Fabric: style, design and color. pre-k patchwork Quilting 101 | patchwork posse
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Fabric style, print, color

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Today I thought it would be fun and interesting to get the perspective of fabric style, print, color from a fabric designer.  The process of coming up with fabric lines is interesting.   There is a lot more that goes into fabric or pattern design than meets the eye.  Having never gone through the process myself and not having really any idea about it all {other than, I like the fabric, I buy the fabric} bringing in a guest speaker would be the best.

Let me introduce you to Carol VanZandt.

A few years back I met Carol at The Creative Connection, and since then we bump into each other at market, or blogging conferences.  She is truly a delight and I find her fabric inspirational.  I find her style a bit quirky…..but since I’m a pro at quirky I am authorized to say that about others. 🙂

She will be giving us all a back stage pass to her process of fabric: style, color, design.

Fabric: style, design and color.  pre-k patchwork Quilting 101 | patchwork posse

Let’s find out what Carol has to say about this topic~

When I first studied fabric design, my aesthetic at the time collided with my childhood memories of the fabric I sewed with, the fabric my mother used to sew for me, the patterns that were on the wallpaper of all our relatives homes and the world around me, along with images of the textiles in countries I have lived or traveled to. I think this is common with fabric designers. Since I started designing though I have gone through a lot of changes! I think there are certain designs I needed to get out of my system. Now although I still have a multitude of design collections ideas broiling, its not overwhelming and I am looking forward, not back.


 (A classic “transitional” line, it uses familiar Asian motifs coupled with more modern hand drawn motifs, and merges classic European layouts with Japanese motifs and themes.)

I do keep tabs on what is going on trend wise, but I deliberately don’t want to follow anything closely nor emulate anyonein my heart of hearts I want to do something I haven’t seen before, but at the same time I want what I design to be appealing enough to a wide audience. With fine art one can try to make a statement or shake things up to make people think differently, but in designing fabric, you want people to desire to make that fabric into something they will use in their home or on their person. It needs to be appealing and somewhere there needs to be a hint of familiarity even if just in the color.

In fabric design you can see styles, themes, motifs, layouts and palettes used and reused, evolving and changing and merging with other styles. There is something recognizable to them and at the same time, new collections in new colors put a fresh perspective on things.


(initial sketches for Licorice Fizz main floral)

When I am designing, the main print usually comes first, and more collections out there have more than one main print. It is born out of the original inspiration and sets the tone.  It’s also usually the one takes the most time! Then I brainstorm just by visualizing what would work well with it. I suppose unconsciously I am cycling through different design types or layouts, like a stripe, a paisley, a medallion, a geometric, an ogee, an abstract, a texture, etc. You will find that some designers always have a certain type of design in their collection whether its a large floral, a damask, a small stripe, or a tossed conversational.

Some basic categories of designs themes are:

• Florals, foliage, trees

• Holiday, seasonal, coastal

• Conversational: animals, food, sports travel, novelty

• Baby and children

• Abstract, geometric, textures

• Asian, western, ethnic

• Inspirational

• Fantasy

One simple way I often see or hear design styled being categorized is traditional, contemporary, and transitional. In the traditional market, there are the reproductions from different time periods, whether its civil war, 1800’s 1990’s. These do often literally use old designs and re-render them, changing them a little or a lot. These are proven high quality looks and never go out of style and have a steady fan club.

Transitional prints have roots in traditional but look contemporary, or vice versa.  Transitional (and even contemporary prints) often will also look like previous design periods, but in a new way.  You will often hear “a nod to vintage” “retro-inspired” “classic with a twist” It may remind someone of the 20’s ,40’s, 70’s or have a little art deco influence, a little Asian, a little art nouveau, but be comprised of totally original drawings from the designer. I tend to put the mod/retro styles into the transitional category in this case meaning it can appeal to both audiences.


(The sugar colorway is unusual with so many white backgrounds across the colorway, and it goes well with plain white and solids.  Pictured here, Andover textured solids in ripple, toxic, peony and mandarin.)

In the contemporary category you always have the new trend influences obviously, but also ones that have been around for a decade and still have legs and even might even become “evergreen”. One year it might be more scribbled line, another smooth simple graphic, another light clear colors on any kind of design.

You may also hear people describe a fabric designer’s individual style as  “organic”, illustrative, graphic, architectural, hand painted. These are describing the type of rendering and the end look.

Typically fabric collection always had designs in different scales, ones with large, medium and small motifs; maybe a stripe and dots or another small ditsy, maybe a geometric. The palette on all the designs would work together.  The background on the different designs would be different colors from the common color palette. Some of the designs would be more busy while others would have more space giving the collection breathing room.  There would be a variety of layouts.

But times are a changing and there are now more collections that feature large motifs throughout, or just tonal blenders (actually these have always been popular), collections that use the same background throughout, or collections of all geometrics.  These are nothing new really but are more prevalent, and things seem to be less formulaic across the board. Shops buy what sells. What doesn’t sell they won’t buy again.  The fabric companies are always looking for new things and trying them out on the market. With the current popularity of solids, some modern collections are sometimes built to be used with solids instead of including the blenders to go with them.


(Licorice Fizz by Carol Van Zandt for Andover Fabrics Inc. with sketches for the diagonal stripe and paisley.  This collection has the classic combinations of designs with large, medium and small motifs, a stripe, and tonals for contrast.)

Often working with a fabric collection, when the quilter or sewer butts one fabric up to another, they want contrast. So somehow whether light or dark, or different color background or density of motifs, there needs to be differentiation between the fabrics.  There are also collections that are all really busy prints and that is the look of the whole collection and people use fabrics next to each other and they  merge and that’s part of the whole look-usually both a color and pattern saturated look.

Even though the fabric companies in house art departments are fully capable of creating collection after collection, they consider work from outside designers to get new fresh looks and access to different markets. People who have a following as a quilter, teacher, author, quilting or sewing pattern designer, or blogger can help market the collection, plus they often really understand what the end market that they are in touch with really likes.  Plus companies will cross pollinate designers from other markets (stationary, scrapbooking, graphic designers, product designers) who can bring new looks or popular current looks into the fabric world.


(Pop Rox, in the Choco color way uses different backgrounds in neutrals, and can be used alone, but can also be used solids and/or a pop color.)

The great thing is that there is something for everyone and people have so much passion over prints they find that really speak to them or work well in a project. It really fuels the designer community to keep creating and the fabric companies to keep looking for things that are new or great.

I would like to thank Carol for taking the time to share with us her talent and knowledge. I am always amazed at others ideas and styles…and hers is always a good one!

You can find more about Carol and her fabric lines for Andover here:

Blog- The Plaid Portico

Fabric- Andover 

Q & A- Do you have a certain style of fabric that you lean towards using?  Share it in the comments-

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1 Comment

  1. Gay Ferland

    I tend to gravitate to Christmas fabrics always! I do craft fairs Oct, Nov, and Dec; that is why…lol! When I am not rushing to catch up on items for the craft fairs, my first impulse is to pay attention to the “Pantone color for the year” this year is teal. I also check out magazines when I food shop. Quilt magazines also. This year I totally fell in love with many collections ; like Adventures by Stephanie Marie Designs for RJR fabrics and Kate Spain. I often look at fabrics with “pocketbook” in mind. I ask myself, ” does this color pick up this other color? Would all these colors make a beautiful bag?” I am so good at remembering colors. I think that is why I was successful in Graphic Arts. I have been creating with many fabrics since I was 11. Matching colors is so therapeutic for me!! I love to create, design, sew, and quilt. I thank goodness I am fortunate that I do not work in the workforce outside my home. This gives me so much freedom to enjoy life!
    Thanks for sharing your articles, I am always learning!!
    Gay Ferland

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