On a quiet weekend in April, the Spoonflower Greenhouse was bustling with creativity as 12 students from all over the country came together for the Spoonflower Handbook Master Class taught by co-author, Becka Rahn. Today, Becka visits the Spoonflower blog to share her experience teaching the first of this one-of-a-kind class! Want to reserve your spot for August’s master class? Click here to learn more. 

Spoonflower Handbook Master Class students proudly show off their custom designs created over the weekend.

Becka: Just a few weeks ago, a group of twelve aspiring fabric designers met at Spoonflower Headquarters to spend 18 intense hours immersed in vectors, Illustrator and inspiration. I got to be their teacher. The first-ever Spoonflower Handbook Master Class was everything I had hoped it would be and so much more!

Spoonflower Handbook co-author Becka Rahn shows students how to use the pen tool to create a basic shape.

Students arrived on Friday night so excited for class that they hadn’t slept the night before. Since we came from all over the country – NY, MT, NC, MN, CA, VA, WI, CO – we spent the evening getting to know each other. Spoonflower co-founder Stephen Fraser joined us to chat about humble beginnings in the sock factory, the story of writing The Spoonflower Handbook and especially to field the tough questions like “what’s a spoonflower?” We wrapped up Friday evening by creating some cut paper designs to “vectorize” the next day.

The weekend was full of collaboration as students tested out new Illustrator skills by creating custom designs.  

Students kicked off the weekend by decorating water bottles with woven wallpaper!

Saturday morning’s project was like a Project-Runway-style challenge. We decided to focus this class specifically on working with vectors and Adobe Illustrator because I know it can be really hard to learn on your own. So, we jumped first thing into learning vector vocabulary and Illustrator tools and putting those into hands-on practice. Who knew that drawing a heart could be so challenging? There were a few “make it work” moments, but in just 3 hours, everyone had completed their first vector design of the weekend – an Ed Emberley-inspired animal on a seamless background pattern and we sent these files off to be printed.

Becka works closely with a student to help put her new skills to use in Illustrator. 

Saturday afternoon was the much anticipated Tour of Spoonflower, led by Meredith, our official and awesome Spoonflower staff wrangler-chaperone-photographer-caterer. We got a behind-the-scenes look as we watched printers printing, cutters cutting and packers packing. From couches and pillows to wallpapered walls and computer skins to people wearing their own prints, nearly every surface at Spoonflower is adorned with a pattern. The machines are massive, the people are charming and friendly, and everything is just as geeky and cool as you think it must be. We popped in for a peek at the offices of Sprout Patterns and Roostery, which are both nestled inside the Spoonflower spaces. One of my favorite moments of the tour was when a student discovered, to her delight, that one of her designs was on a couch pillow in a meeting space in the business office.

It’s all about plaid for one of the master class students! 

It was all smiles as students watched their custom designs get printed right before their eyes!

After the tour, we settled down to talk about designing to scale and to switch gears from thinking in repeats to thinking about whole cloth and engineered designs. We took the basic hankie project from the Spoonflower Handbook and took it a few steps further, all while we practiced working with various Illustrator tools.

With 18 hours of hands-on teaching, students made sure to pay close attention, jotting down notes left and right!

Saturday night was an adventure in downtown Durham. We had dinner at a local BBQ spot and then spent the evening walking and seeing the sights. We saw an exhibition at a local art gallery and looked out at the skyline from the rooftop restaurant at a classic mid-century hotel. Those of us with hometowns in the midwest, where it was still somewhat wintery in April, thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful spring weather.

Sunday brought us back in the classroom bright and early to see our Saturday morning project designs printed and in our hands! It was amazing to have them right there to compare, discuss, troubleshoot and admire together. (Thanks to the print room staff for making that happen!) Then we switched to focus for the day on patterns: repeating patterns, patterns to fill shapes and patterns within patterns. While everyone worked independently, I spent most of the afternoon “speed dating” with each student one-on-one, so that everyone got some undivided time to talk about whatever they wanted to. I asked each person to bring along an example design that they really loved and we deconstructed the process for making that kind of design–what tools, techniques and ideas would you use if you wanted to make a design in that style.

One of my favorite things about teaching is gathering together a group of people that all share a passion for something and pushing them to take the next step. This class had everything from baby steps to giant leaps. They aren’t better designers because they learned how to use Illustrator. They are better designers because they learned new ways of approaching a design; because they gave themselves permission to try things; and because they were determined to not have their creativity held hostage by the Pen Tool.

About Our Guest Author 

Becka Rahn is a fiber artist and fabric designer.  Her work includes original designs and manipulated photographs that are digitally printed on to fabric.  With these engineered prints, she creates wearable and wall art pieces using couture sewing techniques and hand embroidery and embellishment.

Becka Rahn is the co-author of The Spoonflower Handbook, a guide to digital fabric and surface design. She worked for 11 years as the director of education at the Textile Center (www.textilecentermn.org) where she taught and developed fiber art curriculum for all ages. Becka is an award winning designer and has been a presenter at the Surface Design Association international conference and several regional and national fiber art symposia. She was awarded the 2013 Spun Gold award through Textile Center for her contributions to the field of fiber art.



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