Designer Spotlight: Lori Mason

In July we were excited to put the beautiful Kyoto Garden line up on our shelves.  We are lucky to have talented Kyoto Garden designer, Lori Mason, here in Portland.  We’ve asked Lori a few questions to find out a little more about her.  Read on and come on in to enjoy her lovely fabrics!

As a textile designer and quilt artist, Lori Mason has been producing artwork for many years.  She comes from a multi-generational family of artists and architects, and discovered the joy of fabrics and sewing at an early age.  

Lori received her fiber arts training at The Oregon College of Art and Craft, and then studied fabric design for industry at The Fashion Institute of Technology.  In the mid-90s, she designed prints and wovens for Nike Apparel in a variety of sport categories.  Missing the feel of working with fabric hands-on, she subsequently launched Lori Mason Design in 1999, creating one-of-a-kind, contemporary quilts and pillows.  As part of Lori Mason Design, she now weaves together the two strands of her textile career by designing printed fabric for quilts and other home sewing projects.  

Lori has sold her quilts in national venues such as the Renwick Gallery’s ArtsMart, the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show.  She has also shown her work through numerous national fiber art exhibitions.  Her quilts have been featured in Country Living, Oregon Bride Magazine, Fabric Trends for Quilters, Quilt Magazine, Quilts and More, Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting, Quilter’s Home, and many more.

We’d love to know a bit about your history as a sewist and designer? Are you a life-long sewist or did you discover it as an adult?

My first introduction to sewing was at age 9 when I took a sewing class at the Stitch-N-Time fabric shop in Seattle, where I grew up.  I remember riding my bike there by myself.  The project for the week was to make a halter top, and they turned us loose in the store to pick out whatever fabric we wanted.  That was the best part of the whole week - it was like being in a candy store.  I picked out a cute strawberry print - I loved that fabric! - which made it all the more disappointing when the halter top came out a complete mess.  I kept at the sewing, though, because that’s what kept my hand in textiles.   Growing up, I was surrounded by a family of women artists: my mom was a photographer, my grandmother was a ceramic and steel sculptor from Vienna, and my great-grandmother, whom I knew briefly, was highly skilled in needle arts and for a while was knitting couture gowns for a shop on L.A.’s Rodeo Drive.

What was your path to pursuing this as a career?

I took my first official textile design course at a college in England during a year abroad from a liberal arts college, and I knew I had found my medium.  When I returned to the States, I transferred to The Oregon College of Arts and Craft in their Fibers program.  During my final year, I had the opportunity to visit a textile designer at Nike and got really excited about what I saw there.  She suggested I enroll in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Surface Design for Industry program which was a 2-year degree that you could take in 1 year if you wanted.  So I shipped off to New York for a year, completed the program, and landed a temporary position back at Nike, of all places.  I was hired full-time and stayed for 3 years designing prints, wovens, and some graphics in their Apparel Division.  In 1999, I quit my day job and launched Lori Mason Design, designing and making contemporary quilts.  For 3 years, I did the national craft show circuit until I became a mom.  I loved making quilts, but a part of me really missed designing prints, so I pursued some textile companies and began working with RJR Fabrics.  They produced 3 of my collections before I shifted over to work with Andover Fabrics.  Kyoto Garden is my first collection with them.

Tell us a bit about your latest collection, Kyoto Garden.

Kyoto Garden is the result of me letting go of designing what I thought a fabric company wanted.  I was between contracts, and I let myself create a collection that I personally would want to sew with.  That went for the colors, too.  I tend towards an earthy, organic, calm, elegant design sense, which can sometimes be tricky in the quilt industry.  I went ahead with it, Andover liked the line, and away we went.  I was definitely inspired by a Japanese aesthetic with this group of prints.  While designing a previous collection for RJR, I had sketched a Koi fish, but it didn’t fit with what I had going on at the time.  So when I began designing this line, I started with the Koi sketch which, of course opened up the doors to a Japanese-themed collection.

What are some of your favorite fabrics or materials to work with?

I make it a point of using many different kinds of materials in my quilt work, especially.  My first quilt collections were made either out of wool suiting or linen.  Both of those materials have such a soft hand and made sumptuous quilts.  The stripes, plaids, and textures of the wool are quite fun to combine together.  For me, fabrics that are more subtle and quiet have the most allure, and color has everything to do with it.  A print can be beautifully designed, but if the color is off, forget it.  I also work closely with people making memorial quilts out of reclaimed clothing which of course has a certain emotional intensity built into the process.


What trends in fabric design have you excited?

I have to confess, I’ve always had a strained relationship to Trends.  I capitalized it because a Trend often feels to me like the most popular girl in high school, and I never liked those girls too much.  The decision of whether to design into a trend or not has caused me great anxiety over my creative career, to a point where I stopped looking at trends altogether.  I don’t share that stance any longer because I believe it’s good practice to have a sense of what’s going on, but if faced with the choice of reading a trend magazine or a new book on Japanese prints, I go for the book.  


What’s on your sewing machine right now?

Right now I’m busy sewing my Kyoto Garden fabrics into table linen sets: placemats, napkins, runners, and coasters.  I just finished the first placemat set with the Stone River and Peony prints, and I’m really loving the way the prints are working together.  I’m also excited to make some more pillows that combine my new prints with solid linens.

We love to hear about locals’ favorite spots in town. What are some of your favorite haunts?

Since I was just there, I have to mention Sheridan’s Market on SE MLK.  They’re one of the best grocery stores in town.  If you eat meat, definitely chat with the meat guys about what they’ve got going on in their case.  Another favorite spot is Mt Tabor Park.  I used to live right nearby and walked there everyday - I miss being further away.  The Dockside Tavern for lunch - NW 17th and Front.  They’ve been there forever, as have many of their wait staff, the head cook’s name is Angel, so leave your snobby PDX foodie attitude at the door and order an RC Cola.  Bamboo Sushi, when my snobby PDX foodie attitude gets the best of me, there’s nothing better.

Thanks Lori! We love your designs!