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Lonni Rossi's Fabric Design Process posted: 8/5/2003
by Carolyn Lee Vehslage Printable Page
Category: Specialty Method: All Series: In the Studio
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Interview by Carolyn Lee Vehslage

In the fall of 2001, Andover Fabrics decided to create a new collection of fabrics designed by my dear friend Lonni Rossi. It was so exciting to watch her develop the five 'elements' of Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and Metal on her computer, then see her hand paint, silk screen, stamp and stencil them in her two studios--one indoor and one outdoor for solar painting.

Carolyn Lee Vehslage: Where do your design inspirations come from?

Lonni Rossi: I love typography: letters, text, and symbols from all the world's languages.

CLV: How do you begin a collection?

LR: The Elements collection is a play on words for me. It was a flash of inspiration one night that I take my design elements and place them in different physical world elements.

Take the Fire Element for instance. It has two design elements of what I think are "hot numbers", or "cool numbers" in the case of the blue flame colorway.

The first design is based on the ancient Chinese numerology called the Lo Shu Grid, or "Magic Square". It's the arrangement of the numbers 1 through 9 laid out on a tic-tac-toe board. No matter which direction you add the numbers, they always come out to 15. Isn't that fun?

The second design element in the Fire Element is the "Big Square". It's a block of 0 to 9 and 9 to 0. Again, it just looks interesting.

CLV: Can you tell us how you create your design elements?

LR: It starts on my Mac. I use the text tool in Adobe Freehand to layout a single letter, a grouping of letters, a word, or even a full paragraph. I select a typeface and then rotate it, stretch it, skew it, enlarge it, or reverse it.

The grouping of A's in the Air Element is a good example. I used the Bankscript font, flipped a few, and placed the A's point-to- point. Then I twisted them.

Once I'm happy with the design I print it out on IBM laser transparency film that is normally used for overhead projectors. What you see as ink on the film is what the design will be. Then I use a photo emulsion technique to turn it into a silkscreen.

CLV: But your fabric designs are more than just a single repetitive silkscreen print?

LR: Oh, no, it's actually a multi-step process that takes place in both my indoor and outdoor studios. Many people are surprised to learn that I do the printing phase of silkscreens, hand stamps, and stencils first and then hand paint the backgrounds afterwards.

To create a collection of six different patterns in 5 colorways for Andover, it takes 30 yards of cotton. My preferred brand is Kauffman Pimatex. I have a very, very long table indoors that I lay the fabric out on and use opaque Jacquard and Createx paints.

CLV: Gail Kessler your Andover Rep. describes your style as "controlled spontaneity".

LR: (Laughter) yes, I take extreme care when I'm creating my screens, stamps, and stencils and then I randomly place them on a length of cloth during the "printing" phase.

It's when I get to the "painting" phase that the fun really begins. In my "Outdoor Studio" I have a table for the solar designs and a clothesline for umbra and vertical/horizontal line designs. If I'm going for a "background" pattern, I use the table. It's more of a frame with lattice on its underside. I stretch the fabric across the top of the frame and pin it to the wood every few inches. The fabric doesn't touch the lattice.

I place items on top of the fabric such as ginko leaves, rubber bands, cut out shapes, whatever suits my fancy that day. Then I start I use spray bottles to apply the paint. Afterward, it's up to the weather goddess to do her magic. The temperature, the wind, the sun, the clouds, they all interact and I can never predict 100% what the dried piece will look like.

For striped or umbra effects, I pin the fabric to a clothesline and let gravity help me out.

CLV: OK, now you've created a series of one-of-a-kind designs, how do they become commercial prints?

LR: Gail and I take Amtrak up to NYC and meet with Andover. We review color sections, design elements and technical challenges to reproduce my unique style.

Once these items are all settled, Andover subcontracts them out to a mill. The fabric manufactures are in Korea, Japan, and India. Because the repeats on my designs are so large and the process required to reproduce the complexities and nuances within my layered approach, Andover had to locate a firm that could handle it.

CLV: From the spark of an idea in your mind to the shelves of our favorite fabric store, how long does the process take?

LR: (Again, laughter) Well if I didn't have other distractions like deadlines for the graphic design work for ArtQuilts at the Sedgwick, or creating art quilts for exhibitions, or mining my studio/store, or feeding my family?

A single typographical design generally takes me 4 to 5 hours to create on the computer, and I need five of them per Element. But then it has to go out to the photo lab and that takes 3 to 4 days. Then I have to turn it into a silkscreen, which adds another day or so.

It's a similar timeframe for the stencils and stamps - but I can do them concurrently with the silkscreens.

Once I have all my printing tools ready, the indoor phase takes at least a month to produce 30 yards of the 4 to 5 "patterns".

When I'm happy with the prints and I've got to have the right weather window to work at my outdoor painting studio. Temperature, humidity, wind, and cloud coverage all affect the paints and drying process.

On my best day when the Weather Goddess is insync with my Artist Muse, the most I can paint is about 5 yards a day. So add another two weeks to the process.

CLV: So let's say in a perfect world it takes about two months if you're luckily?

LR: Yes, and that's only if there are no changes to the collection after the first presentation to Andover. Once we're both satisfied, they send it out to the mill.

We get back the "Strike Offs" in about 6 to 8 weeks and we check it for color correction, print registry, contrast, and overall impression. Any changes will take another 2 to 3 weeks, then the final printing is another month of waiting, waiting, waiting...

As they say in the biz, "From Art to Warehouse" it can be anywhere from 6 months to a year for a single collection.

CLV: What was you first reaction when you saw the "Strike Offs"?

LR: WOW! I was shocked that they "GOT IT"!

CLV: Now it's printed, how does it get into the quilt stores?

LR: Andover introduced the Elements collection at the Spring International Quilt Market in Kansas City, MO in April of 2002. Gail called me to tell me that it was very well received and that all the independent quilt shops had placed orders.

What that means is Andover has made a commitment to me to never sell my designs to the mass-marketing chains. But there are many individual quilt shops and high-end fabric stores across the US, so it will be available. Plus it can be ordered online at

This fall, I opened my indoor studio Thursday-Saturday so people can purchase my one-of-a-kind cottons and silks as well as the Andover-Concord line.

CLV: What's in the queue?

LR: My next collection is actually and extension of Elements. It builds upon the themes of Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and Metal. I call it Textures. It débuted at the International Quilt Market Houston in November of 2002 and hit the stores in the Spring of 2003. I've already seen the "strike offs" of the 3rd collection called "Lonni's Odyssey" and am working on the designs for the 4th.

The Lonni Rossi Fabric Design Studio
301 East County Line Road
Ardmore, PA
(610) 896-0500
Hours: Thurs-Sat 10 AM- 6 PM, Sunday Noon - 5 PM

The studio/store is an array of hand-painted, hand-dyed cotton and silk art cloth for collecting and display, or use in garments and art quilts. A wonderful selection of commercially manufactured cottons, including Lonni Rossi's "Typographical Elements" collection for Andover Fabrics, Andover batiks from Jennifer Priestley, Hoffman Handpaints, and new designs from Free Spirit.

In addition to Lonni's own one-of-a-kind, hand-painted fabrics, there are hand-painted silks from Rebecca Yaffe; hand-dyed cotton sateens by Heide Stoll-Weber of Germany; Rosemary Hoffenberg's silk-screened and hand-dyed cottons; silk "scarves of wisdom" from Cathi Howell; and Wendy Richardson's beautiful hand-dyed antique linen napkins and tablecloths. One-of-a-kind garments, shawls and scarves by other textile artists round out the collection.

Classes in surface design, silk-screen techniques, stamping and stenciling on fabric are offered.

©2003 Carolyn Lee Vehslage
Carolyn Lee maintains an onboard studio on their Mariner Yacht "Fandango". Several of her quilted wall hangings that were created while cruising, are viewable online at Several of her "Fried Circuits" and "Motherboard Meltdown" series created using Lonni Rossi's fabric are in permanent museum and gallery collections world wide.

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