Guest blogger series | Fabric design

by contributor on 23/09/2011

in Guest blog series2 2011, Sewing+Fabric

Sarah Fielke find her at her blog The Last Piece.

Seeing as I’m sitting here waiting for a big box of fabric to come up the driveway in a UPS van, I thought that writing a guest post about fabric design was probably appropriate!

When I was asked two years ago by Lecien Japan to design a fabric range I was so thrilled. After owning a patchwork shop, quilting seriously for over 15 years, writing three quilt books and owning a veritable avalanche of fabric, having my very own drawings on fabric was an absolute dream!

Once the initial euphoria wore off though, I got seriously intimidated. There are some absolutely amazing designers making patchwork fabric at the moment. I studied graphic design, but that was a while ago now, back in the age where we didn’t have computers and we all used – you know, actual pencils.

A lot of designers may start with pen and paper but they complete all their designs, colourways and repeats on computer. I have never used Photoshop or a Wacom tablet or anything else like that so everything was going to have to be how I love to do things, by hand. I explained all this to Lecien who were incredibly gracious and helpful about working with my process.

When I design anything, quilts or fabric, I doodle a lot. I have books full of little sketches of patterns I saw on a tile, a flower I saw in a garden, applique shapes from antique quilts… and things that just pop in my head. Before I do anything solid I do a lot of thinking about what the theme of the range might be. I come up with a load of ideas and write myself little lists of things.

For my new range, St Ives, (my second range for Lecien) which will be launched at International Quilt Market in October, I had decided to do a range about my childhood. I started by making a list of everything I could think of that reminded me of my childhood. Legwarmers, hair bobbles, rainbow shoelaces, slushies, gumball gobstoppers, Michael Jackson, the Goodies, our garden, my bedroom, my bike. It was a long list and I started making little drawings of the ones that stood out.

After I find some doodles I like, I start to work them seriously into a design. This usually means making a quite detailed pen and ink drawing that is only for me. The drawings are too detailed for fabric design but it helps me to have something that is ‘finished’ to my eye before I pare back the lines to something more simple for a fabric range.

Once that is done I work on how the repeats might run. Because I do this all by hand it’s a fairly laborious process, but I only have to do it so that Lecien have an idea of how I want it to run – they do all the computer work for me so the repeats are not to a finish standard. I’ve explained how I do the simple repeats in the tutorial below.

The final stage is the colours, although of course I’ve been thinking about them all the way along. Colours are a whole other thing. With my first range, From Little Things, I wanted a range that reflected the colours I love to use most in my quilts – lime green, hot pink, aqua, yellow and most of all white. For this range I wanted the colours to be more ’80′s to reflect the theme of the fabric – without going for fluro of course! It was a little harder for me to choose the slightly softer palette of St Ives but I am pleased with the result. Lecien like me to use their colour card for their Cosmo embroidery threads to pick the colours, and then we can tweak as we go along. That way I have an exact look at the colour the fabric will be ON FABRIC, not on paper, as that can be very different!

When I have a colour palette picked out I do final artwork of each fabric design. Sometimes this is only one flower or leaf because of how the repeat will run. The designs are scanned and emailed, and I courier the originals with the thread numbers for each print and each colourway, and then I wait!

First thing back are digital prints… I colour correct and correct scale, line weight and anything else I don’t like, and send them back. This may happen a few times, but when we’re happy, they send the strike offs. These are smaller pieces of the actual fabric (usually the printing isn’t as good and the stock they are printed on is rough) but it’s always exciting to see actual fabric! Corrections again, until the final designs are signed off. And then the wait begins for the actual fabric, which has just now arrived at my front door!

How to Make a Simple Fabric Repeat

  1. First, make your drawing in the centre of a square the size of your repeat. This is a 6 1/2″ square, so it will be a 6 1/2″ repeat.
  2. Cut the design in half in one direction. Turn the two halves around so that the outsides are facing into the centre, and tape them back together.
  3. Cut the design in half in the other direction, turn the pieces around and tape them together again.
  4. You should now have a piece of paper with designs in all four corners and a blank space in the middle. Draw your design into the blank space. Here I am repeating the same flower over and over, but here is your chance to use something different in the middle and change the design entirely.
  5. Make a few photocopies of the finished 6 1/2″ repeat and cut them into 6 1/2″ squares. Match up the designs along the lines as accurately as you can (ok, I was in a hurry here) and you have a fabric repeat!
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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pascale September 23, 2011 at 6:36 am

This is so interesting and instructive! Thanks for sharing!

2 Jen Eskridge September 23, 2011 at 7:33 am

Very neat. I really like the fabric repeat photos.

3 Rosanne Derrett September 23, 2011 at 7:47 am

Absolutely fascinating. I too am intimidated by all the ‘proper’ designers out there with qualifications etc. Too scared in fact to try to put anything i love on paper, let alone fabric. BTW, I love the ruffles on a line

4 Mimi September 23, 2011 at 8:16 am

Not being a graphics gal, I sure learned a lot with this post….. looking forward to St. Ives….

5 Jodi Anderson September 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

This is endlessly interesting. I never thought about giving it a try before, but now I am so intrigued. Thanks for sharing this.

6 Maya September 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I have always wanted to make / print/stamp my own fabric. This has been a quite enjoyable and informative post! Thank you so much for sharing!

7 Jane September 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm

That was really interesting – I wondered how the process works – and nice to see it can still be done the old fashioned way! (Well – sort of).

You did take me back when you mentioned the Goodies – my brothers and I always wanted their tridem – do you remember the jam and clotted cream mines?

8 Bronwyn September 25, 2011 at 8:37 am

I’ve always wondered how basic ideas are turned into fully fledged fabric lines. Thanks for sharing.

9 Melissa October 7, 2011 at 8:22 am

This is great! I’ve wanted to design my own pattern for embroidering curtain sheers, now I can. Thank you.

10 Katja | stoffn October 13, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Thank you for sharing this trick. I made up another seamless-pattern-by-hand-one-paper-only-trick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkWUoP_boQ8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

11 Flash November 29, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Thanks for this. This is bookmark-worthy.

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