Last Wednesday (7th February 2018), we had the pleasure of sitting down with the queen of colour herself, Tula Pink, to pick her brains on all the goings on in her whimsical world. The last day of her busy European tour saw her taking to the screen with our friends at Sewing Quarter, and chatting with us in a Facebook Live interview. Missed out on the fun? Fear not! Read all about her tour, how she approached colour and her home ‘quilt library’ below.
So, tell us a little about your European tour!
It’s been really interesting, we’ve been all over. We’ve been in France, Holland, Luxembourg and now the UK, and we’re going home tomorrow, so this is kind of our grand finale! It’s been really interesting. I do a lot of touring in a lot of countries and this is really the only time I’ve had to be translated, and I’ve learnt a few things – like my sarcasm doesn’t translate!
What’s been the highlight of your tour?
I mean, honestly without sounding really cheesy, this has been pretty cool. It’s been really interesting because I’ve not been in charge of the content. I’ve just been trying to keep up with everybody else, so that’s really different from what I’ve been used to. Where I’m in charge of the content I’m directing what’s been said and how things are going, so it’s been nice to sit here and let you do all the work!
Out of all the collections you’ve designed, do you have a favourite?
I do have a favourite, and it’s always whatever’s newest. There’s actually a reasoning for it, it’s not just arbitrary. When I’m designing fabric, I always have the latest collection up on the wall next to the new one I’m working on, and I don’t stop working on the new one until I like it more than the one that came before it. It’s the only way that I can make sure I’m constantly making progress. If I design a collection and then I go to sew for myself and I’m constantly reaching for something old… that’s a bad sign! You know? So I’m always trying to do something new, something that makes me excited, because I’m my own consumer essentially. I know that if I’m excited, people will be excited too. I go out to fabric shops all the time and shop for other people’s fabrics, so I know what I’m looking for as another sewer. I always try to put myself in that position and not get too romantic about what I do.
Who are the main designers whose collections you buy?
Oh gosh, anybody. I will say, I’m partial to buying fabrics from people I like in real life… Because I know so many of the designers. I’ll go shopping and go ‘Oh this is cute’ and then I look on the end of the bolt and go ‘Ugh, she cut in front of me in line at Quilt Market, I’m not buying that!’. So, I’m more drawn to fabric by people that I’m emotionally connected to – it does affect how I see the fabrics! I mean, I love all designers. Really my big heroes were Kaffe Fasset and Amy Butler, so they’re always my go-to.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I would describe my aesthetic as – this is actually something my mum says a lot, but it’s very accurate – like a very, very sophisticated twelve-year-old, or a very immature eighty-year-old. They’re both kind of the same thing, you know… I’m really drawn to these detailed – over the top detailed – prints, but then I make them all the colours of slurpees. I think of slurpees a lot when I’m designing, they have the best colours!
If you had to design a collection just using one colour, what would you choose?
Is that even possible?! I’m not even sure. The colour I use the most is definitely aqua, so that minty, teal, light colour, and that’s not necessarily my favourite colour, but to me it’s a neutral. It’s the one colour that goes with every other colour. To me, it’s about as neutral as I get! And by neutral, I mean it’s like a really great pair of jeans… it looks good with everything. You can dress it up, dress it down, you can work with it in a lot of different ways. So if I had to restrict myself to just one colour it would be that. But I would still be really bitter about it the whole time!
Is there anyone you’d absolutely love to meet?
Oh gosh! Do they have to be alive? We play that game a lot, you know, if you have a dinner party who would you invite? So definitely the person I’d want to have dinner with is Queen Elizabeth I. She’s my favourite, I think she’s terrifying but in the most magical way. And then Frida Kahlo would also be at that dinner party. Anyone alive that I’d like to meet… I’m pretty brazen about being like ‘Hi, I’m Tula’, so I kind of meet the people I want to meet. I also have no qualms about emailing someone like ‘I’m your fan! Can I meet you?’ So, that’s not a big problem for me.
Could you describe your studio to us?
My studio is actually in a 150-year-old carriage house that was converted into a house before I bought it. The floors are still the wide-planked floors, and there’s actually horse hoof prints still from where they’ve stomped and it’s indented into the floor! My studio is all white, white floors, white walls, white ceiling, because the only colour I want to see is the one I’ve been working on – so it’s a total blank canvas. Then the only things that add colour to it are the things that I’ve designed, so I see them in a really clear way.
You spend a lot of time, as you said, quite isolated in your home. Do you get inspiration from things around you, or how you’re feeling or…?
I’m really internal, so I just make up stories! And then I tell myself those stories, and then I draw the stories I tell myself. I’ve heard other artists talk about how they walk down the street and look at the tile work and think ‘Oh that’d be a beautiful quilt…’, I don’t really process information that way. What I do is view the world around me through my own lens. Most people see what’s in front of them. I try to see what’s in front of me not as it is, but how it could be, so I’m always imposing my own perspective on the things I see. So if I’m in a really boring room, I’m just going to see it in a different colour. And if the people in front of me are really boring, I’m just going to make them into squirrels! I really live in my own made up world, and always have since I was a kid. I’m really lucky that my parents fostered that in me. They were like ‘Oh, Tula’s daydreaming again, clearly!’ and they just let me go. So I sort of never really grew up in that capacity, and I’m really grateful for that because life through my eyes is way more fun!
A lot of quilters are guilty of ‘the work-in-progress’ where they’ll start something, get distracted by something else and then revisit the original project quite a while after! Are you guilty of the WIP, or do you just get everything done?
I will say, the one thing I will give myself credit for is that I’m exceptional at finishing projects. I finish everything. I do not have a single work in progress in my studio! Except maybe for hand projects, but that’s just because they take so long to make. I was working on a hand sewing project in the green room that I’ll work on for a year. So that’s the only work-in-progress that I’ll have, but I’ll still work on that every day until I finish it. I make 40-50 quilts a year, so it’s something I have to get done. Like I said, I’m terrified of dying before I get all my projects done! So I’m just constantly pushing forward, but I love finishing things, I really enjoy it. I sit down, I make something, I finish it and I move on. I’m not a multi-tasker… at all.
With your 40-50 quilts a year, what do you do with them all?
They live in my quilt storage room… I have floor to ceiling shelves on all of the walls, so they’re all stacked up, and then I have about 4ft worth of quilts sitting on the bed, all piled up on top of each other, because really the best way to store a quilt is on the bed. I take all the ones that are really very special or took me a long time, and put them on the bed. So if anyone comes to stay with me I need at least 48 hours notice to clear the bed off! I always say ‘Don’t worry if you get cold!’, there are plenty of blankets and people are just allowed to pull quilts off the shelves. All my quilts are useable.
I have little sisters, they’re twins, they’re eleven, and they use my quilt room like a library. They’ll redecorate their room and they’ll come and pick out a quilt, and when they want to change it up they’ll just return that one and pick out a new one.
You incorporate a lot of animals into your work. If you were an animal, what would it be?
Probably a turtle. I’m a hermit actually, in real life – when I’m at home I never leave. I actually even have toilet paper delivered to my house! Like, I do not leave. I just want to sew. My biggest fear is that I will die before I get to execute all my ideas! Like I won’t live long enough to design all the fabric I want to design, and make all the quilts that I want to make. So when I get home, I’m getting down to business. Because I have a ton of things that I need to get done. I do not have time to go shopping for toilet paper!
What one thing could you not live without?
Probably my glue stick. My glue stick really changed my life. I feel like that was really my biggest turning point for my whole life – discovering the glue stick!
If you’re keen for more of Tula, why not check out the full video interview? Stay tuned for more interviews with new talents and quilty superstars in every issue of Love Patchwork & Quilting.