When Victoria Larson was working as an interior designer and ordering fabric for clients, she never envisioned one day running her own textile firm. Still, she dreamed. “I’d see designs in my head that I didn’t see in the market,” she remembers. “I always wanted to start a fabric line, but I couldn’t imagine getting from here to there.”
Larson pictured playful, colorful patterns that could bridge traditional and modern décor. She tested ideas on fabric. She researched textile mills and talked about the possibilities, until her husband presented a challenge: “‘Are you actually going to do this? And if not now, when?’” she recalls. “I took a deep breath and launched my line.”
Four years later, her boutique firm Victoria Larson Textiles has expanded to offer 20 classic designs printed on natural linens and cottons. The designer talks regularly with showrooms that carry her textiles in Northern Virginia, her native Annapolis and beyond in Atlanta, Chicago and Sydney, Australia.
“It’s an interesting time for independent textile designers,” Larson says gratefully of the trend that has created a growing network of professionals who share information. Her timing turned out to be perfect. Earlier, she says, “It took a huge financial commitment for one person to start a fabric line.”
Two recent developments brightened that outlook. More textile mills are now willing to print just 25 or 30 yards, compared to runs of 1,000 yards for large fabric houses. And thanks to on-demand printing, independent vendors can benefit from printing only when orders are received. Plus, Larson can match her designs in custom colors for small runs.
The evolution of digital printing also allows greater creative flexibility, since any digital design can be transferred to a fabric’s surface. By contrast, traditional screen-printing requires pressing pigments by hand through engraved screens and into the fabric’s fibers.
“Each has its place,” says Larson, who has used both techniques since her first experiments. One early pattern, School O’ Fish, repeats a primal shape in regimented navy-blue rows. She uses screen-printing for single-color patterns like this and other graphic designs, whether intense hot pink or neutral black. In contrast, Peony, a subtler early design, called for digital printing. The image was taken from one of Larson’s own paintings and its gradations of color and shading reproduced precisely on fabric. Hand-screening would have been “far more difficult, requiring 12 separate screens, one for each color,” Larson points out. “It would be cost-prohibitive.”
While the designer has been an artist and painter since high school, designing textiles involved a steep learning curve and “a lot of trial and error,” she notes. Among lessons learned: how to repeat designs on a 54-inch-wide fabric, how to prepare files to send to mills—and to always approve samples before ordering fabric. “Expensive mistakes can happen,” she discovered.
It took the entrepreneur nearly two years to research textile mills and understand production techniques. “I was determined to keep production in the U.S.,” she says. Happily, she succeeded, locating a screen printer in the old mill town of Westerley, Rhode Island, and a digital printer in Monroe, North Carolina.
Sitting at her home-office computer, Larson moves easily between programs for manipulating images. Every design starts with a scanned image, most taken from a sketch, photograph or painting. Then the real work begins. In the case of School O’ Fish, the primitive form is deceiving. Larson took the basic shape from a block print, then painstakingly redrew 124 new shapes and lines, reviewing each line and its relationship to the other lines and empty spaces around it.
And then there are color decisions. “I like to mix and match,” the former interior designer explains. Since infinite color choices can easily distract, to stay focused Larson posts a small sheet with six watercolor swatches above her desk as a reminder of the neutral color palette in her latest collection.
Many of her themes relate to the outdoors. “There’s so much beauty in nature,” says the avid gardener and sailor, who was raised in a sailing family in Annapolis. Her home is located on a tree-studded property across from a creek, where in late afternoon she enjoys motorboat rides with her twin daughters. Travel also takes the family to coastal regions, as her husband, a professional sailor, competes in regattas.
For a change of pace, Larson designs whimsical fabrics for a New Zealand children’s swimwear company called Snapper Rock. And she plans to introduce her own fabric collections for kids’ and teens’ rooms.
For now, Larson continues to be inspired by the world around her. While driving to pick up her daughters recently, the designer noticed, “When rain washes down the side of the window it makes a really cool pattern. I thought, ‘How am I going to capture that?’ I have to remember what that looks like!”
Writer Tina Coplan is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Jenna Walcott is a photographer in Easton, Maryland. Victoria Larson’s textiles are available through designers, at the Design Center of Northern Virginia in Herndon and Dream House Studios in Annapolis, or through her website, victoria-larson.com.