Monday, August 24, 2015

Let's Talk About Ease, Bay-bee

Sometimes, too much knowledge can be a BAD thing....

I know lots of people might say, "But you went to fashion design school! How can you make a mistake like that!?"

Well folks, it happens. And because one of my main goals in life is to help people out and provide tips and tricks I want you all out there in TV Land to learn from my failures.

Here's another tale about the importance of ease. This time, the tale is told from a commercial pattern standpoint. (Also, deal with my phone camera photos on this one, peeps! My new phone is just about as good as my 5-year-old SLR at this point anyhow.)

Here is a photo of me excited about my work before I figured out my huge mistake. 

My idea was to use a commercial pattern I had bought for $3 for this tunic top which turned into a dress (because Lord knows I don't need any more dresses!). But I had the fabric and I went ahead and cut fabric for a dress anyhow. 

Being less well-versed in commercial pattern usage since I have been making all my own for 10 years now, I was confused at which measurements I would need to go by on my commercial pattern.

Maybe it's obvious for everyone out there, but the fact that there were "Body Measurements" versus "Finished Garment Measurements" confused me. After all, almost any pattern I've ever used has told me only one set of measurements and said, "Alright, you're good!"

At this point in my life, my bust is about 33 1/2", waist is 26 1/2" and hips are 35". (For additional reference, I am 5 feet tall.) 

I can't remember what the hell I was reading one day, but it said to always pick your commercial pattern based on bust measurement. Not sure why, but it did. So I went for the one that said 33 1/2"..... in "finished garment measurements".

My mannequin lady is (now) a teensy bit smaller than me, and this is my result when I decided to quit.

And then I realized my fatal error: I had used the wrong set of measurements. Yargh!

At first I was mad, but then I decided to learn from it. I was annoyed that a pattern would be so convoluted, but then I came to the conclusion that no, wait.... this was actually a GOOD thing!

Many commercial patterns I've recently used only give you one set of measurements. The "finished garment" measurements can actually be helpful if you are into knowing how much ease a pattern has been given.

Ease is not something that had been talked about much (or at all?) in my schooling. The only "easing" I learned about was basting stitches on a sleeve cap to ease it into a garment. Seriously, that's it. My garment blocks I've had for YEARS actually has the ease built in, so I rarely if ever worried about it and I had no idea how much ease was included in them.

Again, what is ease? 

This is my absolute favorite quick reference manual for ease. (Yes, I am borrowing the picture.)

There is both wearing ease and design ease

In this case, I'm looking for wearing ease which is the minimum amount of extra room you need to move in a garment. We are not a dressform, so we do need to move. Unless you want to suck in all day, then that's your deal. 

If you refer to the differences between Body Measurements and Finished Garment Measurements on the McCall's pattern, you can determine the amount of ease very quickly: The bust has 3" of ease. (And I guess the waist/hips don't matter on here because they don't even care to list it!) This is super helpful if you're a lady that needs to do a full bust adjustment or even if you have a smaller chest -- you will know exactly how much to take away/add and how much extra your pattern should measure. This also helps you determine if you know you have a preference if 2" of ease in the bust or even if you want your bust to be looser by an inch. 

 I particularly like the "Fitting Ease" chart in all of this and I have it printed for reference in my sewing room. 

After this debacle, I went ahead and decided I needed to once and for all adjust my sewing blocks the correct way, not just winging it on my dressform like I have been. (I'm a lazy designer, apparently.) I needed to learn about ease even more in order to make both commercial and my own patterns work well. 

My original blocks are designed from my pattern making book and for some reason with the measurements of a 35" bust, 25" waist, and 36 hips.

 Here I am, tracing off my blocks from school onto pattern paper for editing. 

Now, I don't know who the hell is those original measurements: Were people in 1995 (the time of original publishing of my book) busty with small waists or was this based on a Barbie doll? I may never know. But what I do know is that these measurements aren't even based on ASTM standards which is ridiculous. So I'm convinced the book just wants to make everyone mad when designing well-fitting garments based on the book measurements. 

After comparing my pattern block to the measurements stated, I ended up figuring out that these particular blocks have 3" of ease in the bust, about an inch of ease in the waist, and about 2 1/2" of ease in the hips. Perfect!

From there, I ended up doing a series of adjustments that are combined with grading as well as addressing an uneven grade which many may refer to just a pattern alteration.

I'm sure I've referred to this before, but this page from Threads is essential with any pattern grading. Not only will it spell out for you the difference between sizes, but it will break down all the lines for you based on how much you need to shift the pattern!

From my original blocks, I needed to grade down the bust from 35" to 33" yet needed to adjust the 25" waist to 26 1/2" plus an inch of wearing ease. (Waist ease may be determined by your preference and mine is 1".) I also needed to decrease the hips measurement by 1 1/2". 

I also used an old Singer Sewing Book I have from 1972 and it had a wealth of useful pattern adjustments! I love it. This combined with the grading reference completely fixed my blocks. 

By the end here, my actual pattern blocks measure 36" in the bust (3" of ease), 27 1/2" in the waist (1" of ease) and about 36 1/2" in the hips (1 1/2" of ease). 

One thing I also edited because I had been having a hard time --- my torso length, aka "shoulder slope" in my pattern book. This book has it at almost 17" for the shoulder slope (which measures from end of shoulder to center front waist) and my own measurement (with the help of my dear boyfriend) is a mere 15". A WHOLE 2" DIFFERENCE! 

For shoulder slope, that is a pretty incredible difference since you don't need ease at all for that measurement. That just means that I am that small. That's what I get for being 5 feet tall.

In the end, all this cutting, slashing/spreading, and delving deep into the world of ease made all the difference. I went ahead and made a full muslin this time to check my work and I am super pleased with the result. I don't think my blocks have ever fit me this well, ever!

 In this photo, I hadn't taken into account that I would indeed need to adjust the hips so that is now adjusted for a slightly tighter fit on my actual blocks. 


My point is, take the time to measure out your own body. Take the time to understand grading no matter how daunting it is, and take into account the amount of ease in your garments. 

From this point, I am going to actually be drafting a torso block (basically bodice/skirt combo with no seamline) as well as determining what my knit blocks should look like. Knit blocks in general will actually have negative ease but that will have to be another blog post entirely once I play with those again. 

I'll likely download my pants blocks from Burda since pants can be a nightmare to draft (especially with weird this ol' book) but I'll likely have to make a few adjustments there. 

And if you want to give it a go on your own without buying a giant, expensive pattern drafting book to draft your blocks, head over to to download blocks to adjust perfectly to yourself! Even though you can find most pattern manipulation how-tos online now, I actually do highly suggest having a book as a pattern reference manual. My pattern drafting book teaches you anything you ever would want to do.... except give you the correct measurements for an actual lady's figure. 

But look at that! I took those lemons and I made them into lemonade. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Butterick 3014 - 1970s Wide Leg Pants

Surprise! I chopped all my hair off.

I also have a new favorite pair of PANTS!

I actually can't remember the last time I made a pair of pants. Really, it's been probably since college if I remember correctly, so that means my last sewing a pair of pants was.... at least 8 years ago? Yikes!

Sometime last month I decided I wanted a pair of high-waist wide leg pants. Originally, I was going to just make my own sewing pattern for a pair of pants (because yes, I know how to do all that!). But instead of reinventing the wheel, I decided that there probably was a retro pattern out there that existed for exactly what I wanted, and I was right. It's Butterick 3014! My pattern packet doesn't have a publishing date, but I can guess it's 1970s.

(Not the best photo, but hey. It's the pattern packet.)

I bought my pattern in a size 26 1/2 via Etsy and the only adjustment I did was the suggested rise measurement. I sat there in my sewing room, going "I don't think this is going to work correctly, guys." But it totally did! The crotch is probably more comfortable than any pair of pants I own! I think I took off about 1 1/4" for the rise for myself.

 Obviously, I really tried to work the 70s hues on these photos! Haha.

 These pants are seriously soooo comfortable. I ended up doing a topstitching down the front panel seams because.... why not? They have side pockets also with a nice topstitch finish.

Of course, I used a contrast teal zipper. I always do contrast somewhere on things.

I love how wide they are. They almost feel like a dress in a way. Another thing I liked about this pattern is that the bottom of the pants are hemmed with a facing that includes interfacing. I guess I never thought about it, but on a pair of pants like this that really helps to make them a little less swooshy on the bottom and helps hold the shape of the leg of the pant. I'll be using that trick in the future.

So I think I'm gonna be making like, 10 more pairs of these pants. I'm already planning an olive green or a burgundy. This fabric is fairly lightweight. I think it's just a cotton of some sort (you never really know exactly what you're buying at Textile Discount Outlet) but I've been smart lately and pre-washing all of my fabric. 

Get ready to be sick of these seeing versions of these pants because I definitely need more of these in my wardrobe! I think it would be fun to do a two-tone pair due to the seam in the middle of each leg and I also am dying to find a print that would be super cool for this same sewing pattern. We'll see! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

KwikSew 3932 - Colorblock Queen

I realize I left everyone hanging after my last post, but I was busy moving again! Life has been weird, but at least it's been interesting?

I reconfigured my sewing space for a compact 2nd bedroom in a 2 bedroom apartment in Chicago again, so I am gradually re-adjusting to my life out here. It's good. I'm home, and that's all that matters.

This dress has been done for about 3 weeks now (with only about 8 hours of sewing) as many of you may have seen on the Instagram (@manicpop) but only yesterday did I get around to taking some photos of me in it before I actually wear it and go spilling stuff all over it.... like I normally do with ANY garment, unfortunately. Haha.

 Around my usual fabric store, I'm becoming known as the "Colorblock Queen" and I love it. They know me too well.

This dress is KwikSew 3932 and for the life of me, through Googling I can't believe I haven't seen any other renditions of anyone else making this out there. Are they put off by how many pattern pieces the pattern includes as one Pinterest user said? Do they hate colorblock? Are they intimidated by all the seam lines? Or is it the fact that it's a knit fabric pattern?

This pattern was in the "out of print" patterns on the McCall's website and immediately upon seeing it, I knew I had to have it. I'm currently taking a short break from making my own patterns to learn any extra tips and tricks from commercial patterns that I might not know. I'm learning that even commercial patterns are not free from the minor errors I make in patternmaking. 

For this pattern based on my measurements, I cut a size small since the pattern says the finished measurements are 34-35.5" bust, 24.75-26" waist, and 35.5-37" hips. My own current measurements are 34" bust, at times up to a 26.5" waist, and 34.5" hips. Not wanting it to be too tight in the waist, I went for the small even though that seemed to be too small. Lately in any of my woven patterns I make, I have been giving myself about a 1" wearing ease in the waist. With a knit pattern, there is typically a negative ease due to stretch factor but even accounting for negative ease, the pattern seemed like it would be too small at a size small.

HOWEVER, this dress turned out way looser than the measurements it said it would be, even using the correct 1/4" given seam allowance as knits give you way less seam allowance.  I know that this dress is supposed to be a slightly boxier silhouette (meaning it will have added design ease anyway), but even after finishing it, I pulled in the side seams about 1/2" on each side. It was that loose!

 I made mine in the suggested ponte knit and I love how the colors all went together. I have been working a ton more in stretch knits/knits in general and I am totally getting a handle on all of it. Bonus: I won't have to worry when my weight slightly fluctuates!

My only minor error is the back contrast at the neck not 100% lining up. However, I tried to align it about 4 times, pulling out the zipper each time and it really has to do with my technique (or lack thereof) with installing a zipper in a knit. It tends to stretch a bit when sewing, so it makes it more difficult even though nothing was wrong with the seam allowances in my sewing of the bands because those all matched. This dress is fully serged and finished on the inside.

Otherwise, this dress is totally awesome, colorful, comfortable, and was fun to make! Like I said, I finished it in about 8 hours worth but I also am known to be a super-quick sewer now. The instructions weren't difficult in the least bit (and I frequently found myself NOT referring to them or using my own little shortcuts while sewing this).

I have a feeling I'll be wearing this one quite a bit. If I make another one (and I probably might!) it will definitely be in the XS next time.

Don't shy away from this pattern. It was awesome!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Section 9: Creating a Cohesive Brand Identity in Fashion Design

You'll notice that many well-known fashion designer's work is instantly recognizable (even if you're not particularly a fan): Donna Karan - famous for her wrap dress,  Missoni  - zigzag stripes, and Tommy Hilfiger - red, white, and blue, as examples.

Well, in this post, I'm going to talk about my personal design philosophy/branding here at Manic Pop, and how you can develop your own cohesive identity for your work too!

Manic Pop 2012/13

  • Playing Off a Theme/Inspiration: For Manic Pop - Stripes!
Myth: You don't need to "do it all" - focus on what makes your clothing, YOU and work from that.  The stripes element comes from 2 places for me: one is my mod rainbow rings pictured above. I've had the middle one since I was about 8 years old (1994) and it's a mod lucite 60s reproduction ring. 

I've worn this ring all throughout college and then nearly hyper-ventilated when I found the 2nd one (ring finger) in 2010 at a secondhand shop. I do have some actual 60s ones, but these are the ones with my favorite colors.

 Second: I have a collection of rainbow mugs that I started back in about 2002 when I first started shopping at thrift stores. Why rainbows? I don't know. To me, it represents a full color palette and a tool box for creating anything. For when you mix these colors, you can make any color you want. Hokey a little, maybe, but that's what works for me.

So because of both of these inspirations, my work tends to come out a bit retro/mod/60s. I try not to wholly limit myself to that, but it's become a bit of an identity now. I'm not opposed to changing it up a bit, but these elements almost always exist in my work. It also helps that I spent a majority of my childhood/teen years listening to the 60s/70s oldies stations and loving Peter Max-style art. 60s and 70s album covers are huge with me and design elements on those covers leech into my personal design style.

So, define what theme is you. Is it retro? Eco-friendly? Perhaps you have a love of florals? Think of the shapes in your design work, common silhouettes, and textures you like to use. Make a list of all the things you love, then draw correlations between them.

I also figured out a "theme" because of an artist I went to college with. I noticed that she was basically doing just variations of a design she always does using only black, onto a color, clear, or white surface. She made that her "thing".

Think about what your "thing" is and go straight for it. Don't worry about what anyone else says.
  • Define Your Color Palette.
This one is very important! Color identifies a brand perhaps much more than you would think.

 Orange and teal are HUGE for me!

Now, your color palette can vary a bit from collection to collection, but you should have your "stand-by" color palette. These are all colors that are pleasing to my eye and also complimentary. I can mix any of these colors with each other and still make an eye-catching garment. These overall colors my change over time, but it's important to be consistent. Note: I also include black and white with any palette automatically.

An easy and fun way to create your own color palette is to go to a paint store and pick up color swatches that you like. Cut them apart, and play with combinations. Take note of the hues, the saturation of them, and complimentary colors. What plays off the other? What would you place together? Pantone is a great resource for color.

Also, pull out images from magazines that you like and see what colors appear most often. Play those colors into your stand-by color palette. 

  • Have Your Own Personal "Rules".
It may seem contrary to have rules with something creative, but you need your boundaries. Without parameters, you can easily get lost. It's much easier to design within a small(er) spectrum versus letting you mind go absolutely wild. 

A few rules of mine:
 1.) Design in threes. I'm not entirely sure where I got this from other than the fact that when you design, things usually look good in odd numbers. If you take a look at the photos from the beginning of this post, you will see that many things I do are in threes - 3 fabrics, 3 colors, 3 design lines.

2.) Contrast. I love opposing colors next to each other! This is also why I have always loved and done quite a bit of colorblocking. It's easy to do and it makes a pretty bold impact. Black and white is great and.... bonus! Fits within the mod/theme spectrum.

3.) Bright colors. I love bright colors almost to the point of gaudy but hey! That's my thing!
  • Experiment.
Ok, remember all the rules you just listed for yourself? Now forget about them once in a while. It's still important to always create something outside of your box. Why? Because you never know when you might want to incorporate it into your "brand".  I usually do my experimenting in the form of sketching/throwing it into Photoshop.

Maybe you experiment by draping instead of pattern making. Whatever it is, don't let yourself get stagnant. Branding is all about finding that sweet spot between keeping your identity and preventing yourself from stagnation. Keep it fresh, be bold, and always be true to yourself.

And that's how you'll stand out!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Section 8: PDF Pattern Design and Grading

While I currently struggle more with the PDF aspect in pattern design (technical design was never my strong suit), I'd like to end this series with a post about PDF pattern design and pattern grading. This is in no means comprehensive, but I will provide many links in order to make your self-learning process a little less confusing.

I've spoken with independent pattern designers in the past, and many use a similar process for pattern design though everyone has different techniques.

My college spread technical design into a few courses, some being Computer Patternmaking and Production Systems. From all my notes, it appears I took at least one of these courses in 2006, so perhaps my information is dated.

My old binder for Computer Patternmaking in 2006. Yup, liked vintage fashion even then!

In the industry, there is an absolutely completely different system for importing your patterns into the computer (a giant table where you apply grade rules to each point of the pattern). After the blocks are imported, your computer then goes by whatever rules you set up to grade the pattern by, known as a rule table.

 Photo of my old rule table.

This makes it super easy - you just apply the points to the pattern pieces and then BAM the computer spits out a perfectly graded pattern for you (that is, unless you apply the wrong grade rule).

My graded patterns from school. A few months ago, I was trying to figure out a way import grade rules to Illustrator for fast pattern grading, but I kinda gave up. I am assuming you can "create an action" that essentially corresponds to how you will shift your pattern coordinates, but I haven't finished and applied this idea.

Now, without these machines that cost thousands and thousands of dollars, the process is a little less straight-forward. Almost everyone I asked who does PDF patterns uses Illustrator -- it's a relatively kludgy program with lots and lots of buttons and options and might be more confusing than flying a plane, but if you like technical design and the computer, you will get a hang of it much easier than I did.

So how do I get my patterns into the computer?! 
I make all my patterns by hand, so this is a good question. There are a few ways of getting this accomplished: One way (the first way I did it) was make a copy of my master pattern for the Petra Dress and then cut up the pattern, scanning piece by piece full size into Photoshop.

I then re-attached the pieces (one by one, yes) and made them each into a pattern piece in the computer. This is tedious, but still very accurate.

Someone else mentioned having a giant scanner that you feed pattern pieces into and then grading from there, but I wasn't able to buy a giant scanner at that time of my life. This may be helpful for some people out there.

The third way I've learned is that you can import your pattern blocks into the computer. Yes, you can digitally draft your blocks into Illustrator! You will need to turn on all of your line measurement tools and from there, you can plot the correct length points. I am, by my standards, an Illustrator idiot and I found this not so difficult to do. You need to take some time to master the controls, but once you do it seems like a breeze.

This video shows more or less how I digitized my patterns in Illustrator. 

How do I create patterns in Illustrator?
Using your imported and saved blocks, you can essentially use real-life techniques like slashing and spreading to create your actual sewing patterns. I don't really know in-depth the controls to use, but I do know it's important create a copy of this block, manipulate that block, create a new layer and then trace over your manipulated pattern pieces to create a new pattern piece, much like in real-life. There are probably a few video links on YouTube, but as of writing this post I haven't found anything super-helpful for you guys.

Is Illustrator accurate?
People have asked me this, YES! Illustrator is very accurate. Many people use this program for many other technical drawings aside from drafting sewing patterns. As long as you have all your measurement tools turned on, then you should be fine as far as accuracy goes.

How do I grade my sewing patterns in Illustrator? 

This is something I'm still working on figuring out completely, but I have seen a few ways of doing it. One way to do it is by literally moving the end points of each piece around the designated amount it needs to be adjusted. From my understanding, this may not be accurate enough because you want the amount you're grading by distributed throughout the entire pattern, not just on certain points. But maybe I'm wrong since there was a book I used in person a while back that just shifted the points on a pattern using the connecting lines of each pattern piece. See this video for one way of grading a pattern. 

One of the other absolute best ways I've found that has helped me understand pattern grading is this post by Threads. It helps to become familiar with this in real life before trying to apply it to Illustrator. When I was working on my PDF pattern, I actually did cut and spread my sewing patterns based on the guidelines from this post while in Illustrator. I personally use a 2" grade rule, meaning the size difference between each garment is an evenly distributed overall 2".

You do have to figure out some simple math - dividing fractions - for this, but the Threads article is really good at spelling it out for you.

I did buy a pattern grading book online but it's more geared toward industry pattern grading. While I think it might be helpful for me to figure out how much to shift pattern pieces by on certain garments, I'm not sure I am reading what it's telling me correctly. I'm sure with a little bit of patience and playing with it, I can figure it out.

Ok, I designed and graded my patterns, now what? 
You're going to need to learn how to tile your patterns onto multiple pages.

Example of a tiled pattern.

 One way I've seen people do this is by creating a 7x10 tile. 8 1/2x11 is the standard size of printer paper and you will not want each page to print too close to the edges. You'll need to notate where your pages need to be taped together to create the full pattern and always place a test square on a pattern piece so you can make sure your printing settings are correct. This is usually a 4x4 square. I like to make mine look like a Burda pattern, but you can reference any PDF pattern you have. You will want to print borderless and no-scaling when you test your printed version of your pattern. This is a unique way to create and tile your own sewing pattern from a physical pattern, but it seems like it's for only one size.

From there, that's really it. You will want to create cutting layouts, specify yardage for sewing (I've made a marker before in Illustrator), type out sewing directions, and any other necessary construction techniques.  It could also be helpful to make a sheet of all pattern pieces included with numbers on them so your customers know which pieces are which. You will also need to make a key showing which lines are each piece. This is usually done in Illustrator with varying dashed lines corresponding to a certain size. Also, make sure your customers know which notions to buy like zipper sizes, buttons, etc.

If you are using the digital patterns solely for yourself, you can skip all this extra work!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Psych Lace Dress and Zwan

Sometimes I like to make life difficult for myself and this dress experiment is no exception.

This is one of those designs that came to me one day and I just had to get working on it. The process I used to make it is much like the Trafalgar Dress.

I created a silhouette I wanted and then went ahead and traced the lines I wanted onto the muslin. I had also recently seen this tutorial on sewing opposing curves without pins and wanted to try it for myself. Lately, I have been cranking through the fabric I have and I have a TON of little teeny scraps. Needless to say, I used the scraps for the colorblocking on this dress. 

The dress isn't 110% perfect as the opposing curves even though clipped and pressed (a ton) still don't lay entirely flat, but I am mostly pleased with the design detailing of it. The dress is also fully lined! I needed a way to encase all of the clipping that was going on, so I just went for a full lining. 

Here are some photos of it on my dressform....

I had to edit the sleeves a bit for my giant upper arms (seriously) but I also noticed while making this that I have a TON to edit on my actual sewing blocks. I had edited them before a while ago, but I noticed recently that the bust point is in the wrong place, some darts are not aligning correctly, and things overall aren't working as well as they should so I am moving right along and spending some time really editing my blocks.

It's boring, but it's something that needs to be done.

 The lace collar on this thing is pretty cool. It's one of those things I impulse-bought at Textile Discount Outlet (2121 W. 21st St. in Chicago if you want to spend hours on 3 giant floors of fabric, trims, etc.). I'm pretty certain I bought it for like, 50 cents or something and it's just been hanging out in my stash for years now. It's definitely made for a neckline. It could even be intended for wedding dresses, but I liked the usage of it with my typical colorblocking.

 I also think it might be time to break up with my long-time favorite, polyester poplin. It shows movement way too well and crinkles as you move. I am definitely transitioning into using fabrics with a slight bit of stretch (even if it's only 2% stretch) because I think that the fabric lays better. That, and now that I am not scared of ANY stretch-knit, I'll be buying it a ton more.

So yeah! Fun experiment with scraps. If I were to do this again, I perhaps would go with a more a-line design on the skirt because then the slight pull the opposing curves make would be much more easily camouflaged.

This is definitely something I will still wear despite minor flaws, but usually that happens the first go 'round of anything.

I also like that this dress somehow reminds me of the vector artwork from 2003 album Zwan's "Mary Star of The Sea".
I've also always loved this from this album promotional material too:

I've always been a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan (long before I ever even thought of moving to Chicago) and I have yet again been listening to Zwan. The 2nd half of my junior year of high school was all-Zwan all the time as the album had just come out in 2003. It's a shame that they didn't put out more, but I'm sure they had their reasons. I'm still planning on visiting Billy Corgan's tea shop in the suburbs (who'da thought, huh?) at some point or another.

And if you haven't heard Zwan, I highly recommend checking them out! I love that their video for "Lyric" is soooo Chicago-heavy. I had never noticed. It's them under the el tracks, walking around parts of Wicker Park and also walking around nearby the Metro in Wrigleyville - all places I know far too well!

So here is both the full album as well as that Chicago-heavy video. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Section 7: Digital Textile Design

Hey everyone!

This is something I have been playing with a bit lately - digital textile design! In this post, I will be taking you step-by-step with how to do your own seamless prints for Spoonflower.

 (Side note: I've fixed that off-color blue in there since this repeat was saved last)

 Back in college in 2007 or so, I took a surface design class where digital print design was part of what we learned. Fashion design school will generally teach you a bunch of surface design techniques - from distressing denim, to screen printing, to a batik, hand-stamping, fabric dyeing, and lastly, digital design.

Digital print design was a little lesser-focused on back then. One of the most exciting things to happen not long ago for print designers is Spoonflower. Before them, there was almost no way for anyone at home to a repeat on fabric except by hand. We had a giant fabric printer in one of the design labs at school, but we only got to use it once to print out our "scarf" designs or very special projects. My scarf, unsurprisingly enough, included the Chicago skyline.

Front side with skyline (designed by me in 2007), and back side, mod faces fabric.

I also love that I found and used what I call the "Mod Faces" fabric for the opposite side on this. I actually bought the entire bolt at the fabric store in probably 2005 when I saw it. I was a poor college student, but I justified it as a "school purchase" though I had no idea what I was going to do with any of it.

 Yup. Here is me (if you can believe it!) in 2007 with said scarf. I used to dye my naturally very-red hair black!

I've come a long way from those years - both personally and design-wise. I would have been 21 in that photo, or close to it.

Ok kids, are we ready for the process of digital design here?!

1.) Draw, sketch, doodle. It can be ANYTHING. However, you do want to think of a motif of some sort. I advise just freely drawing for a bit, see what you are drawing the most of. You don't want to cram too many motifs into one fabric (unless I guess, if that's what you're going for.) Maybe you are drawing lots of typewriters. Maybe you want to do a floral design. Or maybe you're just going for a repeat of one or two ideas, like cassette tapes and hearts. I like to pull out my Dover art reference books (usually from the 70s or 80s for me) and get inspiration. I also have a few books about repeat prints so I'll take a look at those and get a sense of what I might want to do. 

Whatever your motif is, it should make sense. 

 I like to use tracing paper in some of my motif design work to get the symmetry just right.

 Before importing into my computer, I personally will use a Micron pen over my pencil sketches, then erase the pencil. It's advisable to use something that will scan well - markers might be a good idea if you are not filling in with color on Photoshop. You could even scan in something previously done, like a watercolor if you wanted to. 

 Experiment which medium you want to use. I tend to stick with my pencil sketch then Micron method because I like hand-drawing my prints. Other people will use exclusively Illustrator to make their shapes and/or clean up their hand-drawn images. 

2.) Import and scan your sketches into Photoshop or editing software. You will want to scan these images in at 600 dpi.

At this point in time, it doesn't matter what size your sketch is because when we go into Photoshop (and since we scanned at such a high dpi) we can adjust relatively what size we'll want. 

3.) Open a new document and change settings in Photoshop. This is where you want to think about how big your repeat is. Although in Spoonflower you can now change the size of your repeat very easily, I do this so later on when I proof it, I can get an idea of how big the design is. 

My settings are usually 4 inches by 4 inches (because I like to keep my repeats square) and I like this size for garment design. Set your dpi at 600dpi still for this. Spoonflower also specifies your prints to be in 150dpi. This is very important because depending upon the dpi you use, the print in Spoonflower will end up either larger or smaller than you wanted!


We will change the dpi later on. 

I go ahead an isolate each thing I have drawn and then copy/paste or resize as necessary. 

3.) Play with shape and arrangement. If you are doing a seamless repeat with a background design, it may be necessary to get the back looking just right and then add your shapes over the background. This is what I have done with both Victrola prints and this one. 

Otherwise, play with sizing of your shapes, arrangement, and add in colors now. Remember that this is only ONE small section of your print. You don't want to go too nuts with shapes if you want a clean design. Also, none of your shapes should touch or "fall off" the edge of your artboard ever.

My first thing was making a "background" for my other motifs in my print. (In the end, this didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but this is a way to do it.) So I started with this simple shape.

From this image, I copy/pasted and then overlayed those images. make sure those images do not go off the edge!
4.) Offset the image. Before you offset, you will want to flatten the image. Save BOTH versions of the PSD (editable mode) and flattened format. I know this sounds excessive, but trust me - if you mess something up and need to go back, you will have every reference point!

From here on out you just want to go into filter > other > offset. Make sure "wraparound" is checked. Try horizontal first, then vertical. For this one, I overlayed the same shape over the other to get it to be a full, seamless repeat.  

Here are the other iterations of the offset:

I just kept going until I "filled in the holes".

In the end, my repeat of just the background ended up looking like this:

Now, after this I overlayed those cool flower-things I drew that look like psychedelic tulips. It looked ok small, but when I proofed it, it became too busy. 

Yeah, way, way, way too busy.

5.) Change the dpi on your swatch.  On your 4 X 4 print, you will want to save your swatch at 150 dpi. The reason for this is that this is what Spoonflower specifies for printing. Too high of a dpi will make your print very, very small if you don't change it. Also, if you had any fuzzy edges on your print, this likely won't matter anymore. Even if there is a very minor hint, this generally doesn't matter when your fabric is printed.

6.) Test Your Print Out! I'll do usually 11" X 17" to check how the print goes. I also will make an 8 1/2" by 11" to print from my printer. If you want to get a bigger test print on 11 X 17, you can always head to a FedEx/Kinkos to test further, but this is probably not necessary. Select all on your inital 4 X 4 swatch after offsetting. You will then go into edit > define pattern and then you'll be able to use a fill swatch of your repeat. We also talked about this in the Computer Design section where we learned how to fill patterns into our drawings.

So I went back to the drawing board and just played a little with the flower because that's what I liked the most anyway. 

I would definitely buy this print over the last one!

Side note: I always have the rulers on with my Photoshop. The reason why this is because I can always pull down my guidelines to line things up. This print looks less-lined up because of the way I drew the flowers. I also have a little bit extra on one side in the middle between the repeat so you get  a little more distance between two sets for a less regimented version of this pattern.

7.) Save and upload to Spoonflower. Once you get it just right, you will need to upload the 4X4 swatch to Spoonflower. Remember, you want to upload your 150 dpi version so you don't affect the size of your print! 

Truthfully, the print I designed here will probably go through more iterations before I find a version of it I like. Or maybe it won't. You never know.

When you design a print, think about the cutting of the fabric. You will want to design your pattern (to get the most use) as a 2-way pattern. A one-way fabric will have you cut more out since you want to have your print going all the same way on your garment.  

Play with the type of canvas you use on Photoshop. Maybe you get a better repeat with a rectangle versus a square.  Maybe you want a much bigger repeat, so you may want to do a repeat on a canvas over 12 inches by 12 inches. 

Whatever the case, decide what works best for what you design! If you find some way that is better and easier, go for it! The only thing that matters in the end is if the print looks appealing to you and is a good quality-print, meaning an appropriate dpi like we discussed. 

As always, feel free to leave me a comment, ask questions, or even link me to some of your work!

Happy repeat designing! 

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