Red Llama Studio

Bob Borson —  November 4, 2010 — 14 Comments

Every now and then something in the world of design crosses my path and gets my attention – and it isn’t always architecture. I hate to admit it, but I look at architecture and architectural magazines so often that at times it all becomes a blur – so when I see something that is considered and well designed and it isn’t a building, I get kind of excited.

This time, it was a quilt … that’s right, I said quilt. So what if I’m a dude? – I can appreciate things of beauty, care and craftsmanship when I see them and quilts are no exception. I have been missing out on an aspect of design and expression without knowing better – but I know how to fix things like that so here we are; I am writing a post on Shari Lidji and I hope to expose what she and other quiltist-ers out there are doing.

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This is Shari Lidji – a quilter based here in Dallas (is that what they are called? maybe she’s a “quiltist” … no, I think that’s what a quilter becomes once they retire) Anyways, the photo above is what caught my attention. Well, it was actually the stitching on the quilt in the above photo that caught my attention – very cool. Turns out that Shari and I are separated by one degree – I know her husband but I have never met Shari before. This seemed like the perfect reason to stop down Bob World for a while and go see what someone else was doing. I went to her website and looked at what she does; I read articles about her, and I even sent her an email – so that’s where we will begin:

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Shari lists mid-century graphic designer Paul Rand, for his thoughtful approach and bold colors, and Lucienne Day, a progressive 50’s textile artist as her design icons. When you look at the work she is creating, their influence, along with her background in graphic design, really translate into her work. Designing and making quilts started off as a hobby – making them for family members and for fundraisers – but after Shari had a chance to show her quilt portfolio to world-renown interior designer Emily Summers, things started to change. As Emily started commissioning quilts for her projects, Shari’s hobby turned into a full-time business and the Red Llama Studio was created. (side note – I look out my office window at Emily’s office – it’s a small world)

When I asked Shari how the name Red Llama Studio came to be, her response was “have you ever seen a red llama before”? These quilts are created to reflect the environments for which they are made and clients who commission them. The name was intended to reflect that uniqueness along as pique people’s curiosity. I think the name is great and the logo is really fantastic – I already wrote about how I am a sucker for a good logo. (Her husband Alan is graphic designer and I’ll have to ask him if he played a role in it’s creation.)

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In my email to Shari, I sent her loads of questions and she was nice enough to answer them for me. So in her own words:

How long does one quilt typically take to make? Are all pieces custom made?

I always have a number of projects going at once so it’s hard to say from start to finish.  Ideally, I like 4-6 months to complete a custom quilt.  Until now, all of my quilts have been custom.  But, in June, I will open The Shop at Red Llama Studio at Etsy.com starting with a collection of modern baby quilts, receiving blankets and ottomans that are ready to love!

How do you come up with a theme or idea?

Ultimately, each quilt comes from deep inside of my client. I try to visit their family and the home where the quilt will live to learn about their life.  I observe the environment, look for visual clues around the house then ask questions ranging from colors to pet privileges.  I also present a series of sketches and swatches. Not so much for approval, but to make sure I’m on the right track. All the information finds a place in the quilt.

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What’s it like to be an artist and to own a business? Is it possible to do both or does one become subservient to the other?

I’m fortunate to have great clients.  If they’ve hired me, they already know what I do.  Every project begins with good questions and listening closely.Then I go to work. I involve my client with sketches, swatches and maquettes, when appropriate. If I do what I do well, the business takes care of itself.

Who is your customer? Do they seem to gravitate towards particular colors, textures, size, and styles?

My customers are sentimental and modernists, or often sentimental modernists! These are not mutually exclusive.  They love having something unique that no one else has.  They also have a practical side.  They like the functionality of my quilts.  They often have families and pets.  Things happen.  Quilts can be laundered.  The sizes vary according to end use.  Queen size quilts are probably the most common size for me. My colors are either very saturated or neutrals.  I like extremes.

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Of the things I discovered when conducting my exhaustive research was that Shari produces a maquette for her quilts during the design stage. Maquette is a French word that translates as “scale model” – which basically means a rough version in miniature of the finished product. As a designer, this is not a new concept to me although we used to call them *air fingers* scale models *air fingers*. I don’t know why I never considered this process as being important in quilt making (other than the fact I’ve just never thought about any of this before) it seems so obvious – it’s still designing and this is a time honored part of the design process. The maquette image I received from Shari hypnotized me … as a thing, scale models or “maquettes” are not supposed to be precious – they have a job to do, they are works in progress – examples of hitting the pause button during the design process … I have to tell you, I am loving where Shari hit the pause button.

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As a designer, there are all sorts of things that I draw inspiration from – and if the work Shari Lidji is creating is any indication, I should be spending more time looking at textiles. You should definitely go over and check out the website for Red Llama Studio and see some of the other images that are on display. She also has a pretty fun blog – Rotten Bananas – over at blogspot. The post topics are varied but all are interesting. This is where you can find all sorts of behind the scenes photos and process descriptions on how she designs and makes her quilts. For example, I found this:

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and this:

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which are the back and front respectively of this:

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See what I mean? This is another example of how important details are and that attention to the little things makes a difference – even the stitching is like crocodile teeth! In the end, if quilts aren’t your thing, or if you haven’t discovered yet that they really are your thing, take a moment and see how the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts (but it’s all the parts that you need to look at).

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even better

  • dckolb

    OMG – This was 3 years ago. Well, here’s the comment I started to write:
    “Dear Shari, Well deserved post! You are a special talent and a special person. Congrats. I love your alligator quilt! I might have to commission an alligator pillow for the new Gator in my family. The quilt you made for Lauren is being used and loved. I have been enjoying Bob’s blog for a couple of years now although I never met him when a was in Dallas. I enjoy his sense of humor about my chosen profession. What a small world it is!”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thank you for your kind comments – I really appreciate them. I also just sent your message on to Shari and Alan – just so they know you left a message for Shari.

      Cheers

  • Danalutz

    I loved seeing the detail of the quilts then the whole quilt……I agree the art is in the details….after building our home, its the details that make it so special to me.

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    My sister makes quilts and I have a lot of respect for quiltmakers because it’s a lot of **&****&^ work! My fave above? The one near the top with the light blue circles. Love those colors, especially the red. Thanks for Shari-sharing.

    • shari

      Hi Alexandra, This is Shari. Thanks for the nice comment. The quilt you liked was for a brand new baby boy. I made a nice ottoman with his name on top to match. Thanks for appreciating the work.

  • http://urbanverse.posterous.com cindy frewen wuellner

    Shari and Bob – these are brilliant!! I wonder if Shari uses sketches or is she just starts piecing materials together? does she use mock ups or is it straight to the real deal? or maybe, as quilts, esp when there’s numerous smaller elements, she can over-make and then select and arrange? really, I just wanted to see some sketches!! I love the “in progress” of design, the emergence of ideas. thanks for this lovely post, Bob. these are art. cindy @urbanverse

    • Shari

      Hi cindy….shari here. Thanks for the great questions! I let the ideas percolate for a while and then I take pen to paper. When making a quilt from solid fabric, I always make a maquette (a rough mini sample of the quilt) to show the client. If the scale of the fabric wouldn’t translate I offer drawings and swatches. I like to reserve the right to make changes along the way as I see fit. Ideas remain fluid until the end. :)

  • Guzejka

    I love these quilts. Thanks for sharing.

    • Shari

      Thanks for taking the time to comment….I’m happy you love my quilt designs! Everyone needs an awesome quilt!

  • http://twitter.com/bensmithson ben smithson

    These quilts are lovely. Want.

    • Shari

      Hi Ben…..Shari Lidji here. So pleased you like my quilt designs! Quilts make people happy.

  • http://www.wood-and-light.com David Mathias

    Wow, a Mondrian-esque quilt. How cool is that? I’m not a big fan of the country vibe that most quilts have going on but these are fantastic. Thanks for branching out to share them with us.

    • Shari

      Hi David….Shari Lidji here. Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my quilts. Like you, traditional quilts don’t appeal to me, although I’m very appreciative of the incredible craftsman(woman)ship involved. Likewise, purists of quilting aren’t drawn to what I do. As it should be. Wouldn’t it be dull if we were all alike?!?
      Thanks again to Bob for featuring my quilts today. What a treat!!

      • http://www.wood-and-light.com David Mathias

        Shari – thanks for replying. I know exactly how you feel about appreciating the craftsmanship even though you don’t like traditional quilts. I feel the same way about most 18th century furniture.