Tag Archives: print your own fabric

Print Your Own – is printing your own fabric the ultimate me-made?

PART 1: Low Tech – Print it Yourself

Have you been searching for ways to make your me-mades just that bit more special and unique?

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you may have seen my recent forays into fabric printing. It started with one-day course exploring methods that can be recreated at home such as block printing and was closely followed by a traditional hands-on screen-printing course at the end of last year, which I absolutely loved. The act of making is always an important part of any creative process for me, so mixing paints and getting my hands dirty was all part of the appeal. Some of the screen printing I did on this course even made it into sample garments for my new book!beginners guide to knitted fabrics

Why bother?

If you’re anything like me, you might be ridiculously fussy about printed fabric and find it hard to source prints that you really love. For a control-freak like me, printing my own is the perfect solution.

If you sew a lot for others, using a customised fabric in a special gift is a really nice personal touch for the recipient. You can use a design or motif that has a special meaning to the recipient or that they’re particularly fond of. I’m sure we all know someone who goes ga-ga over anything with a cat print on it!!

It’s also the perfect way to print your own fabric labels for your me-mades. Ideal for that little finishing touch for your own makes or gifts, or to add a professional finish to your makes if you’ve ever sold anything at craft fairs, shows or local markets.

Techniques for printing at home

Here are some easy fabric printing techniques that can easily be tried at home:

Stencilling using freezer paper can create really crisp edges to your print and give a level of finish almost comparable to screenprinting for simple shapes. It’s cheap and easy to use, but its only drawback is that your prepared stencil will only completely stick properly to your fabric once (twice if you’re really lucky!) Fancy having a go? Have a look at my step-by-step tutorial which includes a free downloadable template to recreate this print.

Block printing can give a lovely organic feel to a print, depending how accurately you carve / cut your block and apply your paint. You can get started really easily and cheaply at home with shapes cut from craft foam mounted onto card. That’s how I created these prints.

You can also create your block from polystyrene sheets, or using lino cutting and rubber carving techniques, I’ve even found make-up sponges work well as impromptu printing blocks! This method lends itself much better to all-over patterns and multiple prints that stencilling with freezer paper, just as long as you look after your original block.

Monoprinting is a really low-tech method that can produce lovely painterly effects. Fabric paint is applied to a flat surface like a sheet of plastic, Perspex or glass. The marks made by your choice of applicator (paintbrush, sponge, etc) will be transferred onto your fabric. The fabric is placed on top of the painted surface, you can also place stencils or objects in between the fabric and painted surface to leave behind empty negative spaces.

Screen printing with paper stencils is an easy way to screen print without the need to have a design permanently fixed to the screen. Simply arrange paper stencils or even objects on your fabric, then pull the screen printing ink through the screen and you have an instant design.

Top left sample is screen printed with a paper stencil, top right is screen printed with yarn between the screen and fabric and the bottom sample is mono printed.

Traditional screen printing where your design is fixed onto the screen can still be done at home if you have space and don’t want to use a large screen. You can use a paint-on “filler” to create your design on the screen, or some print companies will create your customised screen for you if you send your design (www.handprinted.co.uk offer this service).

Then there’s also Thermofax printing which is like screen printing using mini screens.

How to start

Creativebug has some great introductory classes on how to start printing your own fabric.

If block printing is what you fancy, US textile artist Jen Hewett specialises in block printing and regularly runs a popular online class called Design, Carve, Print.

If you like a good book to get you started and full of inspiration, here are some that I’ve found useful and been inspired by:

Get inspired

So, what you need to get started is probably just a bit of inspiration for designs. Have a look at the work of Sarah Golden aka Maker Maker, Lu Summers and Jen Hewett to get you started.

Make a Pinterest board of ideas like this one of mine, have a look at designs on wrapping paper, wallpaper and greetings cards as starting points, then start creating your own simple designs. Nature can often be the most inspiring, have a go at creating some simple leaf and flower shapes just to get you started.

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Spoonflower Fabric Printing

Woohoo!!! I designed and made a dress AND the fabric!

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that at the end of last year I took a short screen printing course at the fabulous Inkspot Press in Hove.

 

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It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years as; a) it felt like the next logical step after creating my own clothes and b) I’m so incredibly fussy when it comes to printed fabric and find it difficult to find prints that I love. I’m very clear about what I do and don’t like in a fabric print, I love: bold, simple, graphic, abstract, oversized; and I have a definite aversion to: pastels, cutesy, florals (unless they’re very painterly or abstract)!

So, when the European arm of US fabric printing giant Spoonflower got in touch I was just a tad excited. Disclaimer time: I need to point out that Spoonflower offered to print me a length of the fabric of my choice for free in return for being interviewed for their website. I also decided to write this blog post independently to share my experience with you lovely lot who might be interested in having a go yourselves and so this review is completely unbiased, honest and my own opinion – I haven’t been paid to write it.

For those of you who have never heard of Spoonflower, it’s a kind of “print on demand” online fabric printing service. You choose a base fabric, you find a print from their huge collections of print designs from independent textile designers from around the world, or (and this is what appealed to me) design your own print and voila, your very own unique fabric plops through your letterbox.

So, as I’d already been playing around with print designs it made sense to have a go at creating my own Spoonflower fabric print!

Once you’ve set up an account it’s really easy to upload your artwork to create your own design. You can either upload artwork that you’ve already put into repeat, or upload an image and use Spoonflower’s basic repeat tools.

I’ll hold my hands up here to being far from an expert when it comes to print design. I’ve done one course, a bit of my own research and played around with a few ideas. If you’re going to create your own design on Spoonflower, I think you’ll get far better results if you have at least a basic understanding of print design and how repeats work, consequently that will enable you to create a far more professional and seamless print (that said there are lots of tutorials on the site). Personally I hate print designs where the repeat is blindingly obvious and that for me is the sign of a poor quality design and someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. With this in mind I kept mine super simple, as you can see! 

Once you’ve finalised your design (decided on the repeat and scale), you need to select a base fabric that you want to print your design onto. This is where I started to feel a little limited. I think Spoonflower is great for buying fat quarters for craft sewing (such as patchwork) but once you start to order fabrics by the metre (or yard as is listed on the site) they start to get a little pricey and I found the range of fabric bases a little limiting for dressmaking. However, having said that there is crepe de chine, poplin and a few different knits which was more than I was expecting! Price-wise, you’ll be paying (and watch those dollars and yards UK shoppers) $23 (approx. £17+) per yard for polyester crepe de chine, $26.75 (approx. £20+) for cotton/spandex single jersey and $17.50 (approx. £13+) is the cheapest fabric called “basic cotton ultra”. I’ve no idea what that is.

I plumped for cotton poplin ultra at $20 (approx. £15+) per yard as I knew I wanted a nice crisp fabric to make a gathered skirt version of my Fulwood dress. I needed 3 yards as it’s only 42″ / 106cm wide (pretty narrow for a dressmaking fabric) and this would have cost me $54 & $6 shipping (over £45). For a special one-off fabric, I don’t think this is outrageous. I’m not one to skimp on fabric and would rather pay more for quality and reliable provenance so I probably would have paid that myself to try out Spoonflower.

Now, this all took place in April and from what I remember I’m pretty sure delivery was pretty speedy (European orders are sent from Germany) and my fabric arrived within approximately a week.

Here’s how it looked when it arrived, complete with washing instructions. (How many fabric companies do that?!)

On first unwrapping my parcel I was a bit like a kid at Christmas, it seemed like magic to see my design on fabric, but then I noticed I’d made a mahoosive boo-boo with my design…..

See that gap right across the middle of the white scissors?……. Argh, told you I wasn’t a print design expert, but I really should’ve checked and spotted that one and Spoonflower won’t check for you (understandably!) I was in such a rush to order the fabric, that I skipped the stage of ordering a test swatch (8″ x 8″ for $5). Lesson number 1 learned.

The next surprise was the stiffness of the fabric. I ordered poplin, it’s meant to be crispy, but this really felt almost starched. I hoped it would soften up once I washed it.

I washed my fabric on a gentle 30 degree wash using colour safe washing liquid. Sadly the stiffness didn’t improve much, but the colour faded noticeably and you can see in the picture above that the colour faded more where the fabric had creased in the wash. With the benefit of hindsight I wonder if I should’ve gone for a design with less solid black coverage. Lesson number 2 learned…..

The fabric also shrank in the wash, which to be fair, I would expect with a natural fibre fabric. My piece measured 2.76m long and 114cm wide before washing and 2.66m long and 111cm wide after washing. That’s 3% lengthwise shrinkage and 2% across the width. Probably more or less what would be expected of cotton poplin, but still significant enough to be aware of if you have a tight lay plan and / or a large or directional print design.

As expected, the fabric sewed up like a dream (it was cotton poplin after all) but, that black print did leave a residue on my iron (which was easy to remove). The print was also very easily marked by needle holes. I managed to get an unwanted tuck in the fabric when machining the waist seam and this is what was left behind once I’d corrected it….

I haven’t washed the finished dress yet, so maybe (hopefully) they’ll come out in the wash.

Here’s my finished frock though, of which I am still most proud, despite it’s flaws! It’s super comfy and cool to wear.

So, in conclusion, what did I think of the whole experience?

  • price – at over £45 for 2.75m (3 yards) it’s towards the top end of what I spend on fabric, but certainly not outrageous,
  • quality – this is what I was most disappointed with, but I can’t say if it was my choice of print design (with so much black ink coverage), I need to try a different print on the same base to do a fair comparison,
  • choice of fabrics – OK, the basics are covered, but it’s definitely all about the print!

I’d definitely order again to make a special garment and / or to try out new print designs, but next time I would get a test swatch to check the accuracy of the repeat of my design and the quality and handle of the fabric once printed and take my advice – definitely order the fabric sample pack! It’s only $3 (approx. £2.30) and shipping is free.

I’m going to post a step-by-step guide on how to sew the gathered skirt on the Fulwood dress as inspired by Kath’s winning MIY Maker dress. Honestly, I still can’t believe I’ve never done this before, I absolutely love how it looks.

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