The Learning Curve, Part 2

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Blog, Learning

As a follow up to the last post I did about finding my way in the world of partnering with a fabric company, I wanted to share my experience with the second stage, the proofing of first strike-offs.

So, having put together a collection that we were all happy with, and then having done all the colour analysis, and made decisions on scale, my designs were sent off to the mill for screens to be made and first trial prints (strike-offs) of each design in each colourway to be printed. I was so excited a couple weeks ago to get a Fedex package containing a decent sized piece of fabric of each and every design. Incredibly, there were some patterns that printed exactly, and I mean exactly as I wanted. Hooray! There were a few that needed just a few minor colour changes. Easy peasy! And then there were some others. Here are some things I have learnt:

thing 1: In this wonderful digital age in which we live, having one’s fabric produced relies a lot on putting things in packages and having an international courier come get them. While some questions can be dealt with via email and telephone, swatches, printed designs and instructions get handed on to the next person the old fashioned way. In cases of uncertainty, designs have to be returned in this fashion to get the kinks worked out. Things take time. Have everything VERY well organized, with as much detailed explanation as clear as possible to avoid delays.

thing 2: Leaving decisions to someone else does not always turn out the way you would expect or hope for. I trust fully that this great fabric house I have teamed up with does amazing work. My issue is more a matter of wanting MY vision of my work to be what ends up on the fabric, not someone else’s interpretation of it. There was a query with one of the designs’ scale. As there had been quite a time lag between when I had sent them all the finalized work and when they got to sit down and go through it, I could not remember exactly what the size of a certain pattern was supposed to be. They suggested the scale I had given them looked too large. I said to do what they felt was best, so as not to delay the process any longer (see thing 1). I ended up with that print being half the size it should be, and some parts simply don’t read very well. With the number of screens that were made to produce it, there’s no turning back now. I take full responsibility for the glitch. It was my decision to say “do what you think…”. There are a number of people involved in the whole process, and I can’t expect everyone to be able to (or want to, for that matter) climb inside my head to get a good look at things. A relatively easy fix was to remove the few elements that were simply too small and appreciate it in its different state. Be clear in your choices. Keep a copy of things you physically send out so you have something to reference when a question arises.

thing 3: Solid colour is MUCH easier to work with than transparency. I actually knew this going into it. I had serious doubts as to how subtle changes in colour, gradients and washes would be able to look as I had intended. When I saw a few designs printed, my first reaction was to say that I simply felt lost as to what to do to get them from where they were to where I needed them to be. Deep breath … Once I sat down to analyze it bit by bit (forget looking at the entirety, that just made me want to go eat ice cream or spend a few hours on Pinterest) I realized it was do-able. Anywhere that subtle changes in colour need to be done, lighter colour is put down first, then darker colours are stippled on top in lower or higher densities, depending on what is needed. I would say this is better achieved with a light, a middle and a darker tone. Using only a light and a dark (as I tried in a few areas due to limits on the number of colours that were allowable) leaves things looking not as soft.

thing 4: Being specific is very important. I had to sit and write out all the changes I wanted. This could be anything from “that green is too washed out, it needs to look more like this” (provide new colour chip), to “that colour was put in the wrong place”, to “this line needs to be removed” (sometimes strange little things get added to a design when screens are being made). I did this on every single spot I wanted adjusted. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance again.

While it was daunting at first glance, it was an exercise I am so happy I had to go through, as it has taught me so much more about how colour is analyzed by the mills. For some patterns I asked that another strike off be done prior to a committed print run. As it’s my first time around, I feel it better to be sure my proposed changes will have the effect I am hoping for.

So now, I keep my fingers & toes crossed and wait again for my friendly Fedex guy to come knock on my door.

I will let you know how it goes, for sure. And sorry for the lack of pictures … I want it to be a surprise.


  1. Patty Rybolt
    February 6, 2013

    Thank you for detailing your journey through this process. It is so helpful as a beginner in my fabric design journey to experience this process through you.
    I worked in the Graphic Design field for 10 years before taking the last 15 years away from the field professionally to raise my girls. Through this time I used my talents to do school newsletters, paint set designs for school plays & make costumes, and do all that the room mom can do. I also developed a love of quilting and was looking for a way to combine my graphic design skills and my love of fabric. Fabric design seemed like the natural next step. I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to learn as much as I can about fabric design and the process of getting licensed. Your blog is the first that I’ve found that is willing to share the realities of getting through the fabric printing process! Did I say thank you?

    This ‘proofing process’ sounds very similar to a process I used to go through as a graphic designer whenever I would do ‘press checks’ for clients. We would hang out at the printer during the proof run of a project and stay there until they got it right. I’ve been trying to convert my past experience as a graphic designer into the fabric design world and your blog makes it feel as though it could be possible!
    Thanks again… Patty Rybolt

    • admin
      February 7, 2013

      Thanks for commenting Patty. I, for one don’t understand all the secrecy in this field. I’m not sure if it has something to do with it being a competitive field, and wanting to stay a step ahead, or not. I believe in sharing knowledge. I’ve struggled to learn what I have and am so happy to be able to make it easier for anyone else who may be interested in knocking on those doors. As for the proofing … oh how I wish I could be there when they are doing the actual printing. The time it would save!