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Friday, September 21, 2012

Behind the scenes tour at Spoonflower

Are you a budding textile designer? 

Then you are going to be very excited to learn that Spoonflower is a swag bag and giveaway donor at the Southern Bloggers Conference! 

Spoonflower is a print-on-demand fabric company. The 4-year-old Internet startup, which is based in Durham, N.C., allows individuals to design, print and sell their own fabric designs. The company was founded by two self-professed Internet geeks with crafty wives.

It all started when Stephen Fraser's wife, Kim, couldn't find the curtains she wanted for their living room -- something I can certainly relate to!

After hunting unsuccessfully for the perfect yellow polka dot fabric, Kim Fraser told her husband that she ought to be able to print her own fabric for curtains. (Since he was working for a print-on-demand book company at the time, he thought it was a pretty good idea.) 

Spoonflower was born. And it turns out there are a lot of other artsy-crafty types like Kim Fraser.

Spoonflower prints and ships out between 1,000 and 1,500 yards of fabric every day for its customers.  The Spoonflower community now numbers more than half a million individuals who use their own fabric to make curtains, quilts, clothes, bags, furniture, dolls, pillows, framed artwork, costumes, banners and much, much more. The Spoonflower marketplace offers the largest collection of independent fabric designers in the world.

Recently, Kristen of Sophia's Decor and I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Spoonflower manufacturing facility in Durham. 

CEO Stephen Fraser, who says he didn't know the difference between linen and cotton before starting Spoonflower, led our tour and answered all our questions.

North Carolina has a rich textile history, but Spoonflower's is like no other textile plant you've seen before. 

"We're not a textile company," Fraser said. "We brought this perspective of running a web business to the textile world."

The company prints its fabric -- or rather it's customers' fabric designs -- on large-scale ink jet printers that have been modified (or "hacked, as Fraser describes it) to handle bolts of cotton, linen, twill, canvas and silk. 

The printers use eight different colors of eco-friendly ink.

 And the designs you can create and print through Spoonflower are only limited by your imagination.

We saw geometric patterns

Whimsical children's patterns

Holiday fabrics

And lots of swatches.

That's one of the coolest things about Spoonflower. You can order a swatch or a fat quarter or hundreds of yards of fabric that you design! There's no minimum order.

The Spoonflower blog has lots of great tutorials for projects you can make, starting at about $10.

Once Spoonflower prints your custom-designed fabric, it is heated to 330 degrees Farenheit to set the ink.

After the fabric is heat set, it goes to the cutting tables...

...where Spoonflower employees inspect and cut it to fulfill customers' orders. (If any fabric doesn't meet Spoonflower's rigid quality standards, it is recycled. The company can't use the scraps or sell them because it doesn't own any of the designs. Ownership of the intellectual property remains with the person who created and uploaded the fabric design to Spoonflower.)

Next the fabric is stacked on shelves...

..and sorted before it's packed and shipped to buyers, along with a thank you note.

Spoonflower's business has grown tremendously in the past four years. The company started out in a small warehouse in Mebane, N.C., and moved two years ago to its current digs near the Research Triangle Park. Next month, the company will move to a manufacturing plant that is double its current size. Fraser also projected that the company will add 10 more employees before the end of the year -- putting its total workforce at 50 people.

Fraser credits bloggers and crafters for much of the company's growth. Not only are these people customers of Spoonflower's but they've also shared their fabric designs and projects with others. And that has helped the company grow, mainly by word of mouth.

"The urge to express yourself -- that same impulse has been part of ...Spoonflower's growth," Fraser said. 

Visiting Spoonflower gave us a glimpse of creativity in action. Kristen and I saw so many beautiful and fresh fabric designs as we toured the plant. The company's offices are decorated with many of its customers'  and its employees' designs. 

We saw fabric umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, fabric canvases covering the walls, fabric origami cranes, and all manner of upholstery, pillows, quilts and blankets.

We even saw Cornelius, a giant stuffed unicorn. (You can make your own by buying the pattern-printed fabric at Spoonflower. A fat quarter will make an 8-inch unicorn, or you can make the 4.5-foot-tall version with 5 yards of fabric. Directions for how Fraser and his colleagues made the original Cornelius are on the company's blog.)

One thing that Fraser made very clear to us during our tour is that you don't have to be a designer or a skilled graphic artist to create your own fabric designs with Spoonflower. In other words, no Photoshop sills are required!

"The spirit of Spoonflower has always been geared toward amateurs just trying it," he said. "That's true of our original customer, my wife, Kim."

We at the Southern Bloggers Conference just placed our first Spoonflower order for fabric banners for the conference. And I know that both Kristen and I are itching to create our own designs. 

We've both also enjoyed browsing through the Spoonflower marketplace and the amazing designs submitted by the company's customers. Many have chosen to allow their designs to be purchased by others. So, if you're looking for the perfect purple chevron, or black-and-white typewriter fabric, you just might find it in the Spoonflower marketplace. And when you buy, the designer will receive a commission.

Now, defying all rules of journalism, we've saved the big news of this post for last. 

Spoonflower is getting ready to launch two new products: custom printed wallpaper that is prepasted and also easily removable -- we couldn't believe it either -- and large-scale wall decals that you could use to cover a refrigerator or other equally big canvas. (Oh, the possibilities.)

And guess what? We're going to be giving away some Spoonflower gift certificates at the Southern Bloggers Conference, Oct. 12-13, in Raleigh. Everyone who attends the conference will get a Spoonflower swatch book that will help you when you order your custom printed fabric.

Kristen and I will be sharing more about our impressions of Spoonflower and projects we're planning on our blogs. So, be sure to visit Sophia's Decor and Atta Girl Says to find out what we're making with the help of Spoonflower.

1 comment:

  1. One day I wish to have a line of fabrics and bring my business to Spoonflower!! Great tour.


We're so excited about this event and would love to hear to hear from you!