From Sketchbook to Loom, We Reveal How a Brooklyn Designer Created Her New Ocean-Inspired Textile
When artist and designer Rebecca Atwood picked up a wide, flat brush and started painting flowing indigo stripes in her sketchbook one day in late 2016, she wasn’t necessarily looking to create a new product for her Brooklyn-based home-textile studio, Rebecca Atwood Designs.
"I was just painting simple lines as a way to warm up and explore some ideas—just seeing what was happening with the paint that day," she says. "I loved the way it pooled and then stretched as the brush dragged it across the paper, softening the line as it moved across the page."
The wavy, undulating pattern, done in gouache, reminded Atwood of her childhood, spent on Cape Cod. But she says it also reflected the freeform manner in which she designs the fabrics, wallpapers, and other items she sells in her studio and online, capturing snippets of inspiration in the sketchbook she always has close at hand.
"Sketchbooks are a big part of my process, and where everything starts," she says. "And sometimes those sketches take on lives of their own."
Such was the case with those wavy blue lines, which she felt compelled to do something with. It would have been easy to take the flowing strokes of blue paint and create a print. After all, a number of her studio’s designs are produced via screen-printing.
But Atwood had other ideas: "I wanted to take something that felt very painterly and transform it into a woven fabric," she says. "Weaving is so structural, so constrained by its horizontal and vertical grids. I wanted to find a way to translate a hand-painted design into that format."
Atwood has a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and has worked as a designer for Anthropologie and consulted as a trend forecaster for Kate Spade and WGSN. But she isn’t a weaver. She doesn’t consider herself a screen printer, either—although she used to hand-paint, print, and dye all of her own designs when she launched her first textile line five years ago, working out of her small New York apartment.
"It’s not like fashion, where color is always evolving. You want to create a palette that is enduring." -Rebecca Atwood
"I’m a painter," she says. "I quickly learned that I don’t want to make a hundred of the same thing, because it takes the joy out of the initial design."
To create this particular textile, Atwood turned to MTL, a Jessup, Pennsylvania–based mill she’d worked with before. "They’re experts at weaving," she says, "and they’re also my partners and collaborators in making what I’m dreaming in my head come to life."
The main challenge would be finding a way to create the "wave" as a raised motif that would capture the feel of embroidery. Atwood also needed to determine the right blend of yarns to create the effect of brushstrokes.
Working closely with MTL senior designer Julia Krah, she explored various material options and weaving techniques to capture the effect of paint pooling and dragging across a page. Together, she and Krah settled upon a blend of five colors, executed in a mix of nylon and cotton.
The resulting textile, produced in 60-yard runs and known as "Tidal Wave," is a durable fabric best suited for upholstery. Atwood sells it by the yard ($124 per) or as a finished square or rectangular pillow stuffed with down.
It’s available in three combos: soft peach and white, gray-blue on taupe, and, in the colors closest to the original sketch, a subtly shifting wave of sea blues and cream.
Tidal Wave Fabric
See how it’s made, step by step.