5 Things to Know When Starting Fabric Design

Posted by on Aug 28, 2017

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Sarah Aspinall has been a working artist and Illustrator for many years and was recent asked to design a fabric based on her children’s book, “Penguins Love Colors.” Designing fabric was a new and challenging medium. “The the thought of children around the world being swaddled in my penguin quilts was too exciting to pass up,” she admits. Here she explains the numerous things she learned while designing her first fabric.

Know Who You're Designing For.

The fabric business focuses on three major categories: home, apparel, and quilting. Within these industries, especially home and apparel, are even more specific areas such as bedding, rugs, intimates and knitwear. It's important to research the constraints and design requirements of a certain type of textile collection. 

For example, the collections I've designed have been created specifically for quilt makers, which means that the customer will most likely be cutting the fabrics into small pieces to create a patchwork. A 1” x 1” patch should still have plenty of detail in it. Therefore, the scale of the design is very important. 
So, work out which application you feel most passionate about, and once you have decided, begin learning the intricacies of that specialized area, because each one has its own set of specifications to consider when creating your work.

Avoid the Pinterest Wormhole.

We're very lucky to live in an age where we have so much information at our fingertips. However, sometimes the magic of the internet can also work against us. 

Take care not to fall into a “Pinterest wormhole.” What starts out as an enthusiastic research session, can quickly become not just disorientating, and frankly a little disheartening. The sheer volume of visual stimuli becomes simply overwhelming. 
I try to set a time limit for surfing the web to soak up ideas; better still, I leave the house in search of inspiration off screen. Think of antique stores, for example, as a great resource for patterns, ideas, and color palette.

designing fabrics tips

Always have a stable of resources you can reference in a pinch.

Every designer has their favorites but here are a few of my favorite go-to’s for learning about, making and selling fabric designs. 

1. Pattern Observer is a fantastic resource used by industry followers of all levels. Use it to learn about different markets, designers and how to sell your work. They also offer courses, and even critiques if you sign up for the Design Lab – which I think is well worth it. 
2. The Print & Pattern Blog is brilliant for all things pattern. 
3. Smart Creative Women is an inspiring pod cast and a great way of learning more about how thriving designers have gotten to where they are and which inspirational resources they rely on too! 
4. A Field Guide to Fabric Design: Design, Print & Sell Your Own Fabric; Traditional & Digital Techniques; For Quilting, Home Dec & Apparel is an absolute must for anyone just starting out, brimming with invaluable information on things like how to make repeats with and without the computer in easy-to-follow step-by-step tutorials. Also, it’s lovely to have a real book to look at.

Pick timeless themes.

It's not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Classics are classics for a reason. A good geometric pattern or floral print is never out of fashion -- just find your own way of reinterpreting the theme. What can you bring to the table that gives a fresh perspective, a unique spin, a translation of your very own sense of style?

Put. The. Bone. Down.

If something isn’t working, don’t drive yourself crazy and keep gnawing on it like a dog with a bone. Walk away, hide it in a drawer, forget about it for a few days, weeks -- months, even. For ages I was trying to crack a collection based on the theme "Home Grown." I had too many ideas and none of them were cohesive -- they were far too complicated. After wrestling with it for weeks I finally decided to give the designs a rest and focus on some other projects. Later, I was looking through some illustrations I’d made a year earlier and the solution came to me. I would focus on chickens, vegetables and baby chicks! To keep it interesting and fresh, I chose a slightly unusual color palette of dirty lavender, fluffy duck yellow and cucumber green. 

Once you've figured out which market you are designing a fabric collection for, and embraced timeless themes with a bevy of resources to aid you, you’re well on your way. Just don't forget to seek inspiration away from your screen and, if you hit a bump in the road, remember that it's ok to take a break ... sometimes inspiration finds us, not the other way around!

Sara Aspinall fabric design
Sarah Aspinall is an author, and illustrator living in Los Angeles. Her books include Penguins Love Colors and Penguins Love Their ABC's, both available from Scholastic Books. Connect with Sarah and her penguins at SarahAspinallCreates.com and Instagram.com/sarahaspinallcreates.

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