I was honoured to place fifth in the first Spoonflower weekly design challenge to be announced in 2018 - what a great start to the year, right? I get asked a lot about how I go about designing a pattern, so I thought it might be fun to share the design process from inspiration to concept to final fabric. I’m including an overview of the steps in Illustrator, but this isn’t intended to be a full-on tutorial (although if there’s an appetite for that I can probably make that happen - let me know in the comments!).
Although some of my designs available through Spoonflower are straight-up reproductions, aiming to be as faithful as possible to the original vintage fabric, many are my own work: I love drawing on inspiration from vintage sources to create designs that are original but with a strong midcentury influence.
Quite often, an idea will be sparked by a quick glance at a piece of vintage fabric when I see something in the design that isn’t actually there - a sort of Rorschach of vintage fabric! My Ballerina garden design was inspired when I came across this silk scarf on Pinterest: the dancers’ skirts were reminiscent of flowers, while the scattered fans evoked, to my mind, the seeds of a dandelion clock blowing away in the breeze.
This formed the initial concept, and I filed the idea in my design planner. Then when Spoonflower announced the Center Stage contest it provided the perfect motivation to bring the vision to life. As part of my preparation I researched other ballet-themed novelty prints of the 1940s and 50s, and quickly realised that ballerinas and dancers were quite the popular motif. My Pinterest-based research turned up a rich resource of inspiration for me to draw on as I refined my initial idea.
The first stage was to sketch out the design elements. I recently invested in Adobe Illustrator for designing fabric - I used to use Corel PhotoImpact, which is inexpensive and is adequate but unsophisticated in terms of vector drawing tools. In Illustrator I have a lot more tools at my disposal, providing a lot more drawing ease and flexibility (I love the smart curve-smoothing with the brush and pencil tools for vector drawing - I can draw smooth curves even using a mouse!). While creating the design elements I tend to use a different colour for each individual piece (although the difference is practically imperceptible, I used a very slightly different shade of grey for the dandelion and the flyaway seeds) - this makes it easier to play with different colourways later on in the process.
The other major (huge!) advantage of Illustrator is that it has this awesome function which will automatically generate seamless pattern repeats - including in half-drop or half-brick configurations - AND preview the tiled design. It’s basically magic, and it’s no overstatement to say it’s absolutely transformed the process of pattern creation for me. This is something I used to do manually, element-by-element. It wasn’t hard, once you got your head round it, but it could be a bit laborious - and a major headache if I decided at any point during the process to alter the size or aspect ratio of the repeat area.
So having created the design elements I started to play around with them in the pattern maker to begin laying out the repeat. I like to use a half-brick or half-drop repeat for most of my designs. This means that the design repeat is offset, so each element recurs in a sort of zigzag configuration, which helps add movement and flow to the pattern.
It was taking shape, but I felt it was lacking something. I decided to further extend the floral motif and add some flowers and leaves based on some 1940s wallpaper, which I thought completed the design nicely. This was the final version I entered into the contest.
All that remained was to develop a set of colourways. And guess what, there’s an automated function for this in Illustrator too - be still my beating heart. This design is intended to coordinate with others as part of a fabric collection, which I’m making available in four key colourways. I can also do custom colour combinations for the cost of a $5 swatch (Spoonflower requires that designers purchase a swatch of any new fabric before it can be made available for purchase), so if you NEED this pattern in a different colour please contact me to discuss your requirements.