I’ve been thinking for a while it’d be cool to try designing a fabric print inspired by endemic plants. I heard about Spoonflower a long time ago, but always thought it was a bit pricey. My desire to try my hand at making my own textile design finally outweighed the cost recently and so I committed to do it. I’m so glad I did, and justify the cost with knowing that buying products to fill these needs from my favorite brands would have cost a lot more, would not have been made locally with American made fabrics, and would not have taught me as much or improved my design and sewing skills at all.
I didn’t want to put too much time into refining a complicated design only to find out that the fabric quality wasn’t there or the colors were too light (as others have described in the past) so I decided to use a photo to make the design figuring that would be faster than sketching or painting something by hand (also I’m not a great artist).
Looking through my photo archive, nothing immediately stood out as having potential so I did a quick search online for a Creative Commons image and found this photo of a Pritchardia beccariana (Pritchardia what? More on this below.)
Once I had the image, I did a quick search for tips on how to make a repeating pattern that wouldn’t have any obvious hard boundaries. Tiled patterns remind me of 1990s desktop computer wallpapers, which haven’t quite made a comeback yet. A quick YouTube search returned videos like this one that show you how to make a simple repeating pattern. Here’s the design I ended up using:
Looking at this image now, the gray definitely looks darker and grayer in this image than my actual fabric, but I still like how it came out. Ordering any fabric can be tough online, and for an important project or if ordering a large amount, I definitely would recommend paying a little for a swatch first and waiting for the shipping. Note that it seems that only a portion of your Spoonflower print may fall within the dimensions of a swatch, so you may have to order a larger piece of fabric to really see what the full extent of the pattern itself looks like.
One thing I don’t like about this design is the “S shape” in the center of the image above. The lesson there for me was that when using photos to make a pattern, you really need to watch out for these types of “hard edges” that can result in unintended geometric shapes that detract from the overall pattern. It would not be hard to fade these edges to get them to blend in a little more or add something or move things around to hide them. I just didn’t see it, though, until I received the actual fabric. Next time, I may consider purchasing a yard of their most inexpensive basic cotton fabric (about half the cost of their Sport Lycra) first to test the pattern out if I’m unsure about the design.
What’s Pritchardia beccariana?
Usually when I see an image of Hawaii, there is either a beach, coconut tree, tiki, or pineapple in it, sometimes all four. While none of these is unique to Hawaii, there are many species that call Hawaii home that do not exist anywhere else in the world, many of which are endangered or threatened. Hawaii is a hotspot for biodiversity!
Pritchardia is a genus of palms primarily found in Hawaii, named after a nineteenth century British consulate to Fiji. Of the 27 species in the genus, 24 are endemic to Hawaii.
The species name beccariana is a nod to the Italian botanist, Odoardo Beccari (1843-1920), who put the Sumatran “corpse plant” (Titan arum) on the map in 1878. Titan arum currently seems to be a popular attraction from the NYBG to Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, perhaps because the world’s largest inflorescence also delivers a remarkable stench when in bloom.
Known as loulu (“umbrella”) in the Hawaiian language, these palms were useful to Hawaiians for their edible fruit, wood (to make spears), and fronds (for thatching).
See this website for more information about Pritchardia in Hawaii.
The Spoonflower fabric I went with is their Sport Lycra, which according to their website is 88% polyester and 12% lycra with 4 way stretch and minimal shrinkage. It’s also knitted in the USA and printed at the Spoonflower headquarters in North Carolina, which is pretty darn cool.
Others have said the black does not print true black. Maybe that’s true, I’m not sure. I was happy with how the black color came out, but I do usually prefer charcoal to black. Any difference wasn’t noticeable to me. The other color in this print is a light bluish gray. I do think this color is significantly darker on my screen than it printed in real life. In real life it could be mistaken for white. Held up against true white (the reverse of the fabric), it clearly is not. I didn’t want a true white because true white can be bright and a bit harsh.
I like the fabric itself better than I thought I would. The fabric weight seems appropriate for athletic wear, which is one of the intended uses of this fabric stated on the Spoonflower website. It stretches more in one direction than the other, which is represented in the product description on their website (“4-way stretch, 75% in width and 50% in length”).
In the stretchier direction, the fabric weave separates and you can see lines of white fabric in between the lines of printed color (the color is printed on to white fabric). This is not a problem in the other direction, so if you don’t need the extra stretch, you can avoid this phenomenon with careful attention to which way you lay out the print and which way you lay out your sewing pattern on to the fabric. This also may not be a problem if you lay out your sewing pattern pieces on the bias, but that tends to consume a lot more fabric.
At $32/yard ($28.80 if you design your own print) plus shipping, it definitely pays to have an efficient plan for how you want to use the fabric. For comparison, I picked up a dark green, very thin spandex type fabric for less than $8/yard to make the swimsuit reversible (more on this fabric later).
Another thing to note about the Spoonflower fabric is that the print is like a large image printed on to a piece of fabric in that there is a white border around the printed image. I assume they don’t include this border in their description of the fabric dimensions, but didn’t check. I just cut the border off and will use it like string for something else.
Someone else also mentioned that Spoonflower fabric has a maximum length of three yards, meaning if you order six yards of fabric, you will get two 3 yard pieces instead of one 6 yard piece. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s something you may want to ask about if you’re ordering multiple yards and need them to be continuous. (UPDATE 9/26/2016: Spoonflower can print up to EIGHT continuous yards. Please see the comments for further info.)
I based the bikini top design loosely on a standard triangle swimsuit top I already had. I decided on straps instead of a halter style, and used some leftover black elastic to accomplish that. In my mind, it’s an attempt at combining the best features of J.Crew’s french bikini with some of the best details trending in swimwear right now.
I like the macrame and strappy caged back details popular right now (which I think is a huge and welcome breakthrough for American swimwear), and opted for a simple version using “strings” I made out of the same fabric. Turns out the “string” in “string bikini” is a long strip of rectangular swimsuit fabric sewn together on one side and flipped inside out to make a noodle. (Yep, I just called it a noodle.)
For the bottom, I again used an existing bikini as the general pattern. I tried to modify it, and ended up with a suit entirely too small. If you try making a swimsuit, definitely err on the conservative side in cutting out the pattern and leaving a seam allowance. It seems like cutting the pattern too small and then ending up with something a little too scandalous is a common problem.
One of the challenges contributing to this problem, at least for me, was how slippery this type of fabric is.
Working with spandex type fabric
The Sport Lycra from Spoonflower wasn’t too hard to work with. (This was my first time making a swimsuit and I was able to make something wearable.) The main difficulty I had with the fabric was the “final assembly” stage where you have the right sides out and need to sew the front and back pieces together to finish the garment.
I think my commercially made swim suit bottom was made by joining the sides before flipping the whole thing right side out, and then sewing the crotch seam last. This is what I would try to do next time.
I used two layers of Spoonflower fabric back to back for the top, and would recommend at least two layers of fabric for swimsuits in general (whereas I used just one layer for leggings).
The forest green fabric I used to make the suit reversible was much lighter weight than the Sport Lycra. It is sheer and not great quality. I doubled up with two layers of it to compensate for this. It was much more slippery than the Sport Lycra, and therefore more difficult to keep in place, especially with two layers of it. Spoonflower says the Sport Lycra is 8.4 oz per square yard. I’d look for something of a similar weight next time around in the other fabric.
On the other hand, the green complements the palm print nicely and that fabric cost much less. Using a different, less expensive fabric for half the suit is a great way to reduce costs: you use half as much custom fabric and kind of get two different swimsuits. I am really happy with how it came out!
I actually bought the Sport Lycra wanting to make leggings, which is what I made first before the swimsuit (since it takes more fabric – I just squeezed the bikini into the remnants).
I had always assumed making pants was extremely difficult. Lo and behold, I discovered while making my Prince costume that stretchy fabrics are very forgiving and not too difficult to work with, and that leggings are not that hard to make after all. It turns out leggings are probably a great place to start learning how to make pants!
I’ll be back to talk about my leggings project next.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. I mentioned before that the third eye glasses don’t fit in a typical eyeglass case. As a quick side project, I made a simple case for my third eye glasses with the final scraps of fabric, so that kind of takes care of that. (I noticed while handling the glasses that the glue on one side was starting to come loose, so they’re pretty fragile and probably could use a rigid case, but this will certainly do for now.)
UPDATE 9/26/2016: This post incorrectly suggested that Spoonflower may print up to three continuous yards. They print up to eight continuous yards. Please see comments below for more info.