You're a Fabric Designer!comments (9) July 25th, 2008
Imagine being able to design your own fabric and have it custom-printed by the yard. Well, soon this dream will become reality, thanks to a new website called Spoonflower. It's in beta-testing mode at the moment, but since many crafters are eagerly awaiting the big launch, I thought I'd chat with cofounder Stephen Fraser about what we can expect when Spoonflower goes live.
Where did the idea for Spoonflower come from?
Spoonflower was my wife's idea, really. My background is in the Internet. I used to work for a company called Lulu.com that harnessed digital printing technology to allow people to publish their own books and calendars. I left Lulu at the end of 2006 to help other start-up companies market themselves. One evening last year as I muttered about work stuff after dinner, my wife turned to me and said, "What would be really cool is if I could print my own fabric." The seed of the idea was born.
And how did you arrive at the name "Spoonflower?"
Spoonflower is the common name of an endangered bog plant native to North Carolina, where we live. The textile industry is also native to North Carolina, and we're hoping to marry the tradition of textiles to the technology industry flourishing right now in our part of North Carolina, the Triangle.
Paint us a little picture of how the service will work. What kinds of image files will the service need? What kind of fabric will the design be printed on?
When you create a free Spoonflower account, you'll be able to upload your own designs to a private gallery and order fabric printed with those designs any time. Initially you'll be able to order a swatch, a fat quarter, or an amount between one and five yards. As the site evolves, we'll add other features, but that's how the beta site will work. We will take your image and either tile it or crop it as necessary to fill the area of the fabric you order.
Your design will be printed on 100 percent Kona cotton from Robert Kaufman, a name familiar to most quilters. The fabric is 44 inches wide and 4.3 ounces per yard. As soon as we can, we'll introduce other fabric choices.
A typical textile design will look best if it's uploaded as a TIF file with a LAB color profile, but a standard JPG will also work. A photograph or scanned image will probably do better in RGB format. Depending on the complexity of your design, you should set your resolution at somewhere between 150 and 300 dpi. Don't try to upload a file larger than 25 MB or so.
What kind of printing will this be? Is it screen-printing? Transfer?
Spoonflower uses digital textile printing, which is what allows us to print a unique design—or 10,000 unique designs—on an amount of fabric as small as a swatch. One of the advantages of digital printing is that it is much, much greener than screen-printing, primarily because it cuts almost all of the waste out of the dyeing and production processes. The trade-off is that the cost per yard is higher, but designs you print using Spoonflower are unique and have more value than something you could buy off the shelf in a fabric store. We expect fabric printed through Spoonflower to offer good light-fastness and wash-fastness.
What impact do you think this kind of manufacture-on-demand technology will have on crafting?
Spoonflower is just one more tool in the hands of crafters whose creativity is the real revolutionary force. When you choose to express yourself by making new things and sharing them with others, you are doing something that changes the world. We want to make Spoonflower into something that gives you a little more power to do that.
Crafters are always going to appreciate and seek out good textile design by popular designers like Amy Butler. But it's also true that all kinds of people create beautiful design quietly—in sewing groups and garden clubs, as gifts for friends' babies, for their homes, or for sale on Etsy. There's no monopoly on beautiful design.
We've already heard from women who want to use Spoonflower to design fabric for everything under the sun, from quilts to pillows to handmade bags to upholstery to framed textile art. I know that once we are up and running and out of beta, the people who use Spoonflower will surprise us on a daily basis with their creativity and vision.
What advice do you have for someone who's excited to use the service but has never designed fabric before? Are there any good resources to research while we wait for the release of Spoonflower?
You don't have to have experience with textile design to come up with projects for Spoonflower—I'm a testament to that fact. If you know Photoshop and have design experience, there's a lot you can do. One place you might start is a book by Frederick Chipkin called Adobe Photoshop for Textile Design. I haven't read the book, but I've found one of the tips he published on the web very useful for creating tiled images.
Even without knowing the first thing about Photoshop, you can still print fabric using a scanned image or a single large image like a photo. You could print an image or a collage of images onto fabric, then incorporate the piece into a pattern for a pillow or a bag. The fabric blog True Up linked recently to a French site that sells pillows printed with great pulp magazine covers. There are some wonderful online archives of high-resolution images that are available for noncommercial use. Another craft-blogger who is following Spoonflower, Meggiecat, has posted links to some of those public domain image archives as well as to some terrific, free, image-editing tools on the Internet for folks who don't know how to use (or can't afford) Photoshop. Here's Meggiecat's list of image-editing tools:
Inkscape: Vector drawing
Paint.NET: Photoshop type of program
ArtRage: Realistic art painting, oils, chalk, etc. (earlier version is offered for free)
LineTracer: Converts scanned sketches to .eps.
WinTopo: Raster to vector converter; newer, more robust than LineTracer
The biggest frustration is likely to be the speed at which we can add customers this summer. The waiting list for the beta version of the site is already quite long, and our short-term strategy consists of inviting a new group of customers each week from the waiting list to create accounts. At the earliest opportunity we'll open the doors wide to anyone and everyone, but we certainly don't want to do that until we're sure we can keep up with the demand. And I'm happy to say there seems to be quite a demand!
You can follow the progress of Spoonflower's continuing development over at the Spoonflower blog. Be sure also to check out the Spoonflower Fabric Designs Flickr pool, where beta-testers are showing their work. The images in this post are from Yasmine Surovec, who blogs at A Print A Day.