Monday, September 26, 2011

Circle of Nine: an interview with Janet Houts

Hi everyone, this is Laura Grabow and I am thrilled to be a guest blogger today for Quilt Inspiration. Working in my local quilt store, The Sun Valley Fabric Granary in Sun Valley, Idaho, I have the opportunity to meet many wonderful people. This summer, I met Marina, one of the co-authors of Quilt Inspiration, and we soon became great friends. I mentioned to Marina that The Fabric Granary has a quilt designer who teaches and sews at the store, and that this designer just published a book with her sister called “Circle of Nine”. Well, Marina was intrigued, so the two of us sat down with this all-around wonderful lady named Janet Houts and talked to her about her background, her book, and what inspires her to quilt. Here is our interview.

Janet Houts, quilt designer and co-author of "Circle of Nine"

Q: Janet, tell us about your background and what brought you to quilting?

A: I grew up in a family of four girls and we all learned to sew at an early age. I also loved designing and drawing and as a girl spent hours drawing patterns in a graph paper book, little knowing that I was in reality designing patterns similar to quilt designs. After studying fine art in college, I worked for a while as a graphic artist in the technology industry. One fateful day while visiting my sister Jean Ann Wright, then editor of QUILT Magazine, Jean asked me to help her with a deadline and illustrate a quilt pattern. Being a graphic design artist, I thought that this would be fairly straightforward, but I soon realized as I worked on that pattern that I really needed to understand how the quilt was made to properly illustrate the quilt. As soon as I finished illustrating that quilt, I went out and bought fabrics and quilt instruction books and dived into the world of quilting. Needless to say, I was hooked from the start and knew this was to be my life’s work.

Jean Ann Wright and Janet Houts, co-authors

Q: What did you do next after learning to illustrate quilts?

A: Once I started illustrating quilt designs and understanding the techniques of quilting it was natural to progress to designing quilt patterns, and I then started to design quilt patterns for fabric companies to showcase fabrics from their collections. I currently design for Benartex Inc., Andover Fabrics, Hoffman California and Blank Quilting.

Q: What inspired you and your sister Jean to write your recent book, Circle of Nine ?

A: Jean retired from editing QUILT Magazine and began to work with me designing quilts for fabric lines. One day while working on a particularly difficult design we realized that by using a block setting, be it a Sawtooth Star or any other one of our favorite block designs, and then placing that block in a circle of nine blocks and finally connecting those blocks with spacers instead of sashings, an almost unlimited variety of quilts could be designed. In our book we have 24 patterns using this design method, but clearly many more options are available. In the back of the book, we show a variety of block designs to help quilters to choose blocks for their pattern.

CIRCLE OF NINE, available at

Q: What makes this book a must-have for quilters?

A: One of the reasons we were so pleased to be published by Landauer Corporation is that they believe in publishing books that teach people how to quilt. This means that with our book Circle of Nine we are able to teach people to be creative with fabrics and designs and be inspired to quilt rather than have to follow a specific pattern using a particular set of fabrics. Naturally, this creative process allows people to have fun and sew quilts using their own personal style and fabric preferences. That, in my opinion, is what quilting is all about. Also the Circle of Nine method is an incredible stash buster.

Q: What do you think is important when designing and choosing fabrics for a quilt?

A: Working with values, or the lights and darks of a fabric group, is essential to a good quilt design. By value I do not mean what the color of a particular fabric is, but rather whether the fabric 'reads' or looks light or dark. If you focus on values or the darks and lights of your fabrics, you can create contrast, and that makes your quilt visually exciting or “pop”. In our book we show examples of how values are used in our patterns, and this in turn helps our quilting readers to learn to create visually exciting quilts.

Q: What is your favorite pattern in the book?

A: My personal favorite is Midnight Moonlight (below). We used fabrics from Lonni Rossi, and the luminosity of her fabrics makes the quilt look as if it is shimmering.

Midnight Moonlight, 68 x 68", in Circle of Nine by Janet Houts and Jean Ann Wright

Q: Finally, what is next for Janet Houts and Jean Ann Wright?

A: We will continue to design quilts for fabric collections and we are hoping to publish another book with Landauer in the very near future.

From the editor: Many thanks to Janet Houts and Laura Grabow, and to Rebecca Mitchell, owner of the Sun Valley Fabric Granary. If you are in Sun Valley, Idaho, be sure to visit The Fabric Granary at 122 S Main Street, Hailey Idaho (telephone 208-788-1331).  Circle of Nine is a new and totally ingenious approach to setting blocks !  For more examples, see the Circle of Nine Quilts website. Also see Janet Houts' website at Mercury Studios, and Jean Ann Wright's website at Jean Ann Quilts. They will be teaching a full day workshop on the Circle of Nine method at the upcoming International Quilt Festival in Houston, November 3-6, 2011.


  1. I was tickled to see Janet's name in your title and then to see photos of her and her sister, Jean Ann. Love the quilt on the cover of their new book! (Hello! to both of them from Judy, formerly of Coarsegold!)

  2. As a person who designs all my own quilts, I find many similarities in the process.
    Designing to show off a fabric line must be fun but since I work by hand only, the fabric would be out of date by the time I finish the quilt. It does, however explain why all the magazine quilts are machine pieced and machine quilted.

  3. Circle of Nine is a great book to add to your collection - the ideas and patterns can be carried over to all your quilting. Great book, Janet and Jean Ann!


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