Arts & Crafts / Be Creative!

Custom Fabric Design for Dummies

If not for the Internet so many opportunities for creativity and exploration would often be limited by our short-sighted imaginations that stand in our way.

Take, for instance, a  task for the Art to Wear badge which asks scouts to give some thought to custom fabric design and asks them to create an actual pattern.

Scouts must then consider manifesting their design through a technique like batik, tie dying, or silk screening. Very nice, but very last century.


Thanks to online companies like Spoonflower, anyone can create their own fabric design — and then have it shipped to them by the yard. Isn’t that amazing?!?!?

My sister Victoria (who serves as both an official BSP Expert and Virtual Troop Leader), turned me on to Spoonflower. Knowing that I’ve got to try my hand at sewing some things in the not-too-distant future, it seemed like a fun idea to try to design some fabric first.

I did some preliminary fabric designs with simple shapes using some simple design software, and while things were going nicely, the patterns didn’t have any sense of fun. There just wasn’t enough pure folly in those first designs. And just as I was about to put this experiment aside for another month, my eyes fell on a canvas I’d done at an Art Night class a while back. Here’s a photo of it:

Fabric designing

Girls, Ladies, Dames: the beginning of my custom fabric design

Those goofy faces seemed to meet the folly factor, but it was clear that I’d have to simplify some of the colors and brush strokes to create a clean graphic for a fabric pattern; see the hair on the bottom two chicks? I didn’t think that would translate well.

I opened up my Photoshop knock-off and created individual images of these gals. I went for simplicity, boldness of line and color. For instance, the old gal in the bottom left corner of the original became:

Fabric designing

Old broad with blue hair, part of my custom fabric design

Now, I’m a big fan of color on black. It really makes the colors pop, doesn’t it? So I loved the idea of creating a  fabric like this:

Fabric designing

Fabric design in progress

When I went to upload this concept to Spoonflower, however, I learned that they pretty much frown upon black fabric. They warned quite convincingly that I wouldn’t be happy with the dye and intensity of color, and I took them at their word–especially since custom-printed fabric ain’t that cheap.

So I returned to editing to re-color the backgrounds of each of my four images, choosing a minty green background (again, it seemed to meet my need for folly). Here’s how the old lady looked now:

Fabric designing

Minty old gal, part of my custom fabric design

And again, for my money, colors don’t pop quite as much, but the minty goodness of the new background just screamed “pajamas!”  See what I mean?

Fabric designing

Girls, Ladies & Dames in Minty Goodness

Doesn’t that just scream cheesy, lightweight, summer lounge wear?  No? Well, it does to me.

The next step was to create the Spoonflower account, upload the design, tweak it just a bit, and choose my fabric. Spoonflower offers mostly cotton, and I chose to order four yards of the very lightweight cotton voile. Yes, I know four yards is a lot more than I’ll need to make those p.j.s, but I’m accounting for the probability that I’ll really screw it  up and will have to re-cut a piece or two or more along the way. And if there’s any left over, I will definitely find a use for it.

Drum roll, please, because here’s the finished fabric, spread out on the bed for a photo. I did not invite Freida up there, but what the hell. Note that the fabric is actually doubled over (yeah, four yards really is a LOT!):

Fabric designing

Finished Fabric 2

Fabric designing

Finished Fabric 1

So there we have it. My first fabric.  And no matter how it actually looks, I loved this process — just  loved, loved, loved it. This is one of those little BSP projects that turned out to be a remarkably pleasant surprise. It’s not as affordable as buying your fabric at your local JoAnn Fabrics, but my new summer pajamas are gonna feel a whole lot more special.

All I need now is the sewing machine. And the pattern. And the skill…


3 thoughts on “Custom Fabric Design for Dummies

  1. I just started on Spoonflower recently too (I’ve been selling my designs on Zazzle for about 2 years now though) and I’m obsessed with it! I love your fun & quirky style, and hope to see more from you.

  2. I made PJ’s once in the costume shop when I was in college for a practicum credit. It was for one of our main stage productions. I finished the pants, pleased with my accomplishment. But, when I put the front of the top in the back (they were pull over tops) the costume designer said, “Well, you have full filled your practicum credit. Please leave the shop.” and I was dismissed. She gave me an ‘A’ and the PJ’s didn’t look all that bad on stage. So be careful not to put the front cut in the back 🙂

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