Interview with Eva Carlavilla, Guest Expert for November in the Textile Design Lab



Eva Carlavilla is a freelance textile designer and artist who will be joining us as our guest expert this month in the Textile Design Lab. Eva will be offering a training on creating beautiful shibori-like pieces that will be available exclusively to TDL members later in the month–join us here to gain access when the tutorial is released!

Now please enjoy this inspiring interview in which you will learn more about Eva’s design background, her views on trends, some wonderful words of wisdom for aspiring designers and more.


Please tell us a bit about your design background and career path. How did you become interested textile design?
I went to a Fashion School in Valencia (Spain), my home town. Back then, textile design was not in the program. I had no idea about what a repeat was. When I finished my degree I started working in a company designing clothes for babies and children. One of my duties, the one that I enjoyed the most, was to choose from our suppliers which fabrics to use in the collection, but one day I was also asked to design some proposals on my own to get them printed. I was like…WHAT???! Of course, I said “sure, no problem” and started a race against the clock to deliver something acceptable for production that wouldn’t make me lose my job. Thanks to the online world, in about 48 hours I had learnt the basics of making repeats. I saved my job. And I was hooked, a new world of design possibilities opened to me! A couple of years later, thanks to my portfolio, I received a grant from the Istituto Europeo di Design in Madrid to pursue an MFA in Textile and Surface Pattern Design. It felt so good getting a solid background! After that I worked in a design studio collaborating with important fast fashion companies for a while, and in 2013 I left Spain and moved to the US. I have been working freelance since then, splitting my time between textile design and botanical portraiture, my other loved discipline. In July 2016 I’ve relocated again, this time to Guangzhou, China, where I plan to continue doing freelance work.


Tell us a bit about your design process. 
I start with some sketches in pencil, black marker, watercolour and/or acrylic (the fluid type) most of the time. Nothing too planned or finished, just letting the flow go. After that I scan everything and prepare the print layout or the repeat, and do all the adjustments and alterations needed. I used to work more in Illustrator, but now it’s mostly Photoshop. I think I got tired of so much vector work. I love to (hand) draw, feel the paper and get messy with paints. And unless I’m working on a specific project, I prefer to work in batches, 2-3 a week for creating and then another 2-3 for computer work. It keeps me sane, and makes it easier to schedule my time.

What are your go-to sources for design inspiration? Any books, websites, design tools, or other resources you would recommend?
I love books. Any monographic about an artist or specific period or subject. Flipping through their pages is just mind-blowing. Instagram is wonderful too. Colour palettes, shapes, new themes, mood-board ideas, you can find everything in there, you just need to set the clock to control the time you spend researching! And it leads you to discover new inspiring artists and business for your everyday life. I also love working old school, cutting shapes and photos from magazines or catalogs and creating my own collages and mood-boards for inspiration. And visiting museums, the art world is the most inspiring thing to me, along with nature. I recently saw a short film done with macro shoots of chemical reactions. Awesome. It is important to get out to see, feel and experiment ‘real’ things.


What role do trends play in your design process? What are your current favorite print and pattern trends?
That’s a tricky question. They are important. Trends are there and you have somewhat to be aware of them, but you just can’t rely on following all of them because then you get lost. There is too much information and opposite ideas out there. You have to find your own style and keep working on the themes you feel comfortable, the ones that inspire you. If not, the designs will lack personality and strength. And then your style will evolve and get influenced but in a subtle way. You can’t just reproduce what you see. I think the aim should be to create the next natural evolution of the current trend, not to copy that actual one as is. I love gingham and the diversity of floral designs that are coexisting at this time: ditsies, sketchy and photographic flowers, big expressionist blooms, etc. And a subtle oriental theme that seems willing to come back, very slowly.

Who are your design heroes (past or present)? What about them inspires you or influences your work?
Sonia Delaunay, her work is just amazing. I would wear every design made by her and I would cover the walls of my apartment with her (and her husband’s!) paintings and drawings. I also love Vera Neumann, Jacqueline Groag (and the Wiener Werkstäte) and Raoul Dufy, among many others. Their use of colour, the perfect imperfection of their drawings and motifs, the geometry of their designs, the repeat layouts… You can never get tired of them, they are wonderful! My other heroes come from the art world. All the -ism movements that happened in Europe between the beginning of the 20th century and the 50’s; also American Abstraction. The Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection in DC can get you to a meditative state and boost your energy, if you get the chance to be alone in it! And the Guggenheim room in NY that showcases their collection is just perfect. Last but not least, I also marvel at the Soviet textile design movement that took place during the 20’s and beginning of the 30’s, with designs from Varvara Stepanova, Liubov Popova, Natalja Goncharova, etc.


Over the course of your career, what actions or decisions have made the biggest impact in your design business?
Taking the leap from being employed to being unemployed and then start flying solo. Doing this during an economic crisis time. My job at the studio was not what I was aiming for, so I quickly reset my mind. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, but it was not easy. Moving to the US also had a big impact, it meant a fresh start as a whole. There’s also more respect for the creative industry and the freelance figure is more stablished here than in my home country. I’m not sure about the reason but I should also name having an Instagram account. Even though the list of people who receives my feeds is quite small and I don’t post compulsively, a few good things have come that way.

What would you consider to be your most proud achievement or greatest success so far in your design career? What are your goals for the future?
I think of every design that finds a new home as a success, it makes me happy. And the ones that don’t, I consider them learning steps, so everything counts. I don’t like to put some company names on top of others. So I just would say that I’m proud of doing what I love to do, little steps at a time. I feel touched when people commission me for work that is not textile related. I’m working on a wedding invite, and about a month ago I was asked to design a tattoo! For the future, keep on working, growing and collaborating with bigger established design studios. A new website is also coming, probably allowing clients to buy designs online. And one day I would like to help in promoting or spreading the word about textile design in my home country. There’re a lot of great artists in Spain but, at least when I left, there was no cohesion or strength as an industry like the one you can feel in the US or England. It makes me sad to walk a trade show and find no booth with Spanish designers. I haven’t given it so much thought, but it’s in my head. Something needs to be done. Maybe when I go back in a few years… I’m open to ideas!


What have been some of the challenges you have faced throughout your design career and how have you overcome them?
Transitions are quite hard. I’m sitting at my desk writing on my computer for the first time in five months. Keeping up to date, being on time with deliveries, and pulling out the energy to create can feel more like a burden rather than your dream job during the relocation. But I have learnt to be more resourceful, to work in coffee shops, with computers that are not mine, and to switch from Mac to PC without going crazy! It’s a lesson of humility, not having things under control. Things can go south, you can get angry and cry, a lot. And ask for help. Sole entrepreneurs sometimes forget that it’s ok (and a must) to ask for help. Time management is another challenge, especially if your studio is also your home. And staying true to yourself and your style, even if you can’t define it clearly. I don’t feel like designing gothic dark themes. I tried in the past and I didn’t feel comfortable. Now I don’t worry about them, no matter how trendy they are. Honesty is the key. And getting out of your comfort zone from time to time in order to improve your skills.


What advice have you received in your career that has stayed with you or influenced you? Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring designers trying to make their way in the textile design world?
*Don’t rush things. Don’t overthink things too much. Trust your gut. When in doubt, even if you are scared to death, jump!

*No is never a plain, harsh no. It can mean two things: (1) It doesn’t fit me because… Option discarded. What’s next?. (2) Now is not the time, at some point it will be. What to do next? Learning to discern quickly which kind you have on the table (or in your email) and acting accordingly will save you a lot of time, tears, and awful conversations with your inner jerk.

*Respect yourself. Respect your work. Respect your peers and the industry. If you have your basic costs covered, don’t throw away your work for (almost) free. Those who want to buy at that price don’t respect you and your peers, don’t respect your work and don’t respect the industry. And will never do.

*Don’t compare with others. You should learn, read and get inspired, a lot. But your path is only yours to walk. Following other’s paths and constantly comparing yourself with them won’t get you anywhere, and will suck your energy.

*Have a life! Take time for yourself and those around you. Go out. Practice yoga (or any kind of sport). Meditate. An enriched life will get reflected in your work.

Featured Designer: Mimi Chao


Looking to end your week on an inspiring note? This week’s featured designer post is for you:

Mimi Chao started her career as a corporate attorney, but bravely took several leaps of faith to eventually pursue her dream, freelance illustration. “I didn’t even know about the whole world of surface pattern design until I started helping my friend and his wife design patterns for their new shop, Wolf & Irving (they sell table settings made from this amazing fabric that looks like linen and is wrinkle and stain free; another thing I did not know existed). I realized I have always thought about surface design anyway, without realizing it is practice. I spent a lot of time developing the skill, and am looking forward to keep learning new things. I’m working on infusing my illustration style in my designs, since illustration is my main focus. It has been a great experience.”


“I like to design in sets to tell a story with patterns. I also like soothing but inspirational imagery as I believe in the therapeutic potential of surface patterns. For example, with the five Bird Cage related patterns, they are part of a set where I wanted to tell a story of a caged bird escaping its confines. There’s subtle details like the first pattern in the series has closed lotus flowers and the last has blooming lotuses. Of course, each still stands on its own as a nice pattern too.”


When reviewing Mimi’s work I was really drawn to the calming nature of her patterns. The color palettes and illustration style are so comforting and a welcome escape from this hectic world we are living in today. When we asked Mimi if she had any advice to share she said, “My take on a cliche: Life is short, get good at something you love. I often think about how lucky we are to live in a time where we can teach ourselves all sorts of skills. I’m constantly learning and truly grateful for that. ”

Amen to that. To see more of Mimi Chao’s work visit her website:




Behind the Scenes of How I Curated Our Studio Portfolio


Here’s my true confession…

I’m disorganized, and I love it. For some reason, I am that type of person who thrives in chaos. My desktop is a mess, my office looks like a toddler was in there, opening up every drawer to look for something and never bothering to shut it afterward; maybe even tossed some things out on the floor in the process. Okay, Cora’s actually to blame for that mess, but you get the picture.

So… When the time came to begin organizing the work of three designers for our new Pattern Observer Studio launch I had my work cut out or me!

I needed to sort:

  1. Patterns that were divided into collections
  2. Patterns that were divided into pattern style (stripes, florals, etc.)
  3. Patterns that heavily tied to trends
  4. Patterns that were more associated with classic styles

Are you seeing a theme? I had a lot of sorting to do! Because of that, I admit that I felt overwhelmed and disconnected from the work. The joy I’d had creating all those things was not present. With a large, intensive abstract project like that it’s easy to feel like your work is hidden away in digital folders.

I had to do something…

My Messy Photoshop "Floor"

My Messy Photoshop “Floor”

I started printing everything out with a plan in place to organize all the artwork on the floor. Yup…I quickly realized that was not a good idea. Not only because of the environmental impact, the cost of ink and paper, and the curious Cora, but because it simply did not make sense. So I went back to brainstorming to find a new idea and thankfully, it came to me fairly quickly.

I decided to create a digital “floor” in Photoshop. This is where it all came together!

My digital floor was a very large Photoshop art board that allowed me to see an overview of all my collections and begin a process of sorting and organizing them. What happened next was such a relief, not to mention a timesaver because it finessed the process of accomplishing the task at hand.

– First, I added screenshots of all of our patterns and rough concepts.
– As I’d add the screenshots to the page I’d begin grouping them into collections.
– This process allowed me to quickly define where the “holes” were in our portfolio.
– I was able to see which trends we needed to address.
– It was easier to define which classic patterns needed to be added.


I knew which pattern styles were missing!

One digital floor in Photoshop helped me see all that clearly. Plus, it was right in front of my face—not scattered all over my floor.

This process empowered me.

Through taking the time to come up with a solution that made me feel in control of the process, I was able to eliminate those wild, overwhelming feelings. It also gained me greater insight into the project I was undertaking, as well. I was now able to see the weak areas in our pattern offerings, and create a plan for how to improve in the future.

Because of all this, it has brought me direction and focus for our work. Also, it has saved me extensive hours organizing within the portfolio website. A system is in place, which is quite refreshing. Really, it’s portfolio curation made easier.

Take a moment to look at the big picture of your portfolio…or lack thereof.


Organized chaos

Whether you have a portfolio or not, it’s time to either create it or optimally organize it. Take some time to look through your folders on your desk top. What are you seeing? Are you seeing a balanced amount of:

– File types?
– Pattern layouts?
– Pattern styles?
– Trendy and classic patterns?
– Pattern sizes and scales?

Identifying these holes can give you creative direction for your next several collections. Which is a huge relief, and for many designers, a stress reliever too.

Want to learn more about the curation process? Get started here.





























Featured Designer: Laura Hart of Surface House

As soon as Laura Hart’s work landed in our inbox, we became instant fans! Laura runs her own print design business in the UK called Surface House, which she launched in early 2016. Since graduating with a degree in Printed Textiles and Surface Design she says, “I worked in retail for a couple of years, to save and be in a position to leave and start my own design business. I left in 2015 and launched Surface House in 2016, it was a rollercoaster of a year and a surreal experience adjusting to becoming self employed. When I launched in 2016 I felt like I had done the hardest part, but have now realised that was just the beginning. It is definitely a rewarding and character building experience running your own business, but difficult and stressful too. I feel like am finding my feet now and making real progress.. onwards and upwards!”

Wallpaper has always been Laura’s primary focus, and she describes it as “the perfect canvas to explore and push the boundaries of an interior.” She has also recently launched handmade cushions and lampshades, which she created “for people who adore print and want to buy an instantly usable piece.”

When we asked how Laura had found her way to the world of print and pattern she replied, “I have always been obsessed with art and being creative, when I was little I used to sit at my tiny red desk for hours, drawing and being precious about my felt tip pens! The creative obsession grew throughout school and college, prioritising itself over my other areas of interest, music, science and English.

Whilst at university, I explored a lot of design ground, I used to love the experimentation, spending hours in the print room with twigs, newspaper, pigment dyes and paper for example, and the access to so many resources like the huge heat press and screen printing.

My work became about combining hand made experimental pieces with clean cut digital print design.”

Laura’s diverse range of patterned products has a signature elegance and attention to detail that we just can’t get enough of! Here are a few of the beautiful products currently available in her line:

 Laura Hart of Surface House, featured designer on Pattern Observer

“The Birds & Flowers design features all original hand drawn artwork, using my favourite Unipin fine liners. The individual components of the design were all drawn separately, with some taking hours to complete. They were then woven and interweaved together to create a whimsical scene, inspired by the intricacy and content of a William Morris design but without the regularity and symmetry.

The background has an abstract style texture pattern, to contrast against the neat delicate birds and to give a contemporary edge to the print.The Birds design has proved to be the most popular of the collection so I adapted the print for a square cushion design. I dissected the original print and moved all of the imagery around to feature the best parts in a smaller surface area. I wanted to keep it as similar in style to the wallpaper print as possible. The cushions are carefully handmade by me at the studio.”

Laura Hart of Surface House, featured designer on Pattern Observer
“The flowers featured in this Floral Concept design are all home grown and were photographed then edited and collaged together, to overlap and cascade down the print. It was originally planned to be a Dahlia flower wallpaper, (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one!). But when I started sampling poppies, begonias and others I couldn’t resist using a whole variety of flowers to complete the look.”
Laura Hart of Surface House, featured designer on Pattern Observer
“The Forest Scene wallpaper and soft furnishings design started as an acrylic painting. I used reversed colours when painting, building a white woodland scene onto dark paper, it began to look like a snowy forest at night! Which conjured the idea of a cosy log cabin, I thought this would make a great wallpaper print.

The Diamonds design is part of the new geometric collection and is inspired the tiles of the London Underground tube stations. I created three variations, Emerald, (green and smoky black), Baker Street (heritage cream and plum colours) and Slate, (moody rich greys). I drew them by hand using a graphics tablet straight into Photoshop and did a lot of experimenting with colour, size and repeat combinations. There are thousands of variables, but I wanted to keep things simple with three final designs. I can of course create a bespoke colour variation if a client requests it.

The dream is for people to know the name Surface House, like they know Sanderson or Designers Guild. I have a long way to go, but I have started the journey!”

Learn more about Laura’s work at, or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Have a great weekend!!

How To Build a Portfolio You Can Be Proud Of


Technology and various website building platforms have truly become wonderful resources for freelancers and textile designers. Sites like Wix and Squarespace make the once difficult task of developing an online portfolio a considerably easier one. These sites allow you to choose your theme and then rearrange the site until it is customized to fit your needs. You can:

– Change the order of things
– Change colors
– Change fonts and more…

It’s amazing, and sometimes even fun. Yes…fun!

After you click that “Choose Your Template” button you’ll upload your logo, begin playing with colors, and then that’s when the difficult questions usually arise….

– How should I present my collections?
– Where do I post my mockups?
– What about colorways?
– And my trend report?

These questions usually cause us to take a step back and begin dragging our feet or finally dropping the project until “later”…whenever that arrives. Ultimately, we end up settling for less than we would like, because we have to get it done. We’ve invested time in our portfolio and it’s too late to start over and choose a new template.

I understand these feelings and know them to be true, because I’ve been there. This is how I have designed my portfolio and other websites in the past, and what I see countless designers working through in the Textile Design Lab (TDL).

Admittedly, it’s pretty fun to start a free account and begin editing away on a site like Wix. They design it to feel that way, and who doesn’t like to make progress? Upload a logo? Yes, please!!!


We could save a whole lot of time and frustration and still create a portfolio that we are proud (maybe more proud) to market if we just paused and took a deep breath. Why? So we could think about our creative process first. That’s right–you are the star of your portfolio website and it needs to bend to fit your needs–not the other way around!

Your creative process is the driving force behind your business. It’s the passion you bring to your work and the magic you use to design patterns that inspire and captivate. Your portfolio is a reflection of your creative process and should be customized to fit your style of work.

Of course, most of us don’t take the time to think clearly about our preferred creative process. We just know what works for us…and we naturally design that way. I’ve created a number of questions to help you clarify your creative process. Let’s discuss them.

Do you prefer to develop collections or one-off designs?
Some designers love developing collections. One design inspires another, leading to yet another. Coordinating patterns fill out the collection, making the entire process feel natural.  Other designers prefer creating one-off designs to express their creative vision. There’s really no one “right” way to do things.

The way you prefer to design is important to consider when showcasing your work. You may feel compelled to create collections for your designs, even if you genuinely prefer designing one-offs. Or, you might feel you need to include one-off designs to balance your portfolio. However, your portfolio should reflect the way you are inspired and the way you create.

What industry would you love to work in?
There are some great industries for textile designers: the quilting market; home décor market; and fashion market. And within each of those industries, there are even more options! Depending on the industry you prefer, you may wish to include other materials in your website; perhaps trend boards, extra colorways, and mock-ups. These materials are great, but using them in a way that doesn’t make sense for your ideal industry can be distracting to buyers.

Do you have another creative business you want to include in your portfolio?
As a fine artist, for example, you may want to share more than the patterns you create. You may wish to include images of original artwork—paintings, drawings, etc—along with the patterns you design. Sharing these will help to further promote your creativity, while also giving buyers a better understanding and impression of your work.

Do you prefer to develop your own artwork or create custom patterns for clients?
Think about what you most want to promote. If your primary focus is promoting services, you’ll want to include information on how you work with clients to capture their vision in custom ways. If you prefer developing your own artwork, then promoting a library may be a better fit for you.

Understanding your creative process will help you make decisions as you prepare your portfolio. Thanks to sites like Wix and Squarespace, developing a portfolio that you are proud of is no longer the daunting task that it once was. Still… I encourage you to take some time and think about your creative process and what you need out of the portfolio before diving in. This is the best way to save time and frustration.

Don’t know what to include in your portfolio website? Download our free Portfolio Development Guide Checklist.




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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.