fabric design

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Lara Cameron is a Melbourne based textile designer and co-owner of Ink & Spindle, a boutique, organic and sustainable yardage screen printing studio located in Melbourne. Lara blogs at kirinote.

It would be so easy for me to write a post about how to turn your hobby or passion into a business. It’s a topic I know about all too well, since textile design was one of those things I dabbled with on the side before Teegs and I launched Ink & Spindle, our small, textile design and screen printing business. But I think there’s enough posts out there already explaining the value of business plans, pricing, blogging and good photography (although if you want to know about pricing check out the blog post I wrote on the topic over here!).

Instead I thought it would be nice to write about how my craft – and running Ink & Spindle – has improved my health and outlook on life. Because over the years it’s becoming more and more apparent to me how much the way I view the world has changed during the time we’ve owned this business.

I guess fundamental to this shift in thinking is the fact that running a small business doesn’t provide much in terms of financial reward. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. If you want to produce goods in an ethical, sustainable manner, without cutting corners or working crazy hours, you’ll never make as much money as those people whose businesses function within (and depend upon) the fundamentally flawed construct of the capitalist world. You pay first world rent, pay first world wages, work first world hours (mostly). Naturally profit margins are much lower, but that’s inherent in any ethical business and I feel like it’s the only way I’d ever like to earn money.

So if you’re not doing it for financial reward, why are you doing it? Because there are other rewards in the world that are more valuable than money, such as going to work each day and feeling good about what you are doing. It feels like such a privilege to do something each day that I enjoy, to work with my hands, be creative, be surrounded by good people and ultimately have full control over my own direction. It’s also highly rewarding to feel like you’re making some small positive contribution to the world. We may be nothing more than a drop in the ocean of the world of textiles, but it’s great to be providing people with an ethical alternative, and proving to our peers that it is possible to make a living doing something you love.

In a way I’ve found my very modest wage to be quite liberating. Before Ink & Spindle I worked as a web and graphic designer. My wage was still modest but fairly consistent, and I started to entertain the notion that I could buy some property. Buying a house is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was quite young, and I still love the idea of it. But living in Melbourne where property prices are through the roof respective to average incomes, buying a home anywhere close to the city is something that’s just not an option to a lot of people in my generation.

But strangely, now that that option has been taken away from me, I actually feel quite free. Thinking about buying a house and feeling like I needed to save a lot and start looking ASAP was always a background stress in my life, a constant pressure. Now that I’ve let that go I feel like my eyes have been opened to other ways of thinking about life and what my priorities are. I also feel as though it’s okay for me to live more in the moment. I don’t need to be constantly saving or chasing higher incomes just so that I can save for a deposit or pay off a bit more of a mortgage. I can live a bit more for the “now”. I can focus on those things that make my day to day life enjoyable – friends, family, making things – and what’s more important than being happy, right now?

I think this is a good moment to quote a bit of the wise ‘ol Dalai Lama: The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said:


Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

I guess it’s easy for me to spout these ideals whilst I am currently unattached and childless, but I hope that in my future – when I do have a family – I will be able to live by similar values. I’d like to live simply. I’d like to extend the ethical practices of my business into more facets of my life. I’d like to have chooks and a vegie garden and maybe one day build a self sufficient home outside of town.

I guess to put it simply, my small creative business has educated and allowed me to step outside of the rat race, view it from a slightly more objective standpoint. I am happier and healthier now that I stand free of those pressures, and am glad to be able to put my time and energy into building a business that makes myself and others happy and is hopefully benefiting the world in some small way :)


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


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:


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!


Seems like everyone is getting into fabric design – and companies like Spoonflower mean that anyway can create their own fabric designs. But how do you do it – what methods should you employ – is there a standard way of designing fabric? lets explore the possibilities…

Resources and inspiration: