Hanging out with Carolyn Friedlander | Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show
🪡 Imagine a festival of quilts, where if you sew it, they will hang it. Where the storefronts of East Cascade Avenue are obscured by queen-sized quilts that hang high with the wind on their hems. In a town named for sister volcanos, where the side streets are closed to cars and women run the show.
🧵 And on the Village Green, there is a block of master quilters' blankets, basking in admiration and the summer sun. The heat of the day and the close examination of colors wear on you, blur your vision, and slow your speech. The whole city seems stitched together by blocks of quilts, on display outside with no admission fee. And the largest encroachment of commercialism is sets of pig-tailed ten year olds, toting red wagons and shouting, "Ice water!"
🌈 I was fortunate enough to live out this hazy daydream last weekend at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show with my guide, friend, and quilt aficionado Carolyn Friedlander. Carolyn and I are old schoolmates from Central Florida, and as fate would have it, her art journey led her to Sisters, Oregon–—just up the road from me in Bend.
Watch the video: Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show | Saturday, July 8, 2023
We started our morning at Fika Sisters Coffeehouse, a well lit and breezy shop several blocks north of downtown’s hustle and bustle. There was a colorful plant mural on the wall, which reminded me of Matisse’s paper prints, but Carolyn knew it to be a Lisa Congdon. Near a roll-away garage door and wall-mounted quilt, we sipped our oat milk iced Matchas and caught up after a twenty-year hiatus.
From High School Seamstress to Quiltmaker Extraordinaire
Between bites of a strawberry almond cake, Carolyn told me she studied architecture in St. Louis after high school, but when the economy tanked in 2008, she was laid off. And rather than trudge through the recession without a job, she took a millennial rite of passage and moved back in with her parents.
Carolyn returned to her childhood home on a cattle and citrus ranch in Central Florida—just an orange lob away from Painter Blair Updike—and reevaluated her career trajectory. There is a high barrier to entry with becoming a successful architect. The profession requires higher education plus certificates after graduation and the effort and expense often doesn’t match the potential income.
“Whenever I am burned out and feeling stressed, I think about the years working a 9-5 and how mentally checked out I felt with my work. I've learned that there is a level of engagement I need with what I do. When it's there, I find that I'm engaged and motivated in other aspects of my life as well.” Carolyn pondered what was next.
Carolyn Friedlander LLC: An Entrepreneur is Born
Carolyn had a swelling fascination with quilting since her college days and she was intrigued, when upon moving home, she observed her mother’s quilting technique, “She was doing free motion quilting,” Carolyn explained, “which to me looked like drawing but with a sewing machine.” It instantly clicked for Carolyn: this was for her.
“I was very determined to make it and also to continue to succeed. Early on I was living with my parents, which was great, but I was very motivated to succeed in order to move out on my own,” Carolyn said.
The year was 2008, and with time on her hands, Carolyn experimented with quilting. “There were a few things happening in quilting when I launched my business that worked in my favor,” she explained. The modern quilting movement was gaining traction. Flickr, blogs, and other online communities helped Carolyn connect with likeminded quilters who appreciated her aesthetic and encouraged her quilting experiments.
“As someone drawn to a fresh, clean style I was well suited to dream about the tools and projects that I wanted to make and use but didn't feel were represented. I knew that I wasn't alone in what I was looking for, and so my own desire for fabrics and patterns to work with was what got me started.”
While uncoiling a cinnamon roll, I told Carolyn that I’d seen a fascinating quilt documentary at the Bend Film Festival, back in 2011, called Stitched. It provided an interesting perspective on modern quilters and profiled a few that were vying for acceptance at The International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Stitched, from what I recall, dramatized the relationship between modern and traditional quilters, and gave me a narrow perspective into the industry in which Carolyn’s is working.
No Drama: The Character Behind the Quilt Maker
Though her quilts, patterns and fabrics are refreshingly unconventional, the woman behind the Carolyn Friedlander LLC is not a quilt-punk, upstart, drama queen or whatever you might expect of an industry disruptor.
As we walked the bustling streets of Sisters, pastry leftovers in tow, Carolyn explained to me the components of the quilts on display (charms, all kinds of charms). She could tell me a quilt’s pattern designer from a distance and she could spot one of her fabrics in the detail of a quilt hanging fifteen feet above our heads, “that’s my fabric,” she’d say with a smile. She’d snap photos and I recorded video like a pair of vacationers. It was a giddy wandering through town, letting our eyes and personal taste dictate our direction. We saw a yellow tiger quilt a block away and I ran to it like a child spotting a kitten on the street. Carolyn told me the pattern maker’s name—her friend, Violet Craft— before we even reached the quilt, and only upon close inspection of the tag, did she add that Violet did not make the quilt, just the pattern. It was a real showstopper, in my book.
I appreciate an artist with a good sense of humor, and Carolyn has it by the bolt-load. I remember that clearly about her from high school, and it was refreshing to laugh and hear stories from her again. Her humor is apparent in her work too. With a nod to the tradition of a house quilt pattern, Carolyn has an “Outhouse” pattern on her website that tickles me, and mid-pandemic, when household basics were often unavailable in stores, Carolyn created a monotone toilet paper quilt— if this doesn’t wipe a smile across your cheeks, I don’t know what will.
Carolyn Friedlander: The Kenny G of Quilting
If Carolyn were a musician (and let’s not rule that out), we’d call her a multi-instrumentalist—she’d be like the Kenny G of quilting—except more current and with straighter hair—anyhow, you get the reference. She may be introduced to you via a pattern she designed, then show up to teach your quilting class (she taught 4 classes in Sisters during the festival), and then you may spot her name on the selvedge of your favorite fabric—that’s Carolyn for you, when it comes to quilting, she does it all.
But what also fascinates me, and has certainly contributed to Carolyn Friedlander’s business success, is her prowess as a digital creator. As we walked the streets of Sisters, admiring the quilts strung from Western storefronts, we compared notes on camera gear, light stands, and editing software. She shoots her own videos in 4K, using lights and a c-stand, and she uses Adobe Premiere Pro to edit her own videos. In case you’re reading this thinking, yeah, sounds normal—it’s not; it’s uncanny for one human to have so many creative skills. My day job is running a creative marketing agency in Bend, and I would recruit Carolyn in a heartbeat—if only her loyal followers would let me.
Carolyn Friedlander’s Loyal Followers
Carolyn Friedlander has more than 41K followers on Instagram (@CarolynFriedlander). That’s roughly three times the number of residents in her hometown. Needless to say, they love her.
I made this instagram reel that captures the energy of our day at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, and posted it as a collaboration with Carolyn. That means she and I got the same notifications after the video was posted, and I gotta tell y’all, it gave me some kind of stage fright, but afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to have a video positively received and on a mass scale, but it's also nerve wracking. I asked Carolyn about her relationship with social media and her audience. How does she maintain her sanity when she can basically walk onto a virtual stage and have thousands of audience members listen and care, at any given moment.
Sisters Quilt Show Video | Carolyn Friedlander + Shelby Little
“Social media is a challenge for me,” Carolyn said. “I can get totally in my head about it, and it helps to remind myself that it doesn't have to be perfect.” I tuned in to Carolyn’s Instagram for her participation in #MeMadeMay, where she made blocks of shirts–tiny versions of her own clothing— and eventually plans to sew the blocks together to form a quilt. “One thing that helps is having an on-going project that can give structure and purpose to what I post. I did a Shirts of Shirts challenge in May that ended up being a lot of fun. Hosting sew alongs and other on-going projects are great opportunities to find things to share.” Despite the challenges, Carolyn doesn’t lose sight of the positive impact of her social media community. “I appreciate that people are interested in what I post, and I really like the creative conversation that it can start.”
The Launch of Carolyn Friedlander Quilt Patterns
Carolyn Friedlander LLC launched with her quilt pattern line, securing her place among other founders of modern quilt design. Her patterns were well received, and described as architectural and modern, though they often include timeless subjects from nature like her Bow, Long Leaf, Frond, or Pine patterns. Fittingly for an architect, she designed a traditional house quilt pattern, Davie, with a modern color and structure twist. Carolyn’s “Davie” was on display on the Village Green in Sisters. Here are a few pics of me fan-girling in front of her quilt.
Carolyn Friedlander Fabric Prints Begin with Architextures
About a year after launching her pattern business, Carolyn launched her first line of fabric prints, called Architextures. It caused a stir—the line was innovative in both design and its intended function. “At the time there were a lot of big, beautiful prints that could only be used in certain ways and on certain types of projects. These were really beautiful fabrics, but I found them hard to use in ways other than just being a focal print,” Carolyn explained. “With Architextures, I wanted fabrics that could stand on their own but didn't have to be the star player. I loved the idea of pieces that had a personality but could contribute to whatever creative idea of the quilt itself.”
While we stood on the Village Green in Sisters with the Davie quilt, Carolyn told me the homes were inspired by houses in her hometown of Lake Wales, which warmed my heart. Lake Wales is a sparsely populated community tucked between lakes, groves and cattle ranches in Central Florida. It is not the kinda place you’d expect to find high speed internet, much less a successful female entrepreneur with a largely internet-based business model. Yet that paradox exemplifies Carolyn Friedlander: she’s quietly defying the odds and living outside the norm —both in Central Florida and in the quilting industry.
Words of Wisdom For Those Hanging in There
I asked Carolyn how she stays motivated and what advice she has for other entrepreneurs, or people considering giving their dream a shot. Sure, it was a selfish question. I’ve been struggling to stay motivated lately and the summer heat tends to singe my sense of equilibrium: on the planet, in my business, in my body. Maybe it’s not just me feeling disconnected these days?
Carolyn offered these words of wisdom, “It's good to reach out and ask for help. I think that peers, colleagues and friends are such an important support system when you work for yourself. It can feel isolating, and having people to connect with is critical for finding balance as well as for getting out of your own head.”
And now, reflecting back on the weekend in Sisters, I can see why the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show was such a joyous occasion. Sure, the quilts were spectacular, the town was festive, and the weather was on the sizzly side of sensational, but it was really the re-connection with Carolyn that made my day. Sharing stories, comparing business notes, trading tips on digital creating, and laughing with a friend from back home—that is what made the experience uplifting. Seeing this now, it makes Carolyn’s words of wisdom ring true. “My best advice,” Carolyn said, “is to remember that you are not alone and to hang in there.”