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The Textile Design Lab

Members of this tight-knit community are continually improving their craft, learning new techniques, staying informed with the most up-to-date styles, and making their artwork more profitable.

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Monthly Vignette: March 2014

Music: “Take Me Higher” by Jahzzar / CC BY-SA 4.0

Taking a look back at last month while putting together this short video re-cap, I realize just how busy we were! Our March calendar was packed with talented designers and studios, amazing guest tutorials, and quite a few interviews. It’s hard to pick favorites, but some of the highlights included an interview with Petri Juslin of Marimekko, an informative post on the indexing and color simplification process by Sherry London, a design tutorial on the Pop trend of the 1960s by Julie Gibbons, and an in-depth interview with surface pattern designer Rebecca Stoner. We have a packed post schedule for April as well and can’t wait to share what’s in store!

Remember that in addition to all of the posts you see on our public blog, there is a whole lot more going on within The Textile Design Lab! Member are privy to tons of extra content including extended versions of the tutorials that appear on the public blog, weekly design challenges, twice monthly member webinars, e-courses including The Sellable Sketch and The Ultimate Guide to Repeats, and lots more. You can read all about what’s offered with membership here.

If you enjoyed this vignette, hop on over to our YouTube channel to view vignettes from previous months, as well as interviews and other great video content. This is a great way to discover new designers and find inspiration in the world of surface design. Enjoy! -Chelsea

Interview with Sarah Grubbs, guest expert for April in The Textile Design Lab

sarah pic

Sarah Grubbs is the Lead Graphic Designer for Nike Swim, and we are delighted to welcome her on board as our guest expert for April in The Textile Design Lab. Later this month Sarah will be providing free training to all Textile Design Lab members, focusing on etiquette and goal setting guidance for textile designers working in house or freelancing. We will be sharing a short excerpt of this training on the public blog as well. Stay tuned! Today we invite you to get to know Sarah a little better in our interview below.


1. Tell us a bit about your design background and career path. How did you make your way to your current position with Nike Swim? 

I grew up in a family of artists, my Dad painted windows in town shops and my Grandma made almost everything from scratch. I have always been drawn to color and texture as a mode of expression and was thrilled when I discovered textile design as a career path. After high school I moved from Northern California to New York City where I studied textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). The textile/surface design degree program at FIT felt like it was designed just for me. I learned how to weave, screen print, paint, do repeats and so much more.  Everything about being in NYC and textile design excited me. I had several jobs, the first of which came from a fieldtrip to a company called Rothtec where I worked as a colorist. I also worked as a fashion designer, weaving assistant and freelance surface designer. I did a semester at London College of the Arts and travelled to India where I got to visit textile factories. My first full time job after graduating was at a home furnishing company called Croscill where I was a decorative bedding designer. At Croscill I developed designs for comforters, quilts, sheets, and decorative pillows. After working at Croscill for two years I knew it was time to move back to the west coast. I was drawn to Portland, Oregon (because it’s amazing) and specifically to Jantzen swimwear because of its long history of innovation in textile design. I began freelancing for Jantzen while I still lived in New York and after moving to Portland they offered me a job. I was thrilled to make the transition from working on traditional home textiles to brightly colored fashion forward prints for swimwear. A few years after designing for Jantzen and other private label brands in swimwear I began to work exclusively on prints for Nike Swim where I am now the Lead Graphic Designer.

130319_NikeSwim_3F_OnyxStorm-62_v22. Could you talk about the differences between working in-house and freelancing? What should designers know when considering these two tracks? What have you enjoyed about each and what have you struggled with? 

Working as a freelancer comes with certain freedoms, like making up your own hours, choosing your office (café, Paris?), and maybe working in your pajamas. My favorite part of working as a freelancer was working really hard for several months and then taking a few months off to travel. When choosing to work as a freelancer it’s important to be organized. Create a financial breakdown of what you need to survive and remember to pay your taxes. After my first year of freelancing I learned the hard way that taxes are ideally paid quarterly and if they’re not you will get a bill at the end of the year. Keeping record of your expenses may also be helpful at tax time depending on how much you spend. Anticipate being paid late by clients as this happens often. Include a late fee on your invoice so there is incentive for clients to pay on time and legal protection for you if they do not. The biggest struggle I had as a freelancer was the uncertainty of whether or not I would have a job after I finished a given project.

While being self-employed can be nice, there are also benefits to working in house.  Being part of an office culture can spark ideas that you might not come up with on your own, your hours are defined, and you can generally count on a paycheck. The thing I appreciate most about all of my in house jobs is learning about different processes (such as pattern making, technical design, and product development) and how what I do fits in to the scheme of things. If you work for a design lead company, it’s likely that you’ll have access to trend forecasting services which can be spendy otherwise. Most companies offer a benefit and vacation package which provide a sense of security that you may not have as a freelancer. Some of the struggles I have working in house are sitting at a desk for several hours a day and the amount of time spent in front of a computer. Since most of the design work I do is on the computer, I make it a priority to have a sketchbook at my desk and doodle as often as possible. Sometimes a ten minute sketch break peppered with some basic stretching can make all the difference. I try to find different ways to keep things fresh and interesting so that boredom doesn’t take over. I have an inspiration board that is always evolving and reminds me of what I love about life and how I can bring those things in to the work I do. While working in house has the benefits of established structure and resources, there can also be a lack of variety.

3. What are your preferred media/design tools?

Nearly every day for as long as I can remember, I have used an old school Wacom tablet. Photoshop, Illustrator, pencils, sketchbooks, and Prismacolor colored pencils are my main staples.

splatter4. Are there any books, blogs, magazines, etc. that you recommend for inspiration?

Besides Pattern Observer, some of my favorite blogs include: and Selvage is a gorgeous textile focused magazine, and The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones is a must have for every textile designer.

5. Who are your design heroes? What about them inspires you or influences your work?

I’m most inspired by stories, people, and works of art with a rebel spirit. I’ve always had a soft spot for well-done grafitti and skateboarding because of how they use traditional surfaces for modern modes of expression. I’m also inspired by traditional methods of textile design, like back-strap weaving where your body is part of the loom, and the beautiful imperfections in wood block printing. When I read the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, I was inspired for months by the description of how Vermeer saw color and ground different colored stones, like lapis lazuli, to make paint. I dyed cotton with coffee and tea, mixed my own blue paint and did many a textile design inspired by the book, one of which can be seen at

solar canopy6. Do you have any words of advice for aspiring designers trying to make their way in the textile industry?

More important than experience is enthusiasm. Most of the jobs I’ve had came from showing genuine interest and asking lots of questions to people who were doing things that I wanted to do. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If there is a company you are interested in working for, show your interest, send a sample of your work that would complement what they are already doing. Do an internship to get your foot in the door. Be like a sponge and learn as much as you can from those who are willing to share their knowledge. Be humble. Remember why you are interested in textile design and follow that thread.

Featured Designer: Lorenz Hermsen


Lorenz Hermsen is a Portland, Oregon based textile designer with a background in architecture and graphic design.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in textiles. My architecture classes in college gave me drawing and drafting skills, as well as color theory, a knowlege of historical styles and general design skills. I’ve designed everything from stage sets to parade floats to display windows to jewelry over the years. About ten years ago, I took several fabric design classes, anticipating that one day I would be applying that information. I have traveled extensively, and have often fallen in love with the handmade textiles I see being made in some countries, and I find much design inspiration from other cultures.

Nine years ago I traveled to Southeast Asia to visit a friend who had moved to Thailand. He was convinced that with my design background, I would find something there that would spark my creativity and possibly a business. He was right: I fell in love with the handwoven silk being made in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. I began importing scarves and shawls, and they have sold well. However, these handicrafts are disappearing as Asia becomes more industrialized. And because they are mostly one-of-a-kind items, it’s nearly impossible to find the same thing twice. While I’ve enjoyed the travel and these textiles, I missed exercising my creative side, and so began exploring ways to make my own designs a reality.

TurqRedFacetsSince I already had a business with silk scarves and shawls, I decided to investigate what it would take to have my own designs printed onto silk. As a graphic artist, I knew the software used to produce digital designs, but was unfamiliar with digital printing on fabric. After lots of research and a steep learning curve, I decided it was not only possible, but advantageous to print digitally—minimum orders are relatively low, and an unlimited color range is possible. I wanted to have the printing done in the U.S., but there are no digital printers here yet that produce in quantity or that are affordable. So I searched globally over the Internet, and for price and other considerations, decided to try two printers in China. I sent digital files to them for sampling, and although both did an acceptable job, the one I chose had a lower minimum order, and the hand-rolled hemming was better. This printer uses also non-toxic inks that meet high European standards (digital printing also uses much less water than other types of fabric printing).

My graphics and importing businesses taught me about meeting deadlines, shipping, satisfying clients/customers, promotion, advertising, and dealing with suppliers. I’m pretty well organized, and I understand the value of customer relations and loyalty. I’m able to produce any of my graphics needs, thus saving that business expense and lots of time.

My collection of printed silk scarves grew out of my love for Japanese design and color. I started with ten designs, all based on vintage kimono and obi designs from my own collection, or from images I found on the Internet. Rather than scan them, I redrew them in Illustrator, making adjustments, shuffling motifs, and playing with color until they became my own.

MagMusic+RedMapleBeing a graphic artist, my designs have a strong graphic quality. I love working with color, and that is the first thing my customers respond to. Because my designs are based on vintage patterns from another culture, they seem timeless rather than trendy, and so will hopefully be a part of a woman’s wardrobe indefinitely. I hope to introduce ten new designs each spring and fall, probably printing on other fabrics at some point in the future. Home decor items such as pillows are on the list, too.

My intention is to market these scarves directly to the customer, online through Etsy and other shopping sites, my Web site, through my shows, and by advertising; I’d like to avoid the costs and headaches involved in selling wholesale. That part of the business is just getting underway.

A concurrent ongoing project is an exhibition of my collection of early twentieth-century Japanese kimono whose design was inspired by European modern art. The first exhibition of Modern Art Kimono is at the Modesto Art Museum in Modesto, CA, until April 27, 2014.

I live in Portland, Oregon, a city vibrant with creative people making their own way in the world.”

View the rest of the collection at Have a great weekend! -Chelsea