Sew good: Edmonton quilter lands fabric design contract while stitching at sea
'It's is a whole other world. You would be so surprised'
Brett Lewis is proud to count himself among a growing contingent of contemporary quilters helping to preserve and modernize the art form.
When Lewis isn't busy raising his young son or working in the Edmonton branch of the federal government's agriculture department, he's perfecting his batting, binding and blind stitch.
The craft is providing an artistic outlet for a new generation of quilters who want to create something real and get away from their computer screens, Lewis said.
"I think there is a shift in the art form to the new generation," he said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
"All my quilting friends, we're all under 40 and we hang out and have sewing days. I think these handcrafted things are really making a comeback.
"I say this with respect, but it's not your typical grandmother-style quilts you see anymore."
In the four years since he began quilting, Lewis — known as the Natural Born Quilter — has caught the attention of enthusiasts around the world and landed an international contract to design an original line of fabrics and patterns, a deal he signed while on a "quilting cruise" to Alaska.
The quilting community today is as diverse and vibrant as a patchwork quilt, Lewis said.
"It's a whole other world. You would be so surprised. Like any other community of people, until you know about it, you don't realize how big it is.
"Like quilting cruises. There have been quilting cruises forever. I didn't know that was a thing and they have a couple every month."
New hobby, new passion
Fatherhood inspired Lewis to begin quilting. When his son Damien was a newborn, Lewis and his partner Jonathan received a quilt as a gift.
Lewis was so impressed by the colour and detail of the patchwork baby blanket, he began researching the hobby online. By the spring of 2016, he was officially hooked.
"I signed up and took a class and that was that," he said. "I bought a sewing machine and made like 10 or 12 quilts in my first year.
"I always grew up farming and had something tactile to do and then I moved to the city ... I was looking for a new hobby and passion."
Lewis now teaches quilting classes. He showcases his work at trade shows across North America and shares his craft with thousands of followers on Instagram and his personal blog.
This April, Stag and Thistle, his designer line of contemporary quilting fabrics, will begin shipping to fabric stores.
Lewis signed a contract with Northcott Silk Inc., an international quilting fabric distributor, in August 2018.
There were a hundred of us sewing at sea. - Brett Lewis
He was commissioned for the project during a quilting cruise to Alaska. The floating conferences attract enthusiasts from all over the world.
"I remember telling people at work. They would say, 'Oh you're going on a cruise?' And I was like, 'No, I'm going on a quilting cruise.'
"It's exactly what it sounds like. I think there were a hundred of us sewing at sea for a week."
Partway through his expedition on the Pacific Ocean, Lewis was approached by a Northcott design director. People with the company had been following his work on Instagram and were impressed with his use of colour and playful fabrics.
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Bright with images of flowers, magpies and stags, Lewis's original designs draw inspiration from his childhood growing up on his family's hobby farm in Summerland, B.C.
Handcrafted things are really making a comeback. -Brett Lewis
"I didn't think I could say no to that opportunity so I said yes, signed the contract," he said. "It's all kind of exploded from there, getting really busy and big.
"I still have a full-time day job and a husband and a kid. I have, like, three or four full-time jobs, that's what I tell myself."With files from Ariel Fournier