I’m a Mermaid! Designing Fabric with Spoonflower

Confession: when I first saw Spoonflower products and pricing, I laughed. I didn’t understand what Spoonflower was, and I would never pay that much for fabric. What I didn’t understand was that Spoonflower is a custom fabric printing service. You can upload your own design and have it printed on any of their base fabrics, ranging from quilter’s cottons to minky to sports lycra. You can buy this fabric in increments as small as a $5 8″x8″ square (“test swatch”). There is no other similar service available, that I know of.

On Spoonflower, you can also browse thousands of designs uploaded by other users, just like you. There are no Spoonflower designs – they see themselves as a marketplace where fabric shoppers meet fabric designers. They are a super community involved company, and they use all water-based, eco-friendly inks for their printing. Many of their base fabrics are manufactured locally as well.

Most of the designs I’ve made with Spoonflower have been super personalized – a name blanket for my daughter, name tags for her diapers, personalized towels for wedding gifts, and my Bobbins of Basil tags. I’ll share some of these projects later. I’ve also ordered a few designs that others have uploaded to Spoonflower and have had a chance to work with a number of different fabrics they have to offer. I’ll review them at the bottom of this post. If you’re going to order your own fabric, though, I recommend first ordering the $1 swatch booklet so you can feel them yourself.

For the first time, though, I designed my own fabric for apparel purposes – watercolor pastel fish scales that are AMAZING. I ordered it in sports lycra and just made a pair of leggings with it (peg legs, again, this time without the gusset). Here’s my design on Spoonflower! It’s not currently available for purchase, but I hope it will be soon.

Here’s the short gist of how I did it – I opened Illustrator and created a blank 8″x8″ square. I drew a single scale shape and changed the outline to look more paintbrush-like. Then I literally colored in the scale with watercolor brushes in pastel colors. I chose colors that reminded me of the Rainbow Fish (kids’ book). Once I had colored to my liking, I applied a clipping path (I had colored way outside the lines). I made a few different color variations and semi-randomly laid them out in a line. I made sure the two end scales were the same and that they intercepted the edge of my 8″x8″ square right along the center. Then I simply copy pasted the row and laid the new row on top of the old one, shifted to the side. I adjusted the colors a bit and continued doing this. I made sure the bottom row overlapped with the top seamlessly, too. I checked my tiling in Illustrator before opening the whole thing in Photoshop and brightening up the colors, and then finally I uploaded my design to Spoonflower. The fabric turned out AMAZING, but I did notice a few minor flaws – one of my scales did not blend perfectly along the edge of my 8″x8″ squares (I must have shifted that single scale or something), and there seems to be a 1 pixel border around the whole thing. I’m making changes now, and then I hope to make my design available for others to purchase on any base fabric!

Anyway, here are my new leggings, totally made by me, right down to the design on the fabric (and no, I did not knit the fabric, but it was knitted right in my home state, so that’s pretty cool, right?).

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Reviews of Spoonflower base fabrics I’ve tried:

  • Sports lycra – awesome fabric! Washes well, doesn’t fade. Prints very true to color. If you stretch it to the max, you’ll see the white background a little bit, but you won’t see through to what’s on the other side. It does show underwear lines but doesn’t show underwear. It reminds me more of UnderArmour coldgear fabric or something similar. It’s a thicker poly spandex fabric. I used it for these leggings (pictured in this post) and for some bum circles on maxaloones.

  • Minky – AMAZING fabric. Prints and washes well, no fading. It’s on the thinner side for minky (which I would consider a good thing). I was shocked by how well fine details showed up. I ordered chemical structures and calc equations and could read them perfectly. My daughter immediately climbed on, started petting and cuddling it, and said “awwwww.”
  • Performance Pique – WONDERFUL fabric. Prints very vivid colors and washes well, no fading. I used it to make name tags for my daughter’s diapers and just got some more for other projects. It is basically athletic wicking jersey, just by a different name. It makes a great hidden PUL diaper (I haven’t tried it, but lots of people sell custom diapers with this fabric on the outside), and if you’re willing to hide it, it would make a great inside for a diaper or top of a pad.
  • Performance Knit – it’s ok. Not great, not awful. Prints vivid colors and washes well. I got tags printed on it, and although the fabric seems perfect, the printing is not. The text is kinda blurry. I don’t know if it would be better on a different fabric since obviously clothing tags need to have very small print, but I wasn’t hugely impressed. I also printed some more diaper name tags on it and favored the performance pique by a longshot. I’m not sure what sports knit would be really good for.
  • Modern Jersey – I like it. It’s super super stretchy, prints true to color and washes well. I made my daughter’s name blanket and monthly onesie decals from it (stabilized with heat ‘n bond. I do like it, but I don’t love it like some of the others.
  • Satin – Eh. I don’t like it. It prints well and washes well, but it’s a pain to work with, and the hand and shine of the fabric is just too cheap synthetic for my taste. It also frays like crazy.
  • Base cottons (basic cotton, Kona cotton, cotton poplin ultra) – Eh. These fabrics are no better or worse quality than what you’d find in the quilting section of Joann Fabrics. They’re fine. However, lots of people (myself included) have found that the eco-friendly inks they use fade a LOT on their cotton fabrics. I wouldn’t pay the steep prices for something that fades.
  • Organic cotton knit – DISLIKE. In addition to the fading problems their base cottons have, I find the organic cotton knit to be scratchy and not very white, which means colors don’t print all that great.

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