Blog2022-03-31T15:53:30-05:00
24February, 2022

A Pamphlet Book with Spoonflower’s Grasscloth Wallpaper

February 24th, 2022|An Artist's Life, Spoonflower & Fabric Design, Tutorials|4 Comments

I’m not really a home decorating kind of person, so when Spoonflower introduced a new Grasscloth Wallpaper, I was intrigued to know what it was like, but it was pretty unlikely that I was going to be inspired to wallpaper parts of my house. So I decided to think about another project I could do with wallpaper. I have been very slowly working on a “Book Arts Certificate” from the MN Center for Book Arts here in Minneapolis over the past couple of years. I’ve loved book binding, marbling and paper making and have not really loved the letterpress because of major ink fumes and inaccessibility (I can’t really do it at my house.) But I love working with paper.

So I decided to make a pamphlet book. I am woefully un-expert at all of the vocabulary of book arts; there is a LOT. But basically a pamphlet book is sheets of folded paper, stitched together to make a binding, with a heavier paper on the outside for a cover. With my sewing background, I love sewn bindings. So I ordered a swatch of grasscloth wallpaper in one of my designs and decided to use that as my cover. When it arrived, it was rolled up and wouldn’t lay flat, so I unrolled it, slipped it under the heavy cutting mat that sits on my desk and let it flatten out for several days.

Grasscloth wallpaper is like a woven fabric backed with paper. It has a warp and weft that is very prominent, making its iconic texture. One set of threads are heavier than the other, which gives it a rib like texture. On the sample you can see at the top, the heavier threads are running parallel to the selvedge (that unprinted edge of the wallpaper sample) or horizontally across my design. This is the sisal or the grass in grasscloth. The threads running the other way are much thinner. As a wallpaper, it has a really rich looking texture. It has a very matte finish and feels like a piece of art paper when you run your fingers across it.

The first experiment I did was to see if I could fold it because I needed to make at least one fold to make the spine of my book. It folds much better parallel to those heaver threads than if you fold across them. They are brittle, so they crack rather than folding. So I decided I needed to keep that in mind when I was cutting my cover. That meant that I needed to rotate 90 degrees so that my fold and the heavier threads were going the same way. It doesn’t really matter on this design, but you’d have to keep that in mind with a more obvious directional print.

One thing I noticed right away when I unrolled my wallpaper sample was that the edges felt a little fragile. It was easy to catch the fibers and peel them up from the backing. If it was glued flat to a wall that wouldn’t be so much a problem, but for a book cover it wasn’t ideal. I decided to bind the edges of the cover like you do with a quilt by wrapping a narrow strip around them. I tried a fabric tape I had and some simple 1/2 inch strips of white tissue paper. I didn’t have any in green, but I think that might have even kind of disappeared into this design. I made a couple of little samples and decided that I liked the way the tissue paper didn’t add any bulk to the cover, so I decided to go with that. For this one, I used gluestick to attach it to the cover. I think next time I would use a brush and some PVA (Elmers) glue because the glue stick was drying so fast, it was a challenge to get everything lined up and stuck in place. I stuck it to the back and then folded over to the front of each edge of the cover. I burnished it down with my bone folder to make sure it really stuck well to all of the bumps in the paper texture. It works great and traps all of those cut ends so nothing is rough or catching.

Finally I used the bone folder to score the cover and carefully fold it in half. I added the pages, which I made from some lightweight drawing paper, and used an awl to punch holes through so I could stitch the binding using some perle cotton thread. It makes a great paperback journal! I’m going to put mine under a heavy book for a couple of days to really set the fold so it doesn’t pop open. If you want to try one like mine, I cut my papers and cover to 9×6 inches and the strips of tissue paper were 1/2 wide and I trimmed them to length after I glued them. Here’s a really simple tutorial on how to make a pamphlet book like this. In the photo with the book cover open you can see the back of the wallpaper, which is a nice plain white paper. It comes without any paste on it, so you don’t have to worry about it getting wet or sticky, which makes it a better choice for a project like this than the Smooth Wallpaper that comes pre-pasted. I will probably be able to make 4 books like this from the 24×12 inch swatch I got. It was really fun to see if this would work and I think it makes a beautiful book.

11February, 2022

What fabric should I design? The surprising bestsellers of 2021

February 11th, 2022|Everything Else|Comments Off on What fabric should I design? The surprising bestsellers of 2021

I did an artist talk a few weeks ago and there was a question that someone asked that has stuck with me. That person said basically: I am a little scared and unsure how to get started and I don’t know what to design. What would you recommend?

I answered something about really designing what you love. Start there. Which I believe 100%. That’s one of my very favorite things about designing your own fabric is that you can make the fabrics that you love and there is nothing more motivating that to be working on something you are excited about.

But then I got curious about what designs of mine were really resonating with other people. On the weeks when I enter the design challenges, I do get a sense from votes and favorites what designs that the “design challenge voters” group of people really respond to and which ones they don’t. Sometimes that’s really surprising. But the contest voters aren’t necessarily the same audience as the people who are buying fabric.

My bestsellers from 2021

So I decided to dig in to my sales from last year and see what’s selling. Spoonflower doesn’t really give you stats of any kind. I just downloaded a spreadsheet and did some tally marks of yards sold on a scrap of paper. This is low tech analysis here. The image you see above is my top nine selling designs from 2021. There were some of these that surprised me. When I see a sale email come in, I am always super excited to see it but I don’t really tally up in my head “Oh, that’s a sale of that design”.

The Loons on the Lake was my bestseller, which is cool since that feels like a very Minnesota kind of design and I know I have an enthusiastic local group of supporters. That design was created for a “Pine and Mint” limited color palette design challenge from 2020 and came in 159/858.

Interestingly, at least to me, was that my second place bestseller was the “Tea With Lemons” design, which was from 2021 and is also from a color limited palette design challenge which was the yellow and grey Pantone colors of the year. It ranked 66/1456 designs.

I do keep track of my stats from design challenges, which is a little geeky I realize. But I set myself a goal of entering every design challenge from 2018-2021. (I took a break the second half of 2021 because I was swamped with puppy things.) I was curious if I was “getting better” or if I could learn anything from keeping track of the results and where I finished in the pool. The answer is not really. In 2019 I had 11 designs that hit the top 100, in 2020 it was 2 and 3 in the part of 2021 when I participated. Only five of those designs that were in the top 100 are in my personal bestsellers.

The rest of my top nine from 2021 fell into more or less equal sales numbers.

  • The mosaic clouds design was my top finisher in a design challenge in 2021 (it came in number 25.) I entered it in a design challenge, but it’s a mosaic style which is kind of a signature for me so it wasn’t something I did specifically for the challenge.
  • The Flamingos Flying design was a 2019 design challenge theme of “aerial views”.
  • The Dancing Skeletons was for a “gothic halloween” challenge. This one was a surprise for me. I love the design, but I didn’t realize it has been as popular as it was.
  • Eye Doc, especially the small scale version, was really popular in 2020 and continued to be in 2021. I think it was used a lot for masks. This was a “medical professionals” design challenge entry.
  • Your Brain’s not Broken” is also a personal favorite from a design challenge of “causes that are important to you”.
  • The Kelp Forest design was no surprise. I have this as the backdrop for all of my Zoom calls and it’s probably the design of mine that gets the most eyes on it because of that. I wallpapered my bathroom in a different colorway of this same design.
  • The steampunk squid continues to be a perennial favorite. I designed this one in 2015 for the Spoonflower Handbook, although it’s the navy and white version that sells better than the pale blue we used in the book.

What did I learn?

With the exception of the squid design, every one of these is something I entered in a design challenge. To be fair, I don’t design a lot of things that don’t go into a design challenge. Creating one new design a week is doable for me, designing more than that doesn’t happen nearly as often.

I tend to do well in the color limited palette design challenges; those are consistently some of my highest design challenge rankings. I’m not sure why, but I think it does go back to that idea of designing what you love. The thing about the color limited palette challenges is that you can design *anything* as long as you stick to the specified colors. So I get to really bring my quirkiness into the design more than some of the others. At least I think so.

Some of my top 25 finishers in the design challenge have had zero sales.  They were popular among challenge voters, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into customers.

I also think it’s super interesting that these two designs are both available on Etsy/Amazon/eBay through Spoonflower’s shops on those venues. Even though they were selected to be on those platforms (along with several other of my designs) they aren’t popping up with more sales through those venues.

Here are the top 18 overall Spoonflower bestsellers according to Spoonflower’s site. I have no insight into how they determine this and I know that some of those designs (like the elephants and fireflies) have been on this list for at least 5 years. It doesn’t change often. It makes me curious to know about things like the blue lemons design. Are there really that many people shopping for lemon fabric or does this mean that this one design sold oodles of yardage to one customer? We just don’t know.

What I do love about these bestsellers is that they do reflect some of my personal style and that idea I shared about designing what you love. The flamingos, skeletons, squid, brains, and clouds are all made from cut paper illustrations. The tea and kelp designs are drawn in illustrator primarily but are overlaid with handdrawn/painted textures. These are all really textural design elements that I love. Even though many of these were the response to a design challenge prompt, they do have a lot of that quirkiness that I think is important. Where else would you find brain fabric or an eye doctor print?

Although one single print didn’t make my own bestsellers list, my oboe fabrics are an overall bestseller. I have about a dozen oboe designs, so even though each one of them might not sell more than a couple of yards, as a group the oboe fabrics probably were right up there at the top.

Sales isn’t really a factor that drives what I design, so I know I’m never going to hit that bestseller page on the Spoonflower site. My art practice has a different focus than that. I design far more fabrics that I use to make things; these are designs that are not available for other people to use. I also feel a little more free to design what I want to design and not follow the color or aesthetic trends. That works for me. But I think it’s always interesting to step back and look with a wider lens and see what you can learn from what you are doing.

24January, 2022

Ask the Artist: Questions from the Spoonflower Webinar

January 24th, 2022|Everything Else|Comments Off on Ask the Artist: Questions from the Spoonflower Webinar

Last week I had a really great time doing an Artist Talk webinar for Spoonflower about my process, my long friendship with Spoonflower, and about my art. There’s a link to the replay below. There were a collection of questions in the chat that we didn’t get to (and some on my social channels), so I thought it would be fun to write a follow up post and answer some of those.

Q: What type of scanner (and other tools) do you use?

Scanner: My scanner is super simple. It’s an all-in-one printer/scanner made by Brother and it’s probably 15 years old. You really don’t need a high tech or fancy scanner, you just need a few settings and clean glass. I very often create designs that are larger than I ultimately want the finished fabric scale to be because it’s hard to make tiny fine details in cut paper. So I most often scan things at 150 or 300 DPI knowing that I will be printing them at 150 DPI (Spoonflower’s resolution).

Sewing Machine: I do all of my sewing for everything: exhibition pieces, things for sale in my Etsy shop, samples. I have a Pfaff Expression 3.2 that is an awesome machine.

Software & Apps: I do most of my editing in Photoshop and Illustrator. Because I know them and they work for me and that’s the most important part. There’s no one right tool to make art. I teach using Pixlr, because it is a free app and that makes it the most accessible for my students. I don’t use tablets or Procreate because I just don’t like drawing/painting my designs. That’s just not the way that I work, so those are not the right tools.

Q: I think it’s so clever how you’ve designed into your Shop Header to “be sure to click NEW to see my latest designs.” A “steal-worthy” tip for sure!

You are right: it is a steal worthy tip and I know because I stole it! Credit for that idea goes to my friend Anda Corrie, who was the author of Spoonflower’s “Quick Sew Project” book. She shared it on her social media somewhere and I totally copied her.

Q: Do you teach on Skillshare too?

No I don’t, for a couple of reasons. I know Skillshare is super popular, but I don’t like their teaching format (which is only video like a TV show) and the way that teachers are compensated. I also don’t like the idea that my classes would be only accessible via a monthly membership fee paid to another company. I feel like it just makes them inaccessible for too many people.

I DO offer online classes that I host through Teachable! I am in the middle of moving classes over to Teachable from another platform, so it’s a little bit in transition right now but they should all be migrated in the next couple of weeks and I can start adding more.

Q: What recommendations do you offer for expanding your marketing reach beyond social media?

Don’t we all wish we had an answer to this question? I talked a little about this in my webinar, but get your work in places that people will see it. Make things you can exhibit, get it into shops on consignment or wholesale, wear it, use it, talk about it. If you don’t sew or make things, partner up with someone who does. See if you can come up with a partnership that is a win for both of you. Enter the Spoonflower weekly contest.

No one likes to be sold to. Think about all of the jokes about used car salesmen. So don’t focus on “selling” your work but on telling the stories. Talk about what you do and why. Share the inspiration for the design or the colors. People love to see behind-the-scenes and sneak peeks. I can spend half an afternoon watching “making of” videos from artists on Instagram but I can’t think the last time I clicked through to see someone’s post about a “new collection for sale”.

Q: I want to take a class from you, starting with the mosaic, to the finished fabric!

Noted! Mosaics are SLOW so I think it would make a really boring in-person class but I have thought about translating it into an online class so you can do some of the time consuming part offline. That mosaic toad design I showed you in the webinar probably took me 5-6 hours to create from start to finish. I have a design of mosaic waterlilies that I think took more than 40 hours.

Q: Is there a blog post on Spoonflower that explains how to do this? Is this possible still on Spoonflower, such a ‘placed’ print? [This refers to printing a design as a placed/engineered print for clothing rather than a repeating design.]

Not on Spoonflower’s blog, but there are several projects like this in the Spoonflower Handbook. In the simplest terms, the way to design like this is to not think about making a repeat but to think about designing a whole yard (or more) of fabric all at once. I do this alot. Instead of setting up a canvas that is 8 inches square or something like that, I set up a canvas that is 42×36 inches, or that will fill a whole yard of fabric. Then I design what I want that yard to look like. It’s not any harder than making a repeat (in fact I think it’s easier) but it’s just a different way of thinking about it. If you want to design to place something on a dress, for example, you have to do a little math to know what pieces you need to cut out (bodice, sleeves, skirt) and to design blocks that are the size you need to cut out those pieces.

Hi, I’m Becka.

Talking about fabric design, Spoonflower, teaching, and the life and business of being an artist.

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