How to Make Quilting Your Business #12 – Designing Fabrics

Today’s business of quilting topic – designing fabrics, is one I really don’t know much about. Therefore, I’ve enlisted the help of Moda fabric designer April Rosenthal to share a few of her experiences about the whole fabric design process. All quilt & fabric images shown below are courtesy of April.

Scroll to the end for additional blog posts about this topic.

20140721_ar_fabricBest. Day. Ever. designed by April Rosenthal for Moda fabrics

I think April’s candid responses are very informative so I wanted to include them in their entirety. My questions are in bold and her responses are below.

Please tell me a little about your fabrics and the inspiration behind them.

“When I think back on being a teenager, I remember how everything was exciting. Everything was new, and being on that precipice between child and adult was exhilarating. With each new privilege, each new experience, I was eager to learn and enthusiastic about the challenges. I felt like I could take on the world and succeed.

“Best. Day. Ever! is a reflection of this enthusiasm, this can-do attitude, this excitement for life–that I try every day to remember as an adult. With beautiful, saturated color, and bold, joyful patterns, Best. Day. Ever! reminds me of all I have to be happy about–and how much is still out there waiting to be experienced. My fabrics are inspired by trying something new, taking chances, and grabbing my dreams with both hands. My goal is to make EVERY day my Best. Day. EVER!”


Dahlia Quilt by April Rosenthal, Prairie Grass Patterns

What made you decide to design a line of fabrics?

“Fabric design is the perfect intersection of several of my passions: color, design, and physically making with my hands. While I get a lot of satisfaction out of creating digital things like websites, there is nothing quite like holding an actual product you designed.

“Designing fabric has been a goal of mine since I began my business in 2009, and almost everything I’ve done has been with that in mind. In fact, from the moment I discovered that there were moms like me designing fabric from their home–my heart beat a little faster, and I knew that was where I needed to be. At the time, I was consumed with 18 month old twins and was feeling pretty acutely isolated and uncreative.

“Prior to children, I was crafting, sewing, and making all the time. I was online looking for inspiration and hope that I’d get back to creating someday. That desperate evening changed my life path for me! I began drawing up a business plan and quilting patterns that same week.”

20140721_ar_modernhexModern Hex by April Rosenthal, Prairie Grass Patterns

How did you decide on working with Moda?

“Moda was the first fabric brand I noticed when I started paying attention to the different manufacturers and their fabrics. Consistently, I would pull fabric I loved from the shelves only to find Moda on the selvedge. I knew from day one that they were the company I wanted to work with, and every interaction I had with them only solidified that desire.

“I had several opportunities to design for other manufacturers, but I declined – not because they aren’t amazing companies in their own right, but because my goal was always Moda. As I became more involved in the industry, I was told I was crazy for turning down opportunities, and that designing for Moda was nearly impossible–but my dreams have always been big, and I’m willing to chase them down.”

How long did it take you from conception to completion of the line?

“I started drawing up Best. Day. EVER! in the spring of 2013. I delivered the files and swatches to Moda in late fall of 2013, and had strikeoffs in January. It was actually pretty expedited for this first line, I don’t think it usually goes that fast.”

Do you plan on designing other lines in the future?

“Yes! I have a second line in the works right now that will come out in 2015, and plan on many more after that.”

How hard is it to become a fabric designer? What skills do you need to be successful?

“At the beginning I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ and just jumped right in by submitting a portfolio. It wasn’t accepted of course, because it really wasn’t any good. I was overconfident and pretty ignorant frankly. After being turned down I actually started researching and learning. I took art and design classes, I read dozens of books, I bought fabric just to look at how it was designed. I found fabrics that I loved and practiced creating art in those styles.

“I noticed that most fabric designers were also accomplished quilt or garment pattern designers, and so I began to learn about publishing patterns. What I learned then, and this is even more applicable now due to the economy – is that manufacturers need designers that will bring value and help sell the fabric. They need people who know the industry, who have the quilting or sewing skills to make the fabric look good, and who have the following on social media and online to drive sales. They’re not just looking for pretty pictures to print on fabric–they’re looking for someone who can bring sales to the table.”

20140721_field_guideA Field Guide to Fabric Design by Kimberly Kight is an excellent resource.

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to become a fabric designer, but doesn’t know where to start?

“Learn. Learn everything you can about the industry, about design, and color choices, and the people who are decision makers. Learn how to quilt and sew accurately, and gain skills there.

“Make yourself the complete package. Find ways to get your quilts out there in magazines, contributions to books, and shows. Share your designs online, and gain a following. In the end, it comes down to what you know how to do, how well you do it, and who knows you can do it. If it’s something you really want, be persistent.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“One of my best resources along the way were other friends in the industry. They were (and still are!) invaluable in teaching me, and helping me avoid major missteps. There are many, many, incredible people in this industry, and they are generous with their knowledge and time.

“My advice is to make sure you make friends, and not enemies in the industry. I’m a big believer in there being enough room in this industry and in life for everyone and their dreams–I am absolutely not competing with anyone. Be happy for others when they succeed, and be generous in helping others succeed. It will come back to you. Always do your own work, be honest, and learn. You’ll get there.”

Additional Information

Check out this post by Alyssa Thomas of Penguin and Fish on How to Make a Fabric Collection. It’s a great read!

Want to know the inside scoop? Read this indepth article from Abby Glassenberg about How Much Fabric Designers Earn. It may surprise you!

Click here for the start of this series.


6 thoughts on “How to Make Quilting Your Business #12 – Designing Fabrics

  1. Veronika says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I just read through the whole series and it was so informative and enlightening. Fabric design interests me the most, but I had never thought about the designers wanting someone who can also “sell” their fabric. Looks like I need to start getting better at everything, essentially 🙂 Oh, and also thanks for including the link to how much they make – – – very very interesting!

  2. lori landenburger says:

    Thanks so much for these posts, Christa! I have found that SOME quilters can try to discourage newbies to the industry, and that is terribly hurtful. But the vast majority of real artists and designers know that there is room for all and welcome and encourage new people. And, like everything, the more effort you put into learning about something when you are a beginner (and as you go along), the more it pays off, XX! Lori

  3. Laura Fedewa says:

    Thank you ladies for a great piece! I have been working on where to start with this step in the industry! I have been doing research and everything! I do have a question though, when designing you prints are you doing it all online or are you hand drawing your prints? If you are doing them by hand what’s the process to getting them to Moda? Do they have to be digital? What program do you use? Ok that was way more than one question 🙂 Hope you can help! Thanks so much!

    • Christa says:

      I think that most designers nowadays are doing all of their drawing online with the help of software like adobe illustrator, but I’m sure the fabric companies will accept hand drawn art too, as long as it’s a good design.

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