Designing fabric | How About Orange

June 12, 2008

Designing fabric

I've gotten several emails lately asking if I could talk about how I got into designing fabric. It's not a very complicated story... I was working as a graphic designer (still am) and blogging on the side for fun (still am), when Caroline of jcaroline creative sent me an email. I knew of her online shop, but didn't know her at all. Essentially she said, "I like your blog. Want to design some fabric for me?" Essentially I said, "Sure." Without having a clue how to do it.

I have a BS degree in Design Communication and have been working as a graphic designer since college. I use Adobe's Creative Suite every day, which includes Illustrator and Photoshop, so I imagined it couldn't be that hard. Other people do it, right?

So I figured out how to make repeating tiles of pattern in Illustrator, my program of choice because I like flat graphic shapes. Essentially you do it like this (the best tutorial I could find for you.) I set to work making a page of patterns, and from those Caroline selected her favorites. I designed some prints to coordinate with them. Then Caroline picked a set and I refined them until we ended up with Modern Flora, my first collection. She found a vendor to manage the printing. I sent them files and they magically turned them into screens. Yes, using magic! And then in January of 2008, Caroline and I met in Massachusetts for the print run, which was great fun.

An aside: the prepress/printing process will cost you thousands of dollars, unless you find someone to license your artwork and they foot the printing bill. Or unless you go the digital Spoonflower route, which at the time of this writing, is still in Beta. (Their minimums are tiny.) I'm curious to see their quality.

My process: If I have an idea for a pattern or interesting shape, I might spend a nanosecond sketching it on whatever piece of scratch paper is handy. Or I might not sketch it at all. I might just start making it in Illustrator. I don't have a sketchbook. Sometimes I doodle on computer paper, or notebook pages, or junk mail. Then I put it next to my computer until it's time to make it in Illustrator. Sometimes I lose it or decide to throw it away because it sucks. I don't try to make nice sketches AT ALL. Just a shorthand notation so I'll remember an idea. And then it usually turns out completely different, anyhow. I take my hat off to all you meticulous sketchers out there. I swear, if anyone saw my chicken scratchings, they would never know I used to make naturalistic pastel drawings and watercolors. How did I ever have the patience? Now I'm all about simplicity.

69 comments:

Claire - Matching Pegs said...

Thanks jess,

This was enlightening.

I have been toying with the fabric design idea (not necessarily to see if anyone will print it, just to see how I go designing a repeating pattern). I don't know what I would be more comfortable with, sketching things carefully, or jumping straight into illustrator. With any fabric I am drawn to, it is all about the colour. How do you make sure the colours that you are looking at on the screen are the ones that end up on the real fabric?

Tess McCabe said...

Oh my goodness Jess - thankyou for admitting you don't sketch beyond a shadow of a doodle here and there. I've always felt that I was some kind of fraud designer because I do my concept work on screen rather that with pen and ink! I'm programmed to use programs, it's just where I feel more comfortable... Anyway as always, a great post and thanks for not sugarcoating the whole process - I admire your blogging style!

chellie_d said...

Ooh, this might be an obvious question, but ... that oak leaf fabric in red and blue at the top of this post? What is it and where can I get it? It's beeyootiful!

Cicada Studio said...

Your methods sound a lot like my own- my sketches are really for my eyes only. I doubt anyone could even guess what my intent might be. I love the print above. It might be too soon to say, but I do love the red in this... hoping it's part of the grand plan!

Patricia said...

What a great post Jessica! Thanks for sharing. I'm just starting to give the fabric thing a shot. It's been on my mind for about a year and I'm finally trying to move forward with it - even if it's just lonely little me for now.

I do have a sketch book but my sketches are more for reminders of fleeting thoughts. I'm with you, most (if not all) of my refining work is done on the computer.

Tasha T said...

Great post!

I should stop reading blogs...they keep making me change my mind about what to do with my life, ahhh!

your work is great!

flowerpress said...

Hi Jess, Wonderfully enlightening :-) thank you so much for sharing your process and the link to the illustrator repeat tutorial, something I've been looking for for a while. Like you I have pages of little chicken scratches, some of which get drawn neater and scanned and on to the computer. I find it much easier to play around with colours and sizes there. Susie

Erin Ferree said...

Yes, quite. I can't wait to try out the Spoonflower site!

Sucker For Marketing said...

What a wizard you are! I wish I had one little inkling of creative skill like you.

Ah well, you creatives have to have us to drool over your things, don't you? I love all of your work!

Lady Steed said...

Thank you, that was indeed, very interesting and helpful.

mollie said...

Love hearing your process! I too often doodle/sketch on random bits of paper, but have been making an effort to keep better track of my sketches. My favorite "sketch" book is a plain old composition book. But things find their way to the screen quickly after that...

zobars said...

Hi Jess, I have put a picture of something orange that you might like to see since you like orange color so much and so do I. thanks for hopping by my blog and saying hi. Wish I could be friends with you.

wendy said...

No, seriously. I used to like, hate you because you are living my alternate life! I'm addicted to looking at your designs and stuff, but can't do it for too long because the artist in me longs for things I don't have time for. But now that you wrote out that tutorial, those things seem so much more attainable, and so much closer than the far, far future that they were before. Thanks for inspiring me on a whole new level :) (I don't hate you) ;)

zobars said...

Oh and I am so happy that your designs are going to be printed again. Maybe someday we will see them in those super hip home stores.

flurogoddess said...

Great post thanks!

troutdalites said...

Awesome post, both the tutorial link and the process! It's great to hear that others 'don't draw until Illustrator. I feel comfortable in my ineptness now!

Pina said...

Thanks for sharing, very interesting.

Sew Create It - Jane said...

That was really interesting...thanks for sharing Jess!

Bela said...

Absolutely fascinating! I love reading about other people's work methods. Your designs are always lovely. :-)

Jess said...

Hi guys. About the print at the top: it's not printed yet, so there's nowhere you can get it at the moment. Sorry!

About controlling color: I don't know how other people do it, only what I did, which may or may not be normal. In the graphic design world we use the Pantone Matching System (PMS) to manage color. I have a PMS chip book and choose what I want the final colors in a print to be. Then I set up my file using those colors, and send the numbers along to the fabric converter. They try to get as close as they can, and then we can do little color tweaks on press. A little more yellow, pull out some red, etc. When they've got the ink mix just right, they save the exact formula of percentages in their computer in case the fabric will be reprinted in the future.

Wendy, thanks for not hating me. :)

Karol-Ann said...

I have been reading your blog for a bit - it's great!! And your textile designs are gorgeous. I enjoyed this informative post, thank you.

kelly said...

thanks, Jess.

I've been reading your blog for a while and always wondered how it was done.

Tara said...

It was very enlightening. Thank you so much for this. I love learning the "secrets" of how people do what they do.

You have just made my day!

Melisa Joy said...

I've always wondered how people went about this. Thanks for sharing! Plus it's always inspriring to hear how when people are doing what they love something pops up and finds them. I also 2nd Tess's comment up there. Nice to not feel like a degenerate when skipping the sketch process. :)

dottie said...

ahhh - what refreshing, clear advice. thanks jess, great post.

Betsey said...

Thanks for this post! I really enjoy reading your site and getting such clear, concise info. And you are such an inspiration to me, and so many others!

Dariela said...

Great insight! Thanks for inspiring and sharing these methods. I'm a graphic designer myself and the fabric world right now seems to be so up, it's very interesting to know the "behind the scenes" part. Thanks again!

Andrea said...

Ah yes, fabric design is another thing I'd love to try. I've got the pattern making bug but little experience with computer software. Thanks for the insight and links..it was helpful to read how you got from point A to point B.

Pintoo said...

Wow that was a long way. You should do more fabric designs.. waiting for new ones

David said...

I love your blog. Long articles like that are actually a joy to read so no worries here.

I will say, I've always thought it was strange that your Modern Flora was all blues and greens...'how about orange'?

Jess said...

Yeah, how about it? :) When there's only enough money to print one colorway, (and who knew if these designs would even sell???) it seemed smarter to go with colors that would appeal to a larger number of folks. Not sure how many people actually decorate with orange in the real world. But I would love to do orange fabric, of course!

If anybody wants to make donations to me, you know, on the order of $20,000 or so, I'd be happy to print whatever fabric you like in whatever colors you like. As things stand, I'm afraid I'm not the ultimate decider when it comes to which designs get printed and in how many colors. I'm too poor to have much clout. :)

Vacuum Queen said...

Yay! I am so interested in all of this, but mainly for the fun of it. I'm considering doing something on Spoonflower for my own purposes, but at this point, i can only draw and paint. I have no illustrator skills! I'm taking a class next fall. :)
I think that your story of meeting J Caroline is funny...so easy and would never happen like that (as many people think it should), and yet you were obviously meant to work together. Your stuff is awesome! And I think she seems like a really hilarious person to know. I'm full of envy.

nicole said...

Thank you for sharing your interesting story. Your stuff on etsy is so cute!

Jane who? said...

This is one of the things I love so much about your blog (or maybe it's just your lovely personality): you never hesitate to tell the whole wide world just how you do what you do (or, for that matter, where you found what you've found).

Thanks a lot.

Jess said...

I know, I'm destroying the mystique of fabric designers everywhere by de-glamorizing the process. I should have kept it mysterious so I could seem like a genius. Oh well.

Soie Belle said...

Thank you so much for sharing! I enjoyed reading your post a lot.

Would you be able to recommend a good book for learning pattern design? thank you :)

Jess said...

I wish I could... I don't know of any how-to books, only books that feature the work of other designers. This book is great and shows themes and designs from the last 200 years.

Kristi said...

Thank you! Thank you for answering my pesky questions. I'm very interested in doing this and just wanted to hear how it approached you. Your blog is so much fun, well done, and friendly. Thanks again.

Kimberley Carlson said...

You and your blog are oh so cool! : ) Thanks for sharing - very interesting!

So when you are coming up with stuff in Photoshop or Illustrator, do you use one of those pen tablet things? Or a mouse? Or what?

Soie Belle said...

thanks for the reference Jess!

Jess said...

Kimberley, just a mouse. Click, drag, click, drag.

JSchwa said...

How does do a repeat in Adobe? I read a tutorial on Design Sponge once, but I'll have to look back because I don't know if the actual process for Adobe was in there. Can you use Illustrator to do it? Thanx!

Now..tell me how to cover a big couch in your fabric and I'll be happy...haha. I hate my couch and I know if would look so lovely covered in something bright...but not a clue where to start.

Elfin Goddess said...

Hey Jessica!!!!!! Thank you so very much for all that info...I've been plotting and planning to get into designing and creating my own motifs. My dream is to roll out my own brand of customised merchandise. More than anything i love the feeling of working out of home. I have been so inspired by your work that I finally got learning Photoshop by taking some online tutorials and getting designer friends to help. Thanks a big bunch!

Jess said...

jschwa, see the tutorial I linked to in the post. It's for Ilustrator.

tiel said...

this is lovely, and you are too sweet for sharing.

I'm involved in the design for textiles/surfaces at the moment and I'm having heaps of fun getting the idea on paper/screen and making it ready for print.

thank you so much for sharing.
i'm interested to see that illustrator tutorial link to compare my ways too.

FancyPants-design said...

Such a great story!! Your fabric designs are great!! So cool how you two met via your blog :) I love your blog by the way :-)

evie s. said...

This is also a great tutorial on how to create geometric patterns in Illustrator.
http://veerle.duoh.com/blog/comments/creating_geometric_patterns_in_illustrator/

Great topic!

Jess said...

Thanks, Evie!

creatist said...

that was very informative and welll written. Thank you so much jessica! Normally people dont share such stuff, pssessive about their knowledge..but you are so sweet!
tahnks a million for this post, the link for illustrator tutorial..it will be very helpful.. :)

hats off to you, girl!

Lil D said...

I'm looking forward to hearing more feedback about spoonflower.

Thanks for the post.

amy said...

I am also a fabric designer, and loved this post. I bookmarked your illustrator tutorial. I use photoshop for repeats and am a little afraid of illustrator. I always like to try something new, so thanks. and thanks for the time your put into your blog.

Askew To You said...

Thank you for sharing that - I was curious, as well. :D

Good-Grace said...

Again... you are so kind for sharing this with all of us. I've always wondered how it might go from design - all the way to end product, fabric.
Thanks again. :)

Ursie B said...

I love it! A girl after my own heart... I'd love to design fabric someday. How cool that you just jumped in there like that!!!

Blakeney said...

What a wonderful, inspiring, and educational blog - thank you Jess.

In the spirit of sharing I wanted to metion a great book I found at the library - Pattern Design by Lewis F. Day.

It was published in 1908, I think, and the language is a little old fashioned, but still very readable and extemely informative. If anyone reading this is interested in how Pattern ideas are developed and your library carries it, I strongly suggest checking it out.

Cheers, and happy crafting!

Jess said...

Blakeney, thanks for the suggestion!

Supabloggasuprememama said...

Very enlightening! thanks.

Jessica @ budgetsavvybride said...

that's so awesome. As a graphic designer I've always been obsessed with pattern and texture- that's so cool that you get to design patterns and make some moolah!

orangedotgreen said...

The idea of making my own fabric is very very tempting, but I doubt anyone will consider actually using it, so I'll focus on trying to make some stamps for the fabrics I have and work with those :)

I found a great tutorial for making patterns in Illustrator and Photoshop and I think it's very easy to follow, even for a beginner: http://veerle.duoh.com/blog/comments/creating_patterns_in_photoshop_cs2/

amy said...

Jess, thank you for the lovely fabrics! My husband and I were poking through Fabric Depot in Portland, OR and he gravitated right toward the brand new full bolts of your designs. We scooped up yards of Sprig, Peapod and Herb! The primary project is curtains and cushions for the vintage camper we are renovating. When I went looking for information about the prints online, I was THRILLED to find that they, too, have a great story behind them.

Thanks to you and to J. Caroline for making them happen!

Jess said...

Amy, that's a great story! When you're done, I would LOVE to see a photo!

ohbrooke said...

YES! I want to do this too. I am a graphic designer at a marketing firm in Danville. I used to work for HGTV and DIY network doing design/paint/staging work. I would LOVE to create fabric. LOVE LOVE LOVE! Have you enjoyed the process? Is it financially worth it?

Jess said...

I have enjoyed it IMMENSELY. Is it lucrative? Not yet. But the fun outweighs that, so it's totally worth it to me. And there's potential for more income as my stuff gets out there, so I'm thinking things will only improve. Maybe. :)

Sara said...

Jessica,
The link to the Tutorial doesn't appear to work anymore. Do you know if it's located anywhere else? I'd love to see it. Thanks for the great post!
- Sara

Jess said...

It seems that website doesn't exist anymore. Here's another tutorial instead...

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Prit said...

Hi, Jess :]
I'm from Brazil and I have 22 years old.
I'm reading you entire blog since...actually, I really don't know since when I'm pressing the "older posts" ._.
But I loved your blog and all your art work and specially all things you share, It's very kind :] Thank You.
I'm ashamed because I never post any comment, but when I read this post about Designing Fabric, I really feel that I should post a comment cuz I like it very very much.
:]

I have a deviantart, if you have one too, add me :]
www.bypri.deviantart.com

G L E N D A said...

Hello! I'm Glenda from Mexico! I must say your story is really awesome!Everything you do is amazing! Congratulations on all your achievements! May God bless you! :)

Sara Marie said...

So glad to hear that you jump right into a design as well. I'm a student majoring in Visual Communications and our teacher yells at us for not doing sketches. It's so much easier to just jump right into something!

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