My Fabric Design Process – An Ask Me Anything Discussion

In one of my early Ask Me Anything episodes in the Christa Quilts Group on Facebook, lots of folks were interested in my fabric design process. So I’ve put together some images and files to share a peek into how the process works for me, and my experience in designing fabrics for Benartex.

GRIDWORK at Quilt Market Fall 2019

Quilt Market Fall 2019 GridworkMy Gridwork fabric line, shown at fall market last year.

About five years ago, I decided to get serious about designing fabric. As part of that goal, in 2016 I went to an industry event sponsored by Sara Lawson @sewsweetness and Brenda Ratliff @pinkcastlefabrics. It was called Sew Pro and it was only held that one time.

It was geared to helping people understand the different ways you could get involved behind the scenes of the industry. After that event, I decided to give myself five years to figure it all out, find a fabric company, pitch my ideas, learn the technical aspects and so on.

Two days later, the most unusual thing happened. (Really and truly, this almost never happens.) Benartex called and said they wanted to produce some modern-type fabrics under their Contempo label, and would I be interested in designing for them.

“Um…YES!”

But in the same breath I said, “I don’t really know how to do that.”

Now before I tell you the rest of the story, I should explain that I had already established myself as a Martingale author and a Bernina ambassador. I’d spent years developing a network in the industry, so while it was completely out of the blue for them to call me, it also wasn’t completely out of the blue for them to call me.

Bernina actually owns Benartex as well as a distributor called Brewer Sewing, so my connections in other parts of the industry helped me break in to the fabric design arena. 

Now Back to the rest of the Story:

 

As it turns out, there are at least three different ways to design fabric.

  1. 100% of the work is done by the designer
  2. Designer collaborates with a team at the fabric company
  3. Design work done by a team at the fabric company, designer’s name is attached to the fabric

 

My work with Benartex falls under #2 above: It’s a design collaboration.

When I told them I didn’t know how to design fabric, their response was, “No problem!” They assured me they had people skilled in the technical aspects and that we could work together.

So I jumped in, and Good Vibes (out in July) is my sixth collection for Benartex! (Cannot wait to show you all the fun things we’ve made with it!)

 

The Design Process

Before anything else can happen, I come up with ideas for prints and make rough sketches with notes. (Side note: Ideas are everywhere! One print in Gridwork was inspired by a bath mat in a hotel.)

 

The first thing we did with Modern Marks was to establish a “look.” (And by the way, that look is something I have continued through all of my lines.) When the first samples (below) came back to me, I thought they were beautiful, but they were not the look I was after. They were blendy and batiky and I wanted a flat, geometric, modern feel.

 

The first paper swatches that came back from Benartex

 

I got more descriptive about what I wanted, and we worked our way closer. This is how it happens.

A more evolved concept for Modern Marks on paper—we were getting closer!

 

We go back and forth as I share my ideas and vision, and they continually refine it and bring it closer and closer to what’s in my mind.

They create the repeats and together we work on getting the colors just right. The stylist and the graphic designers have the technical expertise and they help me bring my ideas to life!

 

Then comes The hard part…

 

Quirky Triangles made the cut, but Donuts did not.

Eventually we have prints and colors I’m happy with and then comes a really difficult part: narrowing it down. My collections are usually from 20 to 25 prints, which means I always have to weed out a few.

Heartbeat was cut from Modern Marks, but Herringbone stayed in.

It is so much fun when the final swatches are done! I usually only see the line on paper until I get the actual fabric months later. But this is the culmination of much hard work, many twists and turns and a few tricky decisions! It’s all worth it when you see the collection together!

Final swatches for Modern Marks

The Good News

Fortunately, just because an idea doesn’t work for one collection doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. I tuck all of the rejects away, literally (in a drawer) and figuratively (in my head) because they make great starting points down the road. More on that a little later.

My first computer drawings for Fandangle were reminiscent of Spirograph as a kid.

 

For Fandangle, I had the childhood concept of Spirograph in my mind and wanted to do a little more of the computer work myself. Above are the early images I created in Illustrator.

 

The design starts to evolve for the main Fandangle print.

 

Just above are some of the paper swatches that came back to me as we collaborated.

 

The final design of the main or “hero” print for Fandangle

 

And these are the final look for the main print in Fandangle. There are many steps that happen between these images, but you’re getting the idea of how it works.

Let’s circle back to the idea of rejects being useful down the road. On the right in the photo above is my upcoming line called Good Vibes. On the left are some low-volumes I wanted for Modern Marks that didn’t work out.

The main idea for Good Vibes was soft and loud: low-volume prints and bold, saturated prints together. The low volume idea was something I had to scrap from Modern Marks, but I held on to it and half a dozen collections later, it’s going to be one of my very favorites! Good Vibes will ship to stores in July; ask for it at your local quilt shop!

Mockup of the promotional folder for Modern Marks

One of the last things that happens is the creation of the promotional materials. The Benartex people send me a mockup (above) and later the final folder, which is used to show the fabric to potential buyers during quilt market, and by sales reps visiting quilt shops around the country.

 

It’s still amazing to me that from my simple drawings such a beautiful thing can appear! If you’ve read this far, I want to offer you a deal.

Use Code Gridwork for 10% off GRIDWORK BUNDLES

There are bundles of Breeze and Citron Gridwork fat quarters in the shop. Use the code GRIDWORK to get 10% off. And thank you for being here!

Click here to get the Gridwork Citron Bundle (shown above). 

Click here to get the Gridwork Breeze Bundle (shown below). 

Use the code GRIDWORK to get 10% off.

 

For a little more of an in-depth discussion of fabric design from my perspective, watch Ask Me Anything on video below.

And join me every Tuesday in the Christa Quilts Group on Facebook for “Ask Me Anything” at 3 pm Pacific time.

Here are links to several of the quilts/patterns/fabrics mentioned in the video below:

Click here for the free quilt pattern Rainbow Taffy.

Click here for the paper version of Surplus Strips.
Click here for the instantly downloadable pdf of Surplus Strips.

Ask Me Anything: Fabric Design Discussion on Video

Thanks for being here! I’m so grateful for you guys!

2 thoughts on “My Fabric Design Process – An Ask Me Anything Discussion

  1. Joey says:

    Thanks for writing such an interesting story about designing fabric. I was lucky to have connections with two fabric manufacturers located in So CA.. I do enjoy hearing about your successes. It is also good that you set up a platform where we can communicate with you since Bluprint is closing. Hope they do keep their word on allowing us some way to copy our “forever classes”. Your class was the first one I bought!

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