Aurora Shoe Co.

Meet Local Fabric Designer, Felicity Miller

We passionately support small business and handmade and local goods.  As a visitor of our blog, we thought that you might feel the same way.  In our Meet the Neighbors series we're featuring businesses and people who reflect our own values and whom we feel lucky to call neighbors and friends.

We've had the pleasure of knowing Felicity Miller on a casual basis for many years.  She's got a sweet British accent, two beautiful daughters and a husband who runs Miller Tilling, a well known local design, cabinetry and construction business.  What we didn't realize is that she's been an artistic force behind many other local establishments that we've known and loved for decades.  I visited Felicity in mid January and lost myself in her vibrant home.  The photos were supposed to be focused on her fabric and paper designs, but there were so many pretty views that I got a little distracted.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the artist and her lovely home.

Felicity Miller

I saw on your website that you came to Aurora to apprentice and design with Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs.  If they brought you here, what compelled you to stay?

I had a teaching job lined up in Peru for 6 months and was then going to go home and apply for Art College but I realized that the experience with MC would give me a lot of hands on design time with intensely creative individuals, and so much learning with different media. And where else would you get to ride an elephant as part of a photo shoot?

 mackenzie-childs aurora, ny

Your husband, Glenn Miller, designs homes and home renovations.  Do you ever collaborate on projects?

We did collaborate on the interior of the Christian Science Reading Room in Ithaca, NY. It was great to work with a talented team from Miller Tilling and a fun design committee.  In our own home Glenn tends to be a little more streamlined than I am but after much wrangling we often come to a result that works for both of us. He's great with the big picture and I love details. I very much value his insight and instinct with design. Colour sometimes causes issues - we painted our mudroom 3 times to get the colour right for both of us! Recently Glenn helped me lay out some quilt designs in a drawing program that gave all the dimensions as we input the design - sweet! I do everything by hand so am amazed at what is possible with technology. I definitely need help in that area. I'm such a dinosaur!

How did you get into fabric design, and how has it differed from the paper designs you'd been doing before?
I studied fabric printing and design at high school in England and always hoped I'd be able to come back to it in some way. When I decided to go into licensing, my business partner and I did the Surtex show at the Javits in NY - I displayed a lot of artwork hoping to hook a paper company. Westminster Fibers came to the booth and loved my umbrellas and rain boots and asked me to build a fabric collection around them, 5 designs in 5 colourways. This required changing my very painterly style into flat areas of colour, figuring out all the repeats, scale, and colour separation... a lot of work! The designs I do for paper products can be reproduced as I paint them so it is quite a bit simpler.

Were you always a sewist, or is that something that came along with the fabric?
I started with a button sewing project with my Grandma when I was 4! I learned sewing at school too and made quite a few of my own clothes as a teenager. It was actually cheaper than buying clothes then! I worked at Laura Ashley in my home town of Cheltenham on Saturdays through high school and loved working with all the fabrics. I still have a duvet cover I made at high school - my daughter Elle uses it.

Felicity Miller Circus
a new duvet cover made with Felicity's Circus line

Has your work changed since becoming a mother? 
The time I can spend on it has! Of course the priorities are home and family but I am finding ways to fit things in. I sketched some new Christmas designs while watching a basketball game last weekend - there is a lot of multi-tasking. I love getting feedback from the family. I also love watching the girls' drawing styles develop and learning from them. The challenge is often blocking out the piles of laundry and dog hair that needs vacuuming to focus on a deadline... somehow things get done.
Your shop features handmade creations.  Why do you think it's important for people to purchase locally made products?
I very much believe that communities and the economy are strengthened by the support of local businesses. We have become so rarely connected with the source of what we buy, but I love to think that this is changing, slowly but surely. It's great to think of something being made in one specific place and not so ubiquitous. I love products that are unique and hand touched - like your shoes!


What are your favorite parts of the business?

I really enjoy seeing new sights and colours both locally and farther afield. First comes the experience, then the doodling, followed by deeper study of my  subject. There are times of artistic struggle for sure, but I try to revel in the process. It's often about editing until something is just right or nearly so!

I also love seeing my work "out there" in the world making people happy in small ways - that is a true joy. I received an email from a store in Australia recently who had my fabric and couldn't wait to make the quilt that I designed. That was a treat.  

What are your biggest challenges?
Balancing everything, and being patient! This is a gradual process and it takes a long time to build a brand. I am realizing that the artist is responsible for much of the marketing and promotion. It can be daunting but you just have to keep moving forward.

image via mrs schmenkman quilts

image via quiltville
Do you have anything new coming up that you would like to share?
I am working on a set of designs for a new fabric collection for launch some time in 2011. Stay tuned for updates. I am also working on other ideas for paper for Caspari. In addition to my fabric and paper designs, I'm collaborating on a house design with Miller Tilling, a sort of country loft which could become a signature look for us. We're working with 2 Cornell architecture students to formulate the design - it's a fun team.

I never cease to doodle and observe wherever I am for fresh ideas. Hope to get to a some large scaled oil painting this year... in my spare time!

Thank you, Felicity, for giving us a glimpse of your work and your life in this small town that we call home.  Check back to meet more of our like minded neighbors and friends!