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Monday, May 3, 2010

Licensing Designs to the Quilt & Craft Fabric Industries

The quilt and craft fabric industries are thriving and fabric manufacturers* are looking for artists that create designs suitable for those industries. Knowing the type of designs and themes needed gives an artist the leading edge in licensing her/his designs to these industries. And the only way to get that information is to study the industries by visiting quilt and craft stores in person or online, looking at the manufacturers websites to see the design styles and themes that each of them have, and attending quilt and craft shows. Also it does not hurt to take one or two classes to learn more. If you think that is a lot of work, then designing for these industries may not be right for you. 

The more you know the better you can create designs that sell. For instance, traditional quilters look for collections of fabrics that have small size motifs in one fabric, medium size motifs in another fabric, and large size motifs in another fabric but usually do not want a panel(s) of central imagery. Color is also important as well a shades of color (light to dark). The reason is to make the quilt look more interesting when piecing traditional quilt blocks. Theme quilts such as exotic florals and animals may not need different size motifs fabrics to make the quilt look interesting but will still need to have patterns in the collection that compliment each other. And fabric collections for craft projects may contain panels of art, a few associated motif patterns, or even outlines of product shapes (with patterns and art) on the fabric. 

* Not all fabric manufacturers actually produce the fabric they sell but are fabric converters. Fabric converters are companies that choose fabric patterns and have the fabrics printed at outside printing plants.

What an artist should know before designing and submitting to quilt fabric manufacturers.

1. Artists should know how to use Adobe Photoshop to either remove backgrounds from scanned art or use it to create icons/motifs for patterns. The software is also used to create the patterns by moving the icons/motifs into pleasing pattern designs.

Note: Some artists prefer to create icons and patterns in Adobe Illustrator because they can be enlarge no matter their size without losing the resolution of the design. Also it is easier to change the colors in Illustrator than in Photoshop which is often needed when manufacturers ask for additional colorways of the patterns.

2. Artists should know how to do repeat patterns (simple, toss, half-drop) or at least know what repeat patterns look like so that they can create them. Using a combination of simple, toss, and half-drop repeats in a fabric collection gives it interest. Also an artist may be required to do repeats if the collection is licensed. Tara Reed has written two e-books on creating repeat patterns if you do not know how to create them.

Note: Some artists that license their designs to fabric manufacturers recommend that artists new to the industry do not spend too much time in creating patterns that repeat precisely because each manufacturer uses different repeat sizes (every 12 inch, 16 inch, 18 inch etc) and may even have their in house illustrators create the repeats from the artist's designs. To save time an artist can create patterns that gives an illusion of repeats with balanced icons that are not exactly measured. The exact repeat can be done by the artist or the manufacturer's in house illustrator once the designs have been licensed.

3. Artists should create and submit collections of patterns that complement each other. See examples of fabric collections by looking at fabric manufacturer websites listed at the end of this article.

4. Each manufacturer usually have exclusive licenses with featured designers that supply designs for their product lines. Many of these designers are well known in the quilting world because they have published books and/or taught quilting. However, not all must be well known in order to be a featured designer so it is possible for an artist to become one if she/he has a unique art style and themes. Some manufacturers also license designs from artists that they do not have exclusive arrangement. They use that art for clients that want unique designs for their company such as retail chain stores and scrub style clothing. Note: The only way to find out each manufacturer's requirements and submission guidelines is to call and ask.

5. Artists need to learn about the manufacturers they are submitting their designs. Check out the websites and make sure the designs fit the manufacturers line but are not too close to their existing designer collections. If the designs are too similar, than the likelyhood of the designs being licensed is slim.

Quilt fabric manufacturers normally want designs that:
1. are in repeat patterns.
2. have themes that are popular with consumers.
3. are in collections of patterns that go together including generic icons, theme icons, and backgrounds.
4. are in collections of five or more patterns that can be adapted to additional colorways so that 12 or more fabrics for the collection can be produced.
5. the style and themes are different than they already have but still fits their fabric lines.
6. the artist is willing to edit to their specifications.

Craft and home sewing fabric manufacturers normally want art that have one or more central images and several repeating patterns that compliment the central image for craft projects (bags/totes, aprons, pillows, throws, wall hangings, organizers, place mats, coasters / hot pads, etc.).

Below is a list of fabric manufacturers for mostly quilting but some also include fabrics for craft, and home sewing projects.

Blank Textiles
David Textiles, Inc.
Free Spirit Fabrics
Front Porch Fabric
Hoffman Fabrics
Marcus Brothers Textiles
Moda (by United Notions)
Quilting Treasurers (by Cranston Print Works)
Red Rooster Fabrics
RJR Fabrics
Robert Kaufman Fabrics
Southseas Imports
Timeless Treasurers
Wilmington Prints

Links to more fabric manufacturers:
Artist Jennifer Addotta has shared this link to additional fabric manufacturers.
Illustrator Sarah Summers has shared this link for more manufacturers.

Comments and suggestions about this article are greatly appreciated. Click on the comment section below to write your comments.


  1. It's a very fine line, on the one hand you don't want to pitch something that is too different, but on the other you don't want to look like artists that they're already working with. Lizzy House has an e-book: "How to Enter the World of Textile Design" and it gives a lot of insight about this particular industry. Here's a link, that I use a lot, for more fabric manufacturers. Excellent post!

  2. Thanks so much for the link Jennifer! I put it into the article and gave you credit.

  3. Joan, I love quilts and one of my wishes is to be able to do some pattern design for fabrics. Thank you for all this great information.


  4. Great post Joan. I have been submitting work for this industry for a year, and keep getting great feedback. However one piece that is difficult to swallow, is that even though the work is shown, it may not be licensed until a buyer orders. Which is the case for many of the designs I have submitted and have been accepted. I have been told it can be 3 months to a year after acceptance BEFORE an actual order is placed. With that said, patience is key!
    Thanks for the awesome links!

  5. I was sent this fresh and timely link from another blogger, Sue Zipkin. Thanks so much! I am very interestd in the tutorials as a refresher for creating the different repeats. Tell me though, does your rep only do fabric or also sell to giftware buyers who may want a single illustration not in repeat?

  6. Hi Drawn,
    I am glad that you find the article useful. My licensing agent has contacts with many types of manufacturers and not just ones that produce fabrics. You will find that most art licensing agents do not license their artists work to only one industry but many industries (fabric, tabletop, decorative flags, greeting cards and paper products, etc).

  7. Great information. Often it was said that my art works would be perfect for fabrics. I read your post with interest.

  8. Joan,
    Thank you for providing all of this great inside information. I am working on some icons for possible fabric designs. Should I save them as RGB or CMYK files?

  9. It is always safer to save files as CMYK. CYMK has a lesser range of colors (gamut) than RGB. Converting from RGB to CYMK often drastically changes the colors.

  10. Thank you for this article and blog. It is very informative and helpful.

  11. Thank you so much for all this valuable information!

  12. WOW, I found this site today and feel very happy. I started out as a Photo Textile Engraving Artist back in the 70's. I worked my way into several Design Companies over past years, became a creative/production artist for the wallcoveirng industry. I then freelanced for around 16 years while my daughter grew up. All past art was done in the traditional way, using a light table. All these years later, I transitioned to being an expert in Adobe Illustrator (my hobby, not actively freelancing) I would love to get back into freelancing again, as I have so much experience and love of repeat design. I also love designing children's motifs. Life just got in the way, and find the information on this site awesome. Blessed are the fellow artists that share experience and knowledge to other fellow artists. I was a designer from around 1973 to 1998. I still have the love of design, just need to be pointed in the right direction. Thanks, Nancy

  13. Nice article Joan. I am new to this field and trying to figure out who to try and sell designs to. Do you feel an agent is necessary? The list of fabric companies you have in your post, one could contact them directly? Best, Melissa

  14. Thanks Melissa. I do not think an agent is necessary for everyone. Many artists represent themselves and do well. And, artists new to licensing may not be able to get an agent at first because they do not have enough art, do not have a variety of themes or the art is licensable for only one type of product. Agents need lots of art that is licensable for all kinds of products. Manufacturer art directors are willing to work with artists and agents so yes you can contact the manufacturers directly.

  15. Thank you for the wonderful information, so far you have been the most helpful I have found.

  16. Thank you for this post, I see the last comment was from 2014, it is now 2017 is there any updated information that you can provide. I am a photographer and I created Photographic Quilts. After many Gallery exhibits I have had many tell me to start making these quilts available in fabric. So I am very interested in pursuing this possibility. Joanne R Schultz

    1. Hi Joanne,
      It sounds to me what you need to find is manufacturers that sell quilts and not the manufacturers that sell fabric to make quilts that this article discusses. Unfortunately I do not have that type of information. But what I would do is search the Internet for quilt manufacturers and contact them. You may find some that are interested in purchasing or licensing your photographic creations.
      Wishing you much success!