices?” There’s all kinds of stuff like that. 

Yeah, it’s tough. And it’s a really complex issue. Because if you’re in a room with like, no folks who are minorities, and there’s a conversation about cultural appropriation, that conversation still needs to happen somehow, and hopefully it will go in a positive direction. But again, then you’re missing the representation and the voices that you need. So it feels like a catch 22 sometimes, if that makes sense. 

On the flip side, to be able to establish a business in this space and to share my own work. It feels really great because what I’m kind of hoping is that even though it’s kind of hard for me to show Sometimes that like, the next time, a person of color wants to start a business and quilting, for example, they might see me, they might see one of my friends who is a person of color. And they might feel like they can do it too. 

Nicole: That’s why representation is so important. I don’t think I would have really considered quilting, but I’m sitting here like, I am interested now. But yeah, so you have some great tutorials on your website already. For example, your small space basting tips. It’s great that you’re making quilting more accessible for folks like me. Do you have any other ideas around this or other tutorials that you’re coming up with?

Bhiravi: I would love to do tutorials, I’m not super experienced in writing like the photo blog style, so I’m still learning. Small space basitng tips came from the fact that I live in a 400 sqft apartment. And I can’t just follow all the tutorials that say spread out your queen sized quilt on the floor and then build the layers and pin it together. I just can’t do that. 

I am not sure what kinds of tutorials are coming in the future honestly, and it will probably be based on questions that I get from people. So if people are asking for something, I will probably make a tutorial if it’s something I know how to do.

Nicole: Definitely send in your questions to us! Send them directly to Bhiravi, but send them to us and we’ll be sure to send them along as well. 

Bhiravi: Yes please.

Ada: Last question for you, can you tell us about your studio cat, Reggie?

Bhiravi: Yes, he is an excellent studio cat! So Reggie started as my boyfriend’s cat and now he’s kind of both of our’s cat. He’s about 10 years old and he’s a real sweet ginger tabby cat. He’s just really sewet, he’s very friendly. He has kind of puppy energy where he always wants to be with you. And when I’m sewing, he will sit in his crate that is right on my desk. He has a foam crate and he’ll keep me company. And sometimes he’ll also keep me from sewing by sitting on my fabric, usually about twice a day. 

Ada: Twice a day’s not bad.

Nicole: Seems right for a cat.

Bhiravi: Once in the mid-morning and once in the afternoon. It’ll be like the same time of day, too. He’ll come to my desk and he’ll sit on my desk. And he’ll sit on my fabric until I pay attention to him and after 10 minutes of interacting, then he’ll like go away and do his own thing.

Nicole: He’s just your mental break reminder, to take a break from what you’re working on and to pet him. 

Bhiravi: Yes, he is really great for my mental health. 

Nicole: I can definitely say the same about my dog. Not on the table, or in a crate, but he’s around usually. 

Ada: I don’t know, mine is on the table so…

Nicole: I think yours is a little bit smaller than mine. 

Ada; That is true, he is basically a cat. And yes, he does sit on my fabric, although it’s like evening time. Maybe they know, like “Before you decide to cut this…”

Nicole: Where can listeners find you and your studio cat?

Bhiravi: I am @StrawberryCreekQuilts on Instagram and you can also find me at StrawberryCreekQuilts.com and that’s my website. 

Ada; And we will have links to both of those in our show notes, as well as the books and resources that you mentioned today. Thank you Bhiravi, it was so great to talk to you, we learned so much about quilting and sewing in general, and we hope that our listeners did too.

Bhiravi: Thank you so much for having me. 

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective Podcast. Next week, we’ll be continuing our conversation on cultural appropriation from the first episode.

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Like I said, all of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website, that’s asiansewistcollective.com. 

And we’d love to hear from you! Email us with your questions, comments, or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes, at asiansewistcollective(at)gmail(dot)com.

Nicole: This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline.This episode was researched and produced by Aarti Ravi and edited by Shilyn Joy. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective Podcast, and we’ll see you next week.

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