Careers in Sewing – textile designer

Have you ever considered a Career in Sewing? Do you dream of ditching the 9-5 and pursuing your creative dreams? In this blog series we will be posting interviews for a range of different sewing jobs to give you a taste of what possibilities are out there. Today we interview Erin Dollar who is a textile designer (including creating collections for companies such as Robert Kaufman) and owner of Cotton & Flax.


Can you tell us about your job and where you work?

I’m a textile and surface pattern designer, and founder of the home decor company Cotton & Flax. I design textile home goods featuring modern patterns, which are sold in my shop in San Diego, my online shop, and 150+ indie retailers around the world. My range of handcrafted pillows, tea towels, napkins, and coasters have been featured by Sunset Magazine, HGTV Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and Martha Stewart, among others.

I also license my surface pattern designs to other companies, most notably my two fabric collections with Robert Kaufman. Balboa, my most recent fabric collection, debuted late last year, and I collaborated with lots of local sewists to create a lookbook for the release.


What is your background and how have you ended up working where you are?

Before I launched Cotton & Flax, I studied fine art in college at UC Santa Cruz. After completing my degree, I worked as an artist in a co-operative printmaking studio in Portland, Oregon, where I created silkscreen and lithography art prints, which I sold through local galleries, at dozens of craft fairs, and in my Etsy shop. Printing on fabric started as an experiment — I had a friend who was interested in quilting – but I loved the challenge of creating artwork for 3D product applications, and I caught the textile design bug, you could say! I launched Cotton & Flax as a new brand to feature all my home decor designs in one place. As the business expanded, I went from managing an online store, to selling my products to indie boutiques, and eventually seeing my work in home decor powerhouses like CB2, Need Supply, and West Elm.

In the last few years, I was getting tons of requests from customers who wanted to purchase fabric yardage with my designs. I realized it was time to collaborate on a fabric collection, since it wasn’t possible to manufacture the yardage on my own. Luckily, Robert Kaufman Fabrics responded positively to my pitch, and we’ve created two fabric collections together, Arroyo and Balboa, both collections of printed linen fabrics. I’m continuing to expand my collaborations this year, and looking for ways to think even bigger!


What do you do in a typical day?

The surprising reality of a creative business like mine is that I actually spend a lot of time on administrative and marketing tasks. When I get to the studio in the morning, I usually turn on some music and begin by answering emails and packing orders from my online shop. I spend some time updating my site, adding new products or posting updates on my design blog, and sharing behind the scenes photos over on Instagram. I keep a marketing and PR calendar, where I track my outreach efforts — it takes more than just social media to spread the news about my work.
In the afternoons I tackle client projects, and spend some time sketching or creating new designs for my portfolio. Some days I sew, turning printed panels of fabric into pillows, tea towels, or napkins. My sewing projects fall into two categories: production for Cotton & Flax, and sample sewing for upcoming fabric collection launches. It’s actually pretty rare to catch me sewing these days, as I’ve found a team of sewists to help me with projects and assist with manufacturing for my product line.

What are the best and the worst bits?

Best: seeing photos of my textile pieces in my customers’ homes, or instagram photos of sewists working with my fabrics — that always makes me feel so good. I also really enjoy teaching printmaking workshops in my studio, and introducing my students to this amazing art form.
Worst: bookkeeping.

Did you always want a creative career?

Yes and no. There were a couple years during college where I thought I’d pursue Environmental Studies, but then I found myself completely enamored with printmaking, and spending every spare moment in the print studio on campus. It often feels like embracing my creativity is inevitable; I always find myself returning to it. It’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else!

What qualifications, skills or experience did you need to get your job? Have you continued to train since starting?

My mom taught me to sew when I was a teenager, which is what drew me to the world of fabrics and textile design in the first place. When I started my business, I was still very green — I had to learn about the process of designing new products and bringing them to market. My fine art degree helps me when it comes to surface pattern design, but when it comes to working with clients on licensing projects, I’ve mostly learned as I go! The work I did creating collections for my own business informed my understanding of how to create cohesive work, and how best to collaborate with other companies.
I’ve continued to broaden my knowledge of this industry by joining design guilds, like the Textile Design Lab, and WGSN. It’s helped me to keep on top of industry trends, and understand how my artwork fits within the context of the textile industry, or might be applied to consumer goods.

Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into the same thing as you?

Hone your style of artwork, and pitch your artwork to the companies you want to collaborate with! I think there’s a misconception that you need to have a giant online following before you can sell your work. Don’t be afraid to put your artwork out there, and start the collaboration conversation by submitting your work to art directors for consideration.

If you could do anything else what would it be?

Working as a fine artist is still a goal of mine for the future! It’s not so different from what I do now, but it still feels like a bit of a leap to move towards that world again.

What is your favourite sewing tool and why?

My seam ripper (because it’s saved me from disaster so many times) or the cute little Crew Pincushions that my friend Nichole made for me (because it reminds me of the encouragement I’ve received from my friends who sew).


What are you sewing right now/will be your next project?

I’m creating a series of quilts from the scrap fabrics I save from Cotton & Flax products, which I hope to display in the shop in the fall. It’s been so fun to revisit fabrics that were part of my collection four or five years ago, and bring them back to life in new ways… it’s like a little time capsule.


Follow Erin on social media here:

Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Blog


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