Sunday, March 7, 2010

Designing Fabric

Moda boasts a variety of fabrics from a variety of designers. Each of us works in different ways. I wish I had the computer skills to generate a digital design or the painting skills to paint a croqui, pronounced croak-ee, the word for a painted fabric design, which comes from the French word for sketch.

Sandi Gervais paints her designs. See her blog Pieces of My Heart for insight into how she works.


Jennifer of Tula Pink generates her designs in the computer. These blog postings show how she works.


My skills are 1) hoarding, 2) sorting. I have a huge collection of antique fabric scraps so reproducing antique fabric is my niche at Moda. Most of the scraps came from my friend Joyce Gross. Others were gifts from collectors like Bets Ramsey, Katy Christopherson, Mary Sue Hannan and Arnold Savage. I also buy antique fabrics to fill holes in the collection and occasionally I come across an old top in terrible shape that I can unpiece.

The worn top I used for color inspiration and a few swatches for Civil War Homefront lies under the strike-offs, which are the first fabric proofs of the actual reproductions. The ones with the white dots wound up in the line. It is hard to choose.

Because I love to sort I have classified the swatches into notebooks by color, by figure style, by date, by subject matter. I keep the scraps in archival plastic notebook pages and move them around. One year I might sort them by era, another by dye. This keeps me entertained by the hour, the way my mother's button box used to.

When I think of a historical theme for a new collection I re-sort.

Archival baseball card holders work great for the small pieces.

Right now I am working on another Civil War line for the 150th anniversary year of the beginning of the War. I'm also doing a late 19th-century collection in fall colors like the scraps below. (You have to wait till summer to see that fall fabric.)

Once I choose a theme and fabrics that date to that era, I choose a palette based on historical colors. If it's Civil War-era the colors have to mimic natural dyes. I like copying late-in-the-century prints because I can have blacks and different greens, purples and other shades that came from test tubes.

The colors have to work across all the pieces in the collection---the hardest part for me, because I have to imagine how the purple is going to look as a background as well as the figure. If I were better at computer imaging I could actually see that but right now I have to imagine.

Strikeoffs of the reproductions atop a quilt block
 of the original for Poke Salad
in the Civil War Homefront collection.
I had several to pick from and chose based on authentic color palettes as well as considering how it would fit into the overall collection. The original fabric is called the document print.

I send the document prints to Texas, where they go on to Japan for design and Korea for printing. Most of the time I get them back a year or so later. I send a cut with just the minimum repeat in case I don't get the antique swatch back from across all those geographical and language barriers.

I've been taking a class in Photoshop but I imagine I will always work with the actual swatches. That way I can justify shopping for antique swatches and storage space for all those notebooks.


  1. Very interesting! Thank you so much for sharing your creative process with us. It is such an amazing thing to see ideas into real life stuff...even more so for you, I'm sure!

  2. I had to laugh as I read your post about sorting and organizing. I believe we are kindred souls. As a little girl I used to alphabatize the canned goods in my mother's pantry and sort and untangle the junk draws. Now I work at the MSU Museum sorting and organizing Cuesta's papers and pattern collection. I just finished the Ladies Art Company. I was in hog heaven! Aren't we lucky?

  3. Hoarding is a talent....I can't wait to tell my Dh about that one! Thanks for the explanation on how you design your fabrics.

  4. Very interesting. I am so glad that someone is willing to take the time to actually create reproductions. It is very appreciated.

  5. Thanks for the insight into how your fabric lines come to be. Very interesting, as always!

  6. Last weekend I made a Schnibbles with 2 charm packs of your Civil War Homefront. I loved working with these fabrics. My favorite was the one you featured here - Poke Salad. It's interesting to see how you come up with your designs. Historical tidbits are always fascinating to me.

  7. So interesting! Thank you for sharing.

  8. I agree, it's a great reason to collect antique swatches:)

  9. I love learning about fabrics! Reproductions are my favorite! Thanks for explaining your way of designing fabric! I can only dream about it!

  10. Thanks Barbara. I laugh when people ask me how I design because I do a bit of all three of the above you described. i don't know what that makes me... except for a bit crazy I think!

    thanks for the post!