Turn Your Family Heirloom Fabric Into a Pot Holder and Apron | Part 1: Designing

NOV 5, 2019 updated Jun 5, 2021

When Meg, the sewist behind MegMade Sewing, received a vintage flour sack from her Great Grandfather’s mill, her father had one rule: “Don’t do anything ‘artsy fartsy’ with it.” For someone who’s been creating since childhood, that’s the equivalent of telling a toddler: “Look, but don’t touch.” But Meg wasn’t deterred! She knew there had to be a way to turn her family heirloom into wearable art without breaking her father’s #1 rule. With a little ingenuity, Photoshop® and Fill-A-Yard®, Meg dreamt up what can easily be considered our new go-to gift for the season. Keep reading to see how Meg digitized her family’s fabric and then jump over to part two for her step-by-step heirloom pot holder sewing tutorial. 

Meg: Family heirloom textiles like quilts or table linens are precious keepsakes and with the help of Spoonflower, you can turn them into heartfelt gifts while still preserving the original. Though some planning and digital work is required, you’ll be surprised how quickly your family keepsakes — like this vintage flour sack from my Great Grandfather’s mill or — became a unique apron and pot holder, perfect for family gifts.

Try out this project using a family heirloom recipe!

How to Digitize Your Heirloom Fabric

1. Scan your Fabric

First we need to create a digital version of our heirloom textile. Using a scanner, scan your textile in sections. Make sure your scanned sections will overlap a bit for when you piece them back together digitally. If your prefer, you may wish to contact your local copy shop to see if they have a large-format scanner that could scan your entire piece of fabric at once. 

2. Create a Canvas in Photoshop

Create a new project in Photoshop (if you don’t already own Photoshop you can do a seven day free trial, or choose the month-to-month photography plan for $9.99/month) with similar proportions as your textile and 150 ppi resolution. A similar but not exact process can also be done using free software programs like Gimp or Pixlr.

3. Clean Up Your File

Place (File > Place) each scanned image in your Photoshop document. Each image will be its own layer that you can edit and move around. Begin to line up the layers by selecting each one individually in the layers menu and moving it into position. Figure out where each scanned image belongs as if they were puzzle pieces. Then you can clean up the layers with the eraser tool to seamlessly join the images. For instance, I erased parts of the image that captured the inside of the scanner or the edges where the fabric was folded. When the whole image is cleaned up and seamless, merge the layers by selecting all layers, right clicking, and selecting “Merge Layers”.

4. Crop and Adjust Your Image

Use the rectangular marquee tool to crop (Image > Crop) the textile so there’s no white background and the edges are clean. Now you can also make adjustments to the image if you’d like. I increased the saturation a touch and added a little more warmth (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation).

5. Choose the Background Color

Next we need to prepare the textile background for printing. Spoonflower’s printing process is best suited to patterns rather than large, solid blocks of color. However, “solid” printing can be done when we maintain some of the texture and unevenness from the scanned fabric. To create an optimal background, first use the eyedropper tool to select the main color, which for my project is pink. You should see this color fill your foreground color swatch box. Double click and select “Add to Swatches” so you can use it later.

6. Remove the Original Background

Click and hold the eraser tool to open the eraser menu. Use the background eraser to remove most of the background. You don’t need to remove every pixel, just some. If you zoom in you’ll see that some pixels from the weave of the fabric remain. This is what we want!

7. Add the Colored Background

Select the rectangle tool and make sure your foreground color is still the color swatch you pulled with the eyedropper tool earlier. Draw a rectangle filled with your color swatch that covers your entire image. You’ll see in the layers menu that this created a new layer. Click and drag it below your image layer to move it to the background. You’ll see that now our textile is a little softer with less wrinkles but still has some irregularities and texture which will yield a better printed fabric. Merge the layers again and save your image. 

8. Create Your Background Yardage

For this project I wanted the feedsack graphic to only print once which meant I needed to create an image of just the background to use for the rest of the project yardage. First, use the rectangular marquee tool again to select a portion of the background on your image. Cut and paste to create a new layer with the selection. Right click on that new layer and choose “Duplicate Layer”, with the destination “New”. This will create a new document with a copy of the square. Select the square again and while highlighted, select Edit > Define Pattern. Name your pattern piece. Deselect, and go to Edit > Fill. Choose the pattern you just created and select OK. You should now have a repeated pattern of your background. Save this image.

Preparing To Upload to Spoonflower

Before we can upload our custom images to Spoonflower we have to do a little prep work. First you need to decide what type of fabric you want to use because the dimensions of the substrate will affect your image files that are uploaded to Spoonflower. You can read about the different fabrics Spoonflower offers here, and they also offer a sample pack of all of their product bases which is an awesome tool to have if you’re not sure what you want to use. Because pot holders are used with heat, you’ll want to choose a fabric without synthetic fibers — we don’t want our pot holders melting!

For my pot holders and apron I chose the Linen Cotton Canvas, which has a printable width of 54”. Because these projects use less than a yard of fabric, they’re perfect for Spoonflower’s Fill-A-Yard vertical split yard option. My entire piece is 54” wide x 36” tall, with each panel measuring 27” x 36”. 

1. Resize Your Project Files 

First we’ll prepare the pot holder images. Set up a Photoshop file based on the finished size of your pot holder. I made my file 10” x 10”, anticipating a 1/4”-3/8” seam allowance. Place your background image and fill the background using “define pattern and fill” again. Place your main image. Because the original flour sack I used is very narrow I had to crop the image to better fit the square pot holder. To make sure the flour sack image blends nicely with the background use the regular eraser tool at 50% strength to soften the edges of the main image layer. Create a seam allowance marker by dragging guides from the rulers to confirm your image won’t be interrupted when hemmed. Save this image. If you’d like a plain back to your pot holder like I did, repeat this process to create a file with only the background pattern.

2. Create the Cut-and-Sew Pot Holder Panel

Create a Photoshop file that measures 27” x 36”. Place the pot holder front image and pot holder back image in this file. Duplicate these two layers to fill the canvas—for these 10” pot holders I was able to get three sets. Save this panel as a JPG or PNG.

3. Create the Apron Panel

Now to prepare the apron panel. Again the usable space is 27” x 36” which aligns perfectly with the dimensions of the apron tutorial I used from Purl Soho — you can also find a handful of free apron patterns on Spoonflower! Repeat the same process for filling in the background and placing the main image that you used for the pot holder. Next drag guides to mark the center, 6” off either side of the center, and 11” down from the top, to give you an idea of how big to scale your print. Size your main image within the guides, taking into account the 1” on the top and sides that will be folded in when hemming. Save this panel as an image.

4. Upload Your Designs to Spoonflower

Finally, we are ready to upload our designs to Spoonflower! Make sure you’ve created an account, then go to your Design Library. Click “Add Design”. Upload your first file (the apron file or the pot holder composite file). If your file is larger than 150 ppi (example 300 ppi), you’ll want to adjust the resolution otherwise they’ll likely be too big. You can use the Smaller/Bigger buttons or enter in a specific dpi by clicking on the “Change DPI” link on your design page. Once you make an adjustment, don’t forget to click “Save this Layout” to make the change stick.

Next you’ll choose a fabric, yardage, and repeat pattern for your image. For our purposes, you’ll want to set the repeat to Basic. Then, make sure you select the type of fabric you designed your project for (again, some of the fabrics have different widths). And finally, choose the 1 yard option and click “save layout”. Repeat for your other file. 

5. Create a Collection 

Back in your design library, assign your designs to a new collection. This will create the place from which to pull your Fill-A-Yard panels.

Next, select Fill-A-Yard from the Fabric drop down menu and choose “Create a Collection”. You should see the collection you just made. Hover over it and click on the Fill-A-Yard icon. Select your layout (we want the vertical split) and the type of fabric you want to print on (again, make sure it’s the same as your initial choice!). Click “Design Your Project”. Fill each panel with your designs and add to your cart!

While you wait for your fabric to arrive, jump ahead to part two of Meg’s tutorial to see how she sewed her family heirloom fabric into a pot holder and apron!


About the Guest Author

Meg is the maker & mama behind MEGMADE Sewing. Having been sewing since childhood, Meg now creates handmades as a way to stay connected to who she is while knee-deep in motherhood. Never in one place for too long, she and her family of five currently call the Washington DC area home. For more of her latest makes (and love of pink!) follow Meg on Instagram

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  • This is a really good tutorial! I do landscape paintings. I wonder if I had one scanned or used a high-quality photo if I could do the same to make fabric for a dress, skirt or maybe upholstery for a chair? I bought a dress a while back from Modcloth that had a landscape on it, but it would be a new level of cool if it was from my own landscapes!

    • Hi Angie,

      Great idea! You could certainly recreate this project featuring your own photograph. If you haven’t already done so, this post is a great starting point for printing your own photos on fabric. I hope that helps, but if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask!