Cortney Heimerl is a quilter, pattern maker, and totally awesome flag designer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her flag designs, with their bold color combinations, first caught our eyes. But the more we browsed her gallery of works, the more we realized just how truly special Cortney’s artistic eye is.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting story behind it?
I have experimented in the past with business names, but over the years I have found that just using my name allows me to connect with my audience in a way I really appreciate. My fans and I are already on a first name basis! And when I send an email, I’m not a mysterious person that could possibly be one employee of a hundred; my buyers know it is a company of one and I am actually sending them an email to make sure everything is going smoothly with their order.
Have you always been passionate about design?
Yes! I have been making things ever since I can remember. I puzzled over how to perfect a pair of gloves by tracing my hand to use as a pattern even before I was in kindergarten. I can tell you now, that is not the way to make a perfect pair of gloves. But many years later, I tackled the problem again and figured it out. Later in my life, I loved to thrift and found inspiration to make my own clothes. Clothes led to many scraps, which was a natural progression to quilting for me. I have a secret weapon, which is my mom. She can make nearly anything and she’s my first call when I finally think I have my patterns figured out. We will talk through it and usually she recommends a step I hadn’t thought of yet. She is inspiring and also a great resource.
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I make quilts, quilt patterns and flags. I began making quilts late in high school and I was hooked more than I realized. At one point I moved out east and lived in a tiny apartment. There physically wasn’t enough space to lay out a quilt to baste it and for those two years I dreamed of moving back to the midwest to have a little space for a garden, a dog and to make a quilt again.
My quilt patterns are based on my interest in sharing. I like being able to give people the steps to make their own and I absolutely love watching what comes of it. The colors, the textures, the process – all of these things make each quilt unique and beautiful and I am always flattered when someone wants to spend time with one of my patterns and make it their own.
I thought about making flags for years before I actually tried to make my first one. I have always been interested in meaning placed on symbols and that is what inspired the first flag I made. I kept making flags because they are very satisfying both to make and to look at. They are beautiful objects that have made their way into so many pretty homes. The process continues to inspire me and the support I receive from people is immense. It’s like my own special thing right now.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I like making things that I think should exist. I usually get stuck on an idea and it stays with me until I make it. Then the idea usually lets me move on. Because this has always been my process, I think my designs are completely “me.” They are a culmination of what has been inspiring me and what has been puzzling me.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Of course. I fail all the time. It’s an important part of the process and actually if you earn a success through a succession of failures, the success is much more satisfying. Also, if you aren’t afraid to fail, you have the freedom to keep trying new things.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business?
Of course! Creating a small, one-person ran craft business is not for the faint of heart. Someone saw my resume somewhere and asked why I would list designer as my business title instead of founder or something along those lines. Immediately I said, “Well, then I would have to list janitor and product tester, raw materials locator, general laborer. The list would just go on and on.” It’s important for people to understand this. The dream is to scale – to at some point create a business where my only role would be as a Founder or just as a Designer, but for a small business like mine it’s impossible to actually describe to what depth I have gone to create this small business. It’s a passion and it’s a joy. It’s also something that thrives only if you are completely dedicated and it dwindles if you are not.
What has been your proudest moment since creating your business?
This is going to sound cheesy, but my favorite thing about my business is being able to share it with my kids. I started selling quilts so I could stay home and make a little money on the side when my oldest was born. He’s seven now! And I love showing them what hard work can bring you, how to find satisfaction through creative pursuits and I absolutely love demonstrating that my limitations are based on my ability to think creatively. If I can imagine it, I can make it happen. If I lack that imagination, it doesn’t come.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I live in Milwaukee, and we have a thriving creative community here. Every year it grows by leaps and bounds. It’s an exciting place to be creative and because of that I have a lot of people I can call when I am stuck or if I need a tip. I love accessing the minds of individuals who are also creative. It’s a luxury that I do not take for granted.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
I really like moving forward without restraint. I think that is the one aspect of owning my own creative small business that was missing from my life before. Waiting for a raise to know you are doing a good job or waiting for someone to approve your next step is fine, but I really like being in charge. I find benchmarks and goals for myself and I feel really good when I can meet those goals. Also, having complete control over creative direction is important to me. I don’t like decisions by committee, rather decisions based on passion, knowledge and inspiration.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I grew up in rural Wisconsin and that influences a lot of my work. I went to graduate school for cultural theory and a lot of Adorno or Barthes creeps in when I am formulating my artist statements, although I don’t think anyone has ever noticed! I love being inspired by other handmade artists and I keep a sketchbook filled with ideas gleaned from galleries or long drives. Things like that.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Forever PMA. You won’t be able to accomplish much unless you keep it positive.
All Things Cortney Heimerl: