As a young girl, Anna Maria Horner sported a rebellious side to which most of us can relate. When her mother would admonish an item of clothing in the dressing room as "not very practical," Horner would want it all the more.
"I believe in answering practical needs in meaningful ways that bring about joy and growth," she says. Horner maintains that philosophy throughout her thriving fabric design, retail and publishing career, as well as with her growing family. She debuted her latest line of fabric, Little Folks, at the recent Houston Quilt Market. With six fabric collections under her belt, Horner's process for designing has become finely tuned. Initially, there is inspiration and a foundational theme.
"Sometimes I am sort of transported to a time frame or cultural influence that a group of fabrics might conjure up," she says. "Or my mind might hover above a rack of imaginary clothing that I picture the prints adorning. Or I imagine the woman who might carry a dress or bag out of the fabrics. But I always have a central theme or idea in mind, and confine myself to those influences and constantly recheck my colors and forms to see if it is all 'speaking the same language.'" With that theme in mind, Anna begins to translate the ideas and images into colors, designs and - ultimately - a complete new collection.
Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks Fabric Line
"Once I get an idea for a fabric collection I usually think of at least three or four different designs at once and I almost always begin to play with color chips from the very beginning," she says. "Then before my head gets to crowded with ideas and before something has the chance to become less than vivid, I begin to sketch out the simplest forms, and even write notes to myself about how the design might go."
From there, Horner adds more details, scans images in to her computer, layers colors and creates the final images that will be used by the mill to engrave the design on the printing plates. Once strike offs on large swatches have been tweaked and approved, it's time for the bolts of fabric to roll off the presses and in to stores. Anna admits that, upon seeing her fabrics for the first time on the bolt, she feels a little "nervy" and wonders if she should have done things differently. "I later learned that feeling is just inspiration to continue new design work," she says. She's learned that the inspiration in her work is a two-way street. "I might be going one direction with my design work," she says, "but coming at me in the other lane are all the creative individuals who take what I do and make it theirs. The practical application of my design work is incredibly inspirational."
Another constant source of inspiration for Horner is her large family. She gave birth to her sixth child, Roman, last spring, and to follow her work is to follow her family. She explains that having become a mother at a young age, working alongside motherhood just became a part of her process. "Working out of my home clearly puts my doings right in front of [the children] and they take as much interest as they choose to, mostly," she says. "I love involving them in my process when its something that I can verbalize with them, like naming collections and prints, and sharing what's new."
The intense demands of writing books and sewing patterns, though, require quiet time that is not always easy to come by. Horner explains that her work-flow is dictated by their home schedule, and while not always easy, is always worthwhile. "This requires a lot of patience," she says. "but rewards both the mom and the artist when I insist upon it. Halfway doing both seldom gets anything valuable accomplished."
Blending work life and family life helps Horner pass on important lessons on honoring your creative spirit as well as managing a business. "Letting my kids watch me seek out my goals is very important to me as an artist," she says. "I also try not to hide my work frustrations from them too much, but share my disappointments in doses that are appropriate for them. "Also they see every little detail that goes into some of the smallest endeavors and it really astounds them sometimes how long things can take. But sharing all the aspects of my work - the good the bad - the exciting and tedious - gives them a real life view of the work that is required to be good at something and make a career out of it."
Understanding, or at least observing, this balance of the design and business process is something Horner hopes will not only help her children in their professional lives, but also their family lives. "Inspiration is just one part of the equation, and one that comes naturally to kids," Horner says. "Letting them know that it doesn't stop there I think is a good lesson. Keeping a sense of humor about it all keeping my mothering mood consistent despite what might be happening in the studio hopefully will help them to be good parents."
Horner describes her studio and work day as "flitting" back and forth between taking care of kids, designing, and taking care of her home, mostly with idyllic and positive results. On days, though, when things are hectic and overwhelming, she knows how to cope and work through frustrations. "I walk away," she says. "This is often so hard when you're knee deep in deadlines and have other inspirations that you are waiting to see realized. But really it's so good to get out of the studio, and make soup, or draw with one of the kids or read a book, or play with the baby."
When Horner hits a mental block, she turns to her sketchbook, style.com or just embroiders "nothing at all." She's also set up her home studio to provide ease of work and room for lots of visible inspiration, including large cutting tables for cutting, sorting, viewing and reviewing her fabrics. She keeps her tools hanging on the wall, out and readily available for use. Custom shelves house her bolts of fabric, and an eight-foot by eight-foot flannel-covered foam core wall leans against one studio wall for designing quilts or tacking up inspirations. "For the most part I just like everything out in the open," Horner says. "It takes less time to clean up and I like the look at having everything right at your fingertips." She also uses a large computer table to accommodate note taking and idea building alongside her computer, and a cozy floor space with a soft rug and pillows provides a place for the kids to "roll around and get comfortable" while mom is working.
More than any of the numerous, intricate tools hanging in her studio, though, Horner has one favorite, simple design tool: her pencil. "No particular sort," she says. "One that is at least sharp, because I can never find the pencil sharpener."
Horner's first book, Seams to Me , was released in October 2008 to rave reviews. Her follow-up book, Handmade Beginnings, will be available in Spring 2010 and is a collection of 24 sewing projects to welcome a baby into the world, "not just by making baby clothing, but by making items for maternity and non-maternity items for mom, remembering dad, projects to make for and with older siblings, and beauties for the nursery and for your home," remarks Horner. She adds, "some items are quick and useful while others are involved and designed to create heirlooms. And its written for any person in a baby's life not just for a pregnant mom. So grandmas, friends, neighbors, aunts, foster moms anyone who wants to create something special for a little one."
Handmade Beginnings has been created as a second in Horner's "series" of books, and includes a brief introduction chapter followed by projects and patterns that are for seamstress of all levels who want projects with a higher bar of design and details. "I am so so thrilled about the book," Horner exclaims. "Every single project in that book has been made for our household, and we have used and loved each item immensely."
Between new books, new family members, new fabric collections and more, Anna Maria Horner maintains a clear vision of what work/life balance looks like to her.
"Work enough to challenge myself and inspire others, live enough to care for those I love."