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Create Your Own fabric Design

One night in 2007, Kim Fraser, a sewing enthusiast and fabric lover, realized what was missing from her living room: curtains with big yellow polka dots. Instead of searching fabric stores for the perfect pattern, she thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I designed my own? She wasn’t a graphic designer, but she figured it couldn’t be that hard.

Kim’s husband, Stephen, a former marketing director for self-publishing platform, agreed. If there were companies that let you slap pictures on mugs or publish your own books, there had to be a way to digitally print your own fabric. But hard as they looked, they couldn’t find it.

So he called up a friend from Lulu, tracked down a printer, created a website, and Spoonflower was born. Five years later, the DIY fabric design company’s 600, 000 users have produced 1.5 million patterns and ordered half a million yards of fabric. The company has even created a marketplace where makers can sell their own fabric patterns. (Designers get 10 percent of all sales and retain ownership of their work.)

Short of building your own start-up, there are plenty of ways to design fabric — and soon wallpaper — digitally.

If you’ve got them loaded up on your computer, use Photoshop or Illustrator to create your design. For the uninitiated, free online programs like Gimp, paint.NET and Inkscape let users create and manipulate images. Or, fledgling designers can go even lower tech, creating paper collages or drawings on paper.
Once your masterpiece is complete, you can scan and edit it through online services like Aviator or Picmonkey, then upload it and play around with how you would like the image to repeat across the fabric. Should the pattern repeat in rows, diagonals, nor not at all? Newer versions of Adobe products have tools to create seamless repeats, but companies that print fabric like Spoonflower and Fabric on Demand do too, so you can preview your pattern and see how it will look as fabric.

Because colors that are similar tend to blend together once they’re printed, it’s best to stick with contrasting colors, particularly for smaller details. (Both companies also offer swatches of their colors to give designers a sense of what they’ll actually look like.)

Once the pattern is set, designers can check out their designs either through a free digital swatch (Fabric on Demand) or by ordering a $5 fabric swatch (Spoonflower). Then it’s just a matter of choosing the kind of fabric — from cotton to polyester to spandex to silk — and placing your order.

Customizing wallpaper will work much the same way. Spoonflower is currently beta-testing a wallpaper product, and expects the service to launch by November.

So is the Frasers’ house full of patterns they designed? Nope. “We created this whole service so Kim could get yellow polka dot curtains, and everything in our house is marketplace, ” Stephen says, referring to the Spoonflower shop where designers sell their custom prints. “She’s found a never-ending parade of fabric designs.”

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