A conversation about life as a surface pattern designer

Hello! Just a little note to you Toronto folks that I will be giving a talk along with Kate Austin at the Contemporary Textile Studio in the 401 Richmond building, next Thursday from 6:30-8pm. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $10 for students! Here’s a little more information in the flyer and you can sign up here!

Surface Design workshop-1

The Wildwood Look Book!

It’s been an exciting month because my next Cloud9 fabric collection, Wildwood, has been sent out into the world! It’s always so amazing to see what people whip up with my fabrics, I find it endlessly thrilling and sometimes a little emotional. Sometimes people create pieces and I feel like they might have found a way to pop into my head and take a look at my vision, because their projects are just so perfect. I’m super excited to be able to share some of my favourite projects that I’ve seen with Wildwood so far in the Wildwood Look Book, shown below! Big thanks to Sew Mama Sew and Warp & Weft Sewing Society for orchestrating so many of these projects — click on the name of the sewist and it’ll pop you out to their blog post (and all of the other amazing things these folks create).

The fabulous sewists include…
Carolina from Love, Lola
Sherri from Thread Riding Hood
Christine Haynes from City Stitching with Christine Haynes
Esmari from online Canadian fabric retailer Warp & Weft
Heidi from Fabric Mutt
Ren from The Inspired Wren
Kirsty from Bonjour Quilts
Carla from Half Dozen Daily
Jennifer from Lea & Lars
Heidi from Elegance & Elephants
Shannon from Finished Garment

Hope that this inspires you to get sewing! xo

Up close & personal

I’m a big fan of Marie Forleo. Don’t know Marie? She does this *amazing* web series to help people build lives and businesses that they love. Every Tuesday an email comes into my inbox with her weekly video, usually a short 5-minuter, and I eat my lunch and let Marie cast her wisdom down upon me. And then I usually tweet about because, people, she is GOOOD. And she’s funny and engaging and smart and I’ve really learned a lot of great lessons from her. If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, do yourself a favour and check her out.

Recently she did a video that really EXTRA resonated with me titled ‘The World’s Smartest Marketing Question’ and it was all about what we, as small business folks or artists, are selling. And how it’s not specifically about the *thing* we are selling necessarily, but the meaning behind it. I create patterns and products with pretty patterns on them. Realistically, most of us don’t neeeeed to have these things. It’s about the experience and what thing thing means in somebody’s life.
Allow me to wander off here for a second. This summer was a really interesting and challenging one for me. One of the biggest challenges was creating a Skillshare class all about pattern design. Doing this involved charting out my process from start to finish, writing segments on each step, and ultimately, being filmed. I was soooo nervous. I’d never done it before and the prospect made me queasy. It turned out that in planning the class, I realized just how passionate I am about patterns, and really tapped into why. And when the tape started rolling, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, because I’m so passionate about what I do.
Cut to last week… A Toronto-based online fabric shop Warp & Weft, run by the most lovely lady Esmari, held a Canadian launch party for my newest range of Cloud9 fabrics, Wildwood. And on the opening night, I was to do a Maker’s talk, and talk about what I do, my process, my inspiration, and how my new collection came to be. This would have terrified me 6 months ago. But on the night, I found myself walking to the front of the room… starting to talk… and finding that I really loved being up there. I talked about how my love affair with patterns began and why, and it came easily. In the past, I worked in advertising, and if people asked me what I did I would usually play it down and try and skim over it… I didn’t want to waste people’s time talking about how I developed a new ad campaign for a new brand of ginger ale. It just didn’t float my boat, nor did I think it would float anybody else’s. But I’ve discovered that it’s pretty easy to share your world with other people when you’re excited about what you’re doing.
So, back to Marie Forleo, and what I’m actually “selling” with my artwork. I guess after doing a few talks over the last little while, it feels very clear to me that I am not just selling my patterns… I feel like I am selling beauty, and a place to go and get lost.
In my bio that I share with the world, I say that my obsession with patterns began as a child when I would become mesmerized by the orange floral drapes in my mother’s kitchen, that patterns were something that I could lose myself in, that they were a window to faraway places. If I’m going to be totally honest, my childhood wasn’t always the happiest one. My parents divorced when I was really young, and my mum had to try and support two kids on next to nothing. My mum did her very best but it was a struggle and home life was not always a happy place. I was a creative kid, and I was always drawing and making things… and when things were really tough, I would find myself staring at the many different patterns throughout our apartment and I would get lost in them. I would sit and stare into them and try and find where the repeat started and where it ended, like a puzzle I could fixate on for a little while, the more complicated the better. It took me away from real life for a few minutes and allowed me to journey off to daydream land. It was kind of meditative, almost looking at a mandala. And I know this sounds really silly, but sometimes I wonder what I would have done without patterns. If I didn’t have that backsplash tile pattern to figure out when things were happening around me.
So when I try and define what I’m really selling, I guess it feels sort of natural for me. Yes, I’m most definitely trying to make the more beautiful place because let’s face it, in this crazy world we live in, we could all use a little bit of that in our lives. To look at something we own and just grab a little bit of joy from it. It thrills me to no end to see people making things with my fabrics, to know that they are letting my patterns into their lives, or maybe even making a quilt for someone that they love with them. That is so special to me. But also, I think patterns provide us with a little escape or respite from our every day lives. A place to wander off to and get lost for a few minutes. And it’s for that reason that I try to put a lot of love into my patterns. I try to focus on the details, add lots of visual treats in there that can be seen when you spend some time with them. I think patterns are small things that help remind us that even when things might feel a little nuts, that there are simple joys and beauty to be had in this crazy world.
And thank goodness for that! Now, go hug someone you love!

Take my Skillshare Class (and win some of my products!)

Hey guys! So happy to share that I’m now a teacher on Skillshare! Earlier in the summer, they contacted me to see if I’d be interested in teaching a class on pattern design and I’ll admit that at first, that sounded a little bit daunting. But I’ve tried to adopt the philosophy ‘if it scares you, you should do it’ and with that in mind, I got on board. And man, am I glad that I did! It’s so invigorating to push yourself to new places and for me, one of those places was video. The idea of being filmed was kind of nerve-wracking. But with lots of planning and practice, and the luxury of being able to work with a videographer, Carlos from Kinetic Form, that I knew personally, it was actually a totally rewarding experience. And he was able to edit out all the awkward :)

When I started creating repeat patterns of my own, I didn’t know where to start, and I fumbled my way through the process, teaching myself. I eventually picked up some books that were helpful to me and the more patterns I did, the more that I refined my method. In my Skillshare class, I walk through my process from start to finish, from gathering inspiration, creating mood boards, drawing and digitizing, and then bringing it into illustrator and assembling each piece of the pattern with love. We also touch on collections and creating production-ready artwork. If you’re interested in patterns and want to try it out, or are a designer looking to see another designer’s process, check it out. The class is built to go at your own pace and the lessons themselves are under an hour in total so it’s not daunting.

PLUS: We’re doing a giveaway! Enroll and submit a final pattern and the person who submits my favourite pattern will win an Elizabeth Olwen Prize Pack, with products from Madison Park as well as a bundle of fabrics from Wildwood, my next Cloud9 fabrics collection!

Check out my promo video and sign up HERE to take the class!

An Online Skillshare Class by Elizabeth Olwen

Wildwood + Warp & Weft Weekend!

Last week I wrote a post about the local Toronto love for Nuvango, and I’ve got more local love to write about, in form of an event coming up in a few weeks here in my city! I am so very, very pleased to announce the Canadian Launch event of Wildwood, my next collection with Cloud9 Fabrics on September 26-28! Wildwood is my second fabric collection with them and I’m so super thrilled about it. I got my advanced yardage of it and it turned out absolutely beautifully!!

Elizabeth-Olwen-Wildwood-Fat-Quarters-1024x1024The event is being presented by Warp & Weft (a local online retailer of beautiful fabrics – Canadian fabric lovers rejoice!) as part of their Warp & Weft Weekends series. Hosted by Re:style Studio, a beautiful space in the city for upholstery workshops! With an Afternoon Tea Workshop to create this beautiful Forest Glen Satchel with the super-talented Thread Riding Hood!

The weekend is built around Wildwood’s theme, and will have fun little british twists. Friday night will begin with a Maker’s Talk and social event (RSVP here) — I’ll be talking about my inspiration behind the collection and sipping on cocktails with all of you lovely folks that can attend. The Afternoon Tea workshop (register here) will be on the Saturday. And Sunday will be open house. You are all welcome to come at any point during the weekend as we’ll be doing a pop-up shop with lots of my products, fabrics from Warp & Weft and Re:style’s collection as well.

I’ve shown some images below but if you’re interested in hearing more about the event, check out this incredible post Sherri from Thread Riding Hood put together about the event.

Visit the Warp & Weft Weekend website to RSVP/register by September 17th! I’m so hoping to see a bunch of you there :)





New Nuvango Shop is up!

Hey guys! You know when you hear that something good is happening in your town or city, and you just get that extra little feeling of pride? And you know when you hear that something AMAZING is happening in your city, you want to shout it from the rooftops and spread the word and want so much for them to succeed? Well that’s how I feel about Nuvango.

Nuvango is the company formerly known as Gelaskins, and they largely produced tech cases. But seeing that they’ve got an ever-expanding range of products (like playstation covers! genius!) I think the rebrand was a great idea (plus I love the new logo). I met Cale from Nuvango at Surtex this year it turns out that I live a neighbourhood away from their offices here in Toronto. Cale invited me to their office to check out how they work and I was just so impressed. I left with a full heart, feeling like I was just so happy and proud to see that they are absolutely killin’ it in terms of what they do and how they do it. They’ve got super efficient processes set up so every tech-case order that comes in leaves the building in 24 hours (gotta say, that’s much better than Society6 which often takes up to 3 weeks!), their products are done beautifully and everyone was super friendly and it was just a great experience. They currently make tech cases of all sorts, stretched canvases, and their art prints & framing were gorgeous! They’re also expanding into all sorts of fun new product categories (like home decor) so stay tuned for fun stuff. I was blown away.

So it’s with pride and pleasure that I launch my Nuvango shop! As some of you know, my next fabric collection (Wildwood) launches this month! So I thought it would fun to launch my new shop with a line of iPhone cases in Wildwood patterns. Check’em out! And thanks for reading.

Blog_Forestfloo Wildflowers ClimbingVines Fullbloom Decopetal MidnightFlora

Art Print exclusive with Brika

Hellooooo! Just wanted to share some fun new products that are available exclusively with online retailer (and Toronto-based) Brika! A few months ago, Brika got in touch with me to see how we might be able to work together. I’d been contemplating developing some kind of tangible product myself for a while, and had been playing around with a lot of quotes and type-meets-image, and voila — the Olwen-Brika partnership was formed! The prints are available exclusively through Brika and I wanted to share them with you.

The prints are beautiful, matte archival art prints that I had printed at a fabulous giclée shop in my neighbourhood in DundasWest in Toronto. They’re 8×10 and there are 8 different prints available, some based on my patterns and some based on some of my favourite quotes. They sell for $25 and once they’re gone, they’re gone, so get ‘em while they’re hot!

Brika_ElizabethOlwen_All-Good-Things-are-wild Brika_ElizabethOlwen_Clear-Eyes-Full-Hearts Brika_ElizabethOlwen_Dream Brika_ElizabethOlwen_Mayflower Brika_ElizabethOlwen_MidCent Brika_ElizabethOlwen_Shine-Bright Brika_ElizabethOlwen_Smell-the-flowers Brika_ElizabethOlwen_Young-Hearts-run-free

New Fabrics for Joann’s!

Hey guys! Well it’s been a whirlwind summer full of exciting new opportunities and I can’t wait for another year to tell you about them! Haha so true. But the good thing about it is, if you keep things going steady, you have something to look forward to sharing when the time comes. Which brings me to this post. About a year ago, I was invited by a new client of mine to go to South Carolina (some of you might remember that I posted about it here) and got to stay in a completely amazing estate — it was an experience I will never forget. At the time I couldn’t share what the opportunity was all about, so I’m thrilled to finally be able to share!

I was invited down by my fabulous client Springs Creative (the sweetest, loveliest people ever) who manufactures all sorts of textile-based goodies, including fabrics for stores like Joann Fabric & Craft.  I’m so excited to finally tell you that it’s official — I’ve got fabrics in Joann stores as of now! We don’t actually have Joann in Canada but when I went into one in South Carolina last year my jaw dropped. It was AMAZING and full of a beautiful fabrics and notions and trims and it was heavenly for a person who loves to sew.

The fabrics are part of a modern quilting line they’ve been developing. The first of which, Jenny Eliza, was by Jennifer Paganelli of Sis Boom and was gorgeous. There are two collections, Fairytale Gardens (the pink/grey/mustard palette) and Retro Morocco (the red/blue palette), and both collections were featured on the recent quilting catalogue Joann put out. I’ve shown a few pics of them below and will share more as I have more time to sew them up into goodies. The fabrics are super soft and feel so good under your fingertips. You can see them in use on the front of the Joann catalogue shown below, don’t they look lovely?

The fabrics are in stores this week so ask in your local store! They are also available online but are pretty tricky to find right now so check back in a week or follow me on Twitter and I’ll post when I have direct links to buy them online. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Joann_ElizabethOlwen_FairytaleGarden Joann_ElizabethOlwen_RetroMorocco



Well Nested Bedding with the Land of Nod!

Hello out there! It’s been a bit since I posted anything but I’ve been busy working away on great new projects in my studio, one of which I’m super excited to FINALLY share. About a year ago I was lucky enough to connect with the lovely folks at Land of Nod, and I cannot tell you how excited I was when I started working on a bedding collection with them! I think a lot of young surface designers make a list of dream clients and hope one day to see the dreams become reality. For me, Land of Nod was one of those at the very top of the list. So the whole thing kinda blew my mind. And after I sat, wide-eyed and trying to process what was happening, I did a happy dance. And for the past year, I’ve felt like I was going to burst because I wanted to tell everyone how excited I was about it.

We designed a baby bedding collection that was themed around the idea of the nest, which I think is an adorable theme for wee humans and is aptly named the Well Nested collection. The designs feature acorns, branches, berries, feathers and all sorts of other cute motifs from nature. They also rolled it out to toddler bedding and kids bedding AND get this — the kids designs are available in double and queen size! And while I know the bedding was intended for kids, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep myself from getting some (of my own sheets) of my own.

It’s been so amazing working with Land of Nod, and I’m soooo stoked that we actually have more products coming out together for fall (like this super cute pavilion) and for the holiday season too. You know I’ll be sharing them when the time comes. As always, thanks for following along! xoxo













Surtex Take Two!

Hellooooooo!! Writing this post is extra special because I got to meet so many of you at Surtex this time around! Honestly, I had no idea so many of you have been following along on my little art journey. I work in a bubble, as many of us do, and my main connection to other designers is through the internet. So was so nice to meet so many of you in real life. Surtex this year was amazing! I was so happy with how everything went and all the amazing folks I met — both clients, artists and new friends. And let me tell you, It was so much easier the second time around! I was far more relaxed about the whole thing, and while I had my momentary freak-outs and bouts of nausea, overall I was able to take things as they came this year and trust that I’d done as much as I could do. Here are some of my post-show thoughts on the second time around.

The Surtex Cheerleading Squad
I really want to thank you guys for stopping by and being so ridiculously sweet! It felt so special to have people come up to me and say that I’d had some effect on their journey, or that my work had inspired them in some way, or had given them a push to get moving and follow their dreams (*wipes tears*). All business things aside, I came home with a full, full heart, and I thank you all so much for that. Surtex can be scary. You’re putting it all out there, and you can’t help but have your moments of doubt and feel overwhelmed. The week before Surtex I was convinced it was going to be a flop! All of your hugs and words of support and good energy really relaxed me and gave me that extra boost. It was surreal and amazing and just… wow.

Second time around
Leading up to my first Surtex, I heard from many people that manufacturers wouldn’t give you a shot the first time around. They wanted to see you year after year to see if you’re serious about it. Last year I thought things went really well and felt that people were totally open but I did feel vulnerable and hopeful and all ‘please please please work with me’. This year, going in with a bit more experience and some clients under my belt, I felt it made a difference. Clients did seem happy to hear it was my second time exhibiting. The playing field was a little more even, and I felt like the vibe was all about a mutual collaboration. I’m really happy about the companies I met and can’t wait to see what happens this year. I also felt that people this year were willing to meet me in the middle when it comes to licensing — last year it seemed like everyone was looking to buy outright. Could just be coincidence, but I’ll take it.

It’s okay if you’re not for everyone
Surtex draws people from all sorts of companies, and honestly, most of them are not going to be looking for the type of work you do. For me, I would guesstimate that less than 10% of the people attending Surtex would be looking for the *type* of work I do, and an even smaller proportioned would like my work. (I could have skipped the part where one particular guy walked by and snarkily said loud enough to hear “oh, everyone is doing that” (whatever “that” means). But what I figured out this time around was that that’s okay — because there were also people that would walk up with eyes full of wonder (so touching)! The thing is, I don’t want to work with companies that don’t get me. I don’t want to have to stretch so far out of my comfort zone that I’m not myself anymore. I’m looking for great, solid, reciprocal partnerships that I can feel good about and get behind and want to share with the world. My holiday patterns will not punch you in the face with red-and-green festive Santa spirit, because that’s just not me. Plus, there are other people out there that are really good at it. I’ve come to realize what people respond to most with my work, and it’s the stuff that I feel best about too. At the end of the day, I’m a lofty artist chasing her dreams and dream clients, and I’ve gotta to stay true to myself. That whole ‘integrity’ thing. (Side note: I did get a lot of holiday requests though… I had some, but I fully admit that I should do more… in my style!)

He’s Just Not That Into You
Did you ever read that book? Sadly, I did. It would have said that if someone doesn’t write you back, they’re just not that into you. But the licensing world doesn’t work that way. Last year, I followed up with my contacts after Surtex and a few times after that… but honestly, I got very few replies. Just like when you submit artwork and never hear anything back, it can be discouraging. Am I annoying these people? Do they even want to get these emails? Should I stop? This year, it was encouraging to have people stop by and say they’d gotten the emails and liked my work — even if they never replied to me, it helped me understand that they see this stuff, they’re just busy. It’s so hard to be patient but people who walk the show aren’t *necessarily* looking for artwork at that exact moment in time but they will be a few months (or a year! or two!) down the road. So if you don’t hear back right away, it doesn’t mean they’re not into you.

Social media – it works!
I always figure that the more avenues I have to get in front of people, the better. And this proved to be beneficial this year. I met people who’d seen my video, my feature in Uppercase, listened in on my webinar, saw my Look Book, followed on Facebook or Instagram, or saw my work on Pinterest… Creating lots of pathways equals exposure, equals opportunities!

Art Crush Central
I was so happy that I got to meet sooooo many amazing people and some of my biggest art crushes too! Highlights were meeting Grace Bonney from Design Sponge (if I were to include exclamation marks, you would never get to the end of this post), Lisa Congdon, Ashley Goldberg, Helen Dardik, Carolyn Gavin, Flora Waycott, Sarah Watson, the girls from Dotty Wren and Forest Foundry, Victoria Johnson, Ana Victoria Calderon, Ana Davis, Jennifer Paganelli… I could go on!

An Annual Business Meeting
I also got the chance to meet with some of my favourite clients outside of the show — an all-too-rare occurrence. I’ve come to look at Surtex as a sort of ‘annual business meeting’ where I actually get to see my clients face to face. It’s invaluable to have that human connection. You get such a better understanding of what’s happening in their world (and your part in it) when you can sit, have a glass of wine, and have a good old fashioned chit chat. I’m so lucky to have such awesome clients… some of which I can’t tell you about quite yet, but I’ll be able to soon! I’m terrible at keeping secrets!

A gigantic thank you
First, a big shout out to the amazing and incredibly sweet and helpful Anna London. Anna and I met online and she’d been wondering about exhibiting at Surtex, and we worked it out so she would come help with setting up my booth and could walk the show and get the experience first hand. Anna was amazing! And so easy-going and crazy helpful and was such a generous trooper. Her help was invaluable and she put up with me and my scatterbrained direction and met it all with a smile. Thank you, Anna!!!!

And finally… to my amazing friend Sam, who you would have met if you stopped by my booth. This is her 2nd time helping me at Surtex and she is such an incredible, supportive, generous sidekick. You know you’ve got a true friend when she will give up a week of her busy life running her own Interior Design business to come and be by your side and help in any way she can. To be genuinely HAPPY for you when good things happen and share in your excitement, to be a cheerleader and believer. Whole-hearted supporter. Endlessly patient. Expert note-taker (my own personal Joan Hollaway). Amazing friend. Sammy, I cannot thank you enough!!!!!!! I hope we are all so lucky to have the kind of people in our lives that will do that for us. (*wipes more tears*)

I can’t believe it’s over for another year! But hopefully this life-consuming event will lead to more fabulous opportunities this year — so far, so good. My follow-ups are taken care of and I’m going to try and sneak in a much-needed staycation now that the sun has arrived and do all the things I couldn’t get to for the months before Surtex. And enjoy the feeling of relaxation until it’s time to do it all over again.

Thanks for reading!!! I’ll leave you with some pics from my booth, which felt just like home.

1-ElizabethOlwen_Booth My booth! I got a corner booth this time and loved it.

2-ElizabethOlwen_MoiMe at my happiest, surrounded by pattern.

3-ElizabethOlwen_HoopsI tried a few new things this year like a different approach to signage and showing off my Cloud9 fabric collection.

4-ElizabethOlwen_EmbroiderI put some extra love into my main booth sign, which I embellished with some embroidery.

5-ElizabethOlwen_PanelsAnd of course there were flowers. And a bunch of stuff I sewed up.

6-ElizabethOlwen_TableAnd it was soooo awesome having real life products this year!! And it really did help when meeting with clients. It seemed easy for them to envision products with my patterns having seen real life examples and seeing that I’ve worked with other companies already.

7-ElizabethOlwen_SamMeMy fabulous sidekick and friend Sam! xo

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