This post originally appeared on my blog in July of 2010. I find that everyone is always curious about how fabric is designed. Here is a little peek into how I do it....
I am currently working on my next fabric.You might think (as I used to!) that you can just sit down and start painting. Oh no! I put lots and lots of planning into a design before I ever start painting. It starts with some sketches and ideas regarding a theme, motifs, etc. Then I figure out how I will lay out a fabric panel that is 24" wide (or long, depending on how it's laid out). There are endless options, and it involves math, which is not my favorite thing. When I have decided upon a layout for the panel (in other words- is there a border? 2, maybe 3 borders? do they run parallel or perpendicular to the selvedge? what is the height of the border? how many and what size are the square and rectangular images in the panel? how will the consumer use these components- use the whole thing as a wall hanging or quilt without cutting it apart? cut out the individual components and piece them back together in a project?) Here is the panel I designed for the Sewing Room Social line:
So after figuring out exactly how the panel will lay out, I sketch the different components out on watercolor paper with pencil. Then I procrastinate for a while (which is what I'm doing now...), because once I add the ink, which is permanent, I can't make any changes without starting completely from scratch on a new piece of paper- and that's a pain. Adding the ink is a fun step because the drawing becomes "cleaner" and seems to come to life. But I want to make sure that the drawing is ready and doesn't need further tweaking before I proceed.
I paint out several colors and start deciding- which red? Two reds? Do these greens work well together? I write the name of the color next to each swatch that I paint, because there's no way I'd remember- especially if I mix colors. And I might have a particular paint color from 2 or maybe 3 manufacturers, so I write that down, too. So, for example, I might write Green Earth + Naples, or W&N (manufacturer Winsor & Newton) Indigo. I also have to consider how the colors will need to be broken down for the screens when the fabric is manufactured at the mill. For example, if I know that a particular fabric panel can have 18 different colors, I have to figure that out too. So that means that my blue will have to broken down into 2 or 3 shades of blue, to get the watercolor effect on the fabric.
So when I am fairly kinda somewhat sure of my palette, I start painting. There are usually several drawings, so it takes awhile to paint. Designs for the coordinating fabrics are sketched out, such as floral repeats, stripes, etc. and painted.
Then I scan the paintings, or portions of the paintings, and import them into Photoshop. I pull colors out that will be used for the coordinates. I play with the colors and coordinates on the computer, and after many many hours, everything (the paintings, the Photoshop files) gets shipped to the fabric company (in my case, Henry Glass). And then I hold my breath until they call or email to let me know that everything has arrived safely.
Then there will be about a thousand emails and phone calls between myself and the design director. There is still a lot of work to do! But at this point I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief. It will be many months before I actually have the fabric in my hands....