In Design inspiration, Tips & techniques

Hey! I just looked up and here it is the middle of the week already. Guess I’ve been in the zone, head down, working hard. I’m deep into PD. Product Development, that is!

I’ve started working on my next set of sewing pattern designs to be released at Spring Quilt Market in May. These things take so so much time. I thought I’d take a little break to fill you in on the pattern design process. At least my process.

I begin by looking at my current patterns and evaluate what’s selling well and what needs I think there might be in the market that I can fill. With the amount of time I have between now and Market, I’d like to try to make 4 new additions to my pattern line. Concurrently, I have been developing a new print group for my hemp and organic cotton canvas and would like my new patterns to be shown, made with this fabric. That leads me to think canvas bags, and perhaps another hat to follow up on the popularity of my Reversible Bucket Hat.

my trusty sketchbook and smart eraser

So, off I go sketching bags in my sketchbook. While I’m designing I think about certain details I’d like in a bag, how I’d like it to function and of course how it looks. I’m a fan of clean design with not a lot of foofy add-ons. The designs also need to be unique and compelling. Not an easy combo! Some ideas look too boring, a little weird, not *me*, or just wrong.

This round of sketching sent me into the direction of grommets and convertible straps. I LOVE the aspect of 2-in-1 functions! Can it be both a tote AND a cross-body sling? Can the messenger bag double easily as a backpack, without compromising either one? These are the things that keep me up at night people. I become OBSESSED. I draw them every which way I can think of and then wake up in the morning with more ideas on my mind. Often I just have to start making patterns and sewing prototypes before I can really see what is right and wrong about a concept.

an early partial bag proto made out of outgrown kid pants

The pattern shapes I start off with are usually very simple rectangles. I use paper pulled out of my office recycle bin as my initial patterns and scribble little notes on them as I go along. I use fabric out of my stash that most similarly matches my final fabric in weight and drape. My stand-in for my heavy hemp/organic cotton canvas is often repurposed fabric, cut from worn out cords or jeans that I’ve held on to for scrap. As my prototypes improve (maybe version 2 or 3 of a design) I’ll use nicer fabrics from my stash…just on the off chance that the sample, though not a final design, might possibly be usable in some way. (Wonky protos can make for good knitting project bags!)

mid-point bag protos…almost there!

I cut, I sew, I make notes. I adjust the pattern and make another proto. Sometimes I get a new idea, branching off of the original, that takes me in a different direction altogether. This can be exciting or frustrating or both! Sometimes I feel like my head is about to spin off of my shoulders and I just can’t sew the new idea fast enough. Many times I spend the entire day chasing that tangent design only to end up with a pile of floppy, misshapen, unusable…stuff. The past 2 weeks I’ve been riding the highs of genius ideas followed by the lows of a few heinous sample bags. It’s been a roller coaster!

All in all it’s been a pretty good ride. I feel like I made some great progress. I have 2 solid concepts that need only one last prototype each to nail the final details. (Um…I’m going to try not to feel angst over the fact that there are still 2 more concepts to go and I am behind schedule.)

Over the next month I’ll be writing the instructions, scanning the final pattern pieces and cleaning them up, creating diagrams to illustrate the steps in illustrator, etc. That gets formatted and arranged (with the help of my husband, thank you, Honey!) before sending it off to a proof-reader for edits. I’ll also send them to pattern testers to read through it all, make the project, and offer feedback.

sneak peek of my new prints, coming next month!

After THAT, it’s time to make photo samples, shoot the cover images and layout the cover art. Copy for the cover gets written and formatted with the photography. Then someday, hopefully before Spring Quilt Market, everything will be so proofed and edited beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it will be ready to PRINT! We get the patterns printed locally so that we can be there in person to make sure everything looks just so.

So, yeah, it’s kind of a lot of work. And really, the last paragraph is just glossing over much of it. Things like “make photo samples”. I’ll just whip those up, don’t you know. Or shooting the covers. That requires nicely lit days and finding pretty models. But, it’s all part of the looong process that is designing and producing something that is truly your own vision. That’s why it’s so important (I’m reminding myself right now as I write this) to put in the time and the effort to really nail the design at the beginning. It’s like a marriage. You’ll be living with it day in and day out for the long haul, so you better love it!

* * * * * * * *

Whew! That was a long post. Did you enjoy hearing about the prototyping process? Would you like to hear more? If so, about what ?

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Showing 33 comments
  • Katie

    Oh my, I see leaves on the fabric and is that an owl? Looks like big round eyes the way you have folded it….
    I always love to see how designers create their pieces and patterns. It’s a little glimpse into your process.

  • Jan | Daisy Janie

    Great process post! I appreciate all that you’ve spelled out and all that is not. It IS a lot of work, and you do it so well. Can’t wait to see what you come up with! Also, that eraser rocks!!!!

  • Megan

    Oh yes please!!
    I’m working on developing a dog clothing line and have made some protos. But I have never really completed a final design that I’m really happy with. My Rotti wears them proudly even though the work isn’t great. Seeing you go through the process is reminding me that’s it’s a process and to just get it done.

  • Anonymous

    I have a prototype process in my work, too. I know how long it takes to design something new and then test it for viability, but you take it all to a higher level. My patterns only has to work for me, not others. I recognize the starting point – the ideas in a sketchbook. Thanks so much for sharing! I love seeing how other people develop their concepts.

  • Marni

    Dear Betz,

    I love hearing about the design process – all of it! I have done some designing (and have a blog) so I thought an encouraging comment was important.

    I’d love to hear about designing fabric! To me that seems like a huge challenge.

    Thank you for writing your blog, I read it weekly!


  • Pam

    Love your blog! Don’t know why I didn’t run across it sooner….you have fabulous stuff!

  • Dill


    I love seeing the sketches of up-coming projects. It shows how much effort one puts into their work. My sketch book is sooo dog-eared as I’ve been flipping through it so many times!

    The next step for me is just to finish my projects and test their marketability!

  • Passionate Blogger

    Phew! That’s a lot of work! So many protos involved! The bag proto made from kids’ pants looks interesting…

  • I think it’s really interesting to hear and learn about the process! Thank you for sharing!

  • Haute Goat Reclaimed Cashmere

    I really appreciate you taking the time to write posts like this. It not only makes me appreciate your work that much more, knowing how much love & dedication you personally put into your designs to make sure everything is right; but it also reminds me to slow down and not get frustrated when I have to make a 5th prototype – I guess we’re all mortal!

  • Alice

    I was so glad to read about your process. I design and make scarves and pillows that I sell in a co-op and sometimes the design process seems so tortuous, but I thought that was just me. It’s good to know that accomplished designers suffer some of the same issues.

  • Elizabeth

    I absolutely enjoyed hearing about the prototyping process!

  • Natalie Jost | Olive Manna

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I don’t sew, but I crochet and I’m going through the pattern proofing process now. After making a half dozen prototypes, I’m exhausted before I even begin the layout of the pattern files. I’m thankful to know you go through similar steps. It makes your designs stand out above those who don’t put in so much time.

  • Betsy Leonard Kaage

    Great post, thank you for sharing!! I LOVE the new fabrics!!

  • Melissa

    Thanks for sharing your process. I recently started using scraps to perfect patterns that i’m working on, and I like not worrying about ruining good fabric. And honestly it doesn’t take that much longer, making 2 or 3 of something, because I used to take the same amount of time just staring at my beautiful fabric afraid that I might cut it wrong!

  • Lian


    I could not sew to save my life. That C- on my pillow project in seventh grade home-ec did permanent damage to my psyche.

    And I lurved seeing inside your creative process. Illuminating to anyone who creates anything.

    More of this please…


  • Cheryl

    Hi Betz! I feel as though I know you. I love your blog and really appreciate the time and energy that went into this post. Very interesting insight to your design process. I just started a blog myself and did a post about wool on wool applique which will be published next Tuesday. I would love you to visit if you have a moment!
    Keep up the great work you are doing!

  • mb

    this is wonderful, i love hearing about your process. it’s comforting to know i’m not the only one making patterns out of scrap paper and prototypes out of old jeans.

    i am SO excited for the new prints! do i see a nautilus/spiral shell in blue? how pretty!!!

  • Lorrie

    I love reading about your design process. Yes please, write more about what inspires you and your process of getting it from a wispy thought to a concrete product.

  • Molly

    I made a pattern to sell in my Etsy shop this last fall and it could have used a lot more of what you’ve been doing. It took me so long to get it as finished as I did. I have a new respect for people who publish patterns.
    I’d be more inclined to use the cast off pants for my final product. :D

  • JD

    Thanks so much for sharing such interesting information. I have a dream to design and create my own patterns but am very intimidated by the whole process of starting a business, designing the product, marketing, etc. I can read books but hearing first hand from someone who is living the dream is priceless and helps me to feel that maybe I can do it too!

  • hkpowerstudio

    I very much liked hearing about your process! I would also very much like to test another pattern for you one of these days, if you want! I love the direction your headed with these patterns, from what I can see! Hope to catch up with you soon.

  • stephanie

    my girlfreind just sent me your blog. I have just done my 1st pattern and its on its 3rd prototype stage. :) I had no idea how long and involved this wasand was thiking perhaps i just don’t know what im doing… But after reading your post i know im on the right track. many many thanks for this informative post.

  • Sharon

    great post…very informative and i love reading about someone else’s creativity!

  • Andi

    Yes, Please! I would love to hear about your fabric design process! I love your work and so appreciate all the time and effort that you put into it!

  • Angela

    I think this is a great post. Fascinating reading and a real insight into behind the scenes creativity

  • Ruby’s Upcycle Designs™

    Oh, my…so much work, but so worth it! I just loved reading about your design process!! You are so meticulous and it shows! Congrats & can’t wait to see the final four! xoxo Beth
    PS If you ever need more testers, I’m in! xoxo

  • gretchen

    Thank you so much for posting about your prototype process – so very interesting! Love seeing the photos too – really helps me visualize what you’re going through. Also, I was wondering where you found such large grommets. I’ve been looking for some like that for some curtains I’d like to make, but haven’t been able to find any. thanks so much!!

  • Betz White

    Hi Gretchen,
    The grommets ca be found at Joanns and they are for curtains! Easy to attach, too, no tools needed.

  • Carmen

    Brilliant! I love to hear what goes on “backstage” and your explanation is both inspiring and fascinating. Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your process!!!

  • Leilaluna

    Very nice :)) bag and drawings so.. godd week and kisses from italy.

    See u


  • pb

    i loved reading about the process… it’s inspiring to know that our arts are really achievable through a lot of hard work.
    day in the life :)

  • Marni

    Hi Betz

    Marni here again with a link to another tutorial that you might find interesting, from a different Marnie.

    all about publishing knitting charts or graphics for patterns.


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