Learning to Quilt

I have been feeling a bit like a fish out of water at Quilt Market … like a fraud waiting to be called out as such. While I started my first quilt many years ago, until this past year I have only made a quilt for each of my children. By no means prolific, I would not even consider giving myself the label of “quilter”. So at Quilt Market, surrounded by so much talent, I wait for someone to walk by and laugh at the few quilts I have produced and point out that I have no clue what I am doing.

In the desire to by educated, I went on an online search a few months ago in hopes of finding a group of local modern quilters who were not all francophone (while I can get by bilingually after many years of struggling with a second language, I am still far more comfortable, and certainly absorb and contribute more in my native tongue). I was so thrilled to discover the Montreal Modern Quilt Guild, a branch of the Modern Quilt Guild. Sign me up! I went to my first meeting in November and found myself surrounded by a group of very talented women who have a similar love of fabric and of the hand made as I do.

So now I am being educated on the art and the craft of the quilt, my eyes are being opened to new-to-me techniques and approaches, and I am definitely being inspired by the work of these creative women. Bi-monthly sewing challenges are sure to get me to try things I would not otherwise and to see things differently … always a good thing. My first project:

quilted name badge front

Front and back of a quilted name badge for a fellow member (size: approx. 4″x5″). My first attempt at random cutting & piecing and sewing curves.

quilted name badge back

Here’s to never wanting to stop learning, and to being inspired by the abundance of talent out there, even so close to home. And to developing new relationships with those that share a passion.

Design Like a Pro

Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Blog, Learning, Spoonflower | One Comment

Ever wanted to learn to design repeats for fabric (or any other medium, for that matter) with Adobe Illustrator?

My talented fellow Spoonflower designer, MaJo is guiding a Skillshare class in June to teach just that.

You will learn all kinds of helpful skills & tricks, and even have access to interviews of other designers in the trade (like me) to understand how we got to the various spots we are currently at. And … did I mention there will be prizes?

Go check it out. It’s a really tiny fee for a great big bunch of helpful information!

The Learning Curve, Part 3

Posted by on Mar 17, 2013 in Blog, Learning | One Comment

It’s been quiet on the blog front for me this past month. Lots going on, leaving little to no time to focus & write. This weekend finally offers a bit of breathing time.

I received the second go-around of Strike Offs on my first collections last week, right when I was already higher than knee deep in figuring out colours for my next two.

I am so glad we did a second set before committing and printing yardage. There are now full colourways that I am beyond happy with. There are some that are decidedly better, but still need minor tweaking, and there is one that I was prepared to say “scrap it completely” a few days ago, but I have found what I hope will be good fixes.

So, what have I learnt this time?

– Picking colours is far from being an exact science. I can send a swatch, but that doesn’t mean that that colour is what I will get. The swatch is read by a computer that produces a formula. That formula is then looked at by a pair of human eyes that makes minor adjustments to tweak it to be closer to the intended colour to print. Not being able to control that part from this end is frustrating at times, but, in the end, just has to be accepted. “Perfection” is virtually impossible. Learn to let it go.

– There is a better chance of getting an accurate colour match if a fabric swatch is sent rather than a swatch on paper. Thus far I have been sending paint chips. The head office sent a few fabric swatches to the factory for me, and this had better results.

– This time they sent strike offs with printed selvedge. My name is on them. Very exciting!!! It was a bit tough making the decision of what name I wanted to use. My last name, Serrao, is often mispronounced, so I decided to forgo the traditional route. While few people know my middle name, in the end I decided on “Tamara Kate”. I think it has the right feel for my design style.

And now I cross my fingers and send as many positive thoughts as possible as I send back my final adjustment suggestions, as next time I see them, they will be printed yardage, never to be changed again. They may even be ready for Quilt Market.

And finally, I will be able to share.

The Learning Curve, Part 2

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Blog, Learning | 2 Comments

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.

A New Toy … I mean, Tool

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in Blog, Learning | One Comment


Late last year I turned on our 8-yr old Fuji camera to take what I’m sure would have been the most breathtaking of photos, and psychedelic lines showed up in my viewfinder. Our friendly camera store guy confirmed it: not worth resuscitating. He actually said the typical lifetime of a camera is about 8 years. Greg suggested the manufacturers add a self destruct button when the time is up.

So, a-researching I went. I figured that I should just look at blogs that I love and see what kind of cameras creative bloggers use to document their work, surroundings & inspiration.

One answer kept popping up: Cannon EOS T3i (or 2i or 4i). In typical fashion, when I began looking at the Cannon options, I started to get carried away with the better, better and better models until I found myself looking at $1500 cameras. Reality check.

When I had come back down to Earth, I found myself a pretty good deal online, and have been playing with and thoroughly enjoying my new toy ever since.

That’s Max’s leftover birthday cake in one of my very favourite Christmas presents (thanks Sis).

And I’m starting to appreciate the beauty of the mundane carnation. More happy, warm colour in this -38ºC weather.

The Learning Curve

Posted by on Oct 22, 2012 in Blog, Learning | 4 Comments

A few things about working with a fabric house:

thing 1: I can happily say that there seems to be a huge amount of artistic license given to the designer. Fabric companies want something new & fresh. They don’t want formulaic work. They don’t want you to be stuck in a tight style that becomes predictable. Creativity and individual voice are applauded. There are, I’m sure, limits to this, but so far, so good. I’m still trying to feel out my position in the relationship. Building a rapport seems to be key. Everything can be discussed. Want to add another colour way? Go for it. Feel strongly about a certain colour staying in a design? Express that opinion. After all, your name will be on it. Things may have to be eliminated down the road prior to production, but decisions will be made together.

thing 2: Know the repeat size. I now know that everything must work within a 24″ vertical repeat. Repeat sizes can be any number that divides equally into this 24″ (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24″). I will now always keep this in mind when designing anything new. Saves time down the road.

thing 3: Don’t go crazy with the colour!!!!! I’ve just spent 4 days doing “pitch sheets” for 2 collections. I, who LOVE colour, am, quite frankly, a tad tired of it today. This is a little section of what my desk looked like at the beginning of the process.

Because there is a limit to the number of screens that the mill uses (19 in this case, but they prefer you stick to 17), one needs to carefully pick colours. In my case with the very first collection I wanted to focus on, this was a stressful task. I started out trying hard to not think of each of the colours I was eliminating as one of my children. By today, however, I was willing to give those kids away to anyone who would take them. Anything to get this process over & done with. I tried to be meticulous. I will keep my fingers crossed.

thing 4: There is a good stretch of time (probably about 6 months) before the fabric will be on the shelf of your local fabric store. Once all the original designs are finalized & all the original colour analysis is done, it is all sent to the mill. They will make the screens & do a first strike off of all the patterns which will be sent back to the fabric house & back to me. We will make decisions about which colours need to be tweaked or changed & the process will start again. This can happen a number of times until things are just right. Then production starts. This is very reassuring when starting out, as I am unsure if my colour choices will print the way I envision.

thing 5: I will be the recipient of close to 20 yards of each and every pattern & colour way that is produced. That means that in a few months, it will be GIVEAWAY TIME! Stay tuned.