Facing my fear


I started quilting when I was nineteen years old. I had taken a class at a local art center, it was great. I was still living at home and there was a great local quilt shop in my home town. I would go there and pull bolts off the shelf, think about how to mix color choices together, check out all the tools, read the books and of course buy stuff. This was an immensely informative period for me. It was while going through the meandering aisles of this tiny local shop that I came up with the idea of going to school to learn to become a textile designer. 

It took me six years to get a portfolio together and to muster the courage to apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology. When I did so, I created a portfolio with the requisite 15 pieces showing the depth and breadth of my artistic skills. But then , I also made my outfit-a silk blouse and a short skirt, portfolio case, I had woven the scarf I was wearing, and I might even have made the shoes I walked in with (that last part is a lie).

After I took the drawing test, I sat with two professors to discuss why I wanted to become a student at F.I.T. I told them that I had fallen in love with quilting and quilting fabrics and that I wanted to become a textile designer and work with the quilting industry. They promptly reminded me that this was a very small subset of the textile market. They also told me that they were suprised that I did not actually want to get into the fashion department through the ‘backdoor’ of Textile/Surface Design. They told me that they rarely did this and did not know if it was legal, but they accepted me right then and there, the acceptance letter that came in the mail a few weeks later was a formality.

After I left school, I blind called every quilt oriented textile house in New York City and I landed a job at a well loved and respected quilting textile house. Unfortunately, my skill set at the time was not up to the hopes of the head designer and they let me go after a six month period. Ouch. I went on quite a few interviews after that and I must say, the fashion industry (I had cast a wider net than just quilt textile houses at that point) was cut throat! I went on one interview where they asked me to take work home three times before rejecting me because my clothing was not up to their standards.

So I packed up my bags and took a job as a poster restoration artist that was based in my home town. I learned a heck of a lot while working that job. In retrospect it was quite an artistic life changer. I restored posters by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Mucha, Lautrec and on and on. I learned color mixing, I worked to deadline, I used every off hour to take workshops in surface design and quilting and to improve my artistic skill set. All while continuing to want to be a textile designer.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer and had a lot of time to think about what I really want out of life, and having a line of fabric with my name on the selvedge is still quite high on the list. This year, I have been working on creating a portfolio, putting motifs into repeat, printing the ideas on both paper and cloth, and now making these cloth samples into quilts and quilt tops to show perspective textile houses what my designs might look like in action. I have bought tickets to Quilt Market and I am going to try to make this dream a reality. If I am unable to woo anyone at Market, I have also come up with a Plan B- there is a trade show here in NYC for the broader market this coming winter. 

As my good friend Stephanie  reminded me yesterday, ‘If you have what it takes to go through treatment for cancer, you can do this’, and then she asked, ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ My response? Plan B

So wish me luck. 



27 thoughts on “Facing my fear

  1. Oh Melly, you’re such a fanstastic and brightly shining little pixie. You’re going to go to Market and woo the pants off those textile companies. So glad to count you as one of my closest friends tiny mama. While I wish I were going with you, I’m always just a FaceTime away if you need a pep talk at all!

    ❤ much


  2. Good for you Melly! I’m so glad you are following your dream! You have certainly put in the hard work and deserve this! I look forward to seeing your fabric in print!!!


  3. Soar, my little Mellybird, Soar!!!! Stephanie is so right. You have so much courage, strength, and a base of supporters here that will see you through Plan A, B, or C – Z if that is what it takes. I wish you much success. I would love to create a quilt with your cloth. Truth told, I would use the selvages so that “MELLY TESTA” would be part of the textile design. 🙂 I am so excited for you. I wish I could be there to root you on (or be a schill who comes up as you are talking ot the companies and exclaim that I must have the fabric! Where can I buy it?, I want to order the whole line for my 12 stores! LOL!) Remember that I am here for pep rallies. xoxoxo


  4. Melanie,
    I just read a quote credited to Twyla Tharp, on Leslie Jennison’s blog about, being outside of ones comfort zone and the benefits of that. It sounds to me like you live and have lived there for many years. Your commitment to your art and your talent as an artist are so strong. Your work will carry your as far as you want to go, one way or another.
    If Plan A does not work, that just means it was not the right plan. As I say to kids I work with..”besides being the home run king of baseball, Babe Ruth was also the strike out king…you gotta’ swing a lot of bats to get all those home runs. Keep swingin’ Melly! Your work and your desire are great leverages for the challenges ahead.


  5. you have a great plan and you have prepared yourself well. Your skills are very strong. it’s all about confidence at this point because everything else is in place! color sense, design, drawing ability, painting skills, sewing skills! knowledge of the market and soooo many quilters at your disposal! You have created your own marketing test group! I hope showing at Surtex is part of the plan. You can always license your designs to all kinds of companies.
    with all this good juju behind you! I’m guessing it your time Miss Melly!


  6. Breathe deeply and have confidence in yourself and in your work. Or at least pretend you have the confidence until it feels real. You know that WE know you have what it takes and we are rooting for your success!


  7. That feeling of pushing oneself to that edge of fear is exharirating! Questioning it — oh yes, part and parcel of the program.
    Haven’t shared widely my story of starting riding again two years ago SCARED SHITLEESS as in seeing read/paralyzed. had beena s a kid too, which I why I was a fetl position rider. Heavon knows why I did it. Some of us just have that appetite for a challenge that pushes our core. And in this case I’ve learned more about soul from the horses.
    See ya in Houston. Let me know if you need a leg up.
    Hugs, Jodie


  8. Good luck! You’ll be making art whether it turns into larger projects and names on selvedges or not, but to have bought the tickets to Houston and committed to Plan A (and B) is a huge step not many of us make. Good luck!


  9. The worst they can say is no and you’ll already heard that. So. . .go for it! rejection is part of life no matter what you do. Look into Spoonflower.com. You can have your fabric printed on demand. I bet if you put it on there and advertise it on your blog you will sell.


  10. If most people” fake it till they make it” and you don’t have to fake it because you are marvelous already, then you must make it! It is the eternal law. Your persistence and catlike determination will win out sooner or later! Hopefully sooner, because I want more of your fabric. Cheering for you!


  11. Go you!! You are so inspiring! I have dreams too. One of them was realised when I entered a quilt into an exhibition and won a prize. That quilt was made using some of the techniques from your book ‘Inspired to Quilt’, so thanks to you for your inspiration on that project. And now you are inspiring me again, to work out what I want and then make a plan and go for it.


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