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  • Annette Dawm

A Sense of Home with The Quilted Stash

Corey Follett and Ralph Jarvis with copies of their new book.
Corey Follett and Ralph Jarvis with copies of their new book.

In September 2017, Corey Follett came up with a name for his new endeavour, The Quilted Stash. “It originated as a hobby craft,” he explained. “Originally, it was me playing with a book and a brand new sewing machine and sewing scraps together…. I was just posting pictures of things that I had learned to make on Facebook. There was no such thing as The Quilted Stash. Then people were like, ‘Oh my goodness! Can I buy that? Can I buy that?’ and before long, I had people asking if I had a website or a Facebook page.” With that in mind, Corey knew that he needed a logo, so he asked his friend, Ralph Jarvis to create one. “Then by that fall, we were combining Ralph’s drawing skills and my better developed sewing skills (they weren’t new skills because I had been sewing for awhile).”

Five years and thousands followers later, they have published a book: The Quilted Stash A Dozen Newfoundland and Labrador-inspired Projects. Both authors/quilters have spent most of their lives in Newfoundland. However, Corey did spend some time in Ontario as a teacher. Regardless of where their travels have taken them, Newfoundland has always been and always will be their home, which is a main focus of Ralph and Corey’s work:

“People can see that what we do reflects this place,” said Ralph. “There was a woman from Newfoundland and Labrador on our Facebook page. She posted and said, ‘Your patterns are so home!’ ….I think it’s also made me think about what we do and create. It’s not even just here! If I’m in other places now, I’m looking around me at colour and design. If I’m in Mexico, I’m looking at street art and I’m sort of trying to find the things that reflect that place. I think that no matter what we create, if people look at it and have a sense of home, we’ve done pretty good.”

Corey added, “We have a deep love for the place we come from. We have a deep love of the land here, the people here, the culture and traditions and the art.” He hoped that when people thought of The Quilted Stash, they would realize how much Jarvis and Follett care for the environment and other people.

“I think that was always something that Ralph and I were both in agreement with from the beginning. I mean, ‘The Quilted Stash’ literally was born out of trying to use up just stashed scraps [of material]. So then we weren’t wasting or needlessly buying—we do a little bit of that too—but we were using stuff that was at hand and creating new and exciting, beautiful things out of it. We were also trying to lessen our impact on the environment and make a stand for social justice. We use what we do to support animal charities and to raise up the voices of people whose voices aren’t traditionally raised. I would like people to look at our body of work and our Instagram and Facebook posts and go, ‘Yeah, these guys care about more than just sewing blocks together!’”

With regards to the book itself, Corey said that Newfoundlanders, as well as others with a connection to the island, have reached out with positive feedback: “There’s a sense of pride that there’s a quilting book that has captured what they feel is the essence of being a quilter or the craft of quilting in Newfoundland. That’s pretty awesome, actually, now that I think about that!” Signed copies of the book are available here.

As Corey recalled, “‘The Scrappy Mummers’ came out first, so our first product that went to market was actually a series of patterns…. The idea was to use up scraps in your stash on these beautiful Mummers that Ralph had designed.” The design was printed on fabric via Spoonflower which “flew out the door like hotcakes!”

Ralph also remembered what it was like in the early days: “In the beginning, we were finding our way, and at the same time, bringing something to market. One of the first things we worked on together was the ‘Christmas ‘Round the Harbour’ tree skirt. That started out as something to do during a Christmas break, but then it attracted so much attention! People kept saying to us, ‘You should make it a pattern!’ and we didn’t hesitate! We kind of jumped right into making the pattern and I think we were both learning as we went…. Also, we were motivated by the feedback we were getting from outside. From my perspective, one of the things that has changed is that we are flying a little less by the seat of our pants, and having just done The Quilted Stash book, that took a little more organization. We were able to draw on all of our experience that we built in the beginning, in terms of how to write a pattern. We drew on Corey’s teaching experience with how to communicate with someone…. We used my graphic design and illustration background in order to make the layout of the book. We wanted people to visually be able to follow it. We hit the ground running, even in the beginning, but I think we have enough experience to draw on now. It will continue to evolve because if it doesn’t evolve, it’s going to get kind of dull.”

When asked what makes them a great team, Corey replied: “We’ve learned to work together over the years by drawing on each other’s strengths, which often complement each other’s deficits. So, what I mean by that is, I think we are kind of opposite in many, many ways. Ralph loves ‘creative mess’. I love being orderly. Because of that, I think we’ve been able to strike a balance in what we do at The Quilted Stash that allows it to work well. We have that mutual understanding that my strength is to count how many books we have in inventory and make sure the bills are paid…. Which is funny, because I wouldn’t say that I’m a mathematical person, but I’m mathematical and precise when it comes to those kinds of things. Ralph brings that creative streak, the drawing and graphic design skills. He brings the ‘what-ifs’ and the hours of research that go into planning a project—sometimes to the detriment of the project—but I’ll say again that we complement each other. We fill in the gaps that we each have.”

Ralph continued by saying, “I would agree with that. Probably the only thing that I would add is that Corey is very strong technically, certainly in terms of quilting. Then I bring in more of a background in illustration and elements of design. So we can bring all of that together and create something. You know, even if our creative process and the space we create it in may be a little bit different, it still depends on both of us. What allows me to work particularly well with Corey is because it’s not just the technical or the knowledge part of it. It’s that I have great respect for Corey’s values and who he is and what he’s willing to stand up for. Also, he’s a bit more direct [than I am]. It creates a little bit of a tension that can actually fuel your creativity. It’s like pulling together lots of different ideas. So I end up seeing things, not just in quilting, but the world in general, in a different way. I think our values are complementary and that creates a platform of respect that allows us to work together… and I would agree, I am very messy—creatively messy!”

In order to maintain creativity in quilting, various supplies are required, but Ralph and Corey gave a few suggestions for tools that might not be commonly found in a sewing kit. As Ralph explained, “….I paint, I do watercolour, acrylic, I’ve done some sculpture, and so I have lots of tools for creating things. I do a lot of fabric collage, so my type of quilting is a little bit different. It often involves finessing lots of small pieces of fabric into place. This year, the tools I’ve found myself using more of –and this is really bizarre, because they have nothing to do with quilting—is a set of dental tools that I bought years ago for doing really fine work in clay! It’s a set of maybe 10 different little tools, and what I find is that I can use those to finesse a small piece of fabric into place…. In my workshops, I’ve been encouraging people to use the end of a toothpick to do that… but I’m so thankful for those little metal tools!”

For Corey, who has a more traditional style of quilting, a seam-ripper is essential. “You need the ability to undo your mistakes. Beyond that, I think my most useful tool in my sewing room is probably Dollarama green painter’s tape! I use it for marking lines. I use it for holding the batting and backing in place. I attach things on my design wall or to extend my design wall… and many other things. It’s very versatile! (He also mentioned that every quilter should have Ralph in their lives!)

In terms of fabric choices, Ralph stated, “I almost exclusively for collage use Batiks, mostly because of the gradients in colour and value. The sizing makes them a little easier to cut and they don’t fray as much. I generally don’t look too far outside of that. Even though sometimes I’m surprised because I will use a novelty print for a particular thing. You know, like an eye or a particular shape that I can’t get in a Batik. I also use quilting cotton.”

“Same here,” Corey replied. “With quilting you want a good quality quilting cotton. That doesn’t mean you can’t use other things. It just means the washing and the laundering and the use of the quilt might be impacted by it. I don’t like to work with stretchy materials because they have to be stabilized and it almost feels like you’re doing two quilts. Really, anything’s game in the fabric world.”

From the fabric world to the online world, Corey and Ralph agreed that social media has given them “the power and the ability to be recognized outside of our own small quilting circles and family and friends”.

Corey estimated that their main demographic includes mostly Facebook users (as opposed to Instagram) who are at least 40 years old. “It’s been huge. We live on an island, so in many ways, we’re very isolated. It’s hard to get off the island and get to places. So we really rely on social media for creating a brand.”

“This kind of work lends itself very well to social media,” Ralph continued. “We do a lot of ‘work in progress’ type posts. So we’re able to pull back the curtain a little bit and let people see behind the scenes. With our geography, it would be hard for us to get a lot of coverage outside of our region if it wasn’t for social media and the internet. I would give credit to Corey for having a good understanding of what interests people and what to put on there in order to keep that interest and to build it. I’ve learned quite a bit about social media…."

The Quilted Stash has also been featured on traditional media outlets such as CBC Radio. While this has been exciting at times, Corey has also struggled with the attention the quilts have received:

“I always feel like I get some of this attention because I’m a man. I ask myself, ‘Would a woman producing the exact same stuff that I’ve produced (just speaking for myself) be featured on CBC or other places based on what she created? Or am I getting this because it’s the novelty of a man operating in a craft that is often seen as a traditional role of women?’ Even in our quilt book we wanted to acknowledge that. That was really important for the two of us. That’s something that I think about often. I love quilting! I never went into this for CBC interviews or articles. That just kind of happened, really. Some people would share it and then another person would call and want to do an interview. We joke that I’ve become a ‘sew-lebrity’ now that I’ve been on CBC or in a magazine or whatever, but that’s one of the things I struggle with…. I’m not saying that what we do is not worthy of attention. I do believe it is, but I don’t want women to feel like I have an unfair advantage. I don’t want them to feel that I don’t deserve to have a place at the table. I do want to acknowledge them. When I did in-person workshops and trunk shows, I would start every one of my presentations with the acknowledgement that I’m able to be here doing this because of the hundreds of years of traditions that have been handed down and handed over to women like the ones in the room. I think that’s very important.”

Looking at the situation from another point of view, Ralph described how he had recently started doing quilting interviews with Corey because of the book. However, when Jarvis worked as an environmental educator, he was often featured on CBC as well. “We would do different shows and events. In my early 20's, there was a period of time where I was always doing that, so it doesn’t feel like a novelty to me to be interviewed. I think if you do something and you do it well, there is going to be interest and so I’m comfortable with that. It comes with the territory.”

As the interest in The Quilted Stash continues to grow, Ralph shared that they have been invited to be a part of The Festival of Quilts in Bay de Verde, Newfoundland this summer. “It is one of the bigger quilt festivals in the province. My summer place is in that region and so I was thinking about a couple of different projects that I could do. So I’m really looking forward to creating a couple pieces for that that are outside of our products and projects. We would bring something that showed how we paid attention, again, to the place. We want to stitch in place something about their home.”

While quilting isn’t Corey Follett’s full-time career, he did offer some advice for anyone wishing to follow in his path: “What I would advise somebody who wishes to do this is to never let go of the joy that it should bring you. If you’re doing this, that should be first and foremost, the reason why. It should give you some joy, whether that’s therapeutic or just purely imaginative…. Then if you happen to make a few dollars, that’s a bonus.”

Ralph Jarvis agreed and said that people should not underestimate their skills, even if they might not necessarily apply to quilting (like using dental tools). “Pivot and find your own creative space within the pastime!”

Photo courtesy of The Quilted Stash. For more information, please visit their website.

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