Wednesday, March 4, 2015

{Behind the Blog} Jolene of Blue Elephant Stitches

Hello, hello!  While the baby and I take some down time, I have prepared in advance a little interview series to take you "behind the blog."  My concept with this series was to understand a bit more about what day-to-day, behind the scenes life is for some of my favorite quilt bloggers.  These are questions I genuinely wonder myself, as I think of their creative lives.  I suppose I am trying to fill in the gaps, so to speak, between blog posts, from my perspective as a reader!  I think you will enjoy getting to know these ladies better, if you also read their blogs.  And, if you don't - you probably want to start!

To start our series, please welcome Jolene of Blue Elephant Stitches.  Jolene creates beautiful baby quilts + throw quilts from her home on the Alberta prairies in Canada.  She's a mother of 3 and an Etsy store proprietress.  As a blogger, she has a casual, comfortable style as if she's not trying to impress anyone or keep up with anything.  Jolene inspires me with her light, refreshing use of color.  Her quilts have a shining optimism that makes me want to start something new.  Enjoy!

::YOUR BLOG:: The purpose behind keeping a blog tends to evolve over time.  As we enter the new year, what does your blog mean to you? 

What a great question to start off the new year!  I have been thinking lately about this little blog spot of mine and how it fits into my life.  When I started my blog 5 years ago, I wanted to be part of the quilting conversation online because it excited and spoke to me in a way that I couldn’t find elsewhere.  Over time, my focus has changed, but now at the dawn of 2015, I think I’m back to my original purpose!   I just want to share what I’m making, partly because I treasure your feedback, and partly because I love to see what the rest of you are doing, so I want to do my part in the sharing.

I think the one most important thing that has kept me blogging has been the comments I get from time to time from someone who has been inspired to quilt from reading my blog.  That is just the most humbling and inspiring thing!

::SOCIAL MEDIA::  Do you participate in other social media from a quilty perspective?  If so, which and what do they "add" for you?

Don’t fall off your seats folks, but I don’t really participate in any other form of social media!  There are various reasons, but platforms like Facebook and Twitter simply don’t interest me in the least.  Now Instagram is different.   I see the appeal, because it’s so fast and easy.  Somehow though, I prefer the journaling feel of blogging.   I think I would blog about my quilts even if I didn’t have any followers, because it feels like my own little space to personalize and talk about my quilts.

::MAKE TO SELL::  I first found your blog when I was drawn to your beautiful baby quilts on Etsy.  What roll, if any, has selling on Etsy played in developing your style as a quilter?   For example, do you feel completely free to make what you like?

This one has been an interesting learning curve for me.  At times I’ve let the pressure of ‘what will sell’ get to me, but it’s always come back to bite me.  When I’m trying to make something trendy, I think my heart just isn’t quite in it, and it shows.  Beats me how this works, it’s puzzling but true! I’ve found that the quilts that sell best are the ones that I think I’m making to keep, and then once they’re made, I decide to sell them!

::PROFITS::  Are your quilt sales a household income or more of a way to support your hobby?

I’ve found that my profits are directly tied to how much time and effort I put into my little shop.   For the most part, quiltmaking falls into the hobby category for me, so the profits mostly support my hobby.  When I begin to spend more time and view it more as a business, I see that it has potential for more profit.  For the most part though, I think that selling quilts will rarely earn you more than a small hourly wage once you account for material costs and all your time spent. (How quilts should be priced would play in here, but that’s a whole other topic!)

::EXPENSES::  For many of us, financing our quilting is a concern.  If this is a concern for you, what ways have you found to support your fabric habit?  Is keeping sponsors something you've considered? 

Yes, quilting can be expensive, especially when one has a penchant for all those new and lovely fabrics!   As I said above, selling quilts has supported my hobby so far, but at times I’ve definitely been tempted to try my hand at making some money from my blog.

I actually have recently acquired a couple of sponsors, and although it’s been a positive experience for me, I’m finding that it can be more complicated than it seems.  Taking that step, even if it is only one quilt shop, changes the way you blog, changes the way you think about your blog.  I’m not saying that as a negative, only a fact.   If you accept sponsors on your blog, and they are paying you, then you need to make sure they are getting value, and your blogging, while still enjoyable, is no longer only a hobby!

::AMBITIONS::  As we enter the new year, do you have any new quilty ambitions?  For example:  book-writing, pattern-making, teaching, quilt shows, etc.  If so, what draws you to this new interest?  If not, do you ever feel pressure to "do more" as a quilter in the blogosphere?

One thing I’m excited to do this year, is to explore a theme with quilts.  I have a theme in mind already, and have been sketching out a few ideas!  With this theme, I want to create some quilts with meaning, that have something to say.  I’m not sure if I have this in me or not, but I’m going to find out!

Last year I had a goal to complete a pdf quilt pattern to sell.   I have quite a few in progress, but I failed on this goal, so I’m going to try again in 2015!

Do I feel pressure to do more?  For the most part, no.  One area it affects me though, is the feeling that I need to monetize my blog in some way.

::DESIGN:: Thinking about your quilting style, is it important to you to do original, somewhat unique work or are you just as happy working in classic or popular styles of patchwork?  What excites you most in the design process?

It’s important to me that I feel a connection with what I’m making.  It needs to feel exciting!  Sometimes that is my own idea, and I feel the excitement because I can’t wait to see how the design will turn out.  Other times, I work with traditional or well used patterns and then the excitement comes from choosing colors and fabrics.

::YOUR STYLE:: Please share a quilt that is a favorite, as far as expressing your quilt style.  What about it represents you or excites you most?

This is a really tough question, and as I looked through my archives I realized that I’ve sold a lot of my favorite quilts!  Arrrgh, why do I do this?!

Actually though, the first one that popped into my mind is my Improv Baskets Quilt, which I made quite a few years ago.  Luckily this one still lives at my house and is used daily.  It is based on a technique in Gwen Marston’s Liberated Quiltmaking which is fitting, since she is my quilting hero.

The reason I think this fits my style is because it is somewhat improvisational, lending itself to lots of fun decisions along the way.  It is also block based though, making it manageable for me mentally!  I think this may be what you’d call controlled chaos, and this process is enjoyable to me.

::TOOLS::  What sewing machine do you use for piecing and for quilting?  Are you happy with it?  Do you do most of your own quilting?   What thread do you use most often and why?

I have a Bernina 153 QE.  It’s the machine that I used when I worked at the local quilt shop.  When I got married, my parents bought it for me as a wedding gift!  It is one of the most used and probably most valuable item in our house, and it has never let me down!

I sew all my quilts and a lot of garments on this machine.  In the last couple of years, I have had a few quilts long arm quilted.  I love the way those quilts look, but I generally like to tackle the quilting myself.  I’ve begun to use Aurafil 50wt thread for the actual quilting and have had literally zero problems with tensions since then.   For piecing I don’t use any one brand exclusively.   For years I used the large spools of Mettler because they were available locally.  Now I use the Aurafil 50wt because I think its thinness helps with piecing accuracy.

Thanks, Jolene, for letting us in on your world!  I appreciate your wise words about making from the heart, blogging for itself and how taking on sponsors does change things.  I'll certainly continue being a huge fan of Blue Elephant Stitches.  Quilt on!

p.s.  If you are a reader of Blue Elephant Stitches and have a burning question that I did not ask, feel free to add it here in the comments.  Maybe miss Jolene will pop by and satisfy your curiosity.  xo


  1. Wonderful post and quilts! I have a lot of the same feelings about quilting and blogging. Thanks!

  2. I loved this interview--thanks to both of you. I have followed Jolene's blog and I am really drawn to her style. I also am an Alberta girl--but now I live in the States. I have always wondered---do you regret not selling your granny square pattern instead of just offering it as a tutorial? I see it referenced often and I think it was also eventually linked on moda bakeshop. Just curious!!

    1. That is an interesting question! I guess I never really considered selling it, as it is basically the same as the traditional Album block. Looking back, it would have seemed somewhat logical to make my Moda Bake Shop tutorial into a pattern to sell, since it was a strip piecing method that went beyond a basic tutorial.

    2. Jolene, thanks for taking the time to respond to my question. I guess with my question I was mainly wanting to complement you for that great quilt and pattern. I have had one on my dream list of quilts to make for a long time. Thanks and have a great weekend!

  3. Thank you, Rachel, for sharing this. Her perspective, like her quilting style, is awesome! You and your family were in my thoughts today. Take care.

  4. Delightful post/interview! You asked such interesting questions. I'm looking forward to your next interview. Thinking of you!

  5. Great interview and great insights! Thanks, Rachel, for running this series, and thanks to Jolene for sharing!

  6. I will definitely enjoy reading about all the different bloggers you are introducing us too.

  7. I loved this post! Jolene's site is fantastic and has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Thanks for doing this.

  8. Ah, you started out with one of my (other) favorite quilters! Wonderful questions, Rachel, and such interesting insights to more about you, Jolene. I have always lovers your colorful, from-the-heart approach to quilting and blogging. Thanks for all the inspiration.

  9. I'm a big fan of Jolene's! Her geese quilt is on my "wish-I-can-make-this-someday" list.

  10. Thank you for sharing this interview Rachel -- you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers....

    I also wanted to ask Jolene if she has considered making a pattern or tutorial to sell for her pink triangle quilt? It seems like it would be fairly easy to figure out how to make, but it would be nice to have a pattern. thank you!

  11. What a great idea to keep your blog content regular even post-baby!! I just found a new gorgeous blog to follow, thank you!

  12. Jolene has such an awesome color interpretation, her quilts are always an inspiration to me! Great post. And....continual prayers for you sweetie.

  13. Blue Elephant Stitches is easily one of my most favorite blogs. I love everything she makes. Awesome choice for this first part of the series.

  14. I love Jolene's blog for SO many reasons, so it was great to read this interview with such well-curated questions. Thanks, Rachel.


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