Chelsea Exploration for Textile Inspiration

Fabric Styling BFA students come from a variety of majors and not all have the painting experience that Professor Sara Petitt finds important for creating original fabric designs.

Students painting from inspiration cards before translating to Bristol paper and digital scanning

“I want students to be able to scan painted and drawn images into the computer and continue to work on them digitally. This way they expand their design options and add something to the mix that’s exciting,” she says.

To find inspiration from sources they might not otherwise use, Prof. Petitt brought her sixth-semester Color Combinations and Repeats class to Chelsea art galleries where the students viewed contemporary art and collected invitational postcards of work they admired.

“The goal is not to copy artists’ work but to appreciate the beauty of the brush strokes and the nuanced lines, which is quite different than beginning with computer imagery,” she said.

Fabric Styling student Niambi Moore incorporated her favorite lyrics into her design

Upon return from some 20 galleries, students hand-painted their chosen images on copies of newsprint in order to experiment freely.

“Students shouldn’t overlook the beauty of the painted line, which has a vitality that escapes even the best digital paint brush tool. There’s something different about holding a brush or a pen or a pencil and drawing or painting,” she says.

CAMELLIA AULD has mapped her design to be printed on bedding fabric

“I encourage them to take elements of the postcards and to paint with gouaches, water-based tempera paints,” says Prof. Petitt. “I want them to combine the spontaneity of drawing. To keep the feeling of freedom I’m having them work on newspaper.”

After exploring the design they then paint on Bristol paper, to later be scanned and mapped as product samples. Students chose to create their final output for either home fashions or apparel.


“Working this way makes our designs more personal, versus working directly with computers, which tends be straight lines, clean squares and shapes.”- Fabric Styling student Chaerhin Kim 

“I want them to do all-over, tossed designs,” says Petitt. “They should have a sense of where the pattern repeats on printed cloth.  We spend time doing tracing layouts.  It’s different doing a hands-on repeat as opposed to a digital repeat,” says Petitt.

“When the students go back and do their work digitally they will be aware of additional possible design layouts, ones that reflect their inner aesthetic and personality.” she says.

Fabric Styling student Lauren Phillips created a textile design for the apparel industry

“This is the first time I used gouache. I can mix a lot of colors and make a lot of variations. It’s freehand, so we can get what we want easier than with the computers. If we make mistakes we can still overlap and change into a new design.” – Fabric Design student Soyeon Kim

“Textile designers should enjoy creating their designs. Your soul shows though in your work! They need to understand good design because many fashion fields deal with print and pattern,” says Prof. Petitt.

Laura Onuska’s patterns go into many product areas. “She has a very edgy fashion sense,” says Prof. Petitt.

Students in Prof. Petitt’s class learn the hand fundamentals before they go into the digital world. “They’ll take that with them and it will only serve them well,” she says.

Soyeon Kim’s dress pattern “The handpainted gradations of color in these designs convey a free spirited textile design,” says Prof. Petitt

“I enjoyed the Chelsea art galleries as a source of inspiration. I hadn’t been there before. It was good to get that experience in a class like this to see different color forms and artistic ways.” Fabric Design student Laura Onuska

“We’re so lucky to be in New York City, the art, cultural and fashion capital of the world. I want them to experience as much as they can of what the city has to offer and use it as inspiration for their work.”

3 responses to “Chelsea Exploration for Textile Inspiration”

  1. How wonderful that students are experimenting with gouache, one of my favorite mediums next to watercolor. The irregularities that the hand produces elevates design patterns to fine art. It is so personal, like a hand-knit sweater as opposed to a machine knit one. Enjoy!

  2. What a great idea to take design sections from art work and translate them into a print design. Prof. Petitt
    showed her students how to work through the creative process with sections of a painting, reconfigure it and
    turn it into a full blown print design suitable for garments. Great work from students, great teacher!

  3. Great blog! What a joy that students are exploring gouache, one of my most favorites in addition to watercolor… It’s so personal, such as a knitted sweater made by hand contrasted to a machine knit.

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