Local Quilter Ventures into Fabric Design

By Amelia Blades Steward

What is the lure of patterns? According to Complete Pattern Directory: 1500 Designs from All Ages and Cultures, by Elizabeth Wilhide, “From the first rhythmic marks pressed onto clay vessels and the multiple handprints stenciled onto the walls of caves, to the latest digital designs, a design in pattern-making has been intrinsic to the decorative arts since time immemorial.”

Becki Combs of Easton, a local quilter, is entering the world of fabric design with her new company, Tallgrass.

We find pleasure in the patterns we see. The author goes on to discuss why that is, stating, “Humans are hardwired to organize what they see and experience into some kind of coherent narrative. . . Pattern design, particularly textile design, is a field in which women have excelled.”

Enter local quilter Becki Combs of Easton who has been drawn to patterns all her life and recently began her journey to create her own fabric line. As a member of Bayside Quilters of the Eastern Shore and the Modern Guild of the Eastern Shore, Becki was inspired by the many women quilters in her life. But not until recently, after serendipitously receiving the book, I Am Brave, in a Chick-fil-A kid’s meal, was she motivated to take the next steps to make her love affair with fabric and design a reality.

“I have not been brave enough to share my work until now. I love that this is my goal for 2024. Getting the book was like somebody’s telling me that I need to step out,” she shares.

Becki’s interest in fabric began as a young girl in Kansas.

“When I was seven, I was very resourceful and made a lot of things from nature because we didn’t have a lot of money. My maternal grandmother was a milliner. She showed me how to hand sew to make a little skirt for my doll which started me on the whole creative path in sewing,” Becki shares.

Like many young girls, Becki went on to make clothes for her Barbie doll, as well as home decorating items for Barbie. She adds, “I always made things out of the environment around me, recycling old shoe boxes into different types of furniture, adding twigs, or other natural elements to their design and then painting them and I did do a lot of clothes for my dolls.”

“Through that period of my life, my only formal art class was my freshman year in high school.  I considered art and design as a career, but I never considered myself to be a fine artist, which was the only kind of art that I ever thought was out there. So, I did not pursue anything in the art field after high school. In a small rural Midwestern town, you didn’t get that kind of exposure.”

This Becki Combs design, The Walk Home border print, has already turned into a mug.

After college, Becki moved to the desert in California and followed a career in finance and accounting. She made a lot of custom-designed clothes for her children as they grew up, finding it was a creative outlet for her.

“My whole thing was always to make the piece of clothing look like it was store-bought instead of homemade and I achieved that.”

In California, Becki ended up with a sewing group called Cactus Needles. The group included people who made home decorating items, clothes, quilts, and crafts. It was her first introduction to modern quilts, and it piqued her interest, so she started taking some quilting classes. She recalls, “My grandmother had made traditional quilts, but I just was never into them because they didn’t have a lot of pizzazz.”

After moving to St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Becki joined the Pax River Quilt Guild because they were a very broad accepting group of different quilting styles and techniques. That was her first real introduction to making modern quilts. In 2013, she and her husband moved to Easton where she got involved in local quilt guilds in the area.

Becki hopes that Small Leaf 2 tone will be part of a fabric collection in the future.

“After retiring in 2020, I had a lot of extra time on my hands and one day I thought of the job interview question I always asked people when I was conducting a job interview at work, which was, ‘If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?’ I always thought it provided very interesting insight into people. So, I began thinking about what my answer would be to that question. I didn’t want to say fabric collector, although I really love fabric. I realized I like the textures and the multiple designs of fabric and maybe being a fabric designer could be my next chapter,” she shares.

“I don’t know whether everything just aligned perfectly, but I got started by getting a notice about a class in surface pattern design and decided to take it. I’ve taken several classes since then. Designs can go on anything you can make. I realized that you don’t have to be a fine artist to do this.”

Becki has been drawn to botanical designs the most. She adds, “You can find something outside – a found object – draw it, scan it in, modify it in the computer, and digitize it into a design. I have found that I really like the technical computer side of the process.”

She had to learn Adobe Illustrator, which allows her to do the process of image tracing to get her design into the software system where she refines it through several layers of detail. Patternmaking can also be done in Photoshop. When designing her patterns for fabric, she has to keep in mind that she can only use 18 colors in her design to meet traditional manufacturing/printing guidelines.

“This spring, I am finally brave enough to put my designs together in a portfolio so that I can send it out to some fabric manufacturers. You license the design with them, and they take care of all the printing and marketing, and you get royalties for the use of your designs,” she explains.

Becki’s first design was called “The Walk Home.” It was about growing up in Kansas and inspired by her walks down a gravel road from her school bus drop in the spring. It’s a lovely inspiring design with flowers, butterflies, and grasses. She has created a mug with the design on it.

“It’s a little intimidating starting your design with a blank, white sheet. I usually begin with pencils so I can erase as I draw. I have never had a drawing or art class since high school, but I have taken a class on historical patterns. I am fascinated by history. With patterns, it’s amazing to me to understand where things have originated and how they’ve morphed over time,” she explains.

Advances in technology have certainly made surface pattern design more accessible to the general population today. Becki shares, “Throughout history, people have decorated the world around them. From the prehistoric time of hand-made designs when people used pictographs through the evolution of hand looms where the first repeat vertical patterns were woven in ancient China (400 BC). Then the usage of block printing began to create more intricate designs that repeat both horizontally and vertically. With the Industrial Revolution, came the first mechanized loom (Jacquard loom) which would also create an impact. Fast forward to today, a designer can sit with an iPad and create a repeating pattern in several different programs available for use in traditional manufacturing of products or that can be utilized digitally in the print-on-demand (POD) world such as Spoonflower.

Becki has enjoyed her entry into pattern design and the people she has met along the way, adding, “I have met quilt pattern designers, quilters, children’s book authors, sticker designers, as well as many others who are using this knowledge in many different income generating areas. It is truly amazing how this opens up new doors to so many possibilities for me.”

To learn more about Becki Combs’ designs, email her at becki.combs@verizon.net or visit Tallgrassdesign.com (coming soon).

Source

Wilhide, Elizabeth. Complete Pattern Directory: 1500 Designs from All Ages and Cultures. Quarto Publishing PLC. 2018.

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