With the our Balancing Act quilt appearing in current issue of American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine we’ve had a lot of calls to the FunQuilts studio with people wanting to order fabric and know more about how it was designed. So I thought I’d explain a bit about our unusual method of fabric design.
When designing for a fabric company the designer is usually told how many colorways and how many prints the company wants to commit to printing and marketing. If it’s a total of 28 fabrics, it’s likely to be four colorways of seven prints or something like that.
With those constraints in mind, we develop our Big Idea. Having loved the lushness of our Mendhi line we wanted to use the same hand-drawn, computer-collage technique again. We love florals but really wanted to go beyond big romantic roses. The phrase “backyard beauty” kept coming into my head and I thought about all of the different backyard habitats found across America. It’s easy to forget the tremendous natural diversity of our country and we wanted to celebrate it.
Bill and I generally refine the Big Idea together and often I begin sketching motifs in a sketchbook. When sketching the Mendhi line we went to the Indian neighborhood in Chicago to look at woven motifs on saris. For Wild Bunch I sketched plants in our backyard and went to the Desert House and the Fern Room at the Garfield Conservatory here in Chicago for plants that aren’t native to our region.
Having sketched dozens of botanicals according to habitat, Bill then scans the images and begins collaging them digitally. We develop repeats that the mills will use to print the fabric and come up with the color stories for each colorway. I develop a preliminary set of palettes with Pantone chips but colors always look different when they are on the screen and under the outline of the drawing so we end up tweaking color endlessly it seems.
As quilters we find that collaging the images on top of one another rather than placing them on a solid field (which is the more common design approach and would be oh so less time consuming) makes it easier to seam the fabric and combine with other fabrics. We’re always trying to balance the needs of the fabric company and shop owners, who wants it to look good on the bolt visible from the front door of the shop (on in a 1″ grid on a computer screen), with the needs of quilters for a fabric that will work well with the rest of their stashes and be easy to incorporate into the design they have in mind. We think of this as designing the fabric that will “get along well with others.”