It’s not everyday we get to see a Spoonflower designer’s collection go from sketches on paper to wearable art, but our recent collaboration with designer Dan Lehman and Indiesew founder Allie Olson had us in the front row watching designs come to life. Pairing Dan’s passion for story telling through his art with Allie’s expertise in the indie sewing community, the two partnered up to create our first-ever, exclusive fabric collection, now available at Indiesew. Follow along as Allie shares a peek into the process from the very first sketches to the final garments.
Allie: Collaborating with Dan on this custom fabric project has not only been a total blast, but has opened my eyes to the amount of skill required to create fabric prints. Up until now, at Indiesew, we’ve focused primarily on promoting indie sewing patterns and apparel fabrics in solids and stripes. A project like this is our first time dipping our toes into the world of novelty printed fabric and our first time collaborating with a company with as much presence in the indie sewing world as Spoonflower. The result is nothing less than amazing.
But let’s back up. Dan and I met this summer through mutual friends here in Boulder. One evening, while watching live music on a picnic blanket with a group of friends, Dan told me that he had dreams as a surface pattern designer of creating an entire collection for apparel. I knew that Dan had taught himself to sew and that he knew his way around fabric, but I hadn’t realized the depth of his talent as an artist. Once I saw his portfolio, I instantly started imagining ways that we could work together.
You likely know that entering the fabric printing business is no easy feat. To design and print fabric (which is usually manufactured in Asia) requires massive minimum orders and a huge upfront cost, not to mention several weeks of shipment time. That simply wasn’t something that was feasible for me or Dan.
Since Dan had already established a Spoonflower shop with dozens of unique designs, we both thought that printing his designs through Spoonflower was the most economical and convenient option. Plus, Spoonflower has been such a huge supporter of the indie sewing movement, it only made sense to collaborate with the brand.
We pitched the idea to the Spoonflower team and it was warmly received. After giving Dan a holistic picture of what fabric prints resonate with Indiesew customers, he threw out an unconventional idea: create a botanical print that features only carnivorous plants.
Something that’s important to Dan is looking for ways to reconsider existing themes or explore unconventional ideas in order to bring something new and interesting to the table. He explained that he hoped the pattern would give people an interesting story to tell and that anyone could rediscover elements of the design the second and third time they examine it. Though he offered to explore some additional ideas for the design, this was clearly the angle he was most excited about and had already started sketching the plants. It took less than a full second for me to declare that, “heck yes,” this would resonate with our audience.
Dan spent the next few weeks completing illustrations of the plants that he wanted to include in the pattern. His process starts with light pencil sketches, which he finalizes by painting over with Japanese ink and tiny brushes. The detail achieved in the pages of his sketchbook is incredible and it’s absolutely fascinating to watch him work.
Once he finishes his drawings, Dan scans and digitizes the designs in Photoshop. This is where he adds color and texture and begins building out the repeat. You’ll notice that the designs embody a slight block-printed look, a technique that Dan has created through his Photoshop process.
While designing the repeat, it’s important to him to carefully hide the edge of the base tile so that the result feels completely natural and endless. A lot of time and care is spent arranging (and rearranging) each element of the design until everything feels naturally balanced. Throughout the process of creating the repeat, he tiles the pattern on a large template to see what it will look like when printed on fabric. See more of Dan’s process for this collection here!
Once the pattern canvas is organized, Dan can explore different color palettes. He draws inspiration for the color from a wide range of found images including apparel collections, graphic design projects, and photographs. He has an incredible eye for detecting minor changes between various colors, and his attention to detail allows him to make minute adjustments that totally change the feeling of a print. Through this process we came up with several colorways of this design, and in the end, decided that a light and dark version would work best.
During this part of the process, Dan used the color maps available through Spoonflower to select the best values for any given substrate. He explained to me that color translates differently from screen to fabric and even more differently from one type of fabric to another. It was important to him to ensure that the levels of contrast and saturation in color were evenly distributed throughout the design. We had a lot of fun looking at those little squares of color and applying them on screen to discern how it changed the entire print.
Next, we ordered samples of Dan’s prints on both substrates that we’d be using for the final yardage: Cotton Poplin and Poly Crepe de Chine. When we received the fabric, it became more apparent to me how differently the digital artwork translated onto fabric, and Dan adjusted the color accordingly until he felt it was just right. Another round of samples was ordered to ensure the adjustments were adequate.
We placed our yardage order from Spoonflower and when the fabric arrived I set to work choosing sewing patterns, cutting fabric, and sewing four samples to showcase Dan’s work. Head over to the Indiesew blog to see Dan’s designs displayed on four different garments.
Meet the Guest Bloggers
Dan is currently working as an independent visual designer, specializing primarily in branding, illustration, and pattern design. Boulder, Colorado has been his home for five years, and continues to be a place where he participates in a thriving design community, while also spending a ton of time outdoors. See more of Dan’s work online at danlehman.com and on Instagram at @qrs_creative.
Allie is the founder of Indiesew.com, an indie sewing community that provides apparel sewing inspiration. Her mom taught her to sew at age seven and she’s always been passionate about keeping creativity the top priority in her life. Allie wants to make garment sewing less daunting, so she curates a large selection of indie sewing patterns and resources to take the frustration out of sewing your own clothes. Follow Allie’s sewing adventures at @indie_sew and @allie.s.olson.