Jane Sassaman’s art quilts and fabric lines are instantly recognizable due to their exuberant style, inspired by the decorative arts. Jane herself is known as an inspiring and effective teacher. Eileen Doughty spoke with her on the phone recently to learn more about her and her business.
How do you describe yourself to a new acquaintance?
Introducing myself has become easier since I’ve started designing fabric because I can say, “I’m a fabric designer and an artist.” That’s a good place to begin. If the discussion continues, I’ll add that I’m a fine art quilter.
Looking back, what were your early goals?
I started as an art quilter. Entering Quilt National was my first big goal. From there, I picked shows that would produce a color catalog, as more people may see the publication than the show itself. That was my approach to getting out there. Quilt Visions was another goal. Paducah and Houston were great too, not only the shows themselves, but the competitions.
I watched Penny McMorris’s PBS show that featured the first wave of art quilters – Ruth McDowell, Nancy Crow, Terrie Hancock Mangat, among others, who did so much to break the trail for us to follow. I consider myself a second wave quilter and was able take advantage of the work the first wave did.
You seem to be a natural at marketing yourself and your work.
I have had a booth at Quilt Market for the past two years. I do the Fall Market because that’s when my fabric comes out. It’s the place to make sure people see what you’re doing.
I feel a bit like the odd woman out compared to other designers who put all their energy into designing and marketing their fabric. I can’t let go of art quilts, so I am in two camps. Doing Market is one way to do my part in promoting the fabric. Westminster/FreeSpirit has such an extraordinary group of designers.
One thing I understand is having a “look.” That’s where my strength is. Also, I take good photographs to sell the work. Other people may be better in making the calls to sell their patterns. I’m pretty good at putting together the actual product. I’d dearly love to have someone who thrives on business to partner with.
I’m at the point right now that I have to decide if I want my business to get bigger and how to get bigger. We do have some friends in the marketing world. There’s always a little hesitation in the back of my brain, because I so love to hole up in the studio and make work. You think if you get too big, you won’t have time for what you love to do. Studio time is so precious. If you want to grow, you should have knowledge of where you want to go. Not that you shouldn’t be flexible, but you should be able to guide it according to your dreams rather than someone else’s ideas.
Any tips for those starting out, building their careers?
Find your proper audience after you find your artistic voice. Some people bang their head against the wall, entering a show not appropriate for their work. If you want to be successful, then go where your work will be appreciated. There are so many ways to go about having a career, even some that no one has explored yet. There are ways to be a quilt artist that still haven’t been done.