Surface designer, Alison Glass, is based in the Yorktown area, but her reach extends far beyond. One of the designers with Andover Fabrics, a 100-year-old family-owned company based in New York City, she has built a strong online presence and enjoys a wide-spread reputation in her industry.
Trained as a special education teacher, Glass is a self-taught designer who began life as an entrepreneur with a home organization and décor business beginning in about 2007. She dropped the organization part within the first year, noting that “they were two different businesses.” Fabric was a starting point for many of her home décor clients, so her fabric radar was up when she was introduced to the quilting industry and fabrics a couple years later. Though a niche market, “quilting industry” is a catch-all term for fabrics that are also used for window treatments, pillows, bags and some garments.
Glass found the colors and fabrics interesting “like having a work of art on a piece of fabric.” And it dawned on her that “someone actually does art for this.” And it might as well be her. True, there are fabric designers in the home décor industry, but she felt that the quilting industry was oriented more toward the designer. “You could create a brand.”
The budding designer made some designs and took them to a big trade show called “Quilt Market,” and the rest is history. As Glass sees it, companies are eager to maintain relationships with their designers if the work appeals to their market.
Glass designs all her fabrics and creates the repeats. She first draws by hand using pencil and paper. Once the line work suits her, she traces it digitally with lines and points—like vectors—and then plugs in Andover’s color chips. Then she works with their art director who sends the designs to mills overseas, returns pieces for Glass’s feedback, and then sends the designs into production.
Ultimately, though, designers have to create something that people want to buy. “I am in tune with what the people who are using my fabric are wanting; I do what I like, but I also do what I know they will like and find useful. Groups of colors have to be ones that people will enjoy using and that will work well in their projects. My particular art is less important than hitting those marks so that we can have a viable business.”
Working with a spectrum of saturated colors, Glass describes her designs—considered modern within the quilting industry—as having a screenprinted look, though there is also a batik line, among others. Often symmetrical, her designs are “based on a theme not typically very evident.”
Inspiration comes from the natural as well as manmade world for a mix of organic and geometric designs in different scales. A theme helps ensure that everything created in a given year will flow together. Earlier lines were often influenced by architectural details from the urban environment. Now, the thoughts that she is thinking—the “garbage” in her head—find their way into her designs. “What are the bits of personal-ness that I can add that people won’t necessarily see?”
Describing her business as “detailed and puzzle-y,” Glass puts out something new every two to three months with a lot of overlap from one group of fabric to the next so that all of the fabrics can be combined together. She thinks of her fabrics as a paint box with various print lines and colorways. Prints join plaids, stripes and woven solids.
But fabric does not sell itself. Yes, there are sales reps, but Glass sees it as her responsibility to do a lot of the marketing to end-use consumers because, if they want something, “they push that want to the shops who will be the ones to purchase.” This means she works “all the time.” She designs and even sews quilts, photographs them—often at Fort Monroe—and shares the images online. Plus, samples are taken to Quilt Market where it all began.
But that is not all: she designs, writes and self-publishes sewing patterns for mostly quilts, but also embroidery. And a couple of years ago, she launched a substantial line of finished goods like stationary, pens and patches.
Helping make it all happen from the second floor of Glass’s home are two full-time employees—one who manages the website, marketing and customer service, and one who handles order packing and shipping—as well as a part-time copy editor and a group of local and loyal friends who help with sewing and binding quilt samples. “There are all kinds of people running around helping and being really kind.”
The global COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant jump in interest in quilting. Though “everything is backed up now and taking significantly longer,” Glass asserts that there is “nothing to complain about, but the whole picture is really complicated.” As she sees it, “Quilting is something useful to do and beautiful to look at; something encouraging that is not the news.”
Learn more about Alison Glass at AlisonGlass.com.