Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Print-on-demand cotton poplin

You may remember that several months ago I ventured into designing my own fabric. My printed results were really mixed and I realised that learning the computer skills involved in creating a print wasn't the only learning curve I needed to get my head around: understanding what will work when printed onto different base cloths is another thing - which is exactly why the ability to buy test swatches of your fabric designs is such a fantastic - and essential - part of the process. I thought I might share some of what I learnt and I also wanted to tell you about Woven Monkey's brand new cotton poplin basecloth, which they can also now print your designs onto (and which I love).

I'd originally had trouble deciding on the scale that I wanted to have my prints produced at - I was torn between tiny detail and a bolder, larger size. For this reason, I created both prints at two different sizes - one where the same portion of the design repeated every 5.5" and another where it repeated every 15". This gave drastically different looks, but even more so when printed on cloth. When I analysed it afterwards I realised that something like a Tana lawn base cloth gives an incredibly smooth, fine surface for printing, which means it can also carry far more detail…however, if you were to put the same design onto a quilting cotton base cloth, some of the detail may inevitably be lost in the tiny holes created by the more open weave structure. This isn't apparent for large scale prints (below, left), but it's obvious with very small scale prints (below, right). The moral of this story is not to expect white pinprick dots to look crisp and well-defined on a very peachy pale background: they'll just make the peachy bit look slightly blurry and faded. If aspects of a design are smaller than a grain of sand, it may be worth considering it as a design more suited to paper than fabric, or scaling everything up a little. For reference, the smallest white dots on the perfectly printed fabric on the left are still just less than a millimetre in size…they're just not crazy-small like the dots that barely show in the right-hand print.

Woven Monkey has just introduced a cotton poplin to their range of base cloths for custom printing. For the uninitiated, poplin is a much smoother-surfaced, more tightly woven cotton than quilting cotton and it's the fabric that I personally associate with making children's clothing as it has a crispness that really lets it hold a crease or stand a little proud from the body (although that's a personal association, as many, including Liberty, use poplin for making men's shirts. It would also be great for skirts). If you're thinking about poplin from a quilter's point of view, its tighter weave makes it more akin in texture to the amazing cotton that Art Gallery Fabrics use as their main base cloth, but with a little extra crispness.

Despite poplin's very smooth surface allowing more detail to be captured in the printing process, I've abandoned my small scale print, as with just a 5.5" repeat, the amount of concentrated detail in it just didn't translate well to fabric. However, I'm delighted with the way my larger scale designs have printed out on to the poplin. I love my larger turquoise sample too - it's about the size of a handkerchief and I'm tempted to do a tiny rolled hem so that it's useable…although that would mean losing the name and print detail, which I felt oddly delighted by. So there's another tip: if you upload any of your own fabric designs onto the Woven Monkey site, make sure you name your file something that you really love. I called this fabric Nellington after our dog, Nell.

Here's some close ups for you, if you're interested in getting any of your own designs printed up. I personally prefer the poplin (which is what's shown here) to the quilting cotton because it naturally shows more detail, however, it's personal preference. If you do happen to get your design printed up on quilting cotton, be prepared for the fabric to have a slightly starchy feel when it first arrives - I hadn't expected this and so found it a little disconcerting, but it's easily removed with a quick wash and I'm guessing is probably just a temporary effect of the printing processes.

Last night we finally finished painting my future sewing room. So like an excitable squirrel (I'm imagining a Squirrel would immediately want to pile nuts up in any new squirrelly accommodation in order to make it feel just right, ditto myself with fabric), the moment it was done I taped my fabric up on the new walls to see how it looked.

It was odd to see how instantly it made it feel like 'my' room to have some fabric in there, even though the floor was still a testament to my wild and rather exuberant painting style (as I write this it's being covered over and hidden forever with a thick layer of carpet and my daughter is distractedly reading a book, waiting for the moment when we can start moving furniture into her new room, where she will sleep for the first time tonight).

Anyway, back to the fabric. You don't actually need any computer skills at all to design your own fabric - painting, drawing, photographs, typography…whatever, it's possible to create your own fabric from any of those things and the Woven Monkey website can take care of your repeats so that you get a well-spaced print. Just make sure you get a test sample printed before ordering yardage so that you can tweak things if you're not happy - Edward, who runs Woven Monkey (and who sponsors my blog!), is incredibly helpful and very responsive to feedback, so you'll be in the safe hands of a friendly human. If you want any inspiration as to what other people are doing with their own fabric designs, you can see this recent blog post here.

Since I've been working on my passacaglia quilt I've become obsessed with prints that have symmetry so that they can be fussy cut easily. For this reason, I'm thinking about attempting a print that's less random instead of pursuing Nellington any further - I'd quite like a small bit of self-designed fabric to feature in my quilt.

Anyway, quilters, I'd love to know - do you have any thoughts on using cotton poplin in a quilt? I think in the last few years people have been mixing substrates more - certainly a lot more linen has been making an appearance - but what do you think about poplin? If it's pre-washed I'm imagining it shrinking at a different rate from the quilting cotton wouldn't be an issue…any other thoughts?

Florence x


  1. I really LOVE your printed design, and it's interesting how the fabric affects the print quality. I have used plain poplin for a piece of Mola, when the Kona I intended to use turned out to fray too much for the fine stitching required. I would generally not mix fabrics when their weights are very different, but it always depend on the project, too...

    1. I know - I found that really interesting. I've had one quilt where I mixed lots of velvets with silks and that actually felt really lovely, but it was very definitely a 'different' sort of quilt. I often actually feel like I'm mixing substrates when I mix Art Gallery Fabrics with regular quilting cottons too though - they just have such a different feel.

  2. Beautiful prints :) I would mix my types of fabric in a quilt. It's good to see the results of a UK based company like this.

    1. That's good to hear. I love the quilt blocks you made for Alison earlier in the year by the way - the colours are amazing!

  3. Your fabric designs are beautiful!!! And I can only imagine how excited you (and your daughter) are to move into your new spaces :) I have mixed my substrates and haven't had an issue and also sometimes feel like you do with Art Gallery fabrics and other quilting cottons. Of course it does sometimes depend on the project and the look/feel you're going for. Can't wait to see what other fabric designs you come up with!

  4. Hi Florence,

    I stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago when researching EPP, largely because my fingers had had enough of it it but my brain hadn't. Thank you for such a delightful, well-written and inspiring blog! Having read all the archives, I felt obliged to say hi and stop feeling stalker-ish.

    I've recently attempted making a dress without a bought pattern, something I've been contemplating for a while but your blogs have given my the inspiration to finally crack on with. My husband bought me some lovely fabric on holiday last year, so I want to do something a bit special and brave with it. I found your French seams instructions yesterday and they made perfect sense where no one else does for me, so those will certainly be incorporated!

    The fabrics you've designed do look rather impressive; I look forward to seeing what else comes out of your astonishingly creative mind :)

  5. I love your designs Florence, I would happily sell them in my shop. They are so fresh and scrummy x


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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