Thursday, October 11, 2012

Spoonflower branches out into wallpaper!

Wow! Spoonflower has branched out into print-on-demand wallpaper.  I am busy updating some of my patterns which I would find appropriate for wallpaper and adding that option.  They have a nice feature which shows the design mocked up with a chair for scale:

I never cease having fun with Spoonflower.  What a great resource!

Vector conversion with Adobe Illustrator for dummies

When I decided to upload my designs to, I found to my dismay that the patterns all were required to be vector patterns.  I had been struggling in my hard-headed self-taught way to figure out the vector method in Adobe Illustrator (I always design in Adobe Photoshop and feel comfortable and reasonably fluent in that).  It is a whole different way of thinking and working and makes a great deal of sense, but I couldn't get to square one on Illustrator.  Take a class? well, I just have not yet done so....

Several years ago my son Will, who of course absorbs all of this techno information with the ease of a sponge, told me that there is a simple tool called "Live Trace", and gave me a little demo.  I thought I had it down until the next time I tried it on my own and got big traced pixels.

I should explain to those of you, who like me, have a hard time understanding this stuff.  Adobe Photoshop builds your images out of little building blocks called pixels.  Think of graph paper designs you may have done as a child.  The smaller the grid, the more refined your detail could get (a lot like what I deal with in weaving).  So you need to work in a high level of ppi (pixels per inch) to get crisp detail.  But when you blow your design up, or reduce it, your pixels can suddenly become a design element you had not counted on.  Zigzag steps,  smeary outlines.

Vector is more like a rubber band.  You have an infinitely flexible, smooth outline to each shape (object) you are making, and if you enlarge or reduce it in scale, the outline remains smooth.  Elastic, that is how I think of it.  No unsightly zigzags.

You would think that working back & forth on 2 different Adobe platforms would be effortless, that each tool symbol behaved the same way in either program, but you would be wrong.  So again, the middle aged autodidact has a problem here with translation!

So I took the radical step of reading carefully through the excellent tutorial provided by, and suddenly it all clicked!

I went back to the Auto Trace tool and followed their instructions:

1. select "all" of the image.
2. go to Object (why do they call it "object"? I want to know)  menu, and scroll down to Live Trace.
3. Choose "tracing options"
4. in that menu, choose color, and then enter the number of colors in your design (which you have assigned under "indexed color in Photoshop).  Hopefully it is under 10, or the next step might take a long time.
5. the design will now trace, but you are not finished! Open the Swatches palette under Window, and use the select tool to drag a copy of the image onto the palette.
6. take the eyedropper tool and click on the first color in the design.  I try to work in groups to keep them straight, so I usually begin by sampling the background color.
7. Go to the swatch palette and click the New Swatch symbol at the bottom. (if you hover over the symbols you will be told what they are).  Click on it, and your color will be traced and then its swatch will appear.  When the New Swatch dialog box opens, click "global" and whether you want the color to be CMYK or RGB.
8. continue with every color in the design until it is complete, then go to the file folder icon at the bottom of the swatch palette, click it, and save your color palette.
9. Finally, save your file in the required format (.ai or .svg, etc)

Now, I will admit that I am a slow learner, and that I have been doing this in Illustrator CS3!  Things may well have evolved since then.  But mainly, I am thrilled that I now can make real vectorized designs from my raster images, and the next time a manufacturer asks for vector based designs, I won't have to admit my ignorance.  I am sure all of you younger designers reading this are rolling your eyes, but it was a great week for me!

PS, I will bet many of you know this inside & out and can share tips.  Please do!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

LFN Designs online at

Breakfast, copyright Laura Foster Nicholson
I have just joined an online pattern design site, where a select collection of my pattern designs will be for sale. The difference between this and my custom work for clients (like Crate & Barrel), is that these designs will be sold, not licensed, and they can be sold multiple times to any number of clients.  There is no crossover between my custom design work (ribbons and housewares) and these designs: these are a different lot.

I design hundreds of patterns a year, and relatively few are scooped up by my clients, so this is a way to keep all that work productive.  And my clients still get first pick.

You need to join the site to be able to look through designs, I believe, but if you are in the market for good quality design and you don't need it on an exclusive basis, this is a great way to work.

Here is the link to my profile page:

I am proud, too, that I had to jump ahead light years in some design software applications in order to participate, so I have gotten a lot of knowledge under my belt in the last couple of days and a whole new world has opened up!  previously I only designed in Adobe Photoshop, which is a great tool, but I have had a lot of pressure to learn to use Adobe Illustrator for scaleable vector designs.  So that learning curve has been tackled, and though I have a long way to go before I am as fluent in Illustrator as  I am in Photoshop, I feel great!

Monday, September 24, 2012

New LFN Textiles Ribbons on the way!

Very soon now my new designs for fall and holiday will arrive and I will get them online to  Until then, here are a few to get you thinking about them!

 "Flowerpots" is a favorite of mine, a lot of detail crammed into a 1.5" ribbon!  I have always loved big round mums at this time of year, but I couldn't resist making the flowers more varied.

 I haven't named this one yet -- my names tend to be literal!  but the colors are juicy and earthy, and match well with the Flowerpots.

And I couldn't resist adding these fall ribbons from last year to show the continuity of the colors -- don't they coordinate well?  

All will go online as soon as my stock arrives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Harvest time at Monticello

This past weekend I traveled to Charlottesville VA (a frequent destination anyway) to participate in Monticello's Heritage Harvest Festival with the printed textiles I have been producing.  As I have written in the past, Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello has been a major source of inspiration for me for 20 years now, and I jumped at the chance to spend a September Saturday displaying my wares at the very edge of this beautiful spot.

There were specialty food vendors, demonstrations, seed sellers (the Festival was founded by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and, I believe, Monticello's Center for Historic Plants), seminars on topics as diverse as raising chickens in your backyard to fermentation and vinegar workshops.  And there were historic craftspeople -- I saw a guy in a fab coonskin cap displaying (sigh) pelts and taxidermied animals (an important pioneer skill, I suppose).  Music.  Goat kebabs.  Cheese.  Microbrewed beers.  It was loads of fun!  People by the boatload shopping who appreciated my wares and purchased them, thus keeping me in business (I always deeply appreciate that).  All done with the selfless and energetic help of my sisters Sandy and Carol.

If you look carefully at the above photo you can see Jefferson's vegetable garden behind my tent.  All of the quotes and vegetables have been inspired by my work about this garden from 1992-93, the series entitled  The Thousand Foot Garden.  See my art blog,, for more about that work.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

the moon from my attic: The Elegance of Textile Design: Laura Foster Nicholson

I recently had a great conversation with Alex Colombo, a textile designer and dedicated blogger, about my own work with licensing my designs. She writes regularly about design for her Creative Concepts Design Studio. I got to know Alex through LinkedIn: a virtual friendship and business relationship.  She posts interviews with designers on her blog, questioning them about their design process and about licensing careers.  Thank you, Alex, for your generous post!

Friday, July 27, 2012

new photos by my girl

I have a 20 year old daughter -- nearly 21 -- who is (of course) fabulously talented and smart and beautiful.  From time to time I can actually persuade her to put some of her talent to use to help me in the studio.  Rose is a terrific photographer, and has a great camera, so she came in a couple of days ago to take new ribbon pix for me.  Here are the top picks of Rose's pix.  I love how she combines color and cropping: so different than what I would have done and hence, so refreshing!

 Funny thing is, she got here, pulled out her fancy camera, and found the battery was dead, 
so she took these with my little point-and-shoot.

all photos copyright Rose Nicholson, 2012.  
Ribbons copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, 2006-2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

LFN Textiles on Spoonflower 

I have been turning over in my mind how to use this blog, which I regard as my "design" blog.  My other life, of fine art, is described on my other blog, laurafosternicholson.  Somehow that is easier to write for: I like to describe my thought process, my art-related interests, my studio progress on various works.

I began lfntextiles to write about my ribbon designs and later added comments about my other commercial work for companies such as Renaissance Ribbons, Land of Nod, Crate & Barrel, and Monticello's shop.  I would like now to expand into the full creative process that happens in the design half of my studio (I have, at one end of my lovely large space, a room reserved solely for weaving; at the otherend is the room with the computer, the phone, the printers, the sewing and layout table: basically all of my other activities!).

Conservatory Bedding by LFN Textiles for Land of Nod, summer 2012
So today I will begin to tell you more about my own self-directed design work.  I have happily been playing with Spoonflower ever since they began 2-3 years ago.  In case you somehow don't know, Spoonflower is the first really successful consumer-based digital fabric printing service.  One can upload designs, maintain a public or private design library, order custom fabric on a variety of fabric types (all natural fibers!), order other people's designs, enter contests, and basically become part of a creative fabric-and-design oriented community.  The difference between this activity, and working for a client like Crate & Barrel, is, of course, free will.  I love designing items with my signature look for Crate, but as the designs become part of their catalogue they are applied to items of the company's choosing; they don't take everything I design (for some reason!) and I have to submit designs which are not only LFN but C&B in style.

Palampore Leslie by LFN Textiles, available at Spoonflower

 But -- being mainly an independent studio artist -- I like to have my own way once in a  while.  So I design my fabrics, sometimes get them printed, and sometimes offer the good ones for sale online at Spoonflower. I am gradually picking up a base of followers who "like" and even purchase fabric with my designs, for which Spoonflower pays me a very nice royalty.  Not a bad way to go!  And so I am beginning to take this aspect much more seriously as a potential public portfolio and income stream.

"Bahia" by LFN Textiles for Crate & Barrel, used on apron & oven mitt
The photos I have posted here detail some of the work I do and how it is transformed by application.  I made a design called Bahia a few years back, initially designed as a 2-color jacquard weave, then licensed to Crate & Barrel for kitchen accessories a while later.  I took the basic line design and colored it, showed it to Land of Nod, and they asked me if I could develop it into a Tree of Life pattern (the Indian Palampore) in girl colors.  To date it is the most complex pattern I have designed, and it translates wonderfully into other colors.  The "Leslie" version was colored for an interior designer to go with a specific room setting.  There are a few other colorways on Spoonflower as well.

"Bahia" in color by LFN Textiles, available at Spoonflower
I will continue to profile my designs here for a while: I have a lot of favorites ( usually the most recent ones of course!) so watch this space.

all designs copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, 2000-2012.  All rights reserved.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Elegant Toiles

This spring we introduced a new line of LFNT Ribbons through Renaissance Ribbons, which are subtle and sophisticated.  The two Camellias in ivory or pink satins are particularly great for bridal,

and there are a pair of useful rickrack designs in indigo/ivory or charcoal/ivory which are low key and elegant. 

Then there are the two Toile designs, in black and ivory satin, which come from a favorite Auricula design I did a number of years ago -- as a tea towel for Crate & Barrel among other things. 

There is a new version of Button Box in 7/8" width, in a charmingly vintage looking black & ivory.

Low key indeed!  So the collection is rounded out by a snappy Suzani Flower on blue in 2 widths: 7/8" and 1.5", summery and colorful!

Monday, April 23, 2012

ribbons on pillows by Meryl Ann Butler

Rickrack ribbon by LFN Textiles

Morning Glory Ribbon by LFN Textiles
Pansy ribbon in red by LFN Textiles
Meryl Ann Butler, a popular author of quilting books, has released MORE 90-Minute Quilts, and she has featured a number of LFN Textiles ribbons in her projects.  Nice to see these flowery favorites on such pretty cushions!

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Shinique smith, Bale Variant 0011
I think about mending all of the time.  I don't actually do much of it... but I ought to!  I saw an amazing textile sculpture by Shinique Smith in the current Surface Design Journal, made of clothing sent by the bale to third world countries from the USA.  We wear our t-shirts a few times, and  toss them when they are stained, out of fashion, or no longer please us.  As for our other clothes -- well, I for one have long ago run out of closet space, and wonder when I can possibly wear all of these clothes in this lifetime?

One problem is that if anything gets snagged, or torn, or even just a bit worn, we tend to toss it as it is too much trouble to mend.  I assembled a beautiful wardrobe from a very high end outlet store's "mercy rack" where exquisite garments which had a little seam rip or snag or missing button would be relegated: I often spent $10 on a garment that originally cost over $100.  All because people can't, or won't, sew.  And I was able to fix every flaw with great ease.

I have made little mending kits with button-printed tins and sewing items inside (I sell them here in Utopia and call them Utopian Mending kits: "How can you be a Utopian if you can't sew on a button?").

I have made sewing kit "Housewives" for the store at Monticello, based on the common sewing kits that everyone used to carry in their pocket.  In the world wars, British soldiers carried them into battle and shortened the name to "hussif".

 I have printed fabric with odes to sewing and do-it-yourself needle books, and have made historically inspired needle books based on the Harmonist textiles industry of 200 years ago.

I am so busy making these new things that  I still haven't fixed the armholes of the dress I was making last week, or sewn the button back on my daughter's coat, or caught up the ravel in my favorite sweater.

At least I cook meals from scratch!

now girls can have the same quilt their baby sisters have!

This spring, Land of Nod brought out my "How does your Garden Grow" (gotta love their copywriter!) quilt design in "kid" sizes, twin and full.  It has been available up until now as crib bedding.  Yay!

a cute chair pillow by Shelly Tribbey

Renaissance Ribbons sent me these photos yesterday of a darling pillow made by needlework designer Shelly Tribbey, using my Beidermeier Chairs ribbon and her fabulous needlepointed chair insert.  Thanks so much for sharing these, Shelly!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

a new rug for Crate & Barrel

This morning my latest rug for Crate & Barrel went online.  Fun to design, and a beautiful, deeply saturated wool pile rug.  My last rug for them, Kincaid, was not such a burst of color as this one is.  And it is always fun to step out of character -- from vegetables to geometric blocks! -- and make something different.  The inspiration was Crate & Barrel's selected Pantone chart for the year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

tableware for Monticello

In 1992, a gardening friend sent me a magazine article about the restoration of Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello which totally focused my work for many years afterward.

If you don't know this garden, you might be interested to hear that Thomas Jefferson, in addition to being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's third president, was an avid gardener and researched and wrote extensively about farming and gardening as an American activity.  He used his vegetable gardens for research, growing, for example, fifteen different varieties of the English pea, his favorite vegetable.

The vegetable garden itself lay across the flat top of Monticello mountain in long ribbon -- 80 feet by 1000 feet -- patterned with row after horizontal row of varying vegetables, up to 80 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers per season.  In, I might add, the extraordinarily beautiful landscape of the mountains of Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am not much of a historian:  That's just about enough of the story for me, right there.  As an artist,  I was thrilled by the visual, by what I saw as a textile opportunity in the ribbon and the pattern, by the simpler story of a learned man who loved, above all, to grow vegetables, and so off I went!  I visited the garden as soon as I could get there, sketchbook and camera in hand, and was soon interviewing the gardeners, being taken to the head of the gardens -- a scholar and plantsman named Peter Hatch -- and shown the greenhouses, the tool sheds, anything I wanted to see.

I wove a set of tapestries about that garden which I named the Thousand Foot Garden.  The centerpiece was a set of 68 different woven panels of most of the vegetables growing there during the season in which I visited -- they had kindly shared their planting diagrams for summer 1992.  I also made an elevation of the garden, a bird's eye view plan, and a number of pieces describing the potting sheds, the tools, etc -- in other words, the process of making the garden.

This particular piece, Harvest 1992, proved a seminal piece of work for me.  It involved researching and drawing many differnet varieties of plants, but more importantly, figuring out how to weave things like santolina, or lavender.  The root vegetables were straightforward by comparison, but I had developed a rationale for how I would "draw", row by row on the loom, and had to figure out how to incorporate all of these new types of form in my woven language.

Eventually when I began my ribbon business, for which this blog is named, one of the first few ribbons I designed was vegetables.  Given the expense of designing very long repeats (the economy of weaving my ribbons was in the length of the repeat, if you can believe it, as I  was charged for the number of repetitions of the design unit.  If it was a 9" repeat, it would be much more expensive to purchase 5000 repeats of that than if it were a 2" repeat, where I might be ordering 15,000 repeats --do the math on that to convert it to yardage!  Hence I had to choose a very few vegetables to represent it all).  I would have loved to make the ribbon with a 160" repeat -- it is possible but has anyone done it? That is why I call my company LFN Textiles: Artist's Ribbons, because the artist in me is drawn to challenges like this!

This was - and still is - a popular ribbon, and I was able to convince the small gift shop at Monticello to begin carrying such a peculiarly un-touristy item as ribbon, because of it s strong relationship to the place.

A number of years later, in the recent past, Monticello built a grand new Visitor's center farther down the mountain, which has a good cafe, theater, museum and a vastly improved shop.   Since I had been licensing my designs for a few years to Crate & Barrel, and they had loved the vegetable motifs, I persuaded the buyer to license a fresh version of the design - in fact, the design which forms the header of this blog! -- for use on products, to bring a fresh look at the history.  And the new products are now available in their spring catalogue, as well as in the shop in Charlottesville.  Naturally, they went on table ware!

And of course, here is the new version of the design as a ribbon!