In Design inspiration, Tips & techniques

Over the last week or so, several blogger/designers have been posting about their design process, giving a little behind-the-scenes look into how their work comes to be. I always love those types of posts and decided to get in on the fun by showing you one process that I use to design my textile prints.

First of all, I have a big inspiration board in my studio where I tack up swatches and images that I come across in magazines, catalogs, you name it. Anything that has a great color combo, texture or motif that I find inspiring goes on this board. (BTW, if you are distracted by that green felt pokey thing, and why wouldn’t you be, it’s fabulous, I wrote about it here.) Sometimes I pull things down and actively look at them but most of the time they are just in my daily background making me happy. That’s my *input*, or at least a portion of it. Now let’s look at the *output*…

…my doodling. I have lots of notebooks and sketchbooks and none of them are fancy. I like spiral bound pages because then I don’t feel inhibited or psyched out by the permanence of a bound book. Most of the images above are mindless doodles with no agenda, I didn’t sit down to design fabric, for example. When I do have an idea for a fabric print, my doodles are almost never more than a thumbnail concept, meaning I don’t often polish a hand drawn sketch to completely describe my idea. They are usually just an indication of an idea to help me remember what I was thinking when the idea struck.

Take this little bird, above. At some point I drew this idea on the corner of a sticky note to tell myself that I wanted to do a print with birds flowing in and out. I was probably in the kitchen and drew it on the corner of the grocery list. At some point the teeny scrap made it upstairs to my studio!

Then one day when I decided I had a little time to design a print, I pulled it out and sketched a few leaves and birds, first in pencil and then with marker. (Even at this point I don’t polish them up too much.) I scanned them into the computer and brought the sketch into Illustrator. I never use any sort of auto-trace hoo-haw, I trace it with the “pen tool” using a mouse. I don’t know why I don’t use a Wacom tablet, I just mouse it. For the varied line weight (thick and thin) around the bird, I make 2 sets of lines and push and pull them until I get them how I like ’em.

Once I have my elements set, I delete the scanned sketch and start playing with layout and color. I try things linear, tossed, complicated, simple, etc. For this print, named Flutter, I wanted to have the birds visually blend with the leaves in a flowing layout. Now comes the really hard part. For me. The repeat. (That’s the layout that makes the elements repeat continuously across yards of fabric.) For years I worked in the children’s apparel industry as a designer. I know all about repeats, how they’re done, what’s good and what’s not. But now to actually DO ONE myself is a major undertaking and my biggest challenge. It requires absolute precision or it looks like crap and costs money to fix! The pressure! So…there’s usually some crying involved, stomping around, emailing designer friends to give me tips. And then…I finally get it. Ahhhhh…..

The result! My first strike offs in two colorways on my organic cotton sateen. This print is (hopefully) part of my next print collection once I design a few more prints to go with it. The color is not represented well in this photo, but I’ll probably tweak it some anyway.

So, that’s just one of my little quirky ways of designing prints. When it comes to designing sewing patterns and creations for my shop, the process is of course completely different and maybe a post for another day.

If you would like to see the “process” posts that inspired mine, follow the links to these talented people!

Patricia, Jan, Michelle, Jessica, Jenean

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Showing 33 comments
  • Michelle Engel Bencsko

    Your plug for the pokey thing made me laugh, but the part about notebooking- spiral bound, scraps of paper, no agenda, notes to self and all really resonated with me.

    This was great insight! Thanks for sharing.

  • Marisa and Creative Thursday

    love this Betz! the insight into the process & the design. You’re such a talented lady xoxo

  • Jess to Impress

    that is amazing! I love how technology is used to bring great ideas to life. I would also be interested to know about printing fabric designs. Is it something you can do in house, or is there a special printer you send your designs to? such a fascinating process – thanks for sharing!

  • kendra

    thanks for sharing your doodles! love the blue and red birds on white – they are stunning all on their own!

  • stephanie

    god bless you for tracing with the pen tool and mouse! and i LOVE the varied line weight. i always notice that and love to incorporate it in my illustrations as well. i really appreciated your honesty about getting the repeats right! i’ve only ever tried it twice and i know it will kill me! your work is so beautiful and sharing the process was so generous of you. THANK YOU!

  • daisy janie

    Fantastic, Betz! I really resonated with all of it, too, as Michelle said. I have bits & bobs of doodles on the most random pieces of paper. Really great idea to use 2 sets of lines! p.s. these are birdies with pizzazz – ;) – likes a lot!!

  • Jesse

    So lovely to see your sketches translated into the final print, and the way you retained the movement of the original.

  • Sharon

    It’s so fun to see how the creative mind works…and I love the idea of a spiral sketchbook with no lines….I am always using some remnant of a school notebook that didn’t get used up by one of the boys! thanks for the enlightenment…

  • Melaleucamom

    ThAnk you so much for sharing so openly. It really helps to see how these pieces of art come to be. It inspires me to try striking out with my work and gives me steps/ideas for some direction. Thanks for giving me a square one!

  • patricia

    Oh I love spiral notebooks too and never got any bound until I got my thicker Moleskine. Now I switch between the two. I’m also with you as far as no auto-tracing. I don’t think I’d get the same results. I just got a Wacom tablet but I haven’t really played with it yet. We’ll see how that goes.

    Loved seeing all this. Thanks for sharing!

  • linziloop

    Brilliant insight, I’m a graphic designer myself so you have inspired me to do something similar!

  • henzy

    you have lovely fabrics.. was really great to see a behind the scenes how how it all comes together

  • Monika

    I use to doodle alot when I was younger (in my 20’s) but I rarely do now. There was a bird that I use to doodle all the time and it was a simple stylized kind of lyrebird.

    You have inspired me to get back into doodling because that is where alot of inspiration can come from. And practice makes perfect. How else can ideas come to be reality??


  • cindi

    Thanks for sharing how ideas lead to fabrics. I enjoyed seeing how your thought process works and how it all starts with just a little doodle.

  • micha

    Thanks for sharing! The new pattern looks wonderful!

  • Georgia

    This was really cool to see how it’s done. I love the birds- gorgeous fabric.

  • Sara

    That was really really interesting–something I’ve always wondered about. Thanks!

  • random Cindy

    Thanks for sharing. Looks like your process is very much like mine. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, it’s often got bits of other notes pinned into it too! Pages might have lesson plan ideas, clothing ideas, construction notes, a bit of a melody, or even a shopping list! I don’t put much of anything on paper until it’s pretty well formed in my head. And I LOVE bezier curves. I can sit and play with those points and handles until they curve just right. I am in mourning already that my next computer will not run my beloved Freehand though. I love typography and Illustrator just can’t hand the mix of illustration and typography that Freehand allows me to do with ease. Sigh.

  • Calli Makes Do

    I love seeing how the seed of an idea grows. Absolutely wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  • PumpkinGirl

    You make it look so effortless. It’s sort of satisfying to know that it can be really frustrating to go from rough idea to printed fabric.

  • Betz White

    Jess to Impress (and others wondering),

    If you want to experiment with printing your own fabric, you should try Spoonflower or one of the other companies that offer digital printing services. The wonderful blog, True Up, has a great post comparing different companies that do this:

    Give it a shot! :)

  • Jess to Impress

    Thanks Betz – I am not a designer by any means, but one of my friends actually designed my wedding invitations. It would be interesting to see about doing a fabric print based on her original design – can’t wait to look into Spoonflower and others

  • Brooke Reynolds

    It’s so nice to see actual sketches done on paper, I think so many people miss that step completely and jump right to the computer!

  • Stephanie

    GREAT post. These are things I have always wondered about. Thanks for sharing! Very interesting.

  • Linda Branch Dunn

    I got a BFA in textile design just before computer technology arrived. I kept saying, you can do this all on a computer, and the teachers kept saying, that’s WAY too expensive, it will never happen…That was 1990.

    Of course, my mother remembers a teacher telling her class that the television was a useless toy, destined to be nothing but “a plaything of the very rich.”

    I still have occasional nightmares about having to put something into repeat!

  • Miss Pelicano

    Hi! I really love that fabric with the birds. The lines and the colours are so beautiful!
    Do you sell this print? Do you sell any fabric of your own design?
    Probably everyone knows the answer, but I’m new in this sewing/blogging thing…. And I really could buy some of your bird fabric!

  • Betz White

    Hi Miss Pelicano,
    I do! I sell my fabrics in my etsy shop:

    The bird fabric is not available in my shop yet but if you’ll email me I can arrange it for you: betz [AT] betzwhite [DOT] com

    Thank you!

  • Caroline

    Betz, great post! I’d love to learn more about your process of creating patterns :) I’ve thought about creating a few of my own, but I don’t know where to start!

    Fabric is a different story..if I had the interest, I could. I also have a degree in Textiles and Design and I learned with gouache and transfer paper! Even in the mid 90s, computers were new, although I did take one textile class on a mac..gah, my macbook does so much more! It did give me a good start in photoshop :) I love your bird print!

  • Whosies

    I have been a doodler forever, so it is nice to see how these can become something–even if it takes them awhile to make it!
    I haven’t taken anything to the printers yet, but it is a similar process for making templates for patterns too.

  • Alicia

    Your work is awesome, I love it! I also like painting and crafting, and you inspire me so much.
    Thanks from Spain!

  • theartistshouse

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I also enjoyed surfing the web at the other posts you suggested. It was inspiring and educational all in one. Thanks again.

  • Bread n Butter Factory

    I have always kept a visual diary from the age of 15… half my lifetime now! And I often refer back to the older ones for reference, inspiration for new work, and to see just how far I have come over the years, how my ideas and styles have changed, and how I have evolved. I am lost without them! I found your post really interesting and inspiring Betz, and also reassuring in the fact that I too have similar design processes and techniques. I just hope that one day I can be as inspiring as creative as you xxx

  • themsrevolution

    i want to marry the bird fabric. well done!

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