We got to speak to the super talented fabric designer Sarah Watts this week. We wanted to find out all about the inspiration behind her designs and the transition from illustrations to fabric design.
You are primarily an illustrator, when did the idea come about to turn those illustrations into fabric designs?
Growing up I naturally drew my illustrations in patterns because the process was very therapeutic for me. There was something about organizing lots of unique shapes in a repetitive way that I loved. I didn’t really know at the time that there was a whole “surface design” world.
Then in college I started making repeat patterns to have in my portfolio for potential jobs at places like Hallmark or Carter’s where they use a lot of pattern on their products. I saw that there was this whole world where people were using decorative art to make a living and that was so thrilling! I ended up getting a job designing art for children’s clothing at Carter’s/Osh Kosh here in Atlanta. That is where I really learned how to make patterns and I really sharpened my skills for the professional world of surface design. From there I went on to design gift wrap and stationery at a company called International Greetings, who did work for places like Target and TJ Maxx. That is where I learned the next stages of pattern and print and how to apply it to many products in a very hectic environment, haha! While working at IG I met a fantastic group of girls that did surface design and we met up to talk business once a month.
I also simultaneously quit my day job to do full time freelance. One of the gals, Jules Davis, got me my first gig designing fabric for Blend Fabrics. That was my first in with creating art specifically for sewing fabric rather than kid’s garments. I had always loved to sew so the thought of mashing pattern design and sewing was a dream come true. The magical benefit to this was the awesome community that the sewing industry comes with.
Do you sew? If so, what is your favorite project to date?
I do! I’ve been sewing since high school, but actually never learned how to sew properly until a few years ago. I took classes at a local Atlanta sewing school and really loved it, and now I take classes at Whipstitch. I have sewn a lot of different things, but my favorite was my first quilt. There was something very satisfying about learning the process and art of quilting and also using my own illustration inspired methods to make it more of an art piece. It was a pretty simple quilt, but I am still proud of it. I can’t wait to make more! Right now my primary focus is learning garments. I had sewn a lot of skirts before but not dresses and tops. I love learning and and will likely always attend workshops for the social aspect of sewing and to always keep my skills sharpened. That group environment of sharing ideas and skills is the best.
How do you get your inspiration for your designs?
Nature is the primary inspiration for my art. When I was growing up, being in the woods or on the beach or with animals was my favorite time and I loved drawing from those experiences. I also love to go antique shopping and draw the different oddities that I find. I have a bad habit of collecting knick knacks and figurines, but I swear that they inspire my art and I have to keep them for that reason! 😉 If I had it my way I would also have a bunch of goats, more cats, a big fluffy dog and chickens too. We live in a loft so that will have to happen down the road. 🙂
How did the idea to set up Cotton & Steel come about?
Melody called me and a few other designers( Rashida, Kim and Alexia) with this amazing idea that she had to start a new division of modern fabric at RJR Fabrics. I was working for Blend Fabrics at the time, who were awesome to give me my first fabric design gig. I did, however, want to be more involved in the industry and was also missing that collaborative and close knit community that I use to get in college. I was feeling stagnant as a freelancer by myself all the time and really missed the crits and camaraderie.
Melody’s idea of starting a new division, with lots of creative control and a collaborative vision was too much to pass up and really fell in line with what I was craving in my career at the time. I jumped on board with the other girls and that’s how I came to be a founder at Cotton+Steel! Working along side the girls and the lovely folks at RJR has really been a dream.
Are there any particular designers or illustrators who inspire you?
I get a lot of inspiration from the Cotton+Steel ladies! But, if I had to pick particular influences when I was developing my art style, a few old school illustrators come to mind. I love the work of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Mary Blair, Kay Nielsen, Erte and Helen Dryden. When I was in college I really loved the old fairy tale illustrators and the fashion illustrators during the Golden Age of Illustration. I loved how they had such a whimsical view of the world and were some of the first to develop the patterny and graphic fantastical look that many illustrators are influenced by today. The other magical thing is that illustration use to be the primary way to get information out into the world. Seeing that creativity at a time when there were no TVs or cars was so inspiring to me as a student and still is a big influence on my work today.
Finally, can you tell us an interesting facts about yourself?
My childhood pet and best friend was an iguana named Dino and I had a little lizard leash for him. I am left handed. I eloped on Halloween dressed as a cowgirl in Vegas. I started dating my husband, Scott, in High School. My favorite animal is an otter. Those are a few interesting facts, tada! Hehe.