Interview: Jay McCarroll (Part 2)

Habitat by Jay McCarroll

{ Habitat by Jay McCarroll, photo by Laura Singewald of Spool Sewing in Philadelphia }

In part two of my interview with Jay McCarroll (here’s Part 1), I asked him to take us through the story and inspiration behind Habitat, and to talk about the process of creating each print and how they fit into the overall story. We often form our opinions — good or bad — of fabric collections on sight alone, but there are big ideas behind every collection, and hearing about them always changes my opinion for the better. In this case, I’m going from love to … I don’t know … superlove?, and I bet you will too.

Habitat by Jay McCarroll

{ Habitat by Jay McCarroll, photo by Laura Singewald of Spool Sewing in Philadelphia }

Jay McCarroll: The overall vibe of Habitat is a reflection of my life and how I live. It depicts what I am drawn to visually and what stimulates me both newly and nostalgically. Basically coming up with a collection of prints that depict a lifestyle. I grew up in a very small rural town but now live in a major city so that plays a huge role in how i tend to design. Reflecting on my roots while living in a metropolis makes for an interesting dichotomy. Living amongst a very angular backdrop, I am always searching for organic shapes and experiences within that linear box. Philadelphia is a great source of inspiration because while you are still in a major city with diverse architectural detail, there are plenty of natural outlets within or just outside of the city limits. I also wanted to deliver a line that was intentionally diverse in the styling of the prints for two reasons. The first being, I wanted it to look like the consumer personally chose, through a keen sense of color, 8 prints that didn’t necessarily “go” together but that worked harmoniously together. The second reason was that, probably due in part to my fashion background, there seems to be a formula in the quilting cotton world on what a collection should look like. This is probably due in part to the fact that in eight prints you are needing to satisfy the needs of three different markets: Quilting, apparel and home dec. I’m definitely not one to subscribe to the extra large floral, large floral with geometric undertone, medium floral, medium stripe with floral, medium stripe, small geometric and two slightly solid co-ordinates kind of mentality.

Habitat by Jay McCarroll

{ Habitat by Jay McCarroll, photo by Laura Singewald of Spool Sewing in Philadelphia }

On a side note, i would like to acknowledge the two fabulous textile designers i worked with on this line. Alexis Mcvicker and Renee Shortell. They were beyond amazing to work with and I think it shows! Also, I named all of these prints with the help of my sister Janet and my mother over boca burgers and a tower of onion rings at a Red Robin in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

POLLEN: For this print I really wanted to do some kind of larger dot but not a traditional polka dot. I think the initial idea for this came from the rings left behind from moisture from a cup. When the whole print was coming together and I was thinking of this idea of habitats, i thought about this looking like a view of pollen through a microscope or maybe what an insect sees or what the habitat of a honey bee is. My textile designer Renee Shortell was very helpful with this print as she is a painter and i accredit her painterly touch for really making this print thick and lush within each dot. Along the way, it seemed to lack a bit of life. Maybe it was the fact that she was pregnant at the time, but she really injected some spirit into this print.

CITY PLANTING: This was inspired by me looking down off of my studio roofdeck onto my little garden. The idea of containers housing different colors. This same idea came up when i was thinking about community gardens, which there are quite a few in Philadelphia. Each person is given a little plot to do what they wish with. Some people are growing prize-worthy tomatoes next to someone who can’t even get a marigold to grow and the idea of looking at that whole competitive exchange aerially. The print was actually produced by scanning a vintage floral and pixelating it. Somewhere along the way it took on a cross stitch feel which hearkens back to watching my mother work on her annual winter cross stitch project.

RAISE THE ROOF: I knew I wanted to do an architecture inspired print but wasn’t quite sure how to do actual buildings in repeat so i did an abstract version. I was also living in Los Angeles at the time for the first part of this design process so there is a bit of looking through palm trees at sunny Southern California architecture there. When I came back east, my sister Sandra was building her house, creating her own habitat, and it seemed like an endless amount of time that we were looking up at the rafters and the build out of the rooms. I also have a penchant for cheesy 90′s dance moves.

WEST RIVER DRIVE: From the February to September before I went to los angeles, I was working out with my friend Elissa. Almost every day we would go to West River Drive which is a nice walk/bike path along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. We watched the area go from bare trees and soggy post snow ground to full fledged summer out of control foliage. I felt like i was a part of nature’s process that spring and summer. I went back and collected a bunch of plants which I pressed the old fashioned way in between paper towels in a heavy book. I handed the book to my textile designer renee and they were then scanned and arranged. This was a perfect example of finding organic forms within a city vibe that i was going for.

BIRCH: For this one, I knew I wanted to include a scratchy urban texture somewhere. I never really looked at it as resembling a birch tree until we had a screw up on the first strike offs. This was originally a four-color print but when the first strike offs came back, because of the fine lines within the print, the colors kind of mushed together and became really fuzzy and cloudy. I actually dropped this print out of the line because of that. I then had a very small window where i could make changes. I went back to the drawing board and decided to make this a two-color print and it turned out worlds better. With that change the look of a birch tree came through and thus the name.

SINGING FOREST: This print was the biggest pain in the ass and was the one print that held my printing process up by months to the point where it was affecting the release date of my line. This print started out with the greatest idea. I wanted to take an ugly old fashioned floral and modernize it by putting multicolored randomly placed dots on it, as if a cool artsy teen girl was staying over at grandma’s for the weekend and just decided to pull out her paints and start drawing brightly colored dots all over the couch and wallpaper. Sounds nice in theory and it looked great on paper but when it came time to engrave it and print it on fabric, all hell broke loose on many different levels. Long story short and some creative compromise later, what the prints look like to you aren’t really what they originally looked like. However, after all is said and done, I really love how this print turned out and think this is one of the most cool and fresh ideas in this group and beyond. The name “Singing Forest” translates from the word Singewald. This suggestion comes from Laura Singewald, who is the owner of my local fabric shop, Spool. Laura was so incredibly helpful and encouraging and supportive during the whole design process. She is a tremendous resource for me to have at my disposal and her shop is top notch!

FOR THE BIRDS: I just wanted to do a simple small polka dot because it seems like everyone else and their mother has a polka dot and I didn’t and I was jealous because I love me some polka dots! This print was literally made with a sharpie marker and an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of copy paper from Staples. I drew some dots and we scanned them in and plopped in some color. My mother named this print because she thought it reminded her of birdseed. Cute.

DROPCLOTH: Let me start off by saying I adore this print! It is so versatile and weird and artistic and urban. I wanted to do a super painty print and this satisfied that yearning. Way back when, I had a friend who was an artist and I gave him some canvas to use for his dropcloth in exchange that I get it back to make clothes out of. I made all sorts of things out of it including a few skirts and some bags and i think a vest. I just loved how you could cut pattern pieces out of it and no two pieces looked the same. That is really what I was going for with this print. I used many different painting techniques to create this. Each little splatter or wash or group of dots was made individually on separate pieces of paper and then scanned in individually and then layered and arranged to create a composition. It was a lot of work but I think it’s amazing and so very different than anything else that’s out there. It has been really interesting to work with this print because you could cut 50 4″ squares out of it and no two look the same. I love that kind of stuff.

Thank you so much, Jay!


  1. happy zombie says:

    Oh Kim, I know EXACTLY what you mean about the “big ideas behind every collection, and hearing about them always changes my opinion for the better” and “going from love to … I don’t know … superlove?” – I’m in the middle of a commentgasim over that. Tiz how I felt when I watched Jay’s video and read your interview. I’m going from like… to off the chart mad crushing superlove over Habitat. Which BTW, my wise friend Violet (Craft) was telling me would happen while I was fondling Jay’s fabric a few weeks ago – she told me just wait until I read your interview… that I’ll fall madly in love with Habitat after reading it. And boy have I fallen hard!

  2. Courtney says:

    Oh, now that I know the story behind West River Drive I have to have it. My husband worked in Philly once for about 18 months & I loved running by the Schuylkill. Very cool line, and so nice to hear about the inspiration

  3. Victoria says:

    oh wow, i love all of these!! ack! I hate that when that happens…

  4. DianeY says:

    That was really fun to hear-I think I’m going into superlove, too! I bought about 8 different yards of it when I first saw it online for sale & love it sooooooooooo much. Dropcloth, pollen & singing forest are my favorites!

  5. Amber says:

    wow – so interesting to know the story behind all the prints! About to start on a quilt with it soon…

  6. I already liked these prints but I have loved reading what is behind each print and can’t wait to make something with them. I am also a huge Project Runway nerd and love to see what Jay is up to and know he’s doing such beautiful work!

  7. What a fun assortment of prints and colors. Now to track down some worthy furniture to re-cover and dust off the staple gun. Hm… or I might need to make a skirt or a purse first. Way to go, Jay!

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

  9. melimba says:

    I finally was able to sit down and read this 2nd half. I’m with you, I went from LOVE to SUPERLOVE.
    It’s fascinating to hear how each of his prints came to be. I love hearing about the process. Thanks for posting this, Kim! Awesome.