The Do’s and Don’ts of Fabric Design

MAR 18, 2016
For the most part, there are no rules when it comes to creating a surface design. All mediums are welcome, all shapes, sizes and colors can make for an interesting repeat. However, that's not to say there aren't still a few mistakes you want to avoid. Nine-time Spoonflower Design Challenge winner Virginia O. is here to steer you in the right direction with six do's and 6 don'ts for budding designers to keep in mind! 
Bird sketch progression 

6 Do's

  • Do find your own style. If you like curvy lines use them in your designs. If you like hard angles use them in your design. The love of what you love will shine though in your designs.
  • Do decide on your audience. Do you draw towards moms with small children? Garment designs? Home decor? Quilters? Crafts?  Widen your audience or narrow the focus as necessary and market towards that audience.
  • Do color. Look in your closet and identify the color combos you love. Start there as a basis for your design. Now make a new layer and change those colors up: try colors your best friend loves. Try colors you don't like. Go wild, try different combinations of color. Add a pattern fill.  Keep playing with different layers and colors. You'll learn what works and what doesn't work for your style. And then go out on a limb and use a palette that you think doesn't work. You might be surprised.
  • Do study other designs (contest winners are good choices for comparisons). Compare them to your own designs. Use a very critical eye to decide where your own design could use some improvements. Is it in the flow of the design? The movement? The color choices? The execution? Create your next design trying to improve what you have decided was lacking in your design.
  • Do be brave. Doodle on paper! Find those old watercolors and splash them on paper. Use your camera to capture something that catches your eye. Find different ways to express yourself. Inspiration comes from so many different places and experiences. Talk to other designers; they are a fount of information and inspiration.
  • Do change it up so your voice shouts out in a design. The audience at Spoonflower and beyond is wide and deep. Your expression of what you do is just waiting to be discovered.

The Do's and Don'ts of Fabric Design with Virginia O

6 Don't's

  •  Don't copy. You have so many unique experiences that copying someone's designs won't allow you to develop your own style, your own voice.  It stunts your growth and worse, it gives you a reputation that is hard to shake. 
  • Don't hoard your knowledge. If you're asked by another designer how to do something share your knowledge. If you don't know how to do it refer them to someone who does, or find a tutorial for them. Helpfulness is a virtue!
  • Don't expect that your gorgeous abstract design will sell to sewists who are looking for novelty fabrics for diaper covers and vice versa.  There is a market for all things at Spoonflower – it's just finding YOUR market and marketing to them. 
  • Don't use images you find on the internet unless you have permission from the owner of the image. Even if it appears to be free, do your research and find out who owns the copyright. Create your own masterpiece!
  • Don't upload anything that isn't the best you can do. If you feel it's perfect – go for it, if not – rework it and play with it until it's the best you can do. The undo button can be your friend. 
  • Don't be afraid to be quirky, or funny, or too bold. Go ahead and express yourself and explore. Every design is an adventure and will teach you something about yourself and your designs. Now go design something!

Vo bio pic-01

Virginia Odien is obsessed with color, line, texture and puzzling it all together to create fun, beautiful surface design. She's self-taught and prefers challenging herself by changing it up all the time, so it's always a surprise what she might come up with. Her motto: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

She's had 9 first place wins at Spoonflower and 60 or 70 Top Ten wins. She's also had 2 collections at Connecting Threads and is always looking for licensing opportunities!

She's been married forever to Bill, has 2 adult children: Liam and Zoe, and 4 dogs, 3 cats and there is usually a foster animal or 3 in the household too.  She loves her friends for all their support, inspiration and keeping her from becoming a design hermit (yes, she's really that obsessed).  

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  • Pinky Wittingslow

    I love this blog post. timely advice too. I’m feeling a bit spent and deflated after the Spoonchallenge. I think it’s time I got a little braver and stop uploading until I’m really really happy with my designs.

  • Thanks Vincent, Amy, Rosanna, Sharon and Shelly! I’d love to hear your tips too because you’re all accomplished designers yourselves! It’s so great to hear what others keep in mind while designing! xoxoxo.

  • Congratulations Vo. I loved your tips today and you inspire me to get back to fabric design. Your designs and style are always so creative and unique. I can often identify your beautiful designs when I see the contest without a name above. Loved your blog post!!
    Rosanna Hope

  • Congratulations on being the guest blogger, Virginia! You’ve provided some great tips and some that I need to keep in mind as I do my designing. I really need to doodle more, work on my color palettes and think about my audience. You are an inspiration!