This week, Spoonflower designer and paper collage artist, Sally Harmon (aka, Boris_Thumbkin), shares a tutorial on how to create a collection of fabric designs out of a single large paper collage. We’re in awe of Sally’s low-tech, approachable design technique which uses only scissors, paper, a camera, and the editing tools available right here on the Spoonflower site. Read on for the full tutorial below!


The process I show here is just one of many ways that you can create a whole collection of fabric designs from a cut paper collage. It’s a method that works for me because it’s low-tech, low overhead, low pressure, and no-stick since there’s no glue involved. With a little luck, you can create an entire collection of fabric designs sharing colors, shapes, and motifs!

1. Collect Paper. 

For all but the largest and most intricate shapes I like to use paint chips from a hardware or home improvement store. They’re free, they’re colorful, and they lay relatively flat.

2. Cut the Paper Into Shapes.

First, trim any writing off the paint chips. Then just start cutting out shapes!  I try to do a mix of shapes: geometric and organic, large and small, vertically- and horizontally-oriented, etc. Simple shapes can be cut freehand or, if you want some fancier shapes, try drawing them on the back of the paint chips first and then cutting them out. 

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Shapes with parts inaccessible to scissors can be cut out using an X-Acto knife fitted with a #15 blade and a cutting mat or board. Change the blade frequently and don’t rush or worry too much. Most mistakes can be repaired later and some turn out not to have been mistakes after all! 

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3. Lay Out The Cut Shapes to Create a Collage. 

I lay my shapes out onto sheets of 20″x30″ foamcore. These are good because they’re stiff enough to carry around in case I need to move my collage while working on it. Some of the black ones reverse to white so you get two background colors in one piece. And, if I lay out a composition that I end up really liking, I can rubber-cement the pieces down. The 20 x 30 inch size is easily photographed and if I do decide to keep it permanently, it’s also easily framed. 

Here’s my first pass.  Although I’m underwhelmed by the composition as a whole, I think parts of it will probably work well as fabric designs.  

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4. Photograph the Collage.

I usually make sure that my camera is set to its highest megapixel setting and turn off the flash to avoid glare. Ideally, I use several diffuse, moveable sources of light set up a few feet to the right and to the left of the collage I’m trying to photograph.  Don’t use a light source right behind you or you’ll take a picture of the shadow of your head.

If you’ve glued your collage down to the foamcore background, you can prop it up to photograph it. In this particular tutorial, though, my collage isn’t glued down so I have to stand over it on a stepstool. (This means that the overhead light needs to stay off so I don’t get my head shadow in the photos.)

Take lots of pictures. Try different lighting situations to cast shadows in different directions. If you have a macro lens, use it for some detail shots.  Walk your collage to another room, or even outdoors, to try some different lighting. Don’t worry right now if the image is lit unevenly–you’ll fix that later.

If you don’t like how your collage is looking, don’t be afraid to try again. Designing should be fun, not stressful!  Here’s a rearrangement of my original collage using additional geometric and architectural shapes.

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And here’s a wackier version on the black side of the foamcore. 

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Note that in both cases, the background colors are not perfectly even.  

My six-year old wants to participate, so I give her some paint chips, too.  She goes to town with her scissors and hole-punches.

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5. Upload the Collage Photos from Camera to Computer.  

6. Do as Much Remedial Editing as Possible Now.

When I say remedial editing, I mean delete any blurry pictures and straighten and crop any photos that are crooked or have little unwanted bits on their peripheries.  You can also “reduce noise” if that’s an editing option available to you.  If you used a light background for your collage, you might want to play with the exposure.  With a dark background, you may want to try playing with the contrast.  And if you used a brightly colored background, try playing with the saturation.

Select a few images you like and upload them to Spoonflower. I’m starting with this one. 

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It doesn’t look like much yet.

7. Now Make a Plan.

Until now, I’ve just been playing and experimenting, trying different things. However, I’m now going to start using the Spoonflower color changer and that means I need to make a plan because the Spoonflower color changer degrades an image every time it’s used.  From now on then, I’m going to time the cropping and editing of my images so that each design only goes through the color changer one time at most (or not at all). With this particular collage, I decide to crop it in such a way that I’ll get multiple designs out of it.  I’ve laid colored rectangles over the individual designs that I’m going to crop out of the master collage below. 

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I also decide now that it’s not super-important to me that the backgrounds of all these designs be exactly the same color. So my plan is to crop first, change colors second, and edit a bit further in PicMonkey as a final step.

8. Cropping the Design.  

From the “Actions” menu above my design in Spoonflower, I choose “Edit with PicMonkey.”  Once I’m in PicMonkey, I choose “Crop” from the “Basic Edits” menu.

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Here I’m cropping the swan portion on the right side of my design. I’m not worrying yet about the stray bits of unwanted design to the left or the tabletop visible to the right. After cropping this portion of my master collage, I click “Save to Spoonflower.”

9. Use the Color Changer. 

From the “Actions” menu, I choose “Change Colors.” You may need to change the number of colors in your design at this point. When I’m in doubt, I take my design to 24 colors and then individually edit similar colors into one color. Here I’m changing all the background colors into one cream color. 

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Once the background is an even single color, I save my design.

10. Decide on a Repeat Style. 

Decide now which repeat style works best for your design. Just toggle amongst the different options on the Spoonflower preview page and decide which one you like best. Here I’ve chosen a half-drop repeat. 

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I take note of any editing I think the image still requires. In this case, there’s a grey smudge in the corner that needs to be cleaned up. I also think that the shadows cast by the compass are wonky and dirty-looking. Some of the arrows seem curly and twisted.  I go back into PicMonkey now for a bit of additional editing but first I do a screen-capture of the design as is in repeat to refer back to as I edit. (I use the Mac utility “Grab.”)  This is particularly handy if I need to fudge a repeat later.  


PicMonkey has an eyedropper feature that allows you to figure out what hex codes are used in your image to aid your tidying efforts. Go to “Effects,” then “Draw.”  To fix small flaws and even out corners, the “Draw” brush is useful. Here I’ve cleaned about half of the grey smudge in the upper right corner. 

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I’ll also use geometric stickers in PicMonkey to repair and re-do the compass. I darken the under-circle and replace the top circle.  I end up replacing all of the lines and most of the triangles in the compass.  I can then clean up around them using the “Draw” brush in the background. 

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12. Repeat this editing process with the different cropped deisgns created from the master collage.  Some of my cropped designs, like this one with the apple, need almost no editing. 

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This critter seems lonely…

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…so I give him a buddy made out of geometric stickers. 

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I use the “Draw” brush to abbreviate the ribbon on this wreath. 

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I try to do as little as possible to Carmen’s picture. 

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13. Deciding to Proof. 

Decide which (if any) of your designs merit proofing. I select 26 and place them all into a collection in my Spoonflower account. For proofing purposes, I want to see the whole repeat on the 8-inch test swatch size so I reduce large-scale images by increasing the dpi to make the full repeat fit.  I click “save this view” to be sure that this is how my design will print on an 8-inch test swatch.

14. Order the Collection Sampler

and wait….

15. Evaluate Printed Colors and Design Size When the Sampler Arrives. 

Although I don’t use the Spoonflower color maps much for the original creation of fabric designs, they’re very handy for revising color choices.  If I don’t like some of the colors on my designs, I look for alternatives on a color map. I like Spoonflower’s v 2.1 chart on linen canvas and Jane Walker’s color map on sateen. 

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Because many of these designs seem to want to be kitchen curtains in my house, I also evaluate the colors hung in a window. 

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I edit the design scale based on my best guess at what each fabric might actually be used for. Five of these designs seem appropriate for adult or children’s apparel, so I reduce their scale considerably. Those that want to be curtains or pillows I leave medium-large. Those that seem to want to be graphic panels or scrolls, I re-scale as large as possible.

16. Final Decisions. 

After uploading edited revisions to replace the proofed originals, I decide to offer all but one of my new designs for sale in the Spoonflower marketplace. (One of them leaves me cold–it’s oddly anatomical, like bile ducts or something.) I also decide to order 2 yards of Cider Pressing in organic cotton sateen for a new kitchen window curtain!

A close up of a Sally Harmon design of a strawberry on the left with a design with smaller ditsy strawberries on the right.
A close up of a Sally Harmon design with squiggly red lines and pieces of blue paper with an apple cutout on a light yellow background.