December 27, 2012

Review - A field guide to fabric design

I hope all had a wonderful Christmas. It is during this time, the week between Christmas and New Year's, that I spend time cleaning off my desk and sorting my papers in preparation for the tax man. As depressing as it is to know that we will probably owe taxes this April, it is strangely cathartic to clear off the desk and start fresh for next year. Among the piles of papers is the book A field guide to fabric design by Kimberly Kight of the True Up blog.

Fabric design, or textile surface design, has long fascinated me. The ability to play with the color, proportion, and spacing of a design through a repeat is very intriguing. Kight briefly explores different styles, design and color fundamentals as applied to textiles. This includes a look at both digital and traditional design techniques. The meat of the book is the explanation of how repeats are created, including different repeat styles. Both digital and traditional (hand drawn) techniques are explained. Interspersed throughout the book are comments from fabric designers, both established and just starting out, from which the reader can draw inspiration. Finally, Kight presents ideas of how to print and sell your own fabric. What quickly becomes clear is that textiles fabric designing is a competitive and difficult market.

There are several instructional overviews including hand block printing, screen printing, designing a collection, and textile basics. All are comprehensive and a good foundation for further study and exploration.

The book is laid out well and is easy to read and follow. The instructions for designing repeats are clear and easy to understand. Kight strongly encourages the use of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop because of their common usage in design work. She discourages the use of open source programs such as Gimp and Inkscape, which is unfortunate. Her primary objections to Gimp and Inkscape are the lack of Pantone color palettes*. The objection is valid because Pantone is used to ensure proper color matching. But anyone that has printed fabric knows that colors don't always work out as expected even when using Pantone**. Pantone color palettes are proprietary and that is the reason Gimp and Inkscape do not include them by default. In other words, their exclusion is entirely a legal and financial matter and not anything lacking in the software itself. But the palettes can be acquired (not easily) and added. Also, Pantone has CMYK and RGB equivalents (here is one tutorial) and if you are serious, you can buy a set of color chips and match things up. There will probably be a lot of back and forth until the correct colors are obtained, and that is probably why most designers use Illustrator and Photoshop (because there will be less of that). At the end of the day though, Gimp and Inkscape are just as robust as their commercial counterparts. In a separate blog article, I'll show how easy it is to design repeats using Gimp.

I liked this book a lot and I will reference it when I play around with designs, whether for a desktop wallpaper or for fabric I intend on printing.

*For more information google Gimp and Pantone.

**I managed to design a book cover using only free software and have it printed exactly as expected at one printer and not at another. There are a lot of variables between designing on a screen and a printer's capabilities that can't be completely solved by the use of one color matching system.

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