Quilt Market Interviews: Kathy Hall and Lonni Rossi
The quilting industry designs and sells fabric, notions, patterns and accessories primarily to home quilters. Most of the fabric manufacturers in this market are wholesalers- meaning they don’t sell their products directly to the end user, but instead sell to retailers at trade shows such as the International Quilt Market.
Pattern Observer’s Jamie Kalvestran attended the recent International Quilt Market which took place May 15-17, 2015 and interviewed some of the industry’s leading designers and art directors. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing these insightful interviews on Pattern Observer, and have also compiled them to create our Quilt Market Guide. We’re so excited to share it with you!
In this guide you’ll discover insider thoughts on industry trends, experiences in the industry and recommendations for emerging designers. We know you’ll be inspired and get great information to help you in your career.
Today we hope you enjoy the first two of Jamie’s interviews, with Andover Fabrics design director Kathy Hall, and textile designer Lonni Rossi.
Kathy Hall – Design Director, Andover Fabrics
I first met Kathy Hall after signing a licensing agreement with Andover Fabrics back in 2006. Before meeting her someone told me, “You are going to love working with Kathy!” And that may have been an understatement. Kathy is the Design Director at Andover and she has been working with licensed designers on the outside, staff designers on the inside and is a designer herself who has created wonderful best selling collections for Andover Fabrics for fifteen plus years.
Kathy what advice can you share with our readers who would like to begin designing for the quilting industry?
1. Show multiple collections in your portfolio. 3-4 collections with 6-8 prints in each collection. One color-way is fine, but two is better. Color indexing and repeats are not necessary.
2. Digital mock-ups of your prints on quilts and garments are helpful.
3. Know yourself as a designer. We don’t art direct and tell you what to design. We do give some direction during the revision stages, so you need to be able to compromise at times but you also need to be strong enough to defend your design when it’s important to do that. You must protect the key elements of your work and who you are.
4. Look for a hole in the market. What’s missing? We are always looking for something new and different, (but not too different).
5. If you haven’t been to Quilt Market before travel to one and get educated.
Shots fromAndover’s booth at the International Quilt Market
What trends are you seeing in the quilting marketplace?
We look at the home furnishings and gift markets. Colors evolve, collections should work with the previous ones but with an added spark. Customers need to recognize you from the first or previous collection.
Can designers contact you to submit work to your company?
Yes, we review artwork on a weekly basis with a team that consists of marketing, sales, converting and design. We prefer that you send hard copies of your artwork that are correct for color and scale. You can submit by mailing your designs to me at:
Andover Fabrics, Inc.
Attn: Kathy Hall, Design Director
1384 Broadway, Suite 1500
New York, NY 10018
Can a designer make a living designing fabric?
I would say 90% of the designers in the industry do not make a living just designing fabric. Many supplement their income with books and sewing pattern sales or licensing in other areas.
Any last words of advice?
Your artwork must have its own look. Your strength is “Your Look”. Also, ask yourself, “What are you bringing to the table?” For example, are you on social media? How many followers do you have? Do you have a following in another area? Maybe you are a children’s book illustrator? Maybe you write a popular blog? Look for what other strengths you have that can give you a leg up.
For those of you that have taken The Sellable Sketch course you will recall the assignment where you identify your design heroes. Well, please meet Lonni Rossi, one of mine. And yes, I did name her as my #2 hero just under William Morris when I took The Sellable Sketch course. Lonni has been designing fabrics for Andover Fabrics since 2001. How did we meet? Quilt Market of course. I was in my booth and I saw Lonni over in the Andover booth and the little voice in my head whispered, “There she is!” Shortly after that I saw her walking toward us, I figured she was just walking by. But no, she stuck her hand out and introduced herself. My knees went weak. Since then Lonni and I have collaborated on many projects together. She is one of the most creative people I know and I am so excited to introduce to you my #2 design hero Lonni Rossi.
Lonni would you tell us the inspiration behind your latest collection GEISHAS & GINKGOS designed for Andover Fabrics, Inc. / NYC?
Geishas & Ginkgos is actually a re-issue of an extremely popular group I produced for Andover Fabrics about 10 years ago! The original group (Ginkgo Fantasy/2005) was reprinted 8 times, which I think is a record for the industry. Ever since it was discontinued in 2007, customers have continually clamored for it to come back. I actually kept the “Asian-inspired” look going until 2009 when I even incorporated some of those motifs into my popular “Lonni’s Paintbox” Series of textured prints.
For this new group, Geishas & Ginkgos was re-imagined on Andover’s Chambray, a line of woven cottons. It feels even more “Asian-inspired” to me on this heavier, textured fabric… somehow more “artisanal” and hand made. Aside from the actual Geisha panels (line drawings 36” high of three geishas) the printed colors and motifs are earthy, yet elegant. The fabric is great for quilts, but I’m feeling it will work even better for “art to wear” clothing and accessories as well!
When is the collection being released/available in stores?
We released the group recently at 2015 Spring Quilt Market in Minneapolis with the expectation of a July /August delivery to stores in the US and Canada, with Europe to follow by September.
What trends are you seeing in the quilting marketplace?
It seems to me that quilters who are more experienced and have been making quilts for a long time, are willing to try just about anything and everything, including the new “modern” quilt patterns and colors. They seem more adventurous to me. They still love batiks, solids, textured solids, and more “artsy” fabrics with a painted and textured look. I’m also seeing the “moda look” of shabby chic , a clean zen style, and civil war reproduction fabric still hanging on.
The modern quilters (our younger generation and beginning quilters) have embraced their own style and seem drawn to a bright, clean color palette with interesting geometric graphics. Young fabric designers are continuing this trend and building on it every season. I’m not seeing all that many “novelty prints” these days; although they are still out there, like the current kid Disney and Pixar movies.
Andover Fabrics has done well with licensing themselves. They have had an Eric Carle license for many years, and have made great strides with the Downton Abbey franchise too. Coming out this fall, they are trying a “Little House on the Prairie” revival. (Not sure how that’s going to go over, actually.)
What advice would you give designers about putting a portfolio together for this industry?
Of course, first do your homework. Know what your strengths are and the kind of work you really love to do. Design from your soul. You really have to love what you are putting out there! Don’t design things FOR the company you are pursuing, design things you love.
Keep it simple.
Research all the fabric companies, see what their style is overall, as a company, see if you will fit in or be that something different that their line-up is missing.
Be professional and present your work in the best way you can possibly afford. Some artists who only design fabric, have been using digital printing to present new work printed on fabric. Others work in Photoshop and Illustrator and present their work digitally, and print out repeats on paper, usually both.
Depending on the style of the group I am presenting, I might use all three methods, from a screen printed original design, to a digitally printed fabric and paper presentation.
Something I have found that is greatly appreciated by whomever is reviewing your portfolio: show a definite style and keep it short and to the point. Don’t try to dazzle with quantity…go for quality!
What do you spend most of your time on when running a licensing business?
It really does feel like I spend more time with the business aspect and marketing and promotion, than the actual creating of art. In order to be successful, you just have to wear many hats, that is a given.
I think marketing and promotion has to be creative too, so it’s all about leading the creative life…that everything you do is really important to your success or failure, not just your talent as an artist or a designer.
Perhaps that attitude comes from my former profession in advertising and graphic design, it shaped how I look at the big picture!
Can you make a living from licensing?
That’s really a loaded question. If you constantly produce lots and lots of work and have an agent who can get it out there for you, then yes, you can make a “living” at just doing licensing.
I have licensed my work to only one fabric company for the past 14 years, and recently I’ve had opportunities to branch out to a thread company, and an embroidery company. I have always wanted to do more, but just have never found enough time to devote to that pursuit, since I have not taken that step of acquiring an agent.
My career has always included teaching classes in surface design, fabric printing, and quilting techniques for art quilters and traditional quilters.
I sell my commercial and “bespoke” fabrics online on my website, as well as do shows locally to sell products like pillows, scarves and art quilts.
I do lots of marketing, with my weekly newsletters and posting daily on social media. So, over the years, with the combination of royalties, teaching classes, and selling products online and in shows, I have made a decent living, but still think I could have done more to feel less financially schizophrenic!
Were you already in the quilting industry before you began designing fabric? If yes, what was your role?
Yes. I’ve been a quilter for about 30 years. For the first half of my career, I painted and silk screened my own fabric, and by 1998 had gained a reputation as an award-wining art quilter and art fabric maker. I was one of a local group of nine art quilters who started “Art Quilt Elements” (formerly Art Quilts at the Sedgwick) in Philadelphia in 1999. It is now a nationally juried bi-annual show that draws artists from all over the world, and has a permanent venue at the Wayne Art Center in Pennsylvania.
My work has been in Quilt National, and I’ve had one-woman shows of my art quilts in the United States (2000, 2004, 2010, 2013), Germany and England (2006). My art quilts have been in many group shows, (including International Quilt Festival) some that have traveled, and my work has been been published in many books and magazines.
In 2003, I organized a show called “Dancing Between the Semi-Colons”, which included 35 art quilts (made by famous art quilters who I invited…and they said yes!) and 35 evening gowns (made by senior students of Drexel University’s Fashion Design department) featuring my hand-screened and dyed cotton and silk one-of-a-kind fabrics. The show was the event opener for a new art gallery on the campus of Drexel University. It traveled to five venues across the United States, and was a featured Special Exhibit at International Quilt Festival in 2004.
Also in 2003, my art quilt, “Double Duende” won First Place in the Small Art Quilt Category at International Quilt Festival. In 2010, my quilt “Moon Goddess” was featured in the “Art Quilt Elements” Juried show, and sold to Karey Bresenhan for her collection of art quilts.
In Spring 2012, I was awarded the “Distingushed Alumnae Award” by my alma mater, Moore College of Art & Design. In the college’s 163 years, this award has been presented to only 70 women graduates.
The most recent show I have been invited to contribute my work to, took place this past December 2014, for a special exhibit called “Living with Craft”, part of the “Craftforms” annual show at the Wayne Art Center, in Wayne, PA. I showed art quilts, framed artcloth, pillows, dining table accessories, and silk and rayon scarves.