Athens, Alabama native Mary Catherine Folmar of Cotton + Quill marries her gift of artistic creativity with product design training to bring brightness and color to Birmingham — and beyond — through her hand-illustrated textiles, wall coverings, trim and mesmerizing patterns. Mary Catherine takes us on her professional journey, gives us a peek into her design process and proves that beautiful things can happen when a true artist perseveres and follows her dreams. We are honored to feature today’s FACE of Birmingham, Mary Catherine Folmar!
Walk us through your professional journey.
I graduated from Auburn University with a degree from the College of Architecture Design and Construction in Industrial Design. Then, I interned as a product designer with Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey. After that, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to work as an environmental graphic designer for Sky Design. It was at Sky Design that I became interested in textiles and wall coverings. When I was engaged, I moved to Birmingham, and that is when Cotton + Quill was formed. Cotton + Quill was launched five years ago this summer and has grown from custom pillow designs to offering fabric, wallpaper and trim by the yard, as well as custom products, including pillows, drapes, bedding and more.
How did Cotton + Quill come about?
I have always had an interest in interior design and have always drawn, from as young as I can remember. After moving to Birmingham, I wanted to continue working in design, but through a more freelance approach. Cotton + Quill was the perfect marriage of my love for drawing and painting combined with my passion for interior design and training in product design.
Explain your collection and take us through the design process.
Each collection first starts with a theme. That is the hardest part of beginning a new collection — narrowing it down to which “theme” or style I want to design. Once I have a collection in mind, I look to photos I have taken while traveling — mostly abroad — as well as other images for inspiration. I pull inspiration anywhere I feel creatively stimulated, from colors found in nature to architecture and fashion. I even pull from certain time periods, like the Roaring ’20s for my Deco Collection. Once I have my collection in mind and have inspiration images and motifs to pull from, I begin sketching. I then input all of my original drawings or paintings into the computer to create the final design. Finally, we get samples on fabric and wallpaper to approve colors, and we go from there to launch products.
What are your favorite pieces to sell?
One of my favorite things about Cotton + Quill is creating “runway”-style vignettes to show how our patterns can be used. A lot of people are scared of color, but I think they just need to be shown how to mix pattern and color together to know how to incorporate into their home. As of lately, one of my favorite things to sell is wallpaper. It was out of style for so long, but as I like to say, “this is not your grandmother’s or mother’s wallpaper.” We offer bold, fresh, updated designs, which can also be customized to any color you wish, and the papers and installation methods are much better these days. The metallic grasscloth is my absolute favorite. It is so luxe! And my new favorite fabric is our super soft velvet, all of which are made in the USA.
Describe your typical day.
Oh goodness — this changes every day! To sum it up, you will typically find me starting every morning with a cup of coffee. It’s a daily tradition to start the morning off right. At least three times a week, I try to fit in a good run or Pure Barre, and I have recently started getting back into a daily devotional (thanks to Momma). These are necessary to get me in the right mindset. Then, I do a little bit of everything, from “the business side of things,” like paperwork, billing, balancing the books and forecasting upcoming expenses to working on a new collection, which includes sketching, editing design files digitally and working with clients — ranging from our retail store clients to designers and retail clients — on custom projects. I am also constantly going back and forth with mills on production of new orders, inspecting incoming orders and assembling orders for pickup or shipment. You wonder how I get through days like this successfully? Leave it to my Aunt Lou Ann for her practical gift of the “To-Do List” pad for my most recent birthday present. I mean, game changer — couldn’t go a day without it. And also, I have excellent help and support from family and my assistant, Rebekah, to help manage and run daily tasks and the store.
What is most challenging about your job?
Juggling. Trying to concentrate on offering my full and undivided attention to my clients, while being able to turn it all off when I get home at night and on the weekends to focus on family.
The most rewarding thing about Cotton + Quill is when I come out with a new design or collection, which are all very personal to me, and seeing that my clients and customers love them enough to invest in them and include them in their home. Installation photos are so fun!
What do you do when you’re not working?
Cook, hang out with the hubs and our two dogs, Marley and Butters, and try to get down to 30A when we can for a few days on the coast.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
God has a plan for you even though you may not realize or know what it is yet. Be patient and work as hard as you can. Don’t take “no” for an answer, and don’t let anyone hold you back from aspirations you have or places you want to go. Take every opportunity you can, and appreciate your family and those close to you. And don’t forget to have fun!
Do you have a mentor or role model, and if so why do you admire them or what have they taught you?
My mother. She always let me be creative growing up and always encouraged me in anything I was doing. She is a woman of God and incredibly strong as she raised me by herself. She always puts others before herself and is constantly supportive. I am grateful that she has instilled these values in me as well.
Any guilty pleasures?
Just sitting and doing absolutely nothing.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
Something people may not know about me is that I love helping things that don’t have a chance. I can’t help but to pick up any poor animal I see running down the street any time I can. So far, my husband and I have saved numerous dogs, nursed them back to health and found them homes, while adding Butters to our own family.
What is your best piece of advice?
Words from my Pop: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
Name three frivolous or light-hearted things you can’t live without.
Coffee, laughter and sunshine.
Thank you, Mary Catherine! To learn more about Mary Catherine and her work at Cotton + Quill, visit cottonquill.com.
And visit Cotton + Quill’s pop-up events with local artists and designers every month. Subscribe to their monthly newsletter or follow them on Instagram or Facebook to keep up with their upcoming events!
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Mary Catherine at Cotton + Quill.