Interview: Jay McCarroll (Part 1)

Jay McCarroll’s fourth fabric collection for FreeSpirit, Habitat, was released last month and so far it has gotten tons of love all over the blog world. On the off chance you don’t know who Jay is, he was crowned the winner of the first season of Project Runway for his colorful, inventive final collection that featured hand-quilting, patchwork, and hand-knit pieces. Since then he has produced several other fashion collections (the first of which, post-PR, was documented in the film Eleven Minutes), launched an online boutique (currently on vacation), started teaching at Philadelphia University, and won on a season of VH1′s Celebrity Fit Club. It’s been such a thrill to see him bring his design sensibilities to the fabric world, and I’m thrilled today that he’s here to talk about Habitat! You’ve seen these gorgeous prints on these pages a few times already, but I saved most of my gushing for this interview.

Jay also wrote up a fascinating tour of each of Habitat’s prints, which I’ll be posting tomorrow, so stay tuned. But before getting into today’s questions, I encourage you to watch Jay’s own video introduction of the line so you can hear a bit about the general inspiration and see the fabrics in action.

True Up: When I first saw Habitat, I thought “oh my god, these are FASHION PRINTS!” (and also, “woohoooo!”) Now, the quilting industry has been experimenting with apparel substrates (lawns, knits etc.) and there have been several multipurpose print collections that would work for several applications, especially from you and your fellow Freespirit/Westminster designers. But I can’t think of any collection that has been so fashion-centric. I’ve always thought that was odd, since fashion prints can work for quilting and home dec, but not necessarily vice versa, so if you want to appeal to the widest array of people, you should design fashion prints. Was there a conscious decision by you and/or Freespirit to design fashion prints this time around, or was it just a natural outcome of your fashion background? (Or am I way off?)

Jay McCarroll: There is a natural progression happening right now towards designing a multipurpose line. Multipurpose in that it should be able to be applied to quilting, apparel and home dec. Within eight prints, in three colorways, I find it challenging to appeal to all of these groups considering color and scale. I also find it challenging, because of my fashion background and the way I do my own work, combining all sorts of textiles together, to try and classify what could be used for quilting vs. apparel vs. home dec. Frankly, I believe you could just as easily use lamé for a quilt as you could a traditional calico for a dress or a large scale geometric to reupholster a chair.

I do believe we are at an interesting crossroads in the “quilting cotton” world. With people heavily embracing craft in combination with the popularity of social media and the generational passing of the torch, if you will, there comes a need for a larger, fresher variety of what’s being offered. I believe the designers are really trying to steer the ship on this. They are the ones doing classes, visiting shops and hearing what the consumer has to say, whether in person or through social media. With that comes a world of opinions and ideas and possibilities. This could be a slippery slope, because as designers, we are the ones being relied upon for our endless inspiration and ideas and ways to implement our vision into product. However, this is a business and the process of printing fabric is not a cheap or easy one. I believe it will take some time, and a lot of tutorials and patterns and classes to really see how these different substrates play out. I think they are all fabulous and trust me, I want to see a million of my designs on a million different fabrics. Can you even imagine printed metallic linen double knit? Don’t even get me started.

As for my prints being perceived as fashion-ey, I can’t say that was my intention really. In fact I think I perceived them as more appropriate for home dec. After the specificness of my first three lines, I really thought about what I wanted to use in my own work, my own home and what aesthetic I wanted to be known for. I think, of course, the fact that I produce clothes and am searching the marketplace for those kinds of items along with doing lots of research, I tend to have a broader spectrum of influence and therefore feel any of my ideas could easily be applied to surface design. Again, this comes from me paying attention to what’s going on in other parts of the design world. It becomes difficult because there is an underlying idea that
this is just “quilting cotton” and therefore can not push boundaries but I think the tides are a changin’. It is certainly up to the designer to communicate to the consumer that it’s OK to move forward and to take risks.

{ A chair that Jay himself upholstered with Habitat prints — see the process on his blog. }

True Up: (OK, maybe this is silly, but: ) On your new blog, you touch on the fabric vs. fashion industries, saying that everyone in the fabric industry is friendly, and the fashion industry is mean. We probably all start off as fabric lovers/hoarders … why can’t we all just get along? When does the dark side take over?

Jay McCarroll: Fabric is enough of its own process but when you add silhouettes and trends and sizing and body image and psychology and the politics of the fashion industry on top of the fabric, it gets extremely complex. There is something that happens in any industry really when the purity of the medium you are producing meets business. People who make steel have their own issues, sure, but when you are using that steel that needs to be up to code for a building with insulation and cinderblock and concrete and a handicap ramp and contractors and zoning and architects … The shit gets complicated. On a much smaller level, when people buy a few yards of fabric to make a skirt for themselves, they are picking out the fabric because it resonates in them. They are drawn to it for whatever reason. They pick it out, watch it get cut and folded, take it home and cut into it and sew it and then wear it and get complemented on it to which they respond “Thank you, I made it myself.” It’s much more personal and therefore a much friendlier exchange. Little do they know that it took a year and a half of research and designing and redesigning and printing strikeoffs and approvals and manufacturing and shipping for the whole process to come full circle to them to say “Thank you, I made it myself.”

True Up: Speaking of fabric hoarding, what is your stash like, who are your main suppliers these days, and what are currently doing with it (other than playing with Habitat)?

Jay McCarroll: I literally have an entire room of fabric. Its all sorts of different fabrics for all sorts of different reasons and projects I am currently working on or procrastinating on or dreaming of. I get fabric from all sorts of places. It really depends on what I am buying fabic for. If its for apparel, I usually source at this giant warehouse fabric store called Jo-Mar here in Philadelphia. They have a few locations and it’s hit or miss but it’s always cheap and I can get large quantities of yardage. If it’s for home dec or other apparel, I usually hit up the local smaller specialized places in the city. For quilting fabric i have a few online spots and of course my local haunt, Spool. I am working on more stuff for my website both in the apparel and home dec departments and getting ready to do a bunch of art and craft festivals this summer. I did a few last year and they were really rewarding.

{ Lina dress from mette (Kristin Rasmussen) on Etsy, using Jay McCarroll’s Dropcloth print from Habitat }

True Up: Now back to Habitat. Will you tell us about the colorways — what’s your process for coming up with them? And what comes first, for you, the color or the prints, or do they evolve simultaneously?

Jay McCarroll: Ahh … My favorite part of the process. Coming up with the colorways. I start off by raiding Home Depot’s paint chip department and pulling out colors that i usually am drawn to. Aqua, pukey yellow green, charcoal, hot pink. I mean how many paint chips of behr’s “Garden Sprout” can one have? From there I sit in the sunshine and roughly start to make piles of particular colors I am drawn to. All of the blues in one pile, all of the pinks in another pile, etc. I then whittle those individual piles down to a select few that I like per color. I usually have a general idea of combinations in my head already from visual research I have done. Then I start combining colors. Trying the mustard with the aqua, the yellow with the charcoal until I have the perfect combination of anywhere from 12 to 16 colors for a colorway. I then cut the chips up and make little colorway boards that get used throughout the whole process. The color chips are then scanned and from there on out referred to digitally. Interestingly, the original color chips from Home Depot are what get cut up into tiny little pieces and arranged on color swatch cards and sent to the factory for reference. Thank you Home Depot!

For me, color comes first. It comes somewhere during doing the initial stages of research. The color palette is solidified before the prints start taking shape. Occasionally a color or two might be added to add some zing to the prints if necessary.

Tomorrow, part 2 — all about the prints.


  1. Jenean says:

    Great interview! I’m looking forward to part 2. This is such a wonderful line!

  2. Amber says:

    I love his new line – trying to decide what to use it for first….

  3. melimba says:

    wow. I’m LOVING this interview. Can’t wait for part 2. This line is genius. Mega props to Jay!

  4. Monica Lee says:

    I love his perspective! “Thank you, I made it myself!” Is why I love fabric also. Fabric design is a creative art that become someone else’s creative medium. Yeah! Jay said it perfectly! I am an official fan…well, I always liked him a lot before too…

  5. Jasonda says:

    Great interview! Glad to see I am not the only one stealing paint chips from Home Depot.. ha ha :)

  6. Rachel says:

    Thanks for sharing, this was a great interview and very insightful.

  7. Cathy A says:

    Fun interview! “body image and psychology” is the reason I like to sew for the home and quilting more than sewing for myself.

  8. Hi there,
    I was wondering if you could refer me to a fabric source for small prints.
    I create one of a kind dolls, and I need small prints. I’ve seen someone on Etsy that makes doll clothes with the cutest print, like tiny mushrooms, rabbits, etc
    I would appreciate any help.

  9. Great interview, inspiring designer. I love Habitat – I’m ready to see more lines like this one!!

  10. [...] just in time for their arrivals, TrueUp Blog features an interview with Jay McCarroll [...]

  11. Judith Blinkenberg says:

    Very nice interview. I’m looking forward to the second part. I think that I might like some of that green fabric.

  12. love to hear him talk about his fabrics a great window into his world..beautiful line!!

  13. [...] PART ONE PART TWO [...]

  14. [...]  Kim at True Up interviewed Jay McCarroll about his new fabric designs, here and [...]