Uber Creator Spotlight: Quilting for Decades — For Others, and For Herself
Uber’s Head of UX Research finds serenity in the many hours spent crafting her quilts, and joy in gifting them to friends, from newlyweds to newborns.
Spotlight is a series of interviews with the multitalented creators on Uber’s design team. In this session, we spoke with Molly Stevens, Director of User Experience Research.
In 2016, Molly Stevens made a quilt for her just-married friends Leah Hanes and Steve Cohn. The quilt stitched together both deep joy — a celebration of Leah and Steve’s commitment and new life together — and an enduring sadness.
Ten years earlier, Leah’s only child had died at the age of six.
Amidst the horror of losing a child, Leah was also dealing with the collapse of her marriage. On a long list of things Leah needed during this difficult time, one was a new place to live. Which is how, just five months after losing her child, Leah became housemates with Molly in New Jersey.
Six weeks after moving in, Leah lost her job. Her house and housemate became an even more important source of stability when everything else seemed so fragile. “We lived together three years, and as you might imagine those were some dark years for me,” says Leah.
But, slowly, things got better. Life presented new opportunities. One of those was meeting Steve. They fell in love. Ten years after Leah’s life had fallen apart, she was building a new one with Steve.
To celebrate this new chapter in her friend’s life, Molly set out to make a special quilt as a wedding present. The quilt’s colors were inspired by the greens, oranges, and purples featured in the wedding’s flowers and linens.
When Leah first saw the quilt, she was overwhelmed, and burst into tears. “The quilt is a riot of color, beautifully designed. To me it represents spring and summer, optimism and hope, and ultimately life itself,” says Leah.
That the quilt turned out beautifully was no accident. Besides an artist’s eye and artisan’s deft touch, Molly also had a ton of experience, starting with sewing a very important blanket when she was just six years old.
Barbie did not have a blanket. This was important, because Barbie was Molly’s doll and the last thing you wanted was for your doll to catch cold. Molly asked her mom if she could use the sewing machine…and voilà: Barbie got a blanket, and Molly found a lifelong passion.
Throughout high school, Molly sewed mostly clothes — including a dress for her winter formal. “A black satin dress with a hot pink back. Very 1990,” says Molly with a grin.
It was her first prom dress, but not her last: for her own prom in 2017, Molly’s daughter wore bespoke couture from the House of Mom.
Molly’s first quilt came while she was in college. “One summer I was working nights at a pea cannery in Walla Walla, Washington. My shift was 6pm to 6am. On nights when the harvest was slow and I was off, I needed to stay on that schedule. I needed something to do at night. So I made my first quilt.”
It took all summer to make — all together, says Molly, probably more than 50 hours.
25 years later, Molly has has made at least 75 quilts (She’s not sure of the exact number. You try to keep track of 75+ quilts.).
Today, a bed-size quilt takes her roughly 25 hours.
Molly quilts at her house in Berkeley, which she shares with her large, one-year-old puppy, Chuey (short for Chewbacca), and a few college students who rent out rooms.
Whenever the mood to quilt strikes (usually after a busy workday), Molly retreats upstairs, a large glass of wine in hand, Chuey following closely behind.
Her quilting room is a sanctuary: yards of fabric overflow off of shelves, out of baskets, and onto most every surface. In the corner rests a thick, four-foot-tall roll of backing, the soft material that is stitched between a quilt’s front and back sides.
On the ground next to the sewing table sits a massive bag of fabric scraps, which Molly explains tie directly to quilting’s beginnings. Originally, she says, quilting was a way of making use out of leftovers, an exercise in economy and thrift. Soon, it had evolved into an artform, appreciated for aesthetics and enjoyment all its own.
Chuey sniffs the scraps, plods in circles on a half-finished quilt back, and sprawls down on his side.
Molly usually quilts for hours, sometimes all night. She describes this as her meditation. “It keeps me sane. Even if I need to do my taxes or train for my triathlon, I still have to quilt. When I’m in the mood, it’s all I want to do.”
Inspiration often comes from her friends — most of her quilts become gifts. Quilts for babies. Quilts for birthdays. Quilts for new homes and new marriages.
A recent favorite quilt was inspired not by a beginning, but by an ending — the death of the musician Prince.
Molly has always been a big fan of his music, and she saw him at the Paramount in Oakland just two months before his death.
It’s a simple-yet-grand quilt with different-sized pink and purple triangles and a splash of gold. Molly had planned to give it away, but her husband recognized how much she liked it and convinced her to keep it; it’s now one of the rare quilts she’s kept.
Molly usually quilts with batik, a fabric still mostly made in its native Indonesia, in which whole cloth is alternately covered in hot wax and dyed, creating beautiful, complex shapes and patterns. She came home from her family trip to Bali with a suitcase full of batik.
Quilts are often made with a simple back side, but Molly has developed a signature touch by making back sides that incorporate larger, leftover pieces of a fabric in a different color palette than the front side — maybe a cool tone on the back to balance out a warm front side.
Molly’s been quilting long enough to have a good idea how much of each fabric she’ll need for a quilt. Every once in awhile, though, she still makes a mistake — which is part of the fun: Molly says one of her favorite parts of quilting is when she runs out of fabric mid-quilt and has to improvise.
“I love being surprised by, ‘Oh crap, I ran out of fabric and have to change up the design.’”
Besides an attention to detail, a keen aesthetic sensibility, and plenty of patience, this improvisational approach is one more thing Molly brings to her role as Uber’s head of User Experience Research.
She says, “When things go wrong at work, I try to make the most of it. And make that part of the fabric of what we’re doing anyway.”
How does Molly square working at a forward-thinking tech company with a hobby that goes back centuries? She doesn’t. Molly says she doesn’t care that quilting has a little bit of an old lady cachet to it. She loves to quilt. That’s reason enough to do it — maybe the only reason to do anything, really.
Molly’s simple advice: “Just find something you love and do it.”
At Uber we enjoy celebrating our creative team members and the broad spectrum of design. We value the pursuit of various forms of creativity and believe those experiences inspire our team, improve our products, and ultimately enhance the experience of our end users.
Checkout the previous edition in this series: Uber Creator Spotlight: Perseverance and Grit, and the next edition: Uber Creator Spotlight: Woodworking and the Beauty of Patience.
Learn more about our design team’s events, people, and impact at www.uber.design.
And see some of our recent work at https://dribbble.com/DesigningUber.
About Molly Stevens:
15+ years of experience working in user experience design and research across a variety of domains. Advocate for the advancement of diverse voices in all aspects of the development of our modern tools and services. Extensive experience in design workshops and sprints. At Uber her team focuses on developing local and global insights about people to innovate on current and future technologies. Twitter | Flickr album of quilts
Eric Burns is curious. He is inspired by other creatives who pursue their passions. He’s a product design manager at Uber focused on building employee experience products.