Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill bought her first quilting book with no intention of making a quilt. In fact, Sheri, a professional graphic designer, only bought the book for design inspiration — she didn’t plan on making the patterns.
She bought the book, but it sat on her shelf for years. “I always thought, ‘I’d love to make a quilt,’ but I didn’t really know enough,” Sheri says. “I could sew straight lines, but that was about it.”
But Sheri has always been a maker, dabbling in beading, letterpress and bookbinding. And she’s an expert when it comes to design: “Design, in one way, shape or form, has always been a big part of my life,” she says. She earned an undergraduate degree in fine arts with a concentration in graphic design, and over the past 20 years, she’s worked in small design studios, as a designer for a web company and now as the director of exhibits at a children’s museum.
Her latest design venture? Her own quilt studio, Whole Circle Studio, where she designs award-winning modern quilts.
While Sheri’s quilts have earned her countless accolades, she struggled at the beginning like every new quilter. Her first quilt was, in her words, “a hot mess.”
Sheri admits to using less-than-great fabric (“I thought all fabrics were the same!”) and a sewing machine from the ’90s. Then, she hand quilted it: “That took about a year and a half to finish,” she says. “I totally underestimated how long it would take, but I got really into it.”
That was one of only a few quilts Sheri has ever made from a pattern. She quickly recognized that by moving beyond other people’s patterns, she could use quilting to combine several things she loves: graphic design, hand-making, math and problem-solving. “What draws me to quilting is the balance between working on the computer and working with my hands,” she says. “It’s not just one or the other: If my hands are hurting from cutting, I can go to the design. And designing on the computer uses a very different part of my brain than sewing does.”
Sheri’s first design was part of a challenge through the Modern Quilt Guild in 2014:
Starting with a traditional pattern, Sheri put her own spin on it and submitted her work with no expectations. It was only after she placed in the top three that she thought, “Wow, maybe I’m kind of good at this!”
From then on, Sheri has been unstoppable. “My whole strategy was to just keep making, just keep sketching, just keep designing.” The next year, three of her quilts exhibited at QuiltCon — one even won first place in its category. “I was totally over the moon.”
Now, as the winner of our 2016 Quilt Designer Fellowship, she’s busy preparing for her first-ever Quilt Market. “I’ve been a stalker on Instagram for the last couple years,” Sheri says. “I never in a million years expected to have a booth at Quilt Market — it’s all happened really quickly.”
She credits her rapid growth and success to old-fashioned hard work. “Anything worthwhile is worth the time you put into it,” she says. With two full-time jobs — one running her studio, the other at the children’s museum — lots of her hard work happens late at night and on the weekends.
At Quilt Market, Sheri is hoping to get the word out about her patterns (she has a few available on Craftsy already!). After that, who knows what’s next? “I think big,” Sheri says, but she won’t spill the beans on her future plans yet.
Whatever the future holds for Sheri, she won’t forget her first quilt that started it all. “It’s a charming quilt, and I still have it,” she says. “I bring it along when I do lectures or workshops — just to show where I started.”