2013 Award winner
Maura Grace Ambrose
Maura was educated in Fiber Arts at Savannah College of Art & Design. She's inspired by her work at organic farms and traveling America.
When Maura Grace Ambrose buries a seed in soil, she is starting her Folk Fibers quilting process. The seed grows into a plant, from which she will make dye to tint cotton. Along the way, she will also set some inspirations in watercolor. It’s as if everything the 31-year-old has learned to date goes into the work: She majored in fibers at the Savannah College of Art and Design, spent a year working in Urban Outfitters’ creative corporate offices, taught preschool, apprenticed with a small farmer, and supervised a greenhouse. Then, during a cross-country road trip with her husband, Chapman, in their VW bus, as she stitched a “lap work” sampler in the passenger seat, she had an epiphany: Creating quilts was what made her happiest, and what she would do for a career. “How Folk Fibers was born is epic,” she jokingly apologizes. “I really didn’t mean to have such a story.” What she adamantly is not is a hipster: “The word makes me think of followers, but I think of myself as a pioneer,” she says. “This is very fun for me, but I am taking it very seriously.” Which is why, less than two years after Folk Fibers’ launch, she has established a brand that has nearly 50,000 followers on Instagram, and her quilts have been showcased and sold at Levi’s flagship stores and Terrain. It’s a lot for just two hands to do, and Ambrose has recently hired three sewists, or “angels,” according to her, in Austin to help with the hand-quilting. “It was weird at first to get used to seeing someone else’s stitches, but now I’m comforted by those stitches. I want to hug the women who did them.”
Do you remember the moment you decided to start your business? What was it like? My husband Chapman and I spent four months traveling the states in our Volkswagen. When we started to head home back to Texas, I began considering what I would do next. Ever since college I've been inspired by quilting and my recent experience working at an organic farm had me thinking about growing natural dyes. We decided I would try dying and making quilts full-time for a few months and see how it went. At the beginning it was scary and I was unsure if it would be sustainable. However, I really embraced social media and started sharing my process online, which allowed me to connect to other makers and buyers and things took off pretty quickly from there.
What advice do you have for others who want to turn their passion into a business? It's okay to wait until you're ready. I got a job in "my industry" right after college and burned out after a year. The following six years I spent following my interests to different jobs including portrait photography, preschools, and farming. Now that I have Folk Fibers I can see a very clear connection between all these disciplines and where I am now. I learned to be okay with my path and trusting that things would work out.
This is very fun for me, but I am taking it very seriously. Maura Grace Ambrose
What advice do you wish you had when you started?There's so many things to worry about when starting a business. Incorporating, logo, website, etc. Sometimes we can get caught up in acting like a business and neglect the actual product we're making. I think most new makers should really focus on perfecting their craft and be okay with letting the administrative side of things wait.
What do you think is the key to being a successful startup?Asking for and receiving help from others. So many parts of my business (logo, packaging, logistics) are the results of reaching out to talented friends for assistance.
Tell us about your workspace. We just purchased our first home outside Austin on 10 acres. It really is a very inspiring property with some romantic history. Right now I'm mostly working out of our large living room. I do a lot of dying outside by our well house. We have plans to build some out-buildings to give us a little more separation in our life and allow us to host more workshops and community events.
FM 969 from Austin to Bastrop
What inspires you? Nature. Everywhere I go I see plants and animal habitats that adapt to their surroundings in interesting ways. The variety and diversity of the outdoors is endlessly fascinating.
What technology do you depend on to run your business? Do you do anything the “old-fashioned” way? If so, why? I use email, instagram, and facebook to keep connected with people and share my process. I try and include a handwritten letter with my orders. If someone is going to keep one of my pieces in their life I like to let them know a little more about it, how I created, and how to care for it.
How do you use social media to promote your business? Instagram has been a great way for me to share my process and stay connected to friends. I love learning and sharing little snippets of that online.