Last week my friend Debra Gabel interviewed me on her blog, and today I have the pleasure of interviewing her! When I think of Debra for some reason the letter "E" always comes to mind. I think it's because she's enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, energetic, and strives for excellence in everything she does. Whenever I spend time with her I come away amazed by her latest accomplishments. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do!
Debra Gabel is the owner and designer of Zebra Patterns, as well as author, teacher, lecturer, mom and wife. Debra was born and raised in Middletown New York and currently resides in Clarksville, Maryland with her family. Gabel is a mother of three boys ages 20, 17,15 and married to Gary who is VP of Sales/Marketing for Tulsack, a paper handled shopping bag company in Tulsa, OK.
Professional Profile and Publications
Owner and designer of Zebra Patterns, a raw edged based applique pattern design company with over 200 patterns. www.zebrapatterns.com
Author of Quilt Blocks Across America by C&T Publishing in 2010.
Author of Quilt Blocks Around the World by C&T Publishing in 2011.
Contributor to Quilt Label Collective CD by C&T Publishing in 2011
Blog: on website or zebrapatterns.wordpress.com
DIANE: Briefly, please give us an overview of how quilting and fiber came into your life and became your passion.
DG: I worked for a neighbor of two small children when I was 13 years old babysitting. She was a quilter that started a raw edge applique craft business in the 70’s. She discovered I was artistic and I started working for her cutting and laying out raw edge applique patterns that would become pillows and totes that she sold on the professional craft circuit.
DIANE: When did you start quilting professionally?
DG: I attended college earning a BFA in Graphic design in 1984 and went to work as an art director at Champion International in Walden, NY where I met my husband. After being an Art Director for many years in the paper bag and giftwrap industry we started a family in 1992. Upon the arrival of our first-born, I took up quilting again. A local quilt shop admired the baby quilts and projects I would bring by and asked me to start teaching and making patterns for the projects I had shown them. That was the start of my first teaching experience and pattern-making venture. I started teaching locally and had a few patterns. That was the beginning, the seed. I loved it.
DIANE: When did you feel that you wanted to devote your career to quilting and/or fiber arts?
DG: In 2003 I was diagnosed with late staged Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was a shock. After 6 months of intense chemo at Johns Hopkins, followed up with a stem cell transplant in 2004 and another 6 months of recovery it became very clear that I should be following my passion, as one never knows what tomorrow will bring. One of the days that I was hospitalized and bed bound, Oprah was on the TV and simply stated that we should all “find our passion and make it our life’s work.” That was my AH HAH moment! I promised myself if I recovered, and that was truly a big “if”, I would pursue a career teaching, lecturing and designing that would take me around the world! That was the moment I devoted my career to quilt patterning/designing/teaching and 6 months later I made a one-year, a 5-year and a ten-year plan. My one-year plan was to get a line of 12-15 patterns and start teaching locally, which I did. My 5-year plan was to go national with a pattern line and continue to teach regionally, which I did. Now at year 7 my patterns are being sold around the world and I am teaching/lecturing farther and farther across the country. My ten year plan is to experience and travel the world through my business.
DIANE: Most quilters love to know what products and supplies professionals use. I am going to make a list and you can just fill in the blanks:
Thread: DG: Maderia, Wonderfil, Sulky, YLI
Batting: DG: Warm and Natural
Fusible: DG: Lite Steam a Seam 2
Basting: DG: Mistyfuse
Fabrics: DG: I love Hoffman Batiks they are so dense and rich – yummy!
Tools: DG: I do not use many tools. I use a good sharp rotary cutter, sharp professional scissors, two well marked 24 x 6” rulers and my Mac Computer with Adobe Creative Suite to scan my sketches, draw and create my patterns on. I do love the Attached Company’s “Fat Goddess Pressing Sheet.”
Machine: DG: Bernina. I have a Bernina 153, and a Bernina 730
Favorite Feet: DG: I use the open toe foot #20, the #57 edge guide foot and an open free motion foot most of the time. I use a couching foot when I free motion couch.
Favorite Needles: DG: Microtex needles – all sizes, and jeans needles for heavy specialty threads.
Techniques: DG: raw edge applique, piecing, couching, embellishment, and fabric paint/coloring
Inspirational Fiber Artists: DG: Susan Shie, Diane Rusin Doran, Susan Brubaker Knapp, Jane Sassaman
DIANE: Quilters also love to know what inspires you and your designs?
DG: That answer is two fold for me. I have two sides to my artistic output. The one side is for Zebra Patterns, my pattern company. When I design for Zebra my intention is to create designs that appeal to the traditional quilter. My style is realistic and graphic. My palette is often bold with a strong emphasis on clear jewel tones. My inspiration for these designs is “what traditional quilters as a whole generally like.” That answer is flowers, birds, butterflies and home identity.
The other side is my art quilts. The inspiration for my art quilts is usually an outlet for something I want to say. I have made several political quilts, gift quilts and other clearly defined message quilts.
In general inspiration is everywhere. I do try to go to art museums and art fairs as much as possible. I started a Contemporary Art Guild, of sorts, called Metrothreads. It is a group where artists can get together in my studio and have live critique quarterly. I say it is a guild of sorts, as it has no dues, or newsletter, or meetings. It is a meet and greet and sharing time. Artists do not want all the “Typical Guild Stuff.” We recently put together a traveling show. It is a collection of over 75 pieces of 8x8 art quilts in 12 x 12 frames that goes out to any member of the group as a traveling show. All pieces are for sale at 125.00. It is a great, easy way to get our art out there.
DIANE: You have a blog. When, why and how did you start your blog?
DG: I started my blog in 2008; just before the frenzy of everyone blogging took place. My blog is called “Shoot for the Moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars!” The blog was a way for me to journal the experience of building a quilt pattern business from the ground up single handedly. It is great to go back and read postings about how scared I was the first time I went to market and my experience of writing a book. I found the professional quilters that had “made it” a bit tight lipped about building a brand. That said, I do remember Libby Lehman and Jane Sassaman being very open. Libby sat with me several times and answered anything I wanted to know. She is fabulous. The best advice came from Jane Sassaman in 2006…”just work.”
The intention of my blog is to track my journey as I shoot for the moon, especially for other potential pattern designers and teachers. I think there is room enough for all of us and I would be happy to share any and all that I learn with others.
DIANE: What is the best and worst part about teaching/lecturing?
DG: The worst part about teaching/lecturing is schlepping all the stuff needed. Sometimes I feel more like a pack mule than a teacher/designer.
The best part is subtle for me is when I sit down to guide a student and we engage in one on one conversation and they say to me that they were inspired by my lecture. It is renewing and rewarding. Not to get too “new age” on anyone but what is better that to give positive uplifting energy to someone? That is what it is all about for me. Sharing and helping others by teaching or more importantly by listening is the key!
I was in Syracuse NY last summer and I sat with a student. She told me this was the first time in several months that she felt hopeful. You see, several months earlier she lost her husband to a scuba accident while on her honeymoon. Wow! That was powerful. I have had many conversations, not quite as extreme, but equally as eye opening with students. That is what it is all about for me. The profit, books, patterns and designing are secondary. The moments I seek are those that I make a human connection. The real reward is hearing testimony that I brought a bright spot to their life if only for a moment.
I am known to be high energy and engaging. I wish I could say it was well thought out and planned – but no it is really just harnessed OCD and ADD! I have never been formally diagnosed, but I am as sure as the sun coming up in the morning, that is my cross to bear. I try to turn those hyperactive lemons to refreshing lemonade.
I make a conscious choice each morning to get out of bed a have a productive day. If I accomplish a few things and have some quiet alone time contentment usually follows. I also take time to think about and appreciate all that I have been through and the potential of what might come. I know that if I can get up in the morning by myself, go to the bathroom and shower by myself I can accomplish almost anything. I make that choice, as there were many mornings that those tasks were not a remote option for me.
DIANE: If your life had a slogan or a motto what would it be?
DG: I try to live with intention. Being sick and close to death in 2004 made it clear to me that I needed to wake up and pay attention to my life. Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is my adopted motto for life. The four agreements are:
ALWAYS do your best.
NEVER take anything personally.
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t make assumptions.
It is my intention to try to live with these things in mind.
Many thanks, Debra!