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Behind the Scenes: Textiles Protoyping

Posted by Christine Eckstein on

We are often asked how we go about selecting new products and how items are designed. The simple answer is that we vote on our favorites, but the more complex answer is very interesting. Read on to find out more about how we come up with ideas, make design choices and choose our final products. 
Each year we make two collections one for Spring and Summer and another for Fall and Winter. Generally speaking this means we work about 6-9 months in advance of when we plan to actually sell our work. This makes it a bit tricky to know what will be in style or what might be a big hit, but that's where our Creative Director comes in. It's her job to look at the trends, color ways, styles and accents that are coming into popularity and decide which ones we should focus on. She balances those trends with the styles that our target demographic really love. After quite a bit of research she collects a set of images that we work with for inspiration. 
Each of our three sites are led by a staff who is in charge of sharing these inspiration photos with other staff and participants and then working with everyone to come up with new ideas. This is when we really start designing. There is a lot of lining up yarns next to each other to see what they look like together or taking a handful of colors around our building to see what everyone's favorite combinations are. At some point we just dive in and we move on from drawings and color samples to actually choosing the colors and putting things on the loom! 
weaving prototype
In weaving there are two main ways we can try out different colors while using the same yarns on the same loom. One way is to split the warp (the long yarns that move vertically through the loom) into two colors. This you can see below. On the left side we used green yarns for the warp and on the right side we used purple yarn in the warp. 
sample scarf with different colored warp
This method of comparing two warp colors is perfect for when we're torn between two ideas and just can't decide which one will look better. For instance, this future scarf will have stripes of many colors, so we needed to see what all the different colors would look like with a green warp and with a purple warp. In this case, when we all had a chance to look at the final project everyone loved the version on the right.
The other way to try out many colors is to use a different color in the weft (the yarns that run right to left.) This is the more common way that we try color variations. With this option you could try a color for a quarter inch or even a foot if you wanted to, it just depends on how much you want to be able to look at in the end. One idea we had for next fall was to make a scarf with thick 3-4" stripes that all were different colors. Originally we worked with pale blues, purples, browns, greens and peaches. There is roughly 2 yards of woven fabric in stripes of these colors.. but after looking at it for a while it just wasn't great. So our staff had the great idea of working with less colors but trying mixing them together to create a gradation pattern. 
scarf in pale gradation
To come up with this final design about 7 yards of fabric were woven. Many colors were experimented with and the order of the colors were adjusted as we tried them out. In the end we decided to change the darkest purples one more time, so now what we have for next fall will be a gorgeous scarf that fades from pale peach to gray and into a periwinkle. Occasionally we have products that work out like this. Where we don't really get to see the final design until the real production run is made. In these cases we hold our breath and hope for the best, but often times these are some of our prettiest and most thought out products.  
Once we get all the fabric woven for each of our designs we go through the process of finishing it. The goal is for each piece of fabric to be as close to it's final version as possible. This will include work such as hemming, fringing, washing and ironing. All of this happens in preparation for our big design meeting. This is where all the staff involved in making, designing and selling the product get together and look at everything in person. We decide how many scarves and bags we need based on previous sales and potential future events. We talk about the balance of our color selection for future buyers and discuss the pricing of each item. 
At our most recent meeting we proposed about 18 different designs and with some tweaking we settled on a final 14 scarf options that we'll sell this fall. One of the most complex (and hard to imagine) adjustments we made was about one scarf in particular. The scarf below is made by hand dying all the yarn that will be used in weaving it. The final result gives a watercolor type of effect. Last season we made a scarf with just a stripe of this method and everyone raved over it. So this year we'll try a version where this technique is the main design feature. 
dyed warp color testing
On the right side you can see where the pinks, purples and blues all mixed together to make a band of yarn that looks painted. Unfortunately, the colors we picked and the way we washed it resulted in the scarf looking a bit too much like spring and a bit too washed out. So now we're re-working this design to include a few more "wintery" colors, with maybe even a hint of green to pull it all together. On the left you'll see where we sampled colors of the dye so that we could look at all of our options in person and choose the final colors as a group.
Now that we've chosen the designs, production begins. This is the start of a 9 month journey to hopefully create textiles that our buyers will love. With any luck we'll sell out many of our items just like we did this year! Take a look below to take a peek into our fall collection and get an idea of what's in store for you! 
two tones scarf
red scarf with open fringe pattern
multi toned scarf
blue plaid scarf

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