Parson Gray is the brand of David Butler – artist and lead singer of the band Black Owls. With a decidedly “folk modern” approach, David uses richly muted palettes and organic, geometric prints with hand-drawn sophistication anchored in modernist simplicity reminiscent of mid-century studio design. His brand offerings range from textiles, to fashion, home and personal accessories.

Thanks for swinging by Whipup and letting me indulge for a bit. I’m going to ramble about my design inspiration and process for just a little while, and if you get bored, well, that’s my fault. Some of you may know me as the husband of the awesome designer Amy Butler, and some of you (fewer of you) might know that I also have a band called Black Owls. I lead a very full and very kinetic & crazy life, just the way I like it! I’m glad you’re here.

Start by saying that I always have ideas and inspiration pinned up on my boards. I know pretty much what the collection of prints is going to be when designing fabric. My inspiration boards contain strange elements and shapes in nature, rock music, folk art, mid-century design, motion, fashion, all things that I find exciting and soothing at the same time. I use these inspirations more for tone and story rather than real reference for the art. It never really seems to work that way. I like to have an over-abundance of reference, and drawings/paintings, and edit down from where I started. There are many parallels to creating music. I like to write a large volume of songs and then pare down to get to an album. The difference is with rock music, I co-create with my partner Ed who writes the music. We have sketches, we finalize them (demos), then we turn them into final art (masters). It just takes a heck of a lot longer to do the music than it does to do the fabrics!

For Curious Nature there were a few prints that went all the way through coloring and then bit the dust after I put together the entire collection. (Just like our new album) They seemed a perfect fit when I started, but didn’t flow well with everything else once it all came together as a color story. I pull together my drawings and prints in black and white and scan them in. Then I make my repeats and clean up the art as I need to. I intentionally keep the hand-drawn character, flaws and all, because it is inherent to the character of the art. I then make my step and repeats on the computer and build my color palette. Then it’s all just experimentation. Dropping in colors, printing them out, laying them on the floor and editing. Like I said, not everything makes the cut. The whole process for me takes a little less than a week to complete.

My next range is already designed and in production. It’s called Seven Wonders. 24 prints that will work alongside Curious Nature. I wanted to expand upon the palette that I’ve built with the first line, and create a world of prints and colors that go together – So folks can refresh their investment in Curious Nature with an addendum set of colors and prints. I love the idea of expanding upon something already built. I’m currently working on a series of other products and ideas (while helping Amy with her business and photography, website, etc..). A Black Owls double album comes out soon too. I need a nap.

Thanks for checking in! – Dave


Caroline and Maryanne are sisters who live in Sydney, Australia. They come from a long line of crafting women, who have all had the desire to create. They hope to continue this family tradition, spark this same passion in their children and share it with friends. They run a sewing school where Their main focus is to help their students discover the joy of creating beautiful but simple things and the joy that comes from being part of a crafting community. They have a blog too!

Beyond the Basics

We come from a long line of crafty women. While sewing and craft have always been part of who we are, it was only when we had children that it became our passion.

Sewing for children has brought us endless pleasure. Their little bodies are soft and round – there is no need for darts or real shaping other than some simple gathering, an elastic waistband or a few sweet pintucks.

When we started sewing for our children the patterns we chose were super simple – a-line dresses, elastic waisted pants, peasant tops and hooded jackets made up our sewing repertoire. The more things we created, the more we wanted to make and it was through this that we made an exciting discovery. Basic patterns are infinitely flexible and are super easy to adjust, alter and combine. Make a few alterations to a bodice top and combine it with tweaked elastic waisted skirt and voila! You have created an gorgeous dress. If you cut a pair of elastic waisted pants short and add a cuff you make some seriously cute and easy bubble shorts.

There will always be a place for patterns created by expert draftspeople, when we come to a new skill, moving from faux flies to real zippered flies, faux plackets to real plackets, for example, commercial patterns are always our starting point. Through this we acquire a new skill. And after we’ve mastered it? Then the fun begins. We get to play with it!

Some of the things we’ve discovered are:

  • Never use your most expensive or favourite fabric the first time you alter a pattern
  • Be confident with the basic pattern that is your staring point
  • Bias tape is your best friend. It means you don’t have to draft facings.
  • Create a master pattern without seam allowances. This makes drafting additional facings, collars and sleeves much easier. When you’re happy with your draft, don’t forget to add your seam allowances back in.
  • Be aware that your finished product won’t always be the one that you had in mind when you started. Nine times out of ten you’ll love them anyway. This is one of the things that makes pattern alteration so much fun.
  • Embrace the inevitable failures and see them as a learning opportunity

We love this idea so much that we’re doing a series about it on our blog. Each week we take a basic pattern shape and show our readers how infinitely flexible these patterns are. We hope to give our readers the skills to become confident, designers and creators. Pop in and have a look. We’d love to see you!

Take a look at some of the basic patterns that we’ve altered…

  • 1. Basic jacket with ruffle
  • 2. Dress to jacket inspired by this 
  • 3. Modern vintage top ( basic bodice pattern with flutter sleeves and a contrast placket)
  • 4. Sixties inspired dress (a-line dress with peter pan collar and cuffs)
  • 5. Reversible dinosaur jacket (basic jacket with spiked lining!)
  • 6.Ruffled blouse (peasant dress with ruffle collar and placket)
  • 7. A-line dress with bow feature (this one is SO simple to make!)
  • 8. Little girl dress-up dress (bodice top with ruffle, back placket and elastic waist style skirt)



Book 1: Kim Kight is the fabric expert behind the much loved blog TrueUp. It was only a matter of time before she would write a book and I so very glad to finally be able to tell you how excellent it is. Kim has a way of delving into each topic with such depth and unbiased insight which is why her blog has become the go-to place for fabric designers and fabric appreciators alike. And her recent book, A Field Guide to Fabric Design (C&T Publishing November 2011), I am very happy to report does her justice.

In A field guide, you will find: how to develop your design using various tools (with tutorials), how to develop a colour palette (with a colour theory primer), there is a bit about copyright, collections, fabrics and printing options, and finishing with how to enter the designing fabric marketplace. All of this information is set out very clearly and is an excellent overview to getting started on designing your own fabric and starting up a business in fabric design.

Book 2: Mastering the Art of Fabric Printing and Design (Chronicle Books February 2012), is a recent release on the market covering this very popular diy fabric design market. The author Laurie Wisbrun, brings her personal expertise to the table here, as a surface designer who began designing and selling her own fabric designs through Etsy (using Spoonflower printing) and now designs for Robert Kaufman Fabrics.

This is a big book with a lovely textured hard cover — I like that in a book. Master the Art in addition to how to design, info on colour and fabric etc has the addition of guest designers offering some tutorials, for example Malka Dubrawsky explains the process of dyeing, while Jesse Breytenbach explains how to print by hand. The book is bulked out with some interesting interviews with fabric designers as they tell us how they got started in the industry.

Comparison: it is difficult to compare these two books, they do cover a lot of the same ground, but are written from different perspectives. Either of these books would be a useful addition to your design library.

Master the Art is stronger in the design aspect. Laurie’s knowledge as a surface designer comes to the fore and her photoshop and illustrator tutorials are very thorough, and her personal experience using Print-on-demand services meant that she has some detailed advice regarding colour management and digital printing. I would have hoped for more regarding marketing and selling your designs, but these business development sections may require a whole other book!

Kim Kight brings a broader view to her book, she has a vast knowledge of pattern, trends, vintage and current fabrics and designers as well as having experimented and researched many of the digital and online printing options. A field guide offers a lot of examples of fabric designs from all eras which I thought was a definite bonus (Laurie seemed to focus more on her own and other contemporary designs), Kim’s strengths lie in her broad view, passion and understanding of the fabric industry as a whole.

Both great books which can’t but help overlap in many ways but come from different perspectives and add to the whole story of becoming a fabric designer.

Fabric design online resources:


Throughout February I will be featuring quilts from my book Little Bits Quilting Bee (published by Chronicle late last year). Because designer fabric is often only in print for one season it can be difficult for quilt designers and authors to choose fabrics that will be still available when the book or pattern is published; so to help you out I will be offering advice and alternate fabric choices for many of the quilts in my book. You’ll also need a copy of my book to make the quilts – and they are available in all good book shops and online too.

What is pre-cut fabric?

Pre-cut fabrics are a series of co-ordinating fabrics — usually from a single collecton — especially cut and packaged by the manufacturer. Using these pre-cuts has a few benefits:

  • 1. You get a whole bunch of different fabrics at once – making it easy to build up your stash. You can use them together in one quilt or mix them with other fabrics from your stash too.
  • 2. Coordinating fabrics and colours for a quilt is easier.
  • 3. The packs are cut into handy pieces allowing you to whip up  a quilt very easily and quickly.

Do I need to pre-wash pre-cut fabric?

Pre-cut fabrics are a little difficult to pre-wash, because the pieces are so small they get tangled up in the wash and are time consuming to iron. I usually don’t worry about pre-washing my pre-cuts – however there are a couple of exceptions:

  • 1. You should pre-wash hand dyes and batiks as the colours are likely to run.
  • 2. You should pre-wash dark colours – especially red, purple and navy as these are more likely to run.
  • 3. You should pre-wash reds especially if you are using them with lighter colours.

If you didn’t pre-wash your fabric before making the quilt and you are worried the colours might run (especially if you have a white background) — all is not lost, there are a few things you can still do to ensure the colours in your quilt do not run the first time you wash:

  • 1. Wash your quilt in cold water on a gentle cycle and throw in some colour catchers to soak up any dye that might come out.
  • 2. Wash your quilt in cold water with vinegar – the vinegar will set any colours that are likely to run.
  • 3. Use a product such as synthrapol in the wash, this special detergent is used to remove unattached excess dye.

In my book Little Bits Quilting Bee, I use four different types of pre-cuts to create the 20 unique quilts: Fat Quarters, Charm Squares, Jelly Rolls and Layer Cakes.

Fat quarters:

Fat Quarters are the most widely available and used pre-cut fabric. A fat quarter is literally a 1/4 of a yard of fabric, but it is not cut selvedge to selvedge it is cut by cutting half a yard of fabric in half widthways. Fat quarters are generally 18 inches by 22 inches. Most fabric companies offer Fat Quarter bundles, which contain every print in a collection.

Charm Squares:

A charm square is a 5 x 5 inch square of fabric, and are great for easy patchwork quilts. Charm packs are made up of about 40 pieces of  5 inch squares and are equal to approx 3/4 of a yard of fabric.

Jelly Rolls:

Jelly Rolls are a Moda invention, but are available under other names from different fabric manufacturers: Bali pops, Design rolls, Strip-tease buns, Sushi Rolls, and Roll-ups are just some of the names these are sometimes called. They usually contain forty strips (well 40-44 strips — but check before buying how many are included as different manufacturers offer different amounts of strips) and are a standard 2 ½ inches wide. These are perfect for binding and sashing but are also great in any strip type quilt design.

Layer Cakes:

Layer cakes are 10 inch square packs of fabrics, containing usually 40 squares. The total fabric yardage is about 3 1/2 yards. Layer cakes are fun to use because they are so versatile, you can use them as they are and they make for a quick and easy quilt, but you can also cut them into squares and triangles or use them for applique too. Various fabric companies, as well as Moda, offer these 10 inch square packs under other names, but the amount of squares in a pack may vary.

All images are copyright John Paul Urizar who did a great job on the photography in the book. 



2012 Monthly Apparel Challenge

Becca is a music teacher who knits, spins, sews and tries to keep up with her three young sons in her beloved Minneapolis, MN. You can follow her attempts to sew her way through 2012 at her blog and on Twitter. She is also on Ravelry, where she attempts to design and share a pattern now and then.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to take a look back at the previous year and think about what I’ve done. Usually I like to challenge myself somehow, but when I looked back at 2011 I found it to be a bit ho-hum. Not that I didn’t make a lot of things, I just didn’t push myself to do anything new. I’ve learned a lot of skills since I first picked up a pair of knitting needles 8 years ago. I can knit myself a gorgeous lace shawl or a sweater that actually fits. I can spin a consistent yarn that’s nice enough to knit something with. I can make myself a quilt. And I can throw together a pair of pajama pants for my boys in my sleep. What I realized I can’t do yet, is — sew my own clothing.

Now,  I can sew up a basic skirt out of old t-shirts. And I did sew a skirt with a zipper in it once, but it was unlined, a bit wonky and way too big. So there’s a start. But the more I thought about it, I realized that after eight years of being the mom in a wrinkled t-shirt and baggy jeans, I wanted clothes. Real clothes. Unique clothes that were beautiful and fit me properly. I wanted skirts, blouses, dresses and pants that didn’t fall down. And I wanted to make them myself.

That’s when I decided it was time for a new challenge in 2012. I’m calling it Monthly Apparel, and it’s my personal challenge to take my sewing skills to a new level. At the beginning of each month I’ll pick a pattern. I’ll take the month to work on it and by the end of the month I’ll blog about how it went. I plan on working on more fitted, tailored clothing, but I also expect to try to make the perfect t-shirt and maybe even attempt a pair of pants.  I’ll use wovens and knits, cottons, wools and silks. And by 2013 I should have twelve lovely new pieces of clothing in my wardrobe!

Now, a challenge like this is no fun alone. So I invite you to take up the challenge as well! Maybe you have your mother’s sewing machine hiding in the closet because you’re terrified to even plug it in. Maybe you’re a seasoned sewer who sews for everyone else but never yourself. Or maybe you’re like me, somewhere in the middle and hoping to push yourself to the next step. Wherever you are, I would love to have your company while I take on this challenge.

Now to get started,  I’ve found some wonderful resources to help me (and you!) on this journey.

The following five sites are my very favorite for tutorials, patterns and inspiration:

And of course, we need books!

Lastly, no sew-along is complete without a brand new Monthly Apparel Flickr group  to share ideas, questions and lovely new garments!

I’m quite excited to see how this challenge progresses. I’m having visions of my fabric stash shrinking and a closet filled with new, beautiful clothing. I’m a little nervous that accomplishing this without driving my family crazy or feeding them nothing but cereal for supper might be more than I can handle. Despite my worry,  I think this is a doable challenge. Some months might be less complex than others, and I’m sure there will be at least one month that I go back to my ever-easy recycled t-shirt skirt pattern. As I sew, I’m hoping to inspire others to take up the challenge as well, playing a part in this wonderful revival of garment sewing we’ve been seeing these past few years. I do hope you’ll join me!

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