January 28, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Carol Neiger of GivingQuilts

What are you working on—on the side?

GivingQuilts is an eCommerce website for a group of people to create a personalized, handcrafted quilt. GivingQuilts employs a technology to create a quilt with inspirational quotes in each square—resulting in a special gift from a group of friends and family.

I started GivingQuilts after a close friend became ill. Her husband told me that cards and letters kept her going through the awful months of chemo, so I rallied friends and relatives to create a friendship quilt to comfort her through her illness and recovery. It was a complicated process! Seeing how moved my friend was by the quilt gave me an idea. I wanted to make giving a handcrafted, personalized group gift—easy for people spread all over the globe.

GivingQuilts redefines an American tradition by combining the best of two worlds: master craftspersonship with new technology. The love is still the same. People have formed GivingQuilts groups to honor and celebrate important events, like a new baby, graduation, achievement, retirement, or to show support for a loved one who is facing an illness. GivingQuilts are lovingly handmade in America—each step of the way: I create the fabric design and the typography for the quote squares, which are arranged on one sheet, and then sent to be printed digitally. After printing, the fabric is shipped to my quilter where it is cut, pieced, sewn, and quilted. In addition to the quilts, I added pillows and Challah covers to my product line, and letting the project grow organically by listening to my customers about products they want.

GivingQuilts is unique because it combines a collaborative project, created online, and combines technology with handcrafting. Groups of people have made collaborative quilts for close to two hundred years. Friendship Quilts, also known as Signature Quilts, have been popular since the 1840s when they commemorated relationships left behind as families migrated westward. Often a square would contain a personal note, a poem, or a verse, along with the maker’s name. The recipients, many of whom would never see their families again, passed the quilts down to their children. This tradition has been carried on by asking individuals to send squares by mail in order to create a complete quilt, but as anyone who has tried to coordinate a Friendship Quilt knows, it’s a difficult job to get proper size squares back in a timely fashion. And then someone has to actually make the quilt!

I love to make the complex simple, and GivingQuilts makes this lovely tradition easy for all involved, and takes the responsibility off any one person in a group. To start a quilt, one person (the quilt coordinator) initiates the project, selects the color and size, and invites people to participate–all is automated. No one else does this the way I do—supplying original fabrics, color schemes, quotes, and the skilled people to make this happen, all on one easy-to-use website.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs
and developing our wings on the way down.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young”

It was a long process to develop the products and website, and I had a lot of input and help from my team and developer at NeigerDesign. But, I work primarily on my side project during evenings and weekends. I wrote a business plan, a marketing strategy, and use tools like DropboxMindjet’s MindManagerTrello, to schedule and organize all of the aspects of GivingQuilts from new product development to marketing activities.

I am not a quilter, so finding the right quilter was one of the biggest challenges. I interviewed more than thirty quilters to find the right individual. I needed someone who had outstanding skills, but also who could expand as needed, and who took the business seriously. I found that person, Marybeth Tawfik, on LinkedIn after an exhaustive search on quilting clubs and associations.

Why have a side project?

Artists and designers are passionate people. Creative individuals have a constant flow of ideas. I have always been a huge advocate of the sketchbook (mine are of the hardcover variety and over 9 x 12 inches) and use it in three primary ways: to record new ideas, to develop design solutions, and as an initial step for selecting which ideas to execute. GivingQuilts was one idea that made it out of the sketchbook!

I also see GivingQuits as a way to support my other passion—my fine arts practice (example above). Materials, like oil paints and canvases, are expensive, so I like the idea of developing a side project that has the potential to bring in additional revenue, free of time requirements and the constraints of design consulting.

“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.”
―Leonardo da Vinci

• • •

Diptych and sample artwork courtesy of Carol Neiger.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers—starting at $1 per month.