Fabric designer Marcia Derse

the singular marcia derse

By Patricia Belyea

WHIDBEY ISLAND WA  When I pulled into Marcia Derse’s driveway, I thought of all the quilters who would have loved to have been in my shoes. Here I was being welcomed into the home and studio of a remarkable fabric designer.

Marcia was full of smiles. And her lower-level studio was full of fabric!

Fabric bolts in the studio of Marcia DerseFabric bolts in the studio of Marcia DerseFabric bolts in the studio of Marcia DerseFabric bolts in the studio of Marcia Derse

Marcia and I immediately headed upstairs and settled down with big glasses of water in her kitchen. Sitting beside windows overlooking a wooded area and Admiralty Inlet, we chatted about Marcia’s pre-Northwest life in Ohio.

The kitchen in the home of fabric designer Marcia DerseView from the home of fabric designer Marcia Derse

I learned that for 24 years Marcia owned The Reading Railroad: A Children’s Bookshop in Sylvania, Ohio. That explained her expansive library in the living room filled with colorful children’s books—many signed by the authors.

The living room of fabric designer Marcia DerseThe children’s book library of fabric designer Marcia Derse

In 2014, Marcia and her husband Peter moved west to shorten their commute time to see a grandbaby in Seattle.

Now Marcia’s two daughters own properties just down the road from her on Whidbey Island, and her only son lives in Portland. The family has grown to six grandchildren but dolefully three years ago Peter passed away.

Toys tucked away everywhere and cardboard stair-guards attest to Marcia’s complete involvement in her wee ones. 

Home of fabric designer Marcia Derse

Talking about child’s play was the perfect seque for Marcia and I to descend to her studio. Marcia attributes many of her fabric designs to the influences of her grandchildren—their fearlessness and unending creative projects.

And she encourages them, giving them access to all her good art supplies.  

Kid projects in the studio of fabric designer Marcia DerseArt supplies in the studio of fabric designer Marcia DerseHandmade book by the grandchildren of fabric designer Marcia DerseChildren’s art in the home of fabric designer Marcia Derse

Early in her textile explorations, Marcia attended workshops at the Crow Barn with Nancy Crow. She also hand-dyed and hand-painted fabrics that she sold in a 6' x 10' booth at regional art fairs.

Hand-dyed fabrics by Marcia DerseHand-painted fabrics by Marcia Derse

Her original fabrics have inspired many of her designs produced by Windham Fabrics today. Palette, a collection of 100 tonal solids, are reproductions of her hand-dyed cottons.

Fabric designer Marcia Derse with her Palette Collection

“I don’t know what’s popular, I just like to play,” Marcia commented.

Marcia oft times sends Windham pages from her hand-made books filled with spirited marks and patterns that ultimately become part of a fabric collection.

Hand-made books by Marcia Derse

Recently Marcia created cotton batiks, made in Bali, under the Anthology brand. For one of the designs in the Here:There collection, Marcia utilized a petite rubber stamp that she’d carved in her university days.

Using black ink, Marcia stamped the pattern 100 times on a piece of paper. Then Anthology enlarged the art to make a batik design.

Here There batik design by Marcia Derse

Random Thoughts, a Windham fabric collection, had a stunning beginning. Marcia relates that a neighbor, whose family has also been bookstore owners, was heading to the dump with boxes full of unwanted papers. This trash includes things like a letter from EB White, the author of Charlotte’s Web!

Marcia rescued the papers and proceeded to make postcards filled with the outside of envelopes, handwritten letters, patterned artwork, and machine stitching. The two hero patterns in the Random Thoughts collection are the fronts and backs of her hand-made postcards.

Random Thoughts hero patterns by Marcia Derse

Not only is Marcia an ingenious inventor of fabric designs, she’s a thoughtful archivist. One closet in her studio is filled with samples of her work—three yards each of her patterned fabrics and 2" strips of her hand-dyed cottons. 

Fabric archive in the studio of Marcia DerseFabric archive in the studio of Marcia Derse

Coming out soon are Marcia’s first 108" wide backing fabrics, knit fabric made with some of her hero patterns, and a new batik collection called Stenographer’s Notebook made with, you guessed it, pages from a vintage stenographer’s notebook filled with unintelligible but intriguing marks.

Marcia Derse with her 108" wide backing fabric

After that, who knows? Especially Marcia. What she does know is that she’ll continue to play with colors, textures, patterns, ideas, and her grandchildren. From that will arise fabric collections beloved to quilters around the globe.

Studio of fabric designer Marcia DerseStudio of fabric designer Marcia DerseStudio of fabric designer Marcia DerseStudio of fabric designer Marcia Derse

You can buy Marcia Derse fabrics directly from Marcia +here

Marcia offers yardage, bundles, fat quarter and half-yard collections, and last cuts of Marcia classics.

Big News: A Palette Color Club is starting in January 2023! Available on Marcia’s website +here
 Fabric designer Marcia Derse in her studio with an early quilt projectBags made with fabric designed by Marcia Derse