It’s easy to create fabrics of your own design if you have a printer and computer. A scanner and digital camera expand the possibilities!
Prepare the fabric you plan to print. I like to use unbleached, non permanent press muslin. The inexpensive kind you get at chain fabric stores. I’ve tried nicer muslin purchased at quilting shops but it tended to be a little heavier and so caused more printer problems. You can use bleached muslin if you want white in your finished fabric and light weight smooth silks. Avoid any fabrics with slubs or thick and thin places or very course weave.
Purchase freezer paper designed for craft work in 8.5 x11 or 12×15” sheets from www.darmatrading.com or search C. Jenkins freezer paper sheets from other suppliers. I prefer to use the sheets rather than freezer paper on a roll because once on a roll it never flattens out causing more printer problems.
I stumbled accidentally on the technique of using the fabric on the bias. This turned out to be important because the edges of the fabric do not fray so stray threads are not a problem to the printer. Lay the smoothly ironed fabric on a firm surface like Masonite or plywood, place a piece of freezer paper on top, shiny side down, and iron to the fabric with a hot dry iron. Trim, leaving about 1/2″ of fabric all around. Turn over and press again making sure that any air pockets are pressed down and that the edges are firmly stuck in place. Use sharp scissors to cut away the excess fabric right next to the edge of the freezer paper. I prepare both 8.5 x 11 sheets and 8.5 x 14 sheets. If you have a larger format printer you can use the 12×15 sheets full size!
Printers which have a straight feed of stock to be printed are a better choice than those which bend the paper around the print heads.
I have an Epson C88 printer. I like this printer because it’s inexpensive and uses Epson Durabrite ink. This ink comes in separate color cartridges so you replace only the one which is empty. The ink is archival, fade and water resistant. I’ve tested some other printers including my large format HP printer but those inks were definitely not water proof. See if the printer you have has an option for such an ink.
My Epson printer prefers to be set on bright white paper rather than the matt heavy weight setting I used on the previous Epson C82 and C86 printers. You will have to experiment to find the best setting. The paper setting chooses how much space there is between the upper and lower rollers that guide the paper. I also set to photo/text or photo. Using Best Photo has not proved to be an improvement over the other settings. Make sure you set the paper size too!
Printing fabric takes constant supervision and a willingness to take a little risk with your printer. These are not expensive printers but if it’s your only printer for the family and you are not comfortable with replacing it if necessary this technique may not be for you. That said so far after several years of printing fabric I have not killed a printer yet.
I load one piece of prepared fabric/freezer paper at a time, check my settings and click print. I am familiar with the sound of my printer because it sits right on my desk a foot away. I can hear right away if there is a problem. This usually sounds like a whooshing or rubbing sound. I can look right into the slot where the printed paper will come out and watch for the edge of the fabric sheet to start showing. Be patient but if the sheet does not show in a reasonable time cancel the print job!
Sometimes I can look into the slot and see that one of the rollers is hung up on a folded corner. I keep a paperclip handy to quickly straighten out the corner and hopefully the sheet will go through. Yes the printer is still plugged in and running so you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to do this. Often the sheet will make it through anyway but with smudged ink along the edge with the bent corner.
Expect some type of imperfection in about 1 in 6 sheets. To minimize the waste keep the size of the file you will print away from the top and bottom edges of the sheets by about 1 inch. The first and last inch, is where most of the troubles (smudges) will show up.
Once the new fabric is printed you can store it on the paper backing until ready to use. I press the sheets again to be sure the ink is well bonded. Wait until the ink dries to do this.
How to use this technique…
Remember that most fabric you purchase has a copyright to the design. You would probably be safe from copyright infringement using scraps you may have in your vintage fabric collection. This is a picture of a patchwork skirt I created using vintage prints and solids. I can print this as fabric for re-use. I can change the look of this patchwork by bringing the image into an image editor and turning it to sepia or black and white. I can also fade it by reducing the opacity and change the size by enlarging or reducing the file. So I could make small scale patchwork to use on a miniature doll!
I designed the wrappers for my “Crayons©” using Microsoft Publisher, a simple, popular, program which comes on lots of computers. I played with type boxes, fill techniques and grouping and ungrouping objects to get the files. These were all done with nothing but what was already on the computer.
If you have a scanner, camera or internet connection you can find worlds of graphic and type information to assemble into your own fabric designs. I made the fabric below by arranging leaves on the bed of my scanner and covering them with fabric. I expanded the size of the fabric by copying and pasting several copies of the resulting image side by side into a new document.
You can see that I have not aligned the little files I assembled perfectly. Look at the lower left corner and you can see the actual little file. Be sure to have the files overlap a tiny bit or use an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop to fill in the missing pixels. I reduced the size of the file until the leaves were in scale with the doll I planned.
With a digital camera you can take pictures of the sky and create special fabric. I also searched “stormy sky” on Google and found free images which I saved to my computer. Select the area of the photo or image that you like and crop away the rest in an image editing picture. Again expand by enlarging the image to a maximum size you can print or reduce it and copy and paste several to create a larger image.
Interesting natural or manmade textures make great materials for fabric designs. I created a fabric by scanning a piece of birch bark. I printed out several paper copies and pasted them together on paper to create a more pleasing design than the original piece of bark. Next I scanned the new paper “collage” and used Photoshop to clean up the scan and refine the colors and tone.
Keeping track of your digital fabric designs…
It’s amazing how quickly your designs will build up. Before you start designing do a little preparation on your computer. Set up a new file inside My Documents called Computer Fabric. Inside the Computer Fabric file create new files labeled Raw materials and others with specific names like “Sky Fabric”, “Leaf Fabric”, “Crayon Label Fabric” etc. Save bits of this and that into the Raw Materials folder and save everything to do with “Leaf Fabric” from the original scans through finished fabrics ready to print in different size and color schemes. You’ll thank yourself later if you do this.
A further note on file types…
Images such as the crayon wrappers which I created in Microsoft Publisher will probably not open in any other program. If possible create your fabric files in an image editor like paint, draw or Photoshop. Save them as jpeg files and place them in your computer fabric folder in my documents. You can make several versions of each file with different resolutions. The higher the resolution # the better the print result will be. Use a minimum of 300 dpi. For printing. I reduced all the files I used for this tutorial to 72dpi which is great for viewing on the computer screen online but will give a poor result when printing. So when you save your files be sure to check, file size, file resolution and file type!
Enjoy making your own fabric to fit just the needs you have for your new works of art.