the process of designing textiles

Marian ParsonsArtistic Endeavors, design, Running a Business43 Comments

In case you missed the happy news, Free Spirit Fabrics, the maker of my fabric line, was bought out by Jaftex and saved! That means Bunnies, Birds & Blooms will be available for sale and I’m finishing up my second collection!

Since I’m in the throes of color ways, I thought it would be a good time to share my design process and how much it’s grown from where I started.

When I was first approached to design a fabric line, I was thrilled about even the thought of it.  I’ve loved textiles for a long time and this was a dream come true.  When I actually sat down to put design ideas on paper, I realized I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.  No clue.  The designs were there.  They were in my brain.  How do I put them in a format that can be shared with others and then actually made into a real bolt of fabric.

Believe it or not, Googling “how to design fabric” and “how to put a design into a repeat” didn’t yield any quick and easy answers.  Yes, my fabric design journey started with a Google search.

Since that didn’t get me very far, I started with what I did know how to do.  I literally started with a felt-tipped pen and a piece of paper.  I drew.  I drew on homemade graph paper and card stock.  I eventually broke out the brushes and paint and started painting on poster and mat board.

(Above is a side-by-side of one of my early hand-drawn design and how it converted to a somewhat unrefined colored fabric design.)

My designs were all over the place, but I figured I would take the buckshot approach.  I would create and create and create and see if I landed on anything good.

I finally landed on something I was really excited about – a watercolor hare and a variety of hand painted folk art flowers.

Now, I had to figure out how to put them in a repeat.  I did the only thing I technically knew how to do.

I made photocopies, cut out the shapes, and laid them all over the studio floor, arranging them in a pattern.  It’s okay if that visual makes you laugh.  It makes me laugh just thinking about it!

I would snap a picture of the design and then send it along to Heidi, my assistant, who would take the original scanned design and put it in a digital pattern.

It was ridiculous and comical and tedious and embarrassing.  If the people at Free Spirit knew this is the level of designer skill they hired, that might’ve been the end of my textile design career.

I knew I had to find a better, more professional way.  The designs I was creating weren’t bad, but they were in the wrong format, I was limited by my tools, and it made the end design look unpolished.

After some research, I ended up purchasing an iPad Pro (affiliate link) and an Apple Pencil, so I could draw my designs digitally.  This was the solution I needed.  I could still draw everything, but it would be in a format that could be manipulated and repeated.  Without a copy machine.  Welcome to the 2000-teens.  It meant I had to redraw all of my designs in a digital format, but it was worth taking the time to do that.  They looked much more professional.

I now create all of my designs in a drawing app called ProCreate.  There are some limitations, but I am able to build designs in layers, create repeats, and easily change the colors of design elements and the background.

Best yet, I can save the designs in a layered file, so I can send them along to Heidi and my design team at Free Spirit for them to put it in a larger repeat, play with alternative designs, etc.

Once the designs are nailed down, I start working on the color ways.  This might be the hardest part for me, because I tend to like fabrics in two colors.  Blue & white!  But, this is fabric for quilting and clothing and crafting and there needs to be more color and more options!  I have been much more playful with the colors in this second collection and I’m enjoying it.  I am going to have a blue & white color way, though!

To see how all of the fabric colors and designs work together, I put them in a PicMonkey collage.  It’s a quick and easy way for me to get a visual to see how everything is working together.

All of the colors tie into my Milk Paint line.  Can you see the colors?  French Enamel, Flow Blue, Mustard Seed Yellow, Lucketts and Boxwood?  I even use Apron Strings quite a bit in my second collection, even though the color is retired.

And, I’m happy to say that I was able to rework one of my very first hand drawn designs and it’s made it into the second collection.  Just because something isn’t good enough to use right off the bat, doesn’t mean it can’t become great down the road.  (And it is one of my favorites, because it reminds me of a pattern that was on the sofa in my German dollhouse I played with as a girl.)

I still have a lot to learn when it comes to textile design.  I still tend to make patterns that are too linear and not random enough, but I have an amazing team at Free Spirit Fabrics who have been patient and supportive.  Heidi has been a tremendous help as well.  She takes my imperfect repeats and puts them in a pattern that will actually line up and repeat on an infinite bolt of fabric.

Bunnies Birds & Blooms will be available soon at quilting shops.  If you want to get your hands on it, just request that your local quilting shop order it.  I’ll give more details on where to buy it when I have that information in hand.

Until then, we’re busily finishing up my second collection!

the process of designing textiles

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43 Comments on “the process of designing textiles”

  1. ooh! this is jaw-drop awesome! i appreciate the time, effort, and heart that went into this. (i wanted to design textiles when i was college age. or illustrate children’s books. so i know your rudimentary process very well! )

    and you pinged my heart by including a stroke of apron strings in your pattern. it’s my favourite milk paint colour!

  2. This great news, loving your designs and the process. Can’t wait to buy some, I think I’ll make a valanceramic for my kitchen.
    Just tonight I picked up a pen and started sketching, I tried a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t like what I was doing but tonight it clicked in and love parts of what I did.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Marian, not only fascinating but exciting! I’m so happy that we’ll be seeing more of your fabric 🙂

  4. I’m in love with that sweet little bunny! And your florals are gorgeous! Am really liking what appears to be the large blue and white design in your second (?) collection, it’s lovely.

  5. I love watching your process. It’s cool to see the drawings go to fabric.

    Pattern making in Illustrator is pretty easy. Get a free month of Skillshare and watch Bonnie Christine’s intro to surface design. Then watch her class on the color changing tool. These classes are life changing! I promise that they’re worth it. 🙂

  6. So interesting Marion. Love how you share the “how” and “why” of what you do! I’m a quilter and have followed you for years. Who knew I’d be able to buy fabric you designed. 💙💙💙

  7. This is so exciting, I’m glad it worked out and now on to the second set of fabric designs. Love the blue and white, I’ll call my quilting store and ask them to order your fabrics.

  8. Can’t wait to purchase some of these fabrics. They’re beautiful!

    I have a question on your magazine articles you posted in stories. I purchased the landscape dresser with the barn & cows and you showed it being in a recent magazine. I would love to purchase the magazine to have it with my dresser, but I can’t remember which mag it was. Was it Romantic Country or Romantic Homes. It was the March issue and I can’t find it in any of the stores here. I want to order it online, but want to make sure I’m getting the right one. Can you tell me which magazine it was please?? Thanks so much!!

    1. Can you send me an e-mail about this and I’ll try to get the issue for you. It was Romantic Homes, but I don’t think the issue is available on newsstands any long. (

      1. Thanks Marian. It’s showing available online, so I’ll just go ahead and order it. I just wanted to make sure I was ordering the right one. I don’t want to take yours. If they tell me it’s no longer available I’ll email you.

  9. I can’t wait for this to come out. Wish it could have been out for Easter. I’ll try to start reserving some now so I don’t forget!

  10. I must say , that blue and white shot of your computer screen is my favorite also! THat might be a colorway I’d use!

  11. Marian, You created some beautiful patterns. Where does your creativity end? You are amazing!!!! Thank you for sharing your talent with us. I wish you continued success in your business, as well as many blessings along the way!!

  12. your fabrics are just adorable. I was a lover of English and French cottons from back in the 70s and still have many Pierre Deux and/or Laura Ashely things I made up from those days. We bought our fabrics on Worth Ave in Palm Beach and yours are in that category.

  13. Marion, Your designs are simply beautiful. You are so humble to show your process. I find you so inspiring and refreshing!

  14. Oh, it looks like you are having fun! I wasn’t laughing at your process at all because I know how technically involved and frustrating textile design can be for someone who’s never done it before. I actually have a degree in textile design – studied it way back when we calculated all repeats by hand and the software we used to create digital designs was Photoshop. 🙂 How many screens (colors) does Free Spirit Fabrics limit you to in a design? If they are not using digital printing techniques but the old, tried and true screens, manufacturers usually don’t want more than 3-4 colors per design because any more than that increases production costs substantially. Have you ever visited a textile print company? If not, you should. It’s a lot of fun and an eye-opening experience that helps a lot when you are designing. You get a better idea of how the whole process works and what makes things easier or more difficult for the manufacturer. If you ever need any help with colorways, just give me a shout. I used to work as a textile colorist for a manufacturer in California a while back.

  15. I’m so looking forward to putting in my order with the rep next month! And thrilled to be able to stock your fabric in New Zealand, knowing a little bit of your story which I can share with my customers. It’s easy to sell something you are passionate about, and I am sure this fabric will rock out the door!

  16. So glad to hear that Free Spirit lives on! I was feeling a little guilty about all your effort ending in a line that barely saw the light of day. Wishing you continued success in all you do. I miss having you local.

  17. Such pretty fabrics and so interesting to read about the process…so much more than people would ever realize. You’re so very talented in so many artistic ways! Best wishes!

  18. I loved your story on how you began the textile journey you are taking. I absolutely love to sew, not as much quilting, but everything else. When you are designing the fabric for a company, how do you know what the fabric content the company will choose? Do you choose a category the fabric you designed will be used for, and the weight, etc. of the fabric coincides with that? I wish you the best of everything that you work so hard on. You’re a very lucky lady. 😉

  19. Thank you so much for so honestly sharing your process; not just in fabric design, but generally. So many of us fall victim to the idea that other people’s creative expression falls fully grown out of their heads on the first try, not understanding the hours and hours of practice entailed, or the learning curve, sometimes long, that it takes. Your are an inspiration to me, and, I’m sure, countless others, Marian!

  20. Love the look of your next collection. The yellow colorway is gorgeous! I’d love to get my hands on some of it when it comes out.

  21. Marian, I am so happy that Jaftex bought Free Spirtis Fabric. I was hoping another company would buy it and you could move forward with your fabric lines. Love the fabric with the blue bunnies. Your fabric designs are sweet and would have many use on projects. You are very talented! My sweet daughter-in-law is a wallpaper and textile designer. I love her work and have some of her wallpaper designs in my home.

    I will miss seeing you at Lucketts this year. I always purchased some Ironstone from you and enjoying my blue step ladder that I got from you last year. You always had the most interesting items in your booth. Hugs from Maryland!

  22. God is using you in amazing ways!! Your journey and humility have been so inspiring for so many! I have never commented before but lately I’ve been so inspired by your art and now your incredible journey with fabrics I just had to thank you so much for sharing! Your authenticity of what you have faced with fear, moving through it and bringing the journey to all of us is truly a blessing!! Thank you and may God continue to bless your journey and creativity as you bless others!!

  23. As a quilter dont forget the small prints, dots, checks and stripes to go with the large prints. Wishing you much success

  24. I suspect your first method of cut and paste was how they did it back in the day! Yet,the patterns and colors we have been gifted with are amazing.

  25. These are very sweet fabrics. I can see pouches, tunics, children dresses and more. Very excited for you and can’t wait for them to be released. Great job!

  26. I am extremely interested in the winterish looking tree design!!! It captured my attention immediately. Can’t wait to see what other fabrics you create!

  27. Both collections are beautiful… I enjoy hearing about your process… I love that you aren’t afraid to jump in and improvise when something needs to get done… The “perfection” can come later, huh? Some of the patterns in the newer collection have an Arts & Crafts look that I really like.

  28. What great news! Your fabrics are beautiful. Best wishes on this newest venture… you are so talented!

  29. Will these designs be available at JoAnn’s Fabric or online? Thank you for sharing your process. Love reading your posts.

  30. Love the designs – just wondering if you’ve thought of translating any into stencils to go with your MMS lines? (In particular “German Dollhouse” looks as though it would translate beautifully to an old wood chest or box….)

  31. I would love to hear more about the iPad Pro and Apple pen process….it all sounds so fascinating and fun! what a wonderful creative journey you are traveling 🙂

  32. It is really pretty!! A whole new world is opening up for me. You know how you just think something comes from a shop and you never think of where it comes from? I will appreciate textures and designs so much more now.

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  34. Love them! Have you thought about wallpaper. The blue and yellow Pennsylvania Dutch design would be adorable in a kitchen.

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