Alexandra Bennett and Jocelin Johnson of Louise Gray are elevating the American quilt. For us, the term alone has the power to summon memories of poorly stitched summer-camp patchworks, itchy sleepovers, and tired hand-me-downs. But a Louise Gray quilt—sophisticated, comfortable, stylish and thoughtful—is different. Handmade in Minneapolis with patterns rooted in graphic design, the quilts double as wall art—a testament to their impressive aesthetic value. We sat down with Alexandra, the company’s co-founder, to learn more about the brand’s journey and the maker scene in Minneapolis.
On Getting Started
Alexandra and Jocelin met while working at another product-design company in 2009. Their former roles match their current positions at Louise Gray: Alexandra covers business and Jocelin is the brand’s creative director. Alexandra’s mother is a quilter, and she started thinking about the craft and how dated it felt. She began tossing around the idea of a “quilt revamp.”
“Quilts are handcrafted and are about storytelling. In theory, a quilt should fulfill a lot of consumer expectations: It’s a meaningful piece with something to say, and it’s also made with intention. But most designs are outdated. A quilt is no longer a ‘cool’ product.”
She and Jocelin founded Louise Gray together in 2014 to revive the quilt category and approach quilt design with a clean eye. The name Louise Gray is a family name. It splices together Alexandra's maiden middle and last name that she shares with her mother, who taught her to quilt at a young age. With its roots in family, Alexandra and Jocelin loved how Louise Gray represents a true heritage brand. As monikers, Louise felt a bit more traditional and Gray more on the contemporary side. This combination of old and new, traditional and contemporary, lies at the heart of the brand. With the name and vision set, the women were ready to launch.
Because they had worked together previously, both women had the confidence and experience to build a consumer brand. Though Jocelin was unfamiliar with traditional quilting techniques, her unique perspective helped the two women create a fresh and innovative quilt design and a brand aesthetic.
“She started out totally unfamiliar with the limitations associated with quilt construction. Not mentally bound by these constraints, Jocelin was able to think of the quilt as an entirely new work of art.”
The Quilt - Revived
One of Jocelin’s first designs, Quilt No. 1, was so incredibly graphic and tough to execute it almost didn’t happen.
“Quilt No. 1 was ambitious, but is now a best seller. To achieve all of the angles was extremely complicated, and the work is all done by hand. Our product needs to stay consistent in quality, and the difficulties in production taught us not to give up on a design, because you never know it's true potential and how it will be received.”
Each quilt is constructed from 100 percent cotton materials and is machine-washable. The first step is piecing all of the various fabrics and colors together. Cotton batting (which gives the quilt its warmth) is then “sandwiched” between the pieced front and back. The three layers are fed through a sewing machine by hand to achieve the intricate quilting channels and, finally, the raw edges are bound. Alexandra and Jocelin are proud to work with a local, family-run workroom to sew the quilts at scale.
“It’s humbling. There are numerous American artisans and makers who have perfected this skill set. We want to support them and play an integral role in reviving the cut-and-sew industry of America.
As Alexandra explains to me, quilts stay in families for decades and contain many memories. You wrap up in a quilt to do the most mundane things. A quilt truly sees it all.
However meaningful, quilts are not always design-focused.
“In the past, these two qualities have often been mutually exclusive. You have a beautiful piece you invested in that isn’t necessarily consciously made, but looks great in your home. Then, you have pieces that tell a story but fail to reflect your personal aesthetic. Louise Gray strives to give the contemporary consumer both. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice a beautiful piece to build meaning.”
Makers in Minneapolis
Alexandra and Jocelin work out of Minneapolis. The city boasts a creative energy that’s just revving up with a growing population of makers. Amazing trail system, lakes upon lakes, and an appreciation for work-life balance are only a few of the qualities that are appealing about this modest Midwest city.
“Every day we come across a new entrepreneur doing incredible things. I like to think Louise Gray is at the right spot at the right time. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a creative energy here because of the weather—it is so cold so you have more time to be inside creating!”
Though Louise Gray has very quickly come to dominate the quilt market, the founders are far from hitting the breaks. The brand is looking forward to their expansion into bedding sizes and designs.
“Americans are starting to pay attention to what they invest in and are willing to spend more money on transparency. Food is an obvious example, and it’s beginning to transcend the fashion industry as well. I think home goods need to catch up to the standards set in other industries. We look forward to being part of those spearheading the movement.”
In Alexandra and Jocelin’s world, it’s better to have fewer, well-made goods. We couldn't agree more.