June 20th is my 7 year Spoonflower-iversary. That was the day I uploaded and ordered my very first fabric. I remember getting my invitation to join the site. At that point, you signed up to be on a waiting list and Spoonflower would invite groups of people to join at a time. They only had one printer and I think you could only order a yard or two at a time. I remember reading about Spoonflower in someone’s tweet and Googling to find the site and signing up that minute. Printing my own fabric? For real?
When it came time to design my very first fabric, I had no idea what to draw. I don’t usually suffer from the “fear of a blank page”, but I was truly stuck. It was intimidating. I wanted to love it, I wanted it to be mine. So I decided to do something practical. I made a fabric that matched my Etsy shop banner, thinking I would make some gift bags to send Etsy orders in. Smee the fish and bright colored bubbles. I even did a top-to-bottom seamless repeat of the bubble pattern, which when I look back on it now seems pretty sophisticated for my first design. I didn’t end up making gift bags from that fabric, because I couldn’t do it. When I unwrapped the package a few weeks later and I had my first yard of fabric in my hands, it was perfect. It was like the best Christmas present ever. It was my design and it was real fabric. I couldn’t cut it up and give it away. I still have that yard and it’s still my very favorite. I bring it to class with me sometimes and show it to my students.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the day I found my niche. I had been working at an art center for years, and I had taught hundreds of people how to do all kinds of fiber art, but I didn’t really feel like I had an art form to call my own. I wasn’t a quilter or a fashion designer or a felter, although I could do all of those things. I wasn’t really passionate about any of them.
I ordered several more designs and tried all kinds of things, but it took me a couple of years before I really figured out what to do with my own fabric and that was this dress.
I wish I could remember exactly the inspiration for this. I had a couple of events that fall I needed to dress up for. I loved those two photos the design is made from. I had a brainstorm. I meticulously re-drafted all of the pattern pieces for this in Illustrator and placed the photos on each piece. I had to figure out how to make files that were each exactly 1 yard of fabric so I could place all of the pieces. I wasn’t sure what it would look like when it was printed. Would the colors look right? Would it look too much like a photo billboard? I had no idea if it would work. After I ordered the fabric, I realized that I had made 2 left skirts instead of a left and a right and I had to redo and reorder that piece. I wasn’t sure how much it would shrink or even if it was the right weight for a dress. I had never even ordered this silk-cotton fabric before. (It turned out to be perfect.) It was a leap of faith and the worst that I figured would happen was that I would end up with some random silk scraps and no dress.
It maybe sounds cheesy to say Spoonflower changed my life, but it’s kind of true. I loved designing fabrics but it wasn’t something I could just do, except by hand. When I was in college I worked at a summer theater and I costumed an entire show with costumes made from muslin, drawn on with sharpies and colored with crayons. I wanted them to look like they were out of a coloring book. Completely impractical (not washable), but such a great concept. I block printed borders on satin fabrics for another show because I couldn’t afford the fancy fabrics and trims I wanted to make the costumes look lush and “royal”. I could print fabrics on my ink jet printer, but only 8 1/2 x 11 inches at a time. I never could find the fabrics I wanted in my head because they didn’t exist. I now have a whole gallery of fabrics that exist because I designed them. This September, almost exactly 5 years from the day I ordered the fabric for that dress, I am going to have an exhibition of my work and our new book is going to be released and it is all about digitally printed fabric.
So, cheers to Spoonflower and Stephen and Kim and Darci and all of the creative and wonderful people I have worked with at Spoonflower. When you are a painter, you don’t think about the people who make your paint or your brushes. I am lucky enough to have a whole fabulous team that is helping me do what I do.