We were fortunate recently to meet up with Coats fabric designer Nel Whatmore. We couldn't let the opportunity pass without asking her a few questions about how she creates her designs, and about her collections.
i) Could you tell us about your background, have you always known you wanted to be a fabric designer?
I didn't set out with a burning ambition to be a fabric designer at all it has been a wonderful opportunity that has evolved out of being an artist. I think careers for most people evolve over time and through luck and often serendipity or chance meetings, we end up going in directions which perhaps, when we were younger, we couldn't even have imagined. In fact I remember that at art college really disliking the design projects we had to do. But at 18 I just wanted to paint gorillas and portraits!!
ii) How did you get into the world of fabric design?
I got into the world of fabric as I was already working with Coats on stitch kit projects in the UK, but I was interested in designing fabric too, as it seemed like a natural leap. I emailed several companies in America not really expecting a response but got a very favourable reply from Joyce Robertson at Westminster Fibres, who looks after the Freespirit and Rowan brands. She said that they were already distributing the stitch kits and would be interested in me designing for them. So that's how I did my first collection 'Happy Go Lucky'.
iii) Where do you get your inspiration from for your designs?
I get my inspiration for my collections from a million different places , it can be something really small or something wildly extravagant. The starting point is always my painting though, whether it might be an element from a painting or just the palette that then leads onto the idea for a collection.
iv) Talk us through the process from idea to printed fabric.
It's tricky to talk you through the process from idea to printed fabric as often particularly in the initial stages it can alter from collection to collection. Sometimes I simply have a very strong idea in my head that has just been sitting there for a while blossoming, I always sort out the main pattern first in pastel and the palette, then build the other patterns around it. I might paint lots of different elements for the support patterns and then bring them together in different combinations. I paint in pastels and then get the images photographed and then play around with different ideas for the repeat on the computer as you can't do this in pastel. I then do the other two colourways ,all the time trying to balance the whole collection in terms of different scales of patterns, colour and direction.
v) Tell us about your fabric collections.
I am on the eighth collection for Freespirit. Happy Go Lucky was my first collection, then a Sleeping Beauty, Katharine's Wheel, Eden then Secret Garden and Memory Lane, which is just out now. I try to make my fabric collections rather like my paintings they have a painterly feel and are full of colour and hopefully joy. My aim is for people to find my work up lifting and to raise a smile. I feel that with each collection, as I then use it and design quilts, I learn more about what a collection needs to make it of most use to everyone. I find that I'm in the very fortunate position of being able to design fabric for my own sewing projects. So if I really need a certain fabric in my sewing I make sure I put it into the next collection.
vi) For all those budding designers out there, what advice would you give them?
Learn about how different types of sewers would use your fabrics. Get some sample meters digitally printed and make things out of it. You'll soon learn what patterns work for which type of sewing. Always think about what people may want to do with your fabric, but ultimately just design what makes your heart sing.
vii) With the rise of social media has this meant getting noticed as a designer become easier?
In some ways social media makes it easier yes certainly. I love pinterest and facebook as they're more visual. But equally they take more of time which takes me away from my painting. which is not so great.
viii) What are you currently working on?
Well on the painting front I'm painting like a mad woman for Chelsea Flower Show, you can see how I'm getting on my facebook page facebook.com/NelWhatmoreArt On the fabric front I have just delivered my next collection Sketch Book and I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Merry Go Round yardage. I've designed a range of dies for Sizzix that were inspired by Merry Go Round and so I'm looking forward to launching those at the Festival of Quilts, where I'll be the guest speaker at the Designer Dinner. That's a bit scary actually! There will be lots of projects showing how you can use the dies on the Sizzix blog as well as on www.nelpatterns.com
ix) What are your plans for the future?
Well I have to do two new collections a year so there is always a new collection to be done, whatever time of year we are! But I particularly like embellishing my quilts with threads and would like to continue to develop my skills in that area. Chelsea Flower Show is my next big thing as I have already mentioned, which is always a huge source of inspiration.