Designer Q&A: Laurie Wisbrun on Tufted Tweets

{ Tufted Tweets: sorbet colorway }

Stay tuned for Tufted Tweets giveaway news at the end of this post!

Austinite Laurie Wisbrun is a surface designer who — after 20 years in marketing and a brief stint in cheese — began designing and selling her own fabric designs through Etsy with the aid of digital printer Spoonflower. Now some of her popular prints have been picked up for May 2010 distribution by Robert Kaufman Fabrics: the sophisticatedly adorable Tufted Tweets. Laurie made some room for us on the lime-green chesterfield, so let’s have a seat and a chat!

Hi, Laurie! Thanks for saving us a seat on the divan here. The davenport. The … sofa. Speaking of sofas, where did the inspiration for Tufted Tweets come from?

Tufted Tweets was definitely borne from my love of NYC and for the love of (wait for it!) chairs! At the time that I designed most of those patterns, I was living in Brooklyn and working at a Manhattan ad agency. After 20 years in advertising and marketing (in Portland, Ore., New York City, and Austin), I was really ready for a drastic change of career and I was going through a process of trying a bunch of different career directions on for size.

I knew I wanted to create something personally meaningful and to be able to focus on my creativity. Initially, I thought about cheese-making, but turns out I was no good at making cheese. (I am still a great lover of artisan cheese though!) I’ve always loved patterns and fabric and the way patchwork sewing can allow you to blend unexpected color combinations together and create something uniquely yours. And Spoonflower was just in its early beta so I decided to give fabric design a try. I’m not a formally trained artist so I had a steep learning curve with the software. But Birdies and Chairs was the very first design I created specifically for fabric. I submitted it to one of Spoonflower’s design contests and it won. So I figured I would list it on Etsy and see if people would actually buy independently produced fabric. And then I was totally hooked.

So I started designing like crazy and doing everything I could to make the leap from a full time advertising job to a becoming a self-employed artist who could focus a big chunk of my time on design. During my last few months in NY, I spent a great deal of time haunting my favorite museums and just wandering through the beautiful neighborhoods and taking in the architecture.

How did you decide on the name?

Naming my fabric was lots of fun. Sometime last year, I held a contest on my blog asking people for their ideas for what to name one of my fabric designs. I fell in love with someone’s suggestion for both Avian Therapy and Tufted Tweets. So, I can thank two of my wonderful blog readers for those names!

{ Orchid colorway }

Let’s talk a little about the color palette — that orchid is beautiful, and a little out of the ordinary after seeing so much turquoise from designers the last few seasons. Where did you get the inspiration for your palette?

I was so nervous about how people would react to Orchid. It was definitely an unusual direction and I was so thrilled when the team at Robert Kaufman was willing to take the leap and try it out with me.+ I love working with color and trying combinations that are slightly off-kilter. There was something so sophisticated about that dusty purple mixed with the deep purple and the black that I kept coming back to over and over when I was working on those designs.+ I don’t recall exactly what it was that inspired that palette but I’m awfully glad that my color subconscious let it in because I am generally not a ‘purple’ person. At least I didn’t used to be. :)


Walk us through the names, inspiration and design process behind each print.


Birdies and Chairs – Sitting on the promenade in Brooklyn Heights watching the little birdies bounce from park bench to park bench. And an exhibit of mid-century modern chairs.

+

Avian Therapy – I have always wanted a couch just like that! And the wallpaper is inspired by some of the iron work in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.

+

Birdie Dots – I wanted to put my own spin on the traditional line of birdies sitting on a telephone wire. So I played with a vertical representation and incorporated the little oval bubbles as little nests.

+

Itty Bitty Chairs –+ Inspired by some chairs that were on display in the Museum of Art and Design.+ I love lining things up in neat little rows.

You mentioned selling your own fabric designs on your adorable etsy shop, Scarlet Fig — how did it lead to your Tufted Tweets deal with Robert Kauffman?

Thank you! I love my little store and am so happy that people are enjoying my work. Spoonflower, Etsy and my blog have been really been a wonderful way to test out my designs and see how people react to them.

And once I set my sights on designing fabric and licensing my art as a new career path, I knew I wanted to be signed by one of the major fabric manufacturers.+ I did lots of research and targeted several of the companies that I was most interested in and felt that my design aesthetic and personality meshed the best with. When I contacted my target list of companies, I was thrilled to hear that nearly all of them had seen my work on Spoonflower and had come across my blog. I felt like I really clicked with the team at RK and was so excited when they extended the offer to license my designs. I was so thrilled that they chose Tufted Tweets as my first collection to be licensed since it was really the first full collection I created.

{ Grass colorway }

What’s your favorite part about designing fabric? What part do you wish you could skip?

Seeing how different an idea turns out from what I initially envisioned in my head. I usually end up with something totally different from what I initially thought I was designing. I love to follow those random design thoughts and see where I end up. In terms of what I wish I could skip, there are days where setting up repeats can get somewhat tedious. But even that is part of the overall design process, and I’m so thankful to get to spend time designing that I will take the tedious parts and do them with a smile.

Who are your favorite designers?

My favorite designers work in a wide variety of medium and my list of favorites changes a lot! Some favorites+ right now are Orla Keily, Denyse Schmidt, Maira Kalman, Kaffe Fassett, Richard Serra, Donald Judd. And it’s probably not a surprise that I love mid century design so I’m a huge fan of Charles Eames’ entire body of work.

You live in Austin, right? Is Austin as awesome as I think it is? It is, isn’t it. What’s the fabric/crafty scene like there? Please remember I live in Pittsburgh, and can’t afford to move.
I really, really love Austin. You should totally come visit at least. I’ve left and moved back here 3 times already and I just can’t seem to get it out of my system. It’s a really an amazing place. Not only is it a great outdoorsy and artsy town, we have wonderful music and great, great food. I live very close to downtown and take my dog to one of our great parks or to the walking trails at the lake at least a few times a week. My mom lives just outside of town so I get to see her often and I have a wonderful group of old and new friends here. And the fabric/crafty scene here is just insanely wonderful. Since I moved back, I have met some of the most extraordinarily wonderful and supportive artistically talented people. The arts community here is so supportive and so enthusiastic about helping everyone grow and learn new creative things. I love working in a community where art and creativity is appreciated and valued. And there’s a wonderful sewing studio here called the Stitch Lab with loads of fabric and classes galore. For me right now, Austin is the perfect little creative mecca!

[I knew it!]


So you’re a crafter/sewist yourself. How do you picture this collection being used?

This is one of the things that I am the most excited about right now. I think the very bold and graphic nature of the fabric really lends itself so well to so many different applications. Robert Kaufman and I partnered with Ashley of Film in the Fridge for a quilt pattern that will be available in the next month or so that uses Tufted Tweets. The quilt pattern is called ‘Unfurnished’ and I am just in awe of how beautiful the pattern Ashley created is and I can’t wait for people to be able to make their own.+ I of course love Tufted Tweets but now that I have seen Ashley’s quilt that uses the fabric, I think I love it even more.

{ Tufted Tweets quilt pattern by Ashley of Film in the Fridge }

I also see the fabric being used for lots of home décor projects and for apparel like skirts or blouses. I’m working on a top from Birds on the Wire (or at least it’s on my list to be worked on!) . The fabric is so whimsical that I hope people really enjoy sewing with it. I’m+ also hoping that someday Tufted Tweets will be commercially printed on Home Dec weight fabric. If it does, I’m the first in line to get some to re-cover some of my chairs at home!

That would be perfect! Speaking of chairs, what do you sit on at home? Weird question, okay, but I’m telling you, that sofa print! I like to think you have a grass-green sofa just like it in your living room.

You and me both! I have always wanted either a grass green or a robin’s egg blue sofa. When I was growing up, my grandmother had this enormous and super fancy yellow sofa that I just loved so I guess I come by the love of brightly colored furniture rightly.

Today, I have this simple little mocha colored sofa that is nearly buried under all of my throw pillows. It’s almost comical how many throw pillows are perched on that couch. I have promised myself that I can upgrade to a colored sofa with a contrasting wooden frame at some point in the future though!

Do you have any advice for people interested in designing their own fabric?

Do not under any circumstances let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. If it’s what you want to do, then you have to stick to it and keep trying to make it happen. Don’t get discouraged.

And if you want to try designing fabric and see how your designs look as a textile, I highly recommend giving Spoonflower a go. It’s a great way to get your arms around scale, color combinations and how to design in repeat.

A little birdy told me you have another collection coming out in the fall, called Urban Circus … any details you can share with us? Pretty please with a sofa on top?

Yes, Robert Kaufman has licensed some of my Urban Circus designs and they are slated to come out end of summer/early fall! I am ridiculously excited. We’re still working through which patterns and which color ways and all the specifics, but I am completely thrilled to have a second collection with RK+ in the works. I have a soft spot in my hearts for those elephants and can’t wait to see them on a full bolt of fabric!+ I personally love the really graphic nature of the Urban Circus collection. It’s bold and modern and childlike but I think it has a sophistication that doesn’t limit it to the nursery.+ I keep saying that I am going to make a sundress from those elephants but just haven’t had the time recently.

Lastly: anything else you’d like to share, or anything I forgot to ask?

I’m very excited to be exhibiting for the first time this year at Surtex. The show is in NYC+ May 16-18 and I’ll be in booth 553 so if you’re coming to the show, I hope you’ll drop by and say hello!

Whoo! This has been a lot of fun, Laurie! Thanks for talking with us — can’t wait to see what else you’ve got coming down the pike!

And if you can’t wait until May to get your hands on Tufted Tweets, Laurie is hosting a giveaway on her blog: check it out! Thanks again, Laurie!

11 Comments

  1. Sondra says:

    Great interview, as always, Kim. Love these designs. We ordered the entire collection, I just couldn’t eliminate any. It is hard to choose a favorite, I love fabrics with birds but the chairs and sofas really blow my mind.
    Congrats to Laurie! Thanks Kim!
    Best to you….Sondra

  2. mab says:

    I can’t wait to get some of this! Very unique. I’m super pumped about Urban Circus. That is the perfect fabric for lots of projects — especially non-cheesy kids stuff. Ok, and stuff for me, too. :)

  3. Wendy says:

    What a cool story and a great interview! I love the red and orchid colorways!

  4. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this inspiring interview. Fresh prints and wonderful advice for aspiring fabric designers; and I am a purple person!

  5. Julie says:

    Great work!

    One thing: PLEASE don´t forget that Charles Eames worked as a TEAM with his wife Ray. They were Charles and Ray Eames. I’m sure it was an un-intentional omission, but every time someone accidentally forgets her name, it’s one more person who doesn’t learn about a wonderful woman designer, and a great marriage/professional collaboration.

  6. wendy says:

    Woo Hoo Laurie! Go Austin crafters! I agree, Stitch Lab is cool, but the ultimate store in this area is Quilt Haus in New Braunfels. They have dozens of entire collections from famous designers.

  7. April says:

    LAURIE! Come by the South Lamar Hancock sometime on a Saturday and say hello! I know, I know… there may be much better fabric stores in our town but that’s where I moonlight, and I think your work is AWESOME! :)

  8. Thanks so much for all the nice comments (and for the Austin shout outs!). I’m so glad you like the designs so much and I really hope you have fun sewing with them.

    Julie: You are SO right about Ray Eames. It’s an accidental omission that I won’t make again! :)

  9. Laurie! Thanks for the awesome shout out! We are SEW excited to be carrying your fabric here at the Stitch Lab! Can’t wait to see what you do next!
    xoxoxo

  10. [...] had actually just seen Laurie’s recent work featured on True Up, one of our favorite fabric-design web sources, so it seemed like a triple coincidence when we [...]

  11. Paddy Dugan says:

    If you have a newsletter I would love to subscribe.
    Thanks and best wishes!