SpoonChallenge: Gathering Inspiration for a Pattern Collection

JUL 6, 2015


Today we’re so excited to kick off our summer SpoonChallenge–Creating a Fabric Collection. We’ve teamed up with Bonnie Christine, a spectacular designer based right here in North Carolina, to bring you all the tips and tools you need to create an expertly coordinating textile collection. We kick off this series with Bonnie’s thoughts on gathering inspiration. Stay tuned over the next three weeks for tips on designing a focal print and coordinates, and completing your collection by creating a portfolio! 

Gathering Inspiration for a pattern collection

Pattern design can be one of the most fun and fulfilling ways to express yourself as an artist. Coloring your world with prints and patterns you’ve designed yourself truly allows you to express yourself in a unique and joyful way. Possibly the most important step to take before beginning a pattern collection, is to gather lots of inspiration.

Taking plenty of time to gather inspiration for a pattern or a collection will help make the design process run smoothly. It will also help give your entire project focus and direction! Clearly outlining your vision for a collection will give you a guide to follow, something to reference and a definite starting point (which is often the hardest part!).

For me, the inspiration phase for a pattern collection usually takes about 4-6 weeks. There are several possible phases and options to this stage, and I’m happy to share my favorites with you below.

Brainstorming. Before beginning to design, take some time to do some good ol’ fashion brainstorming. Personally, I like to get quiet with my notebook somewhere, maybe in a hammock outside or in a quiet corner of my home, and start imagining all the things that could be. This will help you decide on an overall theme for a collection (for instance: gardening, woodland creatures, sea life, etc) and begin forming a rough outline of what you might like to include in the collection. Jot down about 15 ideas for individual prints that you can pick and choose from later on. Remember, don’t start sketching yet, this step is all about dreaming!

20 Words. The next part of gathering inspiration is just as fun as it is important. Write down about 20 words that relate to the overall theme, to help to round out the edges of your idea. If you plan to name each print and their colors, this list will also be helpful to reference later on. For instance, for my latest fabric collection, Succulence, my words were: rainwater, abundance, monsoon, arboretum, aridity, drenching, cacti, aglow, greenhouse, bedew, habitat, oasis, agave, dew, inspirit, terrain, luscious, spiny, succulent and trailing.

A Story. Next, it’s time to write a story. Reference your notes and 20 words to build a small story around your collection. Just a small paragraph will do! This step really helps make a collection feel personal and brings it to life. This small story should be something you would share along with your collection and could include information about your inspirations, dreams or memories that help round out the collection as a whole.

Photography. Photography is often a huge part of the inspiration stage of a pattern collection. Exploring and visiting sites and scenes that support your theme can give your entire collection direction and a huge amount of inspiration to pull from. If possible, it’s always important to take your own photos, so you can pull directly from them during the design phase (more on that in a moment). Keeping several photos in a file (or in print) that you can reference will be invaluable as you begin sketching and designing.

Inspiration Boards. Inspiration boards are another great way to pull together ideas for a collection. These could be digital inspiration boards like a folder on your desktop or pinterest board, or an actual board where you tack up things that inspire you. Often times, an inspiration board is the best place to start pulling a color story from!

Sourcing your own inspiration. Sourcing inspiration for a project is something that we all must do, as it’s an important step in conceptualizing and developing an idea. The problem only arises when inspiration is taken too literally, or we become lazy about it. So, I suggest sourcing your own inspiration.

For example, if I want illustrate a horse, I pack up my things and hit the road. By actually visiting a horse farm and taking pictures of the horses there myself, I‘ve just created original inspiration that i can then use in my design work. I can draw color stories from them, sketch from them and use them as inspiration in every aspect of the design!

Of course, it would have been easier to just google and pin images and use them for my inspiration. but that just doesn’t feel right. And it’s definitely not right if you’re using the photos to trace from.

Gathering inspiration

Above are just a few of the pictures I’ve taken over the years and used to either draw colors from or design from. When I’ve finished an illustration or pattern and can look back all the way to the original inspiration and know that I created myself – THAT’s a really good feeling!

This is also a great motivator for getting up from the computer and spending time outdoors and traveling. Immersing yourself in the thing that you’re working around is an incredible experience, and it makes the final project all the more personal.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. If you’re designing an India-themed motif or designing a pattern around african tigers, I don’t expect you to fly to India or Africa (unless you can, and then you most definitely should!). So when you’re not able to source your own inspiration, be sure to take inspiration from dozens of places and focus on being authentic, so that you finished result is completely authentic and unique to you.

So GO. Camera in one hand, notebook in the other. Discover, explore and become one with the project at hand! 

Colors. Deciding on colors for a collection is one of the most fun (yet difficult) parts of the design process! I usually design two color options for each collection, and I like to keep them very different but cohesive at the same time. A color palette will usually consist of around 10-18 colors and vary in contrast greatly.

One of my favorite ways to build a color palette for a collection, is by pulling them from a photo I’ve taken. Here’s a step by step tutorial on how to do just that in Adobe Illustrator!

These are all the steps I usually take before I begin to design a collection. Being able to fully develop a theme and vision for a collection before starting always helps to give the design process guidance and a reference point. We can’t wait to see what you create!

What are a few of the things you do before beginning a pattern or a collection? We’d love to hear them, share them with us in the comments section or tag them with hashtag #spoonchallenge on your favorite social media outlet!

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About Our Guest Blogger

BioBonnie Christine is a fabric designer for Art Gallery Fabrics, teacher and creator of Going Home to Roost. In addition to teaching Adobe Illustrator and sharing all that she knows with the Roost Tribe, you can find her working in the garden and spending time with her husband and children. Join her in living an extraordinarily creative life on her blog, Going Home to Roost!


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  • Hi there! Just beginning to investigate textile design and because I know nothing about software programs needed to create designs I’m feeling really overwhelmed. I have been an art teacher for 16 years and was no spring chicken when I started. I need to shift gears and find another way to support myself. I love and have always loved fabrics and wallpaper. I have looked into taking courses here in my hometown but there seem to be none available that I can afford. What advice would you give to someone like me? I’m 59 years old with stage 4 breast cancer and I’d really like to do something that brings me satisfaction and joy.

    • Hi Cindy,

      Welcome to the exciting world of textile design! Our design resources page is a great place to start for helpful design tutorials. It may be beneficial to know that there are lots of free design programs out there and you can even turn your sketches into repeating designs — no fancy tools required!

  • I like to flood my brain with images from books, magazine, nature and things around me, or the internet. I look for patterns in nature and the world around me. I find it hard to get inspiration or a new idea so I let my subconscious brain lend a hand. Once I have really immersed myself in loads of images, during the daytime, I tend to dream up new images and ideas at night. I keep a notebook by my bedside so I can joy down words, ideas or sketches when I first wake up.

  • Other ways I gather inspiration are:
    1.visit the library where I can flip through the latest magazines and new books in fashion, interior design, surface design,fine art, photography, craft, etc. I often take a sketchbook and a camera with me.
    2.read books or google images on subjects that I love, like fine art and ethnic costume of the world. I have a small file cabinet in which I keep images I gather from here and there.
    3.sketch and take photos of flowers and plants in my little garden, or visit the city’s Botanical garden.
    4.visit art galleries with my sketchbook,and copy the paintings I like.
    5.visit local stitch/sewing shops just to look at and TOUCH the fabrics 🙂
    6.doodle while watching TV – unidentified flowers or objects flooded in from nowhere during these times.
    7.paint my dreams! One time I dreamed of a very beautiful garden with magnificent trees and flowers, like those ones in the paradise, but so far I fail to capture them in a painting.
    8.sign up with communities or look through websites like Pattern People, Pattern Observer,The Patternbase, Spoonflower, Surface Design, etc. I also keep a Trend Forecast Bookmarks folder, and visit those trend forecast sites from time to time. And, bookmark designers whose works I like and visit their sites from time to time.
    9. Talk to other people, share ideas about a subject/topic/theme, and learn from them. 🙂

  • sugardream

    I usually toy with some ideas in my head for a few days before heading to the sketchbook. If one particular theme keeps on “barking” at me,:) I will search the internet for images that are related to the theme, or dig into my own Photo Bank and old drawings,and quickly sketch images that catch my eye from these sources. While I am doing this, more ideas pop up, am not sure if they are called “inspiration”… Some of these ideas are very crazy stories. I sketch them to see if any elements or objects will work well for a pattern.
    Often some objects really grab my attention and I just can’t take my eyes off them! 🙂 Then I know they are the ones. Sometimes I struggle not to include them all in a pattern.
    Images seem to speak to me more than words. But I really like Bonnie’s advice about writing down key words and a story. This will definitely help me to define a clear vision and feels for a collection. Thank you, Bonnie!

  • Hi Mimi,
    Thanks for your note and kind words! We're exciting to hear you're learning Adobe Illustrator–best of luck! 

  • Thank you so much for all your ideas and videos! I am so excited to know how to create my own color palettes. Just finished making a few… 🙂
    Slowly learning Adobe Illustrator CC and having fun in the process!

  • I like your ideas of thinking about ideas and words, though I have never done that much. I also have a hard time coming up with names for designs.
    If I am working on a Spoonflower theme, I usually just dive into drawing, unless it is an unfamiliar theme. If it is unfamiliar, I will search for definitions and descriptions first, so I can stay true to the theme.
    I do try very hard to stick to using my own photos. I have also used family photos with permission when I didn’t have my own southwestern animal photos. I usually don’t collect images from other sources for fear that I will be too influenced by those.
    I do spend time going through my own photos. I miss taking new ones now that I don’t have a good working camera. I have even resorted to some older non-digital prints when I had nothing else.