Fabric and Diversity

The issue of diversity in the fabric world — primarily the quilting/craft fabric world — was brought up here (in a major way) back in January, but it somehow took me several months to catch wind of it. In fact, I hadn’t heard anything of this very controversial post until Kristen’s passing mention in her Michael Miller coverage here.

I have read through the original post, its comments, the follow-up post, and some other posts that people have written in response. And I have thought about it for another month and this is what I have to say — short and sweet, I hope.

  • Calling out any individual designer (especially what kind of people he or she chooses not to put on fabric, or because they tend to draw people of their own race/background), is ridiculous and mean. This is a problem with the industry, and attacking individual designers (or framing the issue on any one designer’s fabric) is counterproductive.
  • Two points are much more worthy of discussion, and, I think, far more likely to spur positive change:
  • The quilt/craft/lifestyle fabric world could definitely stand to be more diverse. It’s a business dominated by white, middle-to-upper-class women, as are the associated hobbies, and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself. But what I took away from the earlier online discussions are that people who are not white would like to be represented, especially when it comes to juvenile/novelty prints, and especially when they’re making things out of this fabric for their children.
  • And by representation, I don’t mean representation by ethnic/racial/cultural stereotypes, which still find their way onto fabric quite often: geishas, Eskimos with igloos and penguins, cowboys and Indians, etc. Does this kind of imagery still has a place in today’s society? And does context matter? (Who designed the fabrics? What are they trying to express?) These questions I can’t answer, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on any of these issues, but please, no personal attacks.


  1. Lee Schon says:

    Well, I guess I am a pretty simple person. If you don’t like the fabric don’t buy it. If you ask the designer to design to a different clientele and they don’t, don’t buy from them. Find another designer who is more in tune with the things that interest you. Write to them. Write to your friends and others of like interests and rave about the new designer with the great line of fabrics. We are always so ready to complain about people who aren’t like us and won’t change for us that we forget; they don’t have to. We live in a capitalistic world and if they don’t keep up with the times, they will soon be out of business. Instead of wasting energy on attacks, begin shopping around for folks that are more open to change and progress. Money always talks!

  2. Chris C says:

    I followed this debate when it first came out, and I just found it to be way off the mark. I think it’s absurd to critique ONE artist / designer for not creating a diverse body of work. Diversity doesn’t come from a single person — the whole point of it is that it’s a multitude of voices! Heather Ross is absolutely not the issue here — she has the right to create whatever inspires her. Ideally, her voice would be added to a chorus of voices, representing the full range. That being said, it seems obvious to me, that the blame here lies with the fabric/craft industry as a whole. Anyway, I came out of the original debate with a really bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t believe how many people jumped on the bandwagon of attacking a single individual for something that by its very definition is not a single-person “responsibility” (for lack of a better word).

  3. While reading those posts, I wondered: Would we ask the same of an artist who produced a series of paintings with the same images? Is there something different about a fabric designer as an artist?

    Certainly most designers would consider themselves artists. When I was a graphic designer, I did what my customers asked me to do, with my own personal style for a twist. But if they wanted diversity, I’d give them diversity. I wasn’t in the least bit angsty about that because I was a designer, not an artist. I saw a difference. I *needed* that difference to keep from being overrun by depression about designing the same spec sheet over and over again.

    For me, fabric designers are artists. I take what I’m given. If I don’t like it, I don’t buy it. If I like it but it doesn’t do what I want, I lament that and move on. I wouldn’t tell Mary Cassatt to change the hair color of a subject and I won’t do that for a fabric designer, either.

  4. Lisa P. says:

    I’ve been reading through the original post. I could make a lenghty comment but, basically, I agree with your points, Kim. Also, when I was recently complaining about something in another sphere of life, a friend told me that her mother always said (I think it’s originally from Ghandi), be the change you want to see. Food for thought. Thanks for bringing this up in a considerate way. I’d only barely begun to puzzle over it.

  5. jenny says:

    I’m not holding any one designer accountable, but I would love to see more racial diversity in fabric design! I’m hoping the current nostalgic-for-the-1950′s craze is about over. I only spend my money on novelty fabrics that reflect my kid’s and their playmates — and, at least in my neighborhood, that means fabric with kids of all colors.

  6. Deana says:

    Yes, yes,yes. I read the original post when it came out and it made me feel not in the least way ‘helpful’ to the situation, but rather negative and hurtful. On the other hand the lack of diversity wasn’t something I thought about before the post. Do I notice it now? Yes. But do I feel it needs a crusade with myself involved? Nope. Corporations can adapt if they want and artists can come forward to fill a void if they want. I will happily buy and use fabric that makes me happy and help fill a void in my creative needs from work and 3 children :)

  7. Mary P says:

    Kim, I agree with you. It is ridiculous to expect one designer to change the craft industry. If I recall correctly, David Walker had an adorable little girls print with many colors of girls. It is one of my favorites (I believe it is called Hopscotch). There are designers out there doing what people are asking Heather Ross to do. Why do we expect it of her and not ALL designers? I agree that it is mean to call one out. We need more diversity in the industry and that will happen by people asking manufacturers for more diversity, and then putting their money where their mouth is.

  8. Virginia says:

    The other day an art therapist came in looking for fabric to make a patchwork slipcover with for her group therapy space. She loved a number of whimsical prints but was troubled that all the “children” were white. Most of the children in her art therapy group sessions are not. As a non-white fabric store owner it was shocking to me in that moment to realize that every novelty fabric in my shop was designed with light-skinned people and I was appalled at my own lack of awareness. I had consciously chosen not to carry “Cowboy and Indian” prints and Geishas. And I scoured the market booklets to find something other than light-skinned children from the vendors I have accounts with. I failed and I’m disappointed. So now what?

  9. Shari says:

    It’s challenging to be an American in this day and age as while I get to celebrate my right to choose, I also need to celebrate your right to choose. We each have a right to shout that belief from every social network platform we can find which means we can easily share our choices with hundreds if not thousands. Stating my position and my rationale for my choice without defaming your position and your rationale is hard. (Here is where I go on record to state that I’m an American and hence I can only comment from that position. I do recognize this is read globally and celebrate that others may not view this the same from their nationalities position on civil liberties.)

    Ashley has a right to express her view on the underrepresentation of nationalities and races within an industry. She has a right to express her view that she believes an artist in that industry is required to be an agent of change. Heather has a right to choose the subject of her art. She has a right to express her view that she believes an artist in that industry is not required to be an agent of change and that the market can choose to purchase or not.

    I agree in principal with each. There is an underrepresentation of nationalities and races within the noted industry (can I add boys to that list?). Artists are free to choose the subject of their art. Ashley however chose to site only one artist (and let’s face it, we can rattle off about 10 more without much thought) and chose to defame rather than respect.

    And in the end, it’s just f***ing fabric. Off to purchase. Do I need to apologize for my privilege?

  10. shannon says:

    Very interesting! This is something that I have actually thought about since I was reintroduced to fabric a few years ago, but wasn’t aware of the original post.

    I could go on and on on a topic like this, but I’ll try to keep it concise.

    I think it’s great that there is an awareness by people of all backgrounds that there is a lack of “diversity” in this arena. I think it’s fabulous when people recognize their privilege, take time to reflect on their experiences, their worldviews, etc. I think it’s great that people are voicing the need for more “diversity.”

    Re: Heather Ross. I can see how some may have been disappointed with her response. Before I actually read her response, I figured that she does what she does for all the reasons she listed in her response–which I actually agree with. So for the most part, I felt her, I understood her, and I actually thought her response was fine–personal and from her heart. Personally, I want her to keep designer from her experiences, NOT what she thinks mine might be. I think though, what fell short for most people was what you acknowledge in your post, that there could be much more diversity in the quilt/fabric/craft world. I think if her response had just included an acknowledgement of the lack of diversity, it would have done much for those who were making comments.

    Being a woman of color, I can tell you that I don’t expect or want Heather Ross, or any other designer, to start making representations of who I am or what their perceptions of my experiences are. She does such a good job at what she does because it is what resonates with HER and she creates from HER life experiences. Some of what she expresses through her work is universal which is why it touches many. I will find it problematic if, to fill the need for diversity, people just start drawing children of different color, copying “ethnic” art, and portraying feelings, images, and experiences that they really don’t have experience with. It can become a fine line between a representation/celebration of a culture and a co-option/commodificaiton of one. I see many asian influences in the fabric world, some fine, some not so great. For me, I really don’t want existing designers to take on this roll, they are great for what they do. Really, for more diversity to happen is:

    1. A demand/desire for diversity from us–the people who sew, the people who craft
    2. A change in the industry to VALUE and UNDERSTAND diversity–”take a chance” and print designs that reflect diversity AS WELL as DESIGNERS from diverse backgrounds. Not everyone is privileged with the means to get their work seen.

    I actually am having fun creating things that I feel aren’t represented in what I see now. I am happy that I can create these things because it is a reflection of ME and the place I live. I see so many creative and talented artists and designers where I live and there they have created a nice “industry” of their own here. I would hate for others to co-opt their art and livelihood for the sake of global diversity and would much rather have these local artists and designers supported for what they do. I would hate for diversity to become this “fad” or means for making a buck.

    So, yeah…I have put thought into this, and had recognized the lack of diversity, but really, I would be very wary of “diversity” expanding in the wrong way. No more exploitation, stereotyping, caricatures, etc.!

  11. MJ says:

    “Ridiculous and mean”? Oh yes, poor white lady, everyone is just being so meaaan for calling her out on her privilege. Why can’t you all just stop being meaaan and let her continue /perpetuating the problems with the industry/ without criticism. Excuse me while I go pick up my eyes, they seem to have rolled away.

    No one is asking Heather Ross to singlehandedly solve all the problems with racial representation in the craft industry. But they are asking that when someone points out the problems, her response is a little more considered than “well this isn’t how I was raised and I draw from that and if you’re a minority struggling to get yourself represented, sucks to be you.”

    It’s all fine and dandy for you to sit around and exclaim “gosh, yes, I wish the industry was more diverse! we really need more diversity!” You have the privilege to say that, but when push comes to shove, not really do anything about it, because you’re not the one facing the /continuous erasing of your very existence/. Those that don’t want to just sit around and wish for more diversity call out the people in the positions that can make it happen.

    But oh, I forgot, letting privileged white ladies know that brown people exist and expecting them to care is “ridiculous and mean.”

    • Heather says:

      MJ, perhaps you should create a fabric design. I don’t understand why people are expecting others to do it for them. If you’re not already plugged in to the right networks, start with Spoonflower.

      It occurs to me that there are many of what I think of as distinctive Australian designs represented in fabric coming out of that country and that’s how it should be.

      I notice that on Canada day I don’t see nearly so many fabric selections as I see for the American 4th of July but it has never occurred to me to hold anyone responsible for that. If I want more Canadian focused designs, then I should be the one making that happen somehow. I shouldn’t be expecting it of … say … Heather Ross.

    • CPA says:

      Intrguing use of quotations in your post, MJ… you contend that someone other than you uttered the phrase, “well this isn’t how I was raised and I draw from that and if you’re a minority struggling to get yourself represented, sucks to be you.”

      I recall that quotation marks represent…. what’s the word… quotations. And for those of us who feel that insight can be conveyed without being “rediculous and mean” also find that points can be well made without “defamation and libel.” Wait… let me be clear… that last quote was from me.

      If there is a point to be made, perhaps you should do it in a manner that doesn’t put your words in other people’s mouths.

  12. Chickybits says:

    Perhaps the original and follow-up posts could have been a little less harsh. Perhaps HR could have handled the challenge with a little more bravery. But the result is a fantastic discussion. I haven’t been able to understand why this industry is so far behind. White-only prints certainly don’t represent my family. I don’t even bother to take my daughter to the store to pick out fabrics anymore. And the larger justice issues, like fair trade fabric? Right. On.

  13. Elizabeth E. says:

    I read this in the morning, backed away from the computer because the words on the screen were all aflame on that other post you reference.

    Yep–there’s a whole ton of white ladies in the quilting industry right now, and the only woman of color I’m aware of designs non-pictoral brights, which I love and have plenty of in my stash. I also have lots and lots of Dia De Los Muertos prints, but I seek those out and have them in several different colors (as well as a quilt on that theme). What I’m trying to say is that I don’t buy fabric by the color of the designer’s skin; I buy what appeals to me and hope others do the same.

    But I’m appalled that Heather Ross would be attacked for following her own artistic vision, and in spite of some of the more strident comments against her, I have to hand it to her for trying to explain her creative method, which OF COURSE, reflects a personal experience. (I didn’t hear anyone accuse her of hatred against humans when she was designing mermaids and starfish and gnomes.) We should try not to tar and feather those who speak their truths, even if we disagree with them.

    I’m not a fabric artist. I’m a quilter, and hope someday to call myself a quilt artist. I choose my colors, my tools, my designs. My preferences come from who I am. I don’t always see my vision of the world represented in the fabrics in my local shop (eg: juvenile and baby prints, but that’s just because all my children/grandchildren are older) but I can choose from other fabrics in this wide universe: from Horner’s densely layered prints (she’s Greek) the Ghanian doubleprints by friend brought back from her travels, the Zimbabwean block prints my husband brought me from the marketplace, the aboriginal prints from Australia as shown on Material Obsession blog, the wild colors and patterns of of all the different designers out there. And yes, even Heather Ross, if I want.

    As far as the charge that certain people are “erasing. . . [their] very existence,” I might answer that by encouraging them to create in order that others may learn what their existence means to them. I would encourage them to step forward, and as one commenter said, be the answer they are looking for.

    Now, I’m going back to piece together some blocks. . . and think about this some more.

  14. KathyH says:

    Well, I guess I am in the white privileged American woman class because the diversity of fabric choices, or lack thereof, never occurred to me. But, I rarely by prints with people on them. I like florals and geometric designs. I find it upsetting that people would blame one designer for the lack of diversity in the fabric world. Heather Ross is a white woman and I don’t see that there is anything wrong with her drawing pictures of children that, perhaps, look like her own. But then again I think that if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. And if you really don’t like it, then be part of the solution by writing to fabric manufacturers and asking for what you want.

    So, Kim, I basically totally agree with your post.

    And now I am going to go appreciate my sushi and picnic Timeless Treasure that just arrived. I bought them immediately after you blogged about them last week. (smile)

  15. KathyH says:

    I feel like buying some Heather Ross fabric right now, just to show that fine artist some support.

  16. Jasonda says:

    Print design is art. Art covers a huge variety of subject matter. There is something out there for everyone, but there is no artist who can create work that is universally appealing.

    I wouldn’t go up to Grandma Moses and say “hey, you’re a great artist, but how come you don’t paint more skyscrapers? As a city dweller, I can’t relate to your tiny houses and horse-drawn carriages”.

    If I didn’t like the subject matter of her paintings, I simply wouldn’t buy them. If I really wanted a painting of a skyscraper, I’d commission an artist to make one for me. Or, I’d pick up a paintbrush and go for it. :)

  17. strikkelise says:

    I am a huge fan of Heather Ross. After reading some of the initial discussion a few months ago, I felt like there was suddenly a problem with being a Heather Ross fan. Now I don’t anymore. She is a fantastic artist who has every right to choose her own motifs.

    The people who produce the fabrics, on the other hand, should be more active in looking for a more diverse selection of designers. Even though I am a white woman in a very white country (Norway), I do see the lack of representation everywhere. My kids have black and asian kids in their classes, and my (white) children actually do also notice who is represented and who is not. Perhaps not so much on fabrics, but in the media and in toys. I bet their friends with other backgrounds notice even more.

  18. Mama Spark says:

    I have been a huge Heather Ross fan for some time. I actually got the chance to meet her last fall. She is a wonderful person and for anyone talking about her life of privilege they obviously do not know anything about her. She grew up very poor! So perhaps before we accuse someone of something perhaps knowing the actual facts would be a good idea! Novel concept for some I understand.

    I agree with what you wrote and also I think that Capitalism is what reigns here in the US. So if you don’t like what someone is designing, don’t buy it! Simple as that. If I am unhappy with something I can be the agent of change and so can you. Money talks so use your money and make the companies that manufacture listen. Rather than complain that there is not enough diversity out there do something about it. That is one of the greatest things about living here in the US, the opportunity to make the kind of changes you are talking about.

    Thanks for the post. I had actually read this awhile ago but it’s great to revisit it.

  19. MelanieO says:

    I think Kim is right and we need to move this conversation past Heather Ross. By making it all about her we are missing the bigger picture, that is of inclusiveness. I think people are getting defensive about their favorite designer and we need to look beyond one person or some will stop right there.

    By the way, when speaking of privilege (in the posts that Kim linked to), they are referring to White Privilege as used in “critical race theory”. Not privilege, as in having money. It is a concept that some of us are “privileged” enough not to have to think about on a daily basis, but here’s what I think is a good explanation of it:

  20. Georgina says:

    I am glad that this topic is being brought into people’s consciousness. Whilst I agree that singling out one designer, and one who I perceive from her response is not a politically active individual, seems pointless other than to serve as an example of the corporate racism that infiltrates almost every aspect of life in the Western world, along with sexism, ageism, and prejudices about appearance.
    It is too easy to say “it’s only fabric” – it could once have been said “it’s only a seat on a bus”
    It is not Heather Ross’s responsibilty. It is the responsibility of every person alive to recognise the deep seated prejudices they hold. That is not to say that they should be ashamed, or deny their own culture, but it is to say look clearly at whatever privileges you have that eneable your life whilst they may disable another person’s.
    If you have never been denied a job because of your race, sex, age, or size – you are privileged.
    If you have never been spat at, or verbally abused because of your race, sex, age, or size – you are privileged.
    If you have never been physically attacked because of your race, sex, age, or size – you are privileged.
    If you can buy fabric that depicts a representative, and non-stereotypical image of your culture – you are privileged.
    If you can buy facbric at all – you are privileged.
    If you can vote – you are privileged.
    If your children can attend school – you are privileged.
    If you have access to affordable healthcare – you are privileged.
    If you can expect to liveto a good age, and have your children do the same – you are privileged.
    If you can turn on a tap and have clean water come out- you are privileged.
    If you live in a society that has been built over many decades to reach the point at which these issues can be debated – you are privileged.

  21. Sarah M says:

    My first reaction on reading the original guest post and first few comments on the Flint Knit blog was a bewildered, “But Heather Ross grew up dirt poor!” I’m from Vermont, and live here still, and I am quite aware of how many kids here are dependent on food and medical care assistance. And arguably, anyone who can read & respond to this debate falls on the privileged end of the scale, because this is an online discussion about luxury sewing (as opposed to sewing to keep your body covered and warm out of necessity). But in the end, it’s not a contest about who is less privileged. It’s a conversation about race. And it’s difficult to talk about race in this country, so I do think it’s pretty cool that folks are diving in. But Heather Ross is an unwilling lightning rod for this discussion, and since there has been so much written about aspiring to equality, and to *fairness*, I’ll say that targeting Heather just isn’t fair. I’ve never met her in person, but I’ve spoken with her on the phone and she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered. Really and truly. Nowhere in her responses to the posting does she dismiss the need for more diversity, she merely replies about what she, personally, wants to do. To suggest that she is causing harm by her desire to create art from her heart and own experience is politicizing this issue to a ridiculous extreme. My hope is that as the wide world of crafting and sewing continues to grow and skew younger in this country, there will be more non-white participants in every facet and at every level of crafting, and that they’ll bring a lot more than the color of their skin to the party. I hope that we’ll continue to see many more traditional crafts and design showing up with a fresh, modern spin. For instance, I love the trolls from my mother’s Norwegian background, and the Celtic knot design motifs from my father’s ancestors. If I were to start designing fabric, I might start from one of those places. Where would you start? I’d love to know!

  22. Sarah M says:

    Okay, so I just read a the comment posted 2 before mine, by Melanie O. I appreciate the clarification around ‘privilege’, that’s it’s not just about the money. So thank you.

  23. LeAnn says:

    I agree with the general premise that the fabric industry needs more diversity.
    And it would be nice to see fabrics with images of children (which I seldom buy, actually) included a racial mix. I am lucky to have women of color in my quilt guild. And I live in Lincoln, NE, home of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, so I have an opportunity to see the work of fabric artists from all over the world on display in my mostly vanilla community.

    I hope that more women of various racial and ethnic backgrounds design fabrics and find a manufacturer willing to market their designs.

    I’m afraid, though, that in the end, the fabric companies will continue to market to “dedicated quilters” who are overwhelmingly older, white, middle class women, and be reluctant to embrace diversity in their fabric lines.

    LeAnn aka pasqueflower

  24. Deb says:

    I’m really glad someone had the balls (or should I say “ovaries”) to generate this discussion on fabric and ethnic representation.

    As the 1st generation daughter of brown-skinned people who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960′s, who has been sewing for years: sewing wasn’t just a hobby, it was a necessity as we weren’t upper-middle class and extreme frugality was the rule rather than the exception. Privileged is definitely not how one would describe the immigrant life in the 1970′s, unless you arrived here with a substantial amount of money. As such, I have no nostalgia for the 1950′s/Mayberry cultural/American white bread ideal, nor ever had an affinity for 30′s prints and have never understood the demand behind Civil War designs. It would be lovely to see more people of color in fabric prints.

    As someone intimately familiar with the quilting industry, I do wonder what will happen to it as 1) Latin people really don’t quilt (not that I’ve seen) and their numbers are growing exponentially, faster than any other ethnic group. In my experience selling quilting fabric, I’ve run into 2 or 3 shopping, at most. (Perhaps this is different in AZ, NM or TX?) 2) African Americans have a tradition of quilting but I also would rarely see them in quilting stores in my territory. (This is probably different in the South.) However, they do make a point of requesting fabrics with their images on them. (Bravo!)
    3) The upper middle class, white Baby Boomer women that grew this industry over the past 20 years are getting older, losing their eyesight and manual dexterity.
    Hence, who is going to support this industry in the next 5-10 years? Since it’s already frequently discussed in the circles I frequent that “we lost a generation of sewers” (women 35-50), are there enough “Baby Busters/Gen Ys”, regardless of ethnicity, to make up for the number of exiting quilters?

    /grabs popcorn.

  25. Thank you for bringing this discussion to your True Up readers. I’ve heard about several other hot button topics recently, but did not hear this one. I must say that I’m appalled at the original article and can’t believe that one artist was singled out in such a way. To repetitively be told that Heather Ross “f**ked up” because she only drew little white girls in a fabric line is absurd. I completely understand that there are gaping holes in the representation of races/cultures in fabric prints, but that is an issue for the manufacturers, not a single artist. The issue was brought to HR’s attention and she addressed it. End of story. An artist needs to be true to herself/himself, and unless employed by a large company, should not bow to anyone’s wishes but their own. I could feel the hate and resentment of the author, which to me diminished her point. It’s like TV: if you don’t like what you are watching, turn it off! By all means, complain to the fabric manufacturers and demand better representation. That’s where you’ll make a difference.

  26. Ellen says:

    Kim, thanks for bravely bringing attention to this subject. There are probably quite a few reasons for the lack of diversity in the fabric world (and the design world as a whole), but I think it’s too complicated for a blog comment. I do see some positive changes in terms of diversity, including more men in the industry. I agree that it’s far more constructive to address the industry as a whole rather than the work of one particular designer, though I can understand the comments above.

    There’s a difference between art and design. Whereas art is often a form of personal expression, design is meant for a wider audience, so it’s only natural that there should be some consideration given to who will buy and wear the fabric. This brings up an interesting question — do designers have a social responsibility to bring racial diversity to their art? I’m not sure. Do we need more designers with different backgrounds and experiences in the industry? Absolutely.

    Hopefully we can continue the discussion and begin to draw a more diverse crowd to the modern sewing industry, reflecting the rich cultural history of its past.

  27. jp says:

    This is not a new discussion and it just keeps reappearing – I remember this being an issue back in the 90s with Riot Grrrl and punk rock and how most of the bearers of the name/sign were white and all of us were spending time examining our privilege to justify why we were feminist and lots of energy that could have been spent to get out and be activists were spent in alot of belly gazing. Debating privilege and race I really feel like are distractions. Its all about money, economics and class.

    I am a woman of color, and firmly believe that Class and Race have been so totally confused in the USA to confound the situation, to keep the rich rich, and the rest of us wondering about where we fit in and using easy visual cues (race) as ways to keep us divided and bickering among ourselves rather than a frank and honest examination of the economic system.

    Lets talk to the fabric companies that hire the artists. Thats where the money is. Do they think they could sell an asian american fabric that wasnt geishas? Whats their bottom line? Any one fabric designer is not the dictator of the market – nor are the responsible for expressing the whole of social existance (otherwise thier point of view would be watered down and thus not “marketable”) It is who is making the decisions on the next seasons patterns and writes the checks that is determining what is actually coming to market and the diversity of the collections

    I totally agree with being the change you want to see in the world – Spoonflower offers an opportunity for those who might want to just do that.

  28. Melinda says:

    I love the fabric that Heather Ross designs. LOVE it! It reminds me of my childhood. There is no other fabric on the market that really captures that essence of my childhood. I am thrilled that designs such as hers are on the market. I buy fabric because it speaks to me and elicits an emotional response. I don’t buy fabric out of obligation or duty to support equality and diversity. It’s a hobby for me and it is relaxing and fun to sew with this fabric. I have chosen not to engage in this debate. My work life is already full of social awareness issues which I enjoy and embrace in that part of my life. I choose to carve out a space in my life that is free of that without apology. For those of you who want to march forward and fight for more diversity – start with Spoonflower.com. It’s all yours for the taking.

  29. Sharon h says:


    Thanks for this post. I’d missed the original post. I’m horrified Heather Ross was attacked in this way and think her response was very dignified given the circumstancecs. I agree it’s a conversation that is well worth having but a more productive way of framining it would have been to draw people’s attention to all the fabric they see in their LQS – and asking if they notice anything missing in those cute whimsical prints? Then going on to have a discussion about why that’s the case. It’s an industry wide problem and the answer needs to be for manufacturers to look for a more diverse group of designers who are able and encouraged to bring their own experiences to print.

  30. Rachel says:

    I’m so glad to see this conversation. I’ve been thinking about these issues for the last few years, and am glad that this is an open forum for thinking and talking about this.

    I appreciate jp’s response above. The answers lie in looking at the broader problems, taking this issue up with those producing the fabrics. But the answers also lie with those of us who buy fabric, demanding a change in what’s offered.

    The lack of diversity in the fabric world is a reflection of our country’s problems with class and race. And, if there’s a lack of opportunity for designers of various ethnicities, races and backgrounds to get their work into the light of the design world, perhaps we can start scholarships and grants for those who need the funds to buy time to design. In the art and writing worlds, there are often grants designated specifically for people of color, women, people with disabilities, immigrants or refugees, those in the GLBT community…There are a lot of things that we could do as a group to fund and nurture the change we’d like to see.

    Thanks for this forum for discussing!

  31. while there are many points to be taken, i keep coming back to one thing: inspiration can’t be forced.

  32. Monica says:

    I am pleased with the number of reasonable responses to your post. I agree, that it would be inappropriate to ask Anna Maria Horner to stop designing fabrics with flowers because there are enough flower prints out there. The same to ask Heather Ross to change her her designs to suit somebody else is inappropriate. There is so much work that goes into these designs that from my very simple crafting, when I am not inspired, work stops. It is good that my livlihood is not dependent on what I create if I had to create to somebody else’s specifications.

    I agree, that there is a lack of diversity, but it also seems that in many ways, that gap is filling, albeit slowly. When I can recognize it, I want to cheer people on. On the otherhand, I also recognize that real change happens slowly. In our culture we need to work on some basics in terms of opportunities (supporting scholarships etc)to encourage diversity in various art programs including elementary through high school in addition to advanced degrees. The problem extends beyond the fabric manufacturing and retail industry.

  33. pamela says:

    Just read the original post by Ashley Shannon (haven’t got the to follow-up yet.) I’m frankly gobsmacked. Why WHY??? is Heather Ross called out, and a boycott virtually prescribed? Why not instead ask where the culturally diverse designers are? Because, really, isn’t an Eskimo designer better equipped to draw little Eskimo children doing things? I don’t know what little Eskimo children do. Do they swim at public pools? I dunno? Do they color with crayons? I’ll bet they do. But if I – a white designer – draw a little Eskimo child coloring with crayons, how am I to reasonably indicate that the child is indeed an Eskimo without insulting Eskimos? I’ll bet having them wear tiny child-sized mukluks would be seen as an insulting stereotype, right? Shouldn’t we be turning our righteous anger to asking why there aren’t more Eskimo designers? Am I way off base here?

  34. Michelle says:

    Thank you, Kim, for your post and to everyone who has responded. I am lucky to live in a place (California) where the local quilting, fabric, and sewing shops are owned and staffed predominately by people of color, so feel very comfortable when I’m shopping or come in for advice. I know that’s not the case everywhere. Customers in local shops also tend to be diverse–African American, Asian American, Latina, and Native American. All groups of people in the U.S. have long and fascinating histories of sewing, quilting, and DIY and these traditions should be recognized and honored.

    Regarding your final point on representation: this, to me is one of the most serious issues. It doesn’t seem to me that in this day and age cartoonish, stereotypical, often racist representations of people on fabric, usually Native Americans, are appropriate. Nor are patterns for “Indian” Halloween, etc. costumes. I am less bothered by fabric that doesn’t represent the way I or my daughters look than the easy availability of “retro” racist fabrics. Thanks again for creating the space for this blog entry and comments!

  35. MelanieO says:

    Even though I said I think we need to move past the discussion of Heather Ross in my previous statement, I have been following the conversation and feel compelled to come back one more time and chime in.

    I think the reason many of us feel the attack on Heather Ross in particular is so off-base is because she, as a “brand”, sells an idealized version of her childhood from an authentic viewpoint. Not all designers do so or should do so. It is her unique perspective as an artist who is also a designer.

    There are two fabric designs I can think of in recent memory, David Walker’s Hopscotch http://www.freespiritfabric.com/core-pages/gallery.php?gal_id=286&sw_id=3905 and Patty Young’s Playdate (here’s a picture of the dolls: http://www.flickr.com/photos/modkid/4605329986/in/set-72157624055893206) that feature children with differing skin tones, eye colors and hair colors. These two are stylized designs depicting children playing together. There is no need to come from an “authentic” culture to create a design of children of many appearances playing together. To me, this is where more strides could be made, when children/people can have differing appearances without the need for cultural appropriation.

    “Could” Heather Ross do that? Maybe. “Should” she? I think that should be entirely up to her.

    I do think the market may take care of this whole discussion if not in the next few years, certainly within the decade. According to the Quilting In America Survey 2010 http://www.quilts.com/announcements/y2010/QIA2010_OneSheet.pdf, the majority of quilting fabric are bought by a small percentage of the market. It’s extremely disproportional. Those highly educated, affluent ladies in their 60s will not be able to keep this going. Quilting must be taken over by a younger demographic or we will see a big contraction in offerings of fabric (by the way, those of us who dabble in a lot of different types of sewing don’t spend nearly as much as dedicated quilters). As the younger demographic is more diverse, will that be reflected in quilting? Will they become quilters demanding more variety?

  36. Hello Folks!

    I have a line of fabric that was specifically created to address this gap in the textile market, my kiddo wanted a blanket with “kids that look like me” and so the New American Family line was started. Have a look: http://www.trueup.net/2010/digital-fabric-of-the-week/digital-fabric-of-the-week-the-american-family-collection-by-hand-to-hand-textile-design/

    You can also see the prints here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/manoallamano?ref=top_trail


  37. Valerie says:

    There has been so much calling out of individual designers lately. I think people forget that behind a “BIG NAME!” is a person, a real person like you and like me, who is putting their work out there in the public domain and holding their breath. Not just Heather (though she took the most brutal and f-bomb laden parts) but Aneela Hooey too, and others.

    Bottom line – if what you see out there doesn’t represent you then design what does. Be part of the solution instead of decimating a designer’s ego from behind your monitor.

  38. Mary says:

    What matters first is what you think and what is in your heart. Not what other people think you should be/do (i.e. what kind of art you produce). It’s how you treat people and how you really feel and think inside. HR said what she felt and thought in her heart in an honest way, and stated she was creating art from her own experience and she was trampled on because creating art from her own experience didn’t “fit” what some people thought. Wrong answer, they said. Sheesh, talk about discrimination.

    I feel sorry for all fabric artists and hope to never be one because I don’t think I could live up to so many people’s expectations of what I SHOULD create.

  39. Cornelia says:

    There are several issues at stake here, as I see it. First, obviously is the lack of diversity in the artists and art presented to us by fabric manufacturers (which is, as stated somewhere above, largely the result of previous demand). But I think we should also pause and ask ourselves what it is we are looking for in our fabric.

    Just as Heather Ross and others are free to create the art that speaks to them, we consumers are looking for art supplies which speak to us and which help us bring our aesthetic visions to light. As there are way more consumers than producers, it is not likely that all consumer desires will be met.

    Perhaps this debate will be heard by manufacturers; perhaps not. But our statements and demands remind us that quilting/art/designing is a political act: whether it is HR and her childhood or a quilter’s aesthetic in creating a quilt for a child (for example, since juvenile prints are an area of concern), quilting and the fabrics we use for it are inexorably intertwined with our visions of a good world, whether it is one we remember fondly, fantasize about ahistorically, or one we want future generations to know.

    I know many people could care less about this issue because quilting is their hobby and their relaxation, their quilts are no less products of their political concerns, their morals made manifest.

    Whenever I feel blue about this–not only the lack of diversity in commercial fabric but also my own need to find fabrics that speak to me–I look at what Kwele Kitwana and other artists are producing with Spoonflower. Fortunately, with new technologies and opportunities, we might not be as limited in the future when it comes to fabric selection.

  40. Monica M says:

    I think it’s interesting that these fabrics featuring white girls were printed in Japan by a Japanese company.

  41. i see the problem in two parts:

    1. ross sees her drawings as pieces of art representative of a moment or experience

    2. the community sees her drawings as a product available for consumption, and therefore inconsiderate and even potentially exclusive to the market it serves.

    that’s the disconnect; a fabric artist should not begin producing culturally sensitive prints in response to the customer base rallying anymore than a novelist is going to change style and substance in response to the readers’ complaints. either enjoy it or don’t (and find an alternative).

    i see the lack of diversity in the fabric, but i also think it’s just fabric and it doesn’t bother me as greatly as it would in other arenas. it’s necessary for manufacturers to ensure that their “culturally sensitive” products are truly sensitive and that they do not reproduce any kind of racial stereotype or generalization, but i don’t think we need to make a kids’ club move here (must include at least: one asian, one black american, and one kid in a wheelchair).

    it is essential, however, for manufacturers to produce products that their customer base will purchase and be loyal to, and perhaps that means that they need to reconsider the types of families and lifestyles depicted in novelty fabrics.

  42. [...] about kindness. I didn’t know what had prompted it until I read a comment that mentioned the True Up blog. Me, being me, I tend to only look at the pictures so I’d missed the actual blog post [...]

  43. Misty says:

    Kim, I wholeheartedly agree with you. When I read the original post criticizing Heather Ross, I was amazed and I can’t say that I felt like the purpose was to really generate a discussion, as the author of the post claimed. I definitely think more diversity represented in fabric would be great, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame any one fabric designer for its absence or to demand that she change what she designs. It seemed like there was only one “right way” to look at this and since my opinion differed, I didn’t bother to comment. I’m glad you said something about this.

  44. Nathalie says:

    A rather late comment but having missed the storm(s) at the time, there was a lot of reading to catch up with! I don’t have a great deal to add to the Heather Ross controversy other than I think it is specious. I am all for cultural diversity and would welcome any new designer keen to put forward their own brand of nostalgia. If it speaks to me, I will gladly buy their fabrics; if not, I won’t. What I won’t do is go around blogs personally attacking the artist because they have failed to address ‘me me me’ (which seemed to be what sparked the orinal argument). In any case, people who feel strongly underrepresented – and I can understand why some would – should address the fabric manufacturers, not the artists who are employed by the manufacturers.

    The same blog later launched into an attack on ethnic/racial/cultural stereotypes. This has really been bugging me because the argument seems so flawed from the outset. First of all it operates along the basis that all stereotypes are necessarily bad. No, only sinister stereotypes – i.e. those used to demean or put down another group of people – are. Pictures of lazy Mexicans are offensive, as are picaninnies say, and there is no place for new fabrics of such representations in this world. Some stereotypes are simply lazy, but if there is a market for them, fine. One can’t dictate taste and one always has the option of not buying the fabric…

    It also seems ridiculous to equate national dress with cultural stereotype, shaming any such representation (like a Small World inspired print just to name one). Retro fabrics draw from retro themes, many inspired by the imagery of children’s books or adverts of the past. This imagery called upon generalisations, like Scots and Irish people with red hair in kilts or green clothing; French men in berets and stripes; the Dutch in clogs; Japanese ladies in kimonos, etc. As a European of multicultural heritage living in one of the world’s most multicultural cities, I’m more than a little amused to hear that I should be offended by such imagery… I’m not. Nor is anyone I know around me (and to pre-empt – I mix with people of many nationalities, races, and creeds and don’t have a single ‘white quilter’ in amongst my circle of friends…). Are the Yupik and Inupiat really that offended by cute representations of Eskimos in perfectly round Igloos on fabric? So that’s not how they live anymore… We get that. Nor do Dutch people go around walking in clogs much these days…

    Ultimately, the argument seems to be about vintage and the whitewashing of the past that comes with nostalgia. I don’t quilt but sew vintage clothing. Similar discussions pop up regularly in the vintage sewing community with commenters railing against 50s fashion/ shapewear/ etc. because to them it is impossible to dissociate the fashions with the repression of women at the time and body issues. They insist on ‘educating’ everyone and anyone, pointing out how blinkered people who like to wear 50s fashions must be… To them it is impossible to dissociate the past from the current more benign representations of this same past. Many beg to differ, but however effectively one might articulate a counter-argument it can never lead to a very constructive discussion as there seems to be no room for manoeuvre or compromise atop the high horse of the so-called ‘socio-culturally enlightened’! The same seems to apply to these discussions about fabrics…