Meet the Vintage-Loving, Joy-Seeking, Self-Taught Ohio Artist Behind Virginia Kraft Textiles
Andrea Whalen is not afraid of her feelings. The founder of Virginia Kraft Textiles hopes the emotions she channels into her fabrics and wall coverings will translate to the homes of the people who use them. Her modern takes on global and antique motifs have exploded across the design world, but it's the snapshot of a kid napping on a chair covered in her Babette pattern that makes her happy cry.
Virginia Kraft was your grandmother. What about her inspires you?
AW: It's such an honor to talk about her. She was home to me. We moved several times when I was a kid, and it was hard. Her farm—my grandpa was a farmer—was a constant. Being around her was to know joy and ease and comfort. Those are the things that have stuck with me, and that's what I want people to feel when they have my patterns in their home. I hope they feel that same comfort, that soft place to land.
Was textile design always your plan?
AW: No! I was 27, pregnant with my second child and on bed rest. I read a blog about a woman who was a textile designer. Immediately it was lightning to my heart. I stared at the screen and thought, How did I miss this? All the hours spent wandering through fabric stores, loving it and never once considering that someone had a job designing it. I was obsessed from then on. I began reading everything I could about it and filling notebooks with sketches and ideas.
How does a sketch turn into a fabric or wallpaper?
AW: At first, I was hand blocking every pattern, but that became too overwhelming. So now I'll start with a block print [I've carved] or a sketch and scan them into a computer for mock-ups. Color is the most fun part. Color can absolutely change a pattern, change a feel, change the era it could have come from. When I'm happy, the design will go off to the digital printer. They have shorter lead times, and in terms of being more environmentally friendly, it's less water, less waste and the fabric is printed on demand, not sitting around in a studio or warehouse.
What goes through your mind as you come up with new work?
AW: I immediately get a sense of story—not only the pattern but the space it might be in and the people who live there. That probably comes from watching a lot of old movies. Growing up, my sister and I watched Oklahoma! and Brigadoon on repeat. We rewound the VHS until it wore out. We love old things and were fascinated by costumes and sets.
You get swept up in the drama of it?
AW: Yes, the way I approach everything in my life is with emotion and gut feeling. I've been in people's homes that are devoid of emotion, and I know the people in it. I know they're so joyful or curious or whatever, and their home doesn't reflect that. Wouldn't it be wonderful to give everyone the permission to make their home feel more like the way they feel inside?
What emotions are you currently putting into your designs?
AW: In the past six months or so, I've gravitated toward colors I haven't played with before now. Pinks and purples; pastels; colors that are sweeter, happier, lighter, brighter. I'm even buying them for my wardrobe now. Joy for the hell of it: That's what I'm looking at. I'm sure that's a result of the last few years. The patterns coming out later this fall are over the top in scale and color, just for fun.
What refreshes you?
AW: I'm an air sign, Gemini, and I need grounding from nature, always. I have to go outside and touch the grass. I have to hear the birds and see bugs. Nostalgia is also a big part of my life. A lot of what I remember is attached to things in the home. I have my grandma's old mushroom footstool, re-covered with my fabric. Grandma would put her feet up and watch her "stories." Things like that. I love when customers send me pictures of their kids napping in a chair covered in my fabric. I think, Are they going to have a memory of feeling safe and comfortable in that green chair with blue flowers? It's not saving the world, but just trying to put out there how Grandma made me feel.
Nature heavily influences Andrea Whalen's work. See scenes from her walks on Instagram, @virginiakrafttextiles.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.