Many of you who know me well, might have found yourselves asking, “what’s up with the quatrefoil?” in reference to both my floral quatrefoil logo and the little quatrefoil necklace(s) I wear all the time. (I have quatrefoil bedding as well, in case you were curious).
Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is a long one and is deeply tied into my creative story.
The quatrefoil symbol has been around quite a long time, most traditionally used in ancient church architecture. It is thought to have originated in ancient textile design. Some people think it means luck, like a 4-leaf clover, some say it is a version of the Greek cross and represents the four gospels in the Bible. It really could represent anything in fours – the four seasons, the four cardinal directions on a compass, the four elements, etc. I love the history in all of that, but for me the meaning is a little more complicated.
If I had to give you the shortest answer, I would say that, to me, it means that no matter the season, or the direction I would like to go, God has a plan for my life. I also really love the historical context, that it is tied to my art background, and that it is a version of a flower (I grew up in the country). I also just think it is a really pretty symbol.
Here is the longer story: (warning: lots of text and no pictures)
It’s no secret, if you’ve been around here for a while, that my college years were a rough time for me in many ways. I had health issues and was often sick (undiagnosed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, and gluten intolerance), had extremely low energy (undiagnosed thyroid issues and general lack of sleep), missed my once close-knit family (that was beginning to fall apart), missed the country, and in general having a home and a place that felt settled and safe. Along with that, I struggled with figuring out what to do with my life, what to study, and what path to take to the career I wanted (along with the general stress of tough college courses and a heavy workload).
I’ve always been a creative person and I’ve loved art since I was really little. I would paint with watercolors at my Grandmother’s kitchen table for hours as a pre-schooler. In elementary school, my mom taught me to sew and embroider, knit and crochet. In middle school, I became interested in photography and digital design in Photoshop (it wasn’t until college that I learned Adobe InDesign or Illustrator). In high school, I was on the Publications team creating layout and ads for the yearbook, involved in designing and sewing costumes for school plays and musicals, and organized my school’s Fashion Show every year. But my small town background made me naive to the creative careers possible for me. I thought that the only way to work in the world of art was to be a painter or a photographer– selling your work on the street, at festivals, or online.
So when it came time to go to college, I began majoring in English, with the intention of becoming a teacher, just like my grandparents both were, and just like the majority of people I’d known in my life up to that point. While I enjoyed the way that my English classes made me think, analyze, and find deeper meaning, I didn’t feel like English nor teaching English were my true passions.
It wasn’t until part of the way through my freshman year of college that I heard the term “graphic designer.” I was on a field trip with my TIDES class (a required Tulane course in your choice of subject area to orient you to the unique culture of New Orleans). The TIDES course that I had chosen was called “Design It Yourself NOLA” and we spent our time learning about New Orleans architecture, graffiti culture, Katrina and the geography and history of the city, touring green-build houses, visiting a warehouse of Mardi Gras parade floats and learning how they were made, beading Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and going to Creole Creamery to learn how their ice cream was made. But the most influential stop, to me, was the day we toured a local art gallery and print/publications house. We met with a graphic designer who showed us the digital page layouts for a book she was designing about how to navigate a major city disaster like Katrina. I was amazed. Something that combined my love of art and English into one marketable and needed skill? Sign me up!
I went home and immediately started researching graphic designers. Why hadn’t I ever heard this word before or thought about something like this as a career? I did small graphic design projects for myself already (in Photoshop and Publisher, oy!). The more research I did, the more sure I felt that designing is what I needed to do with my life. The bad part came when I realized that Tulane, the University that I was already attending, didn’t have a graphic design program. I met with my (terrible) guidance counselor (who basically told me I shouldn’t have come to Tulane and should have gone to a trade school). She pointed me towards the art department and they directed me to the printmaking department. But I didn’t want to make books by hand, I wanted to design them digitally.
Through a long string of events, and many stressful nights and long cries, I did sign up for the first class in the string of art courses required for a major — beginning drawing. I was so confused as to what to do with my life, but seeing as I was already in college, I didn’t have a lot of time to figure it out. God was looking down on me though, and blessed me with the most amazing art professor and I was amazed at my progress from beginning to end in Drawing 105. So much so, that I started to wonder if I wasn’t in the right place after all and signed up for the next drawing class, along with a painting class, and an art history class. (and then printmaking, and ceramics, and more painting, and more drawing, etc…)
This story is taking a long time to get to quatrefoils, huh? I told you it was a long story.
I didn’t give up on my graphic design dream. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I did an internship with a small graphic design and printing company in my hometown. There I learned the very basics of Adobe InDesign and I started to begin familiarizing myself with Adobe Illustrator (but didn’t really get proficient at that until after college). I also became familiar with various printing processes — preparing files for print, screen printing, vinyl cutting, etc. I initially thought that I would like to work in the book/magazine publishing industry designing book or magazine layouts, and I was thrilled that this internship was getting me one step closer to that! However, that same summer, while living back at home, reading my mom’s Country Living magazines, I stumbled across an article on Anna Maria Horner and her career in fabric design. It was another lightbulb moment! I had grown up sewing and collecting fabric, I loved painting and art, but I also loved digital design. Did I really want to design book layouts or did I want to design FABRIC! Fabric, of course! This opened a whole new world of possibilities to me (read more about AMH and that article here).
The next semester at school, I took my first art history class (a beginning survey course) and fell in love with the history of art, particularly the design motifs in ancient church architecture. (SPOILER ALERT: THE QUATREFOIL!) On my class notes I would draw quatrefoils and trefoils, gothic arches, and rose windows. I dreamed of using my art skills and budding design skills to become a fabric designer and design patterns inspired by art history.
Fast forward through more school, more English classes, more art classes, more stress, and low energy. The final project for the first painting course I took at Tulane was two combine two objects — one that represented your past and one that represented your future. I could go into further detail about why I chose what I chose, but in the air of brevity, I’ll just tell you that I picked an antique watering can full of impatiens to represent my past and in the background I painted a turquoise and mint quatrefoil pattern to look like fabric to represent my future (you can see and read more about that painting here).
Fast forward even further — past the rest of my English and art classes, past starting my blog and following the blogs of my favorite designers, past my wedding, past opening a web and graphic design business with my husband, past diagnosis of my thyroid and gluten intolerance — to the summer after college graduation. What am I going to do with my life?! What is my next step? Where do I go from here??? With a degree in English and Studio Art (concentration in Painting) and a plethora of self-taught design skills, there were a lot of ways I could take my career. I (obviously) wanted to be a fabric designer (more largely a surface pattern designer), but I didn’t yet know how to make repeatable patterns or where to even start to get into that industry. I looked into going back to school for textile design, even started touring schools, but that was too expensive with my husband already having so many student loans (and I really wasn’t mentally ready to dive into more school just yet). I started to focus on finding a job within my skill-set to help pay the bills while I spent my free time figuring out how to design patterns and studying the industry. I didn’t know what that job would be, but I prayed and asked God to lead me to wherever I was supposed to go next. The end of that summer, I got a call from the Director of Administration at a church in New Orleans that was looking for a Web and Publications Coordinator. He had seen my resume online and said that with my English, art, and graphic design background, I seemed like the perfect candidate. A week or so later, I started working there, without having even applied for the job. Guess what the church logo is? A quatrefoil. I guess the painting about my future was right, even if it wasn’t in fabric.
After I’d worked at the church for a few months, I came across a little quatrefoil necklace on Etsy (pictured above). The quatrefoil charm was the exact same color of turquoise as the quatrefoil fabric I’d painted in that art class painting. Again, well before I knew it, God knew what would be in my future, even if it wasn’t exactly the way I’d envisioned it. I bought that necklace (actually Drew bought it for me for Christmas that year) and I wore it nearly every day until it started to look a little ragged and I replaced it with a little gold version (I also have a pearl one).
Now I know how to design repeatable patterns and I understand a lot more about how the fabric manufacturing industry works. I’m still working towards that fabric design dream. But to me — the little quatrefoil (and my floral quatrefoil logo) serve as a reminder of my story – that all those parts (that I didn’t understand at the time) had a purpose and were leading me where I needed to go. God will provide. I can make plans (four directions) and want them to happen when I want (four seasons), but God is directing my steps and will lead me where he sees my future. He’ll also lead me through tough times and deliver me from distress (Psalm 23).
On a side note, I designed a more floral quatrefoil for my personal logo, as a way to combine the quatrefoil with a flower, a symbol of my country upbringing and love of nature.
I hope this has fully answered all of your questions about my obsession with quatrefoils. 🙂
Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”