Spoonflower Fabric Printing: First Three Test Swatches

June 25, 2010

Just got my first three 8″ test swatches of my original designs from Spoonflower, the fabric printing company.  Spoonflower offers several natural-fiber fabric options.  I chose the two that I thought I’d actually use.  Colors for these three designs were all picked from the “preferred colors” chart that Spoonflower provides in an attempt to help designers choose colors that will print accurately.  Apparently some colors, when printed on fabric, look very different from what is shown on the computer monitor that the designer is working with.  Some of this is inevitable, since color monitors show a much wider variety of colors than printing inks do.

PRINTING QUALITY:  The printing is extremely crisp, quite different from commercial silkscreened fabric, and without the “blurry” look that you get with an inkjet printer on paper.  These designs have laser-printed precision and are very faithful to the original drawings.  So I don’t need to worry about whether I can reproduce small and/or detailed designs!

Tiger Tattoos: Lapis Lazuli

Tiger Tattoos:  Lapis Lazuli is printed on linen/cotton canvas.  Individual motifs are 3″.  This is a midweight fabric, similar to English tea towels but a bit smoother and with a tighter weave.  It is a warm white with a slight sheen and a surpisingly nice drape.  I thought it might work for a jumper (a sleeveless dress that is worn with a shirt underneath).  Linen is cool and comfortable here in the desert, but the sun and dry air make it brittle, so the lifespan of a linen garment that gets regular wear is only about 18 months.  So I’d choose this fabric for a dress that I didn’t wear for hiking.

The color is lapis lazuli or ultramarine (a slightly reddish blue), which is a bit off from the dark greenish-indigo that I chose from the chart.  It is a bit bright for my taste but is fine for non-clothing items.  I bought a “fat quarter” of this since the 8″ swatch wasn’t big enough to show all the motifs.  So I have enough for several nice bags for bells etc.

Tiger Tattoos: Black and Red

Tiger Tattoos:  Black and Red is printed on quilter’s cotton.  Individual motifs are 2″.  This is a smooth, high quality but slightly transparent fabric.  As any crafter knows, quilter’s cottons vary widely in weight, thread thickness, and tightness of weave.  I’d put this one somewhere in the middle – it’s not as coarse as some, and not as fragile as the goods that are often used for commercial “designer” fabrics.  I feel confident about working with it and wearing it.  The skulls do look rather weird in red, and I’ll probably change them to black before I order any more of this, but Spoonflower particularly recommends this color on their chart, and I wanted to see what it looked like.  On the chart, it’s a dark red ochre.  The printed version is brighter, more of a “true” red like a ripe New Mexico chili pepper, but not screaming scarlet.  I was concerned that the designs wouldn’t show all the details at this size, but they are fine.

Kitten with Cat Skulls

Kitten with Cat Skull Checkerboard.  The small checks are 2″ and show realistic domestic cat skulls.  The large squares are 4″ and show a newborn kitten sleeping on a cat skull.  This bold and rather large print shows all the details of the original drawings but I think they’d lose their impact if I made them any smaller.  The color that I chose for the background was a light coral pink, because I have always liked the pink/black/white combination but didn’t want a “strawberry” pink that would make it look like a box of GoodNPlentys.  The printed version is definitely NOT pink, but a light peach (or pale, muted, “baby aspirin” orange).  Unlike the black, the peach isn’t a uniform color, but shows the very faint horizontal banding that is typical of inkjets when printing a large area (more than 1″x1″) in a single color.  Hardly noticeable from a few inches away, but I’ll remember to make the background more multicolored in future designs.  Not exactly the color that I wanted, but probably close enough, and finding just the “right pink” in fabric is notoriously difficult.  Overall it’s a stunning fabric and will be a nice addition to my All Souls Procession costume.

WHAT’S NEXT?  I’ll make some more designs and order more swatches, this time using more colors in each design, and without using Spoonflower’s color chart (which wasn’t useful except for the red).  Ultimately I want to design fabrics for my own dresses and for craft projects such as bags and masks.  I also want to make some spreadcloths and/or altar cloths with centered square or circular designs that fit on a yard of fabric, and a couple of those are already in the works.

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3 Responses to “Spoonflower Fabric Printing: First Three Test Swatches”

  1. As someone who absolutely hates printing on fabric with my inkjet, I was interested in this post.

    Great that Spoonflower doesn’t have a minimum order too. I wish more companies were like that.

    Some of these motifs would look good appliqued as accents on sweaters, particularly if you were able to pick up colours accurately from hand-dyed yarn.

  2. ironwing said

    The traditional motifs that the tiger designs are based on are all from different media. The Nanai spiral designs were originally fishskin applique (dyed with berries, cut out of fishskin, then stitched to fishskin coats) and were later adapted by several Siberian tribes as embroidery designs. The Chinese taotie mask is from ancient bronze vessels. The Mongolian “cloud” motif appears in Mongolian and Tibetan tangkas (religious paintings in glue tempera) but probably came from China originally. The Dayak-inspired claw motif is from Borneo wood carvings and tattoos.

    I think the stripes and the spiral mask would make good quilted designs on a vest. Once I’ve designed a vest pattern that fits, I can have the pattern pieces printed on a yard of fabric and quilt them to a lining.

    I just discovered that Spoonflower will print several 8″ swatches on a yard of fabric for $20 if you organize them as a “collection.” I’ll probably do my next order that way, since the $5 swatches add up pretty fast.

  3. They’d be beautiful in a quilt or other quilted item.

    I like embellishment in fabric on handbags and sweaters (my current passion anyway.) For years I did mini quilted things on tarot bags with lots of silk ribbon and embroidery and hand-dyed silk thread.

    It’s fascinating to think of how one could configure embroidery to match the ethnic base of these designs. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with.

    I know you were a bit disappointed with the lighter blue but it really looks like classic Chinese or Japanese indigo designs to me so I liked the colour.

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