Found Color Palette: Harvest Hues

Autumn is upon us here in the U.S. and there is nothing cozier as the air starts to get crisp and the days start to get shorter than soaking up the warm palette of the season. Whether admiring the golden tones of a hay field, a swath of maple trees turning orange and red, or the rainbow of apples at an orchard, the fall landscape is awash with color inspiration that could inform your next pattern collection. Happy harvest!


All images CC0 Creative Commons via

In Memory of Jane Lewis

jane lewis_collection

Jane Lewis in her home office

On August 24, 2017 we lost Jane Lewis, one of the most talented and knowledgeable textile designers in the quilting industry. Jane had been battling lung cancer since 2015 and through all she had to endure she was still committed to her contributions to our industry. Her ability to inspire those around her through her work has never gone unnoticed or unappreciated. For those of us at Pattern Observer, we were particularly amazed with her work as an Art Director at P&B Textiles, and most recently, as an industry expert within Pattern Observer’s Textile Design Lab.

I first met Jane Lewis in 2005 when I applied for a freelance design position at P&B Textiles through Craigslist. P&B textiles was my first freelance client and working with Jane would forever shape my outlook and perspective on the industry.

  • Knowing to tuck the end of my flower stems behind over motifs to give patterns more movement and flow… Jane taught me that.
  • Knowing to always tilt paisleys to avoid straight horizontal or vertical lines within your repeat… Jane taught me that.
  • Keeping freelance clients in the loop about the number of hours you had invested in a concept or repeat… Jane taught me that.

She taught me countless lessons on designing layouts, preparing patterns for production, and running a professional freelance business.

Jane truly loved the textile design industry and it always showed. She was so grateful to rise up and lend a helping hand to other designers. While at P&B Textiles she helped countless artists and designers craft brilliantly curated collections. She loved discovering new talent within the industry and helping designers find their way. This work and passion continued within her work in Pattern Observer’s Textile Design Lab and so many students have benefited from it. She was so passionate about the TDL community, attending our weekly art critiques, giving detailed feedback on our forums, and creating a guest expert training on Developing Quilt Fabric Collections. Her words and insights were cherished by everyone, and all who received them are better in their craft because of it. Yes, I’m biased, but I am sure of it.


Jane’s collection for Modify

There is no doubt that Jane was taken from this world too soon, but her positive impact and influence will live on forever. She will be there with us in every art critique and every quilting collection critique. Reflections of her will not easily fade.

Countless designers will continue to work through her TDL training and go on to create more impactful collections because of Jane’s thoughtful insight and guidance.

And now even more designers will have the opportunity to join the Lab. Soon after Jane’s passing her friends and family established the Jane Lewis Textile Scholarship to help students trying to learn the craft of textile design. We are pleased to announce that Pattern Observer will be matching all funds donated. We are still working through the details of how the scholarships will be distributed, but will be releasing more information in the future. It’s important to us that we take this process slowly and get it right.

In celebration of Jane’s life, we have posted Jane’s exclusive TDL training, Developing Quilt Fabric Collections with Jane Lewis, for all to download for free. Just click here to download.

Please share this training with anyone who you think might benefit and help us to celebrate Jane’s life and her impact on our industry.

I know so many of you worked with Jane and have similar stories to share. Please, open your heart up and share them so we can celebrate what she brought our community. Through her, we can all become stronger mentors to new designers and better designers in our individual pursuits.

Much love and gratitude,
Michelle Fifis




Hidden Details: Connecting With Buyers Through Stories


Photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash

As a society we have grown to a point where we naturally demand more. We want to go deeper, we want to explore, and we want to be entertained. We are looking for meaning and connection with the various ways that we invest in projects, possessions, and people. We crave stories and authentic connections.

You can easily find reports to confirm this that relay a common theme—we are a society that is now willing to spend more on experiences and less on stuff.


“Purchases of clothing and shoes as a share of discretionary spending has dropped. Instead, consumer spending on recreation, travel and eating out has been trending up for more than a decade” -Kevin Logan, U.S. chief economist for HSBC.


I LOVE this news. I love that people are buying less clothes and investing more in spending time with their friends and family. I love that we invest in experiences that open our mind to different cultures and new experiences.

But I have to admit, that as a designer – a creator of “stuff” – it freaks me out a little bit. This shift in how consumers are spending their money creates new challenges for all designers of “stuff.” Fortunately, with these new challenges comes amazing opportunities for growth as designers and makers.

How can we connect with buyers and give them the experiences they are craving?

Through stories of course.


“Everything needs to start with a story. When I work on a collection, the story will give the framework — the beginning, the content and the end,” -Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo


TDL member Olu Vandenbussche tells stories through her patterns

TDL member Olu Vandenbussche tells stories through her patterns

For some designers, telling stories comes very easily. One of the most obvious ways of telling stories is by incorporating illustrated storylines within a pattern or collection. For example, you could create a character, such as a caterpillar, and create a series of patterns based upon this caterpillar’s life and her adventures. In one pattern she could be dancing amongst the leaves, in another pattern she could be on a boat sailing through a sea of watercolor stripes. You want to take the buyer through the life of the caterpillar, exemplifying the caterpillar’s personality and story through your artistic style and interpretation.


Tip: when creating a collection remember to use different layout styles and introduce new motifs to keep the buyers attention and make your collection more dynamic and entertaining.


Is your work less illustrative? If it is, don’t worry. Designers who have a less illustrative style can still tell stories through their work. A less obvious way to entertain and tell stories through your work is to choose a classic pattern style, such as a damask, and brainstorm ways to replace the expected motifs, usually flowers and leaves, with unexpected motifs or marks, such as brush strokes, dots, or quirky characters.


Designer Robin Fernstrom tells stories through traditional pattern layouts

Textile Design Lab member and Pattern Observer Studio designer Robin Fernstrom, is a master of this technique. She replaces traditional damask and mirrored layouts with whimsical characters such as bugs, sloths, and owls. I recently had the privilege of presenting her work to some of our clients and it was a joy to see them light up once they “discovered” the hidden motifs. “Ohhs” and “Ahhs” filled the room.

As you are developing your story consider who is buying your pattern or product. It’s important that we don’t get so wrapped up in storytelling that we lose sight of our audience and what they find entertaining and meaningful. A caterpillar’s journey isn’t an authentic story for all designers to tell and it is not going to be an entertaining story for all buyers to see. Think about the story that you want to tell and push yourself to tell it in a way that resonates with your customer.

Just like a writer guiding their readers through a storyline, consider how you are leading the customer through the collection or pattern layout. Will their eye start at the leaf motif and then discover the hidden graffiti texture beneath? Will they think they are looking at a dot pattern and then realize the dots are actually cat silhouettes?

Telling a story through your work, even in the most subtle ways, is just one way to shake up your design routine and create a deeper connection with clients and buyers. If you are ready to spice up your portfolio with new ideas I invite you to sign up for our free 5-day Design Shake Up. In this free design challenge I’m sharing the exercises and practices I use to stay creative. Even when life is hectic and busy with work, children, errands, and all the rest, the habits and techniques I will share with you always keep me inspired and creative. I know they will do the same for you. Grab your spot here.











Featured Designer: Grace Noël


Spirit, life, whimsical, endearing. These are all words that came to mind as I reviewed Grace Noël’s work for this post.

In 2012 Grace discovered the world of surface pattern design through Spoonflower and instantly knew she had found her passion. When I asked her to share her thoughts on this, she said, “It is the ultimate combination of my main interests: art, textiles, clothing, and décor, with some history thrown in there, as well. I’ve had several successes from entering Spoonflower’s weekly design challenges and have designed a collection of quilting fabric for Moda Fabrics, ‘With Glowing Hearts’ for Canada’s 150th anniversary.”

I feel that part of what makes Grace’s work so successful is her background as an interior designer. This is what was shared with us: “Every day I am surrounded by products and patterns and think about how they are used to create a personalized paradise of a home. There are so many surfaces that need art, and I am convinced I will never run out of ideas. There are innumerable opportunities to bring beauty into people’s lives through cheerful design.

“Every tiny detail of everything I see inspires my designs! That said, particularly nature and vintage items catch my eye. I create all of my designs by hand and then scan them into my computer and edit them in Photoshop to position the repeat and tweak the colours. In terms of medium, I use whatever best suits the mood I’m going for, so it can be pencil, marker, acrylic, or watercolour paint, pastels, and so on, or usually some sort of combination.

“My ultimate goal is to work full-time as a surface pattern designer from my home studio, producing designs for bolt fabric and wallpaper, apparel, and home décor products! Make Everything Beautiful!”


Grace speaks so passionately and that made it very exciting to learn more about her thought process and how her experience as an interior designer shapes her work. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, which I would like to share with you.


How has your experience as an interior designer shaped the way that you think about prints and patterns?

I see every surface as an opportunity for beauty. In the home, that is very important for surrounding oneself with layers of joy. The typical way to decorate is to stick mainly to neutrals or solids for the most permanent pieces in a room, and then add in colourful accents such as rugs, pillows, curtains, lamps, occasional chairs, and so on, that can be rotated out seasonally. So with that in mind, those accent items can be pretty bold or whimsical, and covered in patterns. That’s where my surface patterns come in! Scale plays a big factor in patterns within a room. If there is a bold large-scale floral on an duvet cover, then the sheets below could be in a coordinating calico. Variety and balance can pack a whole lot of patterns into a space without it being overwhelming!

The type of repeat affects what the design can be used on, as well. A directional fabric, for example, could be tricky to place on an upholstered piece because the lines are more difficult to match up, or may have a bit of a wiggle to them depending on how the fabric is stretched over the frame.

In terms of theme and colour for patterns in home décor, I’ve noticed that florals and geometrics are both popular, often in combination, and the colour blue is a common favourite. Birds are the most popular icon. Trend affects the specifics of pattern popularity, as in any other design-focused industry. While sourcing for décor items I do two things: 1) drool over the beautiful patterns and products that currently exist; and, 2) continuously dream up my own patterns and products that WILL exist…hopefully as soon as possible. I’m always hunting for unique items to bring a client’s personality into their space, so being able to design items that would suit that space is is a really satisfying prospect. It’s a very full circle creative process!


Do you envision a particular product or customer when you are designing patterns?

Yes, definitely, always! I usually have the product merchandised in the shop window of my imagination before I’ve even created the pattern! My brain automatically thinks in repeat and 3D. Often I have my favourite companies in mind. For example, a fresh and cheery collection of designs is for Cloud9 or Art Gallery Fabrics. A quirky retro pattern I envision as a dress for Modcloth, or a bohemian vintage floral full of lush colour is for an Anthropologie chair. Most of all, whatever I design is something that I would want to live with, because that is how I stay true to the creative style of my brand.


What are your favorite sources of inspiration for interior design?

Pinterest takes the cake. I also love décor magazines for when I feel like snuggling up with printed inspiration instead of my computer. I have several scrapbook binders in which I save pretty pages. Magazines and those scrapbooks hold a special place in my heart because that is what first got me interested in interior design. I remember reading them as a pre-teen, knowing I had found my career dream in the decorating industry, and feeling like my heart was going to burst with joy. I still have that heart feeling so clearly it’s still the right path! My favourite décor magazines currently are British Country Living, Country Homes & Interiors, and Flea Market Style. You can also often find me at thrift and antique stores and markets, which provide a wealth of varied inspiration and usually a chuckle too!

You can learn more about Grace at her website.


A New Challenge for September in the Textile Design Lab: Conceal/Reveal


For our latest Chelsea’s Challenge in the Textile Design Lab we are diving into the theme of camouflage in its many forms. The goal for our members this month is to develop a collection of 3-5 patterns for the Spring/Summer ’19 season. While working on this trend, designers are asked to think about ways of concealing or revealing different elements of their designs to produce a camouflaged effect. In the full post in the Lab we link to relevant tutorials from our Summer of Creativity course to help get the wheels turning.

Michelle pinpointed four different directions for this trend, each of which is explored on a trend board complete with recommended Pantone colors. Participating designers in the Lab can choose to take on one, two, or three of the boards, or tackle them all as a group. By the end of the month the finished result we are aiming for is a cohesive, portfolio-ready pattern collection, and we help our members get there by providing feedback on our private forum and in our weekly live art critiques.

Ready to give the challenge a shot? Join us in the Textile Design Lab to get started. Once you are a member you will have access to tons of inspiring content, from in depth e-courses to guest expert trainings, an extensive resource guide and more. You’ll also have the opportunity to join our Photoshop for Designers group study, taught by the amazing Sherry London, which starts on Monday, September 11th and is free to Textile Design Lab members. We look forward to working with you!


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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.