Casey York was in the market for a quilt to buy for her soon-to-be-born son, but nothing caught her eye.
“I thought, ‘I know how to sew, and wouldn’t it be fun to have something that’s totally unique and that no one else has?’” York said.
So York began making quilts. She soon realized she could turn it into a business. The only problem was that she needed one rather expensive component to make the business model work: a longarm sewing machine.
York had heard about TechShop from friends, but figured there’s no way the shop would have such a specialized machine. Then she learned that the Tacony Corporation, a sewing machine manufacturer, had recently donated a longarm machine to TechShop.
“All of a sudden, TechShop became very interesting,” York said.
She visited the shop and discovered much more than a longarm machine.
“The day that I came in for the tour of TechShop, I left just giddy with ideas for all the ways you could use these things,” York said.
Now, she uses TechShop to make quilts, teaches classes on how to use the longarm machine, and is currently the shop’s artist-in-residence. Her appliqué quilts hang on walls throughout the 18,000-square-foot shop.
York has a unique background for a quilt maker. She studied 17th-century art history in graduate school, but eventually decided that pursuing a career as a professor wasn’t for her. Instead, she draws upon her extensive knowledge of art history for inspiration in her designs. She’s been particularly influenced by color field painters like Mark Rothko, who experimented with the ways colors interact when juxtaposed together.
York also draws inspiration from being part of the TechShop community, and sometimes that inspiration turns out to be very practical. Like, for instance, the time she was watching the method TechShop member Craig Caesar used to inlay different colors of wood with a laser cutter, and soon realized that she could use part of his method in her own project.
“Once you find out what something can do, it leads you to start coming up with ideas about how you can utilize it,” she said.
For York, TechShop is more than just a library of industrial-grade equipment. She views it as a community of creators who share an inspiring workspace, which she considers a welcome change from the solitary environments in which creative professionals tend to work.
“When you do start engaging with other people and seeing all the things they’re working on, that really compounds the inspirational quality of TechShop,” York said. “Someone who’s working on one thing might jog an idea in your mind for something that’s totally different, but you might not have come up with if you hadn’t been exposed to what they were doing.”
York is still building her quilt-making business. She said she probably would have been able to save money for the longarm machine she needed, but that kind of investment would have been cumbersome, and risky. TechShop removed that barrier, and helped inspire her with some new ideas along away.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a collection of printed quilting fabrics to be released by Studio 37 Fabrics later this year. I’ve been designing and writing the patterns for several sewing projects that will support that collection and should be available in the next couple of months. I’m also actively seeking other licensing partners who might be interested in featuring my surface designs on their products.
In addition, I’m gearing up to launch a new line of home decor items, including artisanal, one-of-a-kind hand-painted quilts and pillows. I devoted much of last year to researching materials and perfecting my production processes, and now I’m in the process of reaching out to retailers who might be interested in carrying the line.
Where can people find your quilts?
Currently, my finished quilts and pillows are available on my website and at Rafael Adon Elements for Living in Lafayette Square. In addition to finished pieces, I also welcome custom orders, which can be placed through my website. For readers who are interested in making their own quilts, I also have a line of patterns and books that can be found in my web store and at independent quilt and fabric retailers worldwide (one of my local favorites is Kirkwood’s Janie Lou).
What does a typical day at TechShop look like for you?
It really depends on which project I’m working on at the moment. I might come in to teach a project workshop or safety and basic use class on the longarm, and then stay to quilt a few of my own quilts or work on a personal project on one of the laser cutters. It also depends significantly on what the rest of my schedule looks like–because TechShop has such flexible hours, I can come in to work on projects in the evenings or on weekends if my weekday hours are tied up.
How might TechShop be useful to people involved in the arts?
While artists always seem to be innovative in finding ways to make their practices possible, it always helps to have access to space and the right tools, and this becomes especially important as an artist tries to move from making for personal enjoyment to making as part of a scalable business. TechShop puts so many high-quality tools (as well as ample comfortable and reasonably-priced work space) at the fingertips of local artists and artisans. I think this will help artists make the leap from producing on a small scale from their own homes to producing at the larger volumes that are necessary for creating and maintaining a sustainable business. Access to a variety of tools also permits faster innovation and iteration, allowing makers to fine-tune their products quickly and efficiently in response to market feedback. Although we often associate this iterative process with the tech space, it is equally important for art objects, especially those that will also serve utilitarian functions.
Where would you like to take your career from here?
I am excited for the release of my fabric line, and I’d love to eventually license my surface designs for use on other types of products, such as stationary, floor and wall coverings, and heavier weight home decor fabrics. I’m also committed to making my own line of artisanal home goods a success, and one of my long-term goals is to grow that side of my company into a nationally known lifestyle brand.