The Double Tree by Hilton hotel in Durham was just a short, five minute walk to Spoonflower on a tree lined path. So far, my impression of Durham, NC, and the people,was far different than the awful news reports. The city is green and Green, progressive, inventive, inclusive, and friendly. Being gluten free was never met with a quizzical look...many options were always available and delicious. My room at the hotel was a suite. A living/dining/kitchenette, and a huge separate bedroom/dressing area/bath. The only thing missing was Carl. I realized that it had been almost 12 years since my days of traveling all over alone for work, and I missed sharing the adventure with him.
We were to meet at the Spoonflower offces at 4:30 on Friday, April 22, 2016. I had no idea how many students were going to be in the class, if I would be the oldest/slowest, or what I would take away from the experience. I knew that I was tingly over the prospect of seeing the Spoonflower process; I had been a customer almost from their beginning. I also knew that I always wanted to learn to draw with vectors, and that Adobe Illustrator was a complicated software that I really wanted to start to learn. Add in the opportunity to have Becka Rahn as the instructor....you can imagine my disbelief that this was really happening.
I ran into a couple of other ladies in the hotel lobby that asked if I was also a Spoonflower class attendee and they took me under their wing to show me where the path was to the class site. I quickly realized that I should have brought my rolling laptop bag and that I am sorely out of shape. The brisk walk with the heavy shoulder bag had me clammy by the time we found the place.
Spoonflower has a series of suites in an industrial, non-descript, one-story building complex. A peek of brightly colored furniture through a window, and some Adirondack chairs by a door were the clue that we had arrived. The door was locked, we needed to be buzzed in. This is not a retail destination, it is a serious manufacturing facility that happens to have a creative-rainbow-willy-wonka-Disney-Pixar-wonderland feel.
Walking in the door I see chairs, pillow, lampshades, pictures, clothes, walls - all covered in original, colorful designs. Material range from poly-suede, and eco-canvas to peel-and-stick removable wallpaper and gift wrap. I already want to burst into tears of joy from the sheer overload. To the right of the entry room is the Greenhouse Room where the classes will be held for the next three days. This room is where Spoonflower has one a month open work days for the public to come in and mostly work on community and charity projects, a huge emphasis of the Spoonflower's outreach mentality.
As we all gathered, I realized that even though I was probably the oldest student at age 64, there were a couple other women that may be close to my age. The youngest appeared to be in her 30's. Most of the other11 students seemed to be in their 40's and 50's. As we introduced ourselves, it was apparent that there was a huge amount of talent and accomplishment in the room. Most all seemed to be in the Makers industry in some way and most were current Spoonflower customers and were just as thrilled as I to have the opportunity. This was Spoonflower's first ever Mastery Class , and we were the lucky Golden Ticket holders. At times I felt I had just landed on a reality tv show, and was nervous I would be the first to be voted off.
As we settled in to our work areas, and admired all of our awesome welcoming gifts, Meredith, our darling Spoonflower fabulous liason person, arrived with pizzas for our dinner. Two GF options were there! Stuffing our faces, we had a youngish, cute, male arrive, casually introducing himself as Stephen Fraser, founder of the company.
There are several great articles you can Google on the history of Spoonflower, but basically the idea started in 2008 by Stephen's wife. She was frustrated that she couldn't find the fabric she wanted for curtains, and why wasn't there a place she could just print what she wanted? Stephen, a computer whiz, and his friend Gart, then found a fabric printer in North Carolina, a state with a rich textile history. The first few months, they could print 3 yards an hour. More often than not, however, the printer would malfunction, and the run was ruined, and they would have to start over. They limited customers in the early days because of the slowness and equipment limitations. I was one of those customers on a "waiting list" to be able to even be a customer. In just 8 short years, they can now print 900 yards an hour, on 20 different materials. They have 160 employees, and thousands of patterns you can get printed on those materials if you choose not to design your own. They have just opened a Spoonflower in Berlin to service their European customers. Do they need an American grandmother who speaks German to come and help?
Stephen talked for an hour or so, answered questions, and had us all glossy-eyed with our gratitude that he has this printing idea and made it happen. So happy, yet I was sad. I realize that I am on the downhill side of my creative years, and what was going to be around the bend in the next 8 short years? Or 16 years? My hope is that my children and grandchildren grow up with this love of Making and, Technology, and always embrace opportunities to learn new things.
Our first class exercise on Friday night was to look through some books , by Ed Emberley, an American artist and illustrator, best known for children's books on how to draw animals using basic shapes. We were given scissors, black paper and white paper, and instructed to create an animal with basic shapes out of theblack paper and glue-stick it to white paper. It would then be scanned overnight and given to us to use that as our first basis of an Illustrator design. I chose to create a scary fish with spiney fins. It reminded me of an ugly , scary fish Carl caught last summer that looked pre-historic.
Class was over for the night. A new friend gave me a lift in her car back to the hotel. I knew then that I was not going to get any sleep that night. My brain was exploding with possibilities. A bit (or bottle)of wine might have been helpful in hindsight.
True to my prediction, I didn't sleep much, until 30 minutes before the alarm went off. The hotel provided a great breakfast buffet, with the entertainment being a woman casually walking around in her pajamas. I was fully dressed, ready to start the day at 9:00.
We started the class with uploading our scanned artwork from the night before. Using the trace feature of Illustrator we learned how to click for straight lines and drag and click for curves. It is a bit tricky, and there is definitely a learning curve. Prior to this class, when I needed a vector drawing, I designed an embroidery in the Bernina software, and then converted it to a vector file. I thought that this was a roundabout way of doing it. After an hour into the class I was beginning to think that the way I was doing it was way easier. But, I kept at it, and eventually it got easier. Becka had provided us with a thumb drive with many files, and we could find a background design on that and use that for our animal. I chose a wave pattern, changed the colors a bit for practice, and added my fish. He looked lonely, so I added two more, in different sizes, swimming in different directions. I also added bubbles. Each step was a learning process...figuring out how to do what I wanted. Some steps were intuitive, some were not! We then uploaded our finished designs to a private Spoonflower account, and Meredith hinted that we may be able to see our creations being printed.
Becka gave a short talk on design composition and color with inspiring slides and examples. She wore each day a skirt or dress she made from fabric she designed and had printed. That in itself was a lesson in creativity. I was starting to feel very star-struck. What couldn't that woman do? Amazing! After a delicious lunch break, it was time for a Spoonflower tour by Meredith!
Oh, my. I can't even begin to describe the tour. We saw the huge fabric printers in action. There are two kinds. One is for printing on natural fabrics such as linen and cotton. A large roll of the target fabric is loaded and fed through the printer. Each customer order for that particular fabric is separated by a cutting line, and is bar coded in the selvedge so that it can be matched to the order and mailed. Once printed, it is directly fed through another huge machine that is a heat setter machine. It comes out the other end ready to get rolled on a tube. These tubes are given to cutters who inspect the printing, cut apart individual orders, and stack them in cubbies that are computer assigned. Packagers retrieve the order, package it and send it off.
A second type of fabric printer is for man-made fabrics, mostly polyester. For this material, the design is reverse-printed on big sheets of paper, then heat set on top of the poly fabric. The heat opens up the fibers and the ink can penetrate each fiber. This is why the colors on the poly fabrics are so bold and vibrant. They also are more color-fast. We saw examples of printed poly suede, fleece and minky that were stunning.
Spoonflower also prints two types of wallpaper, wet hang and peel-
-and-stick, and wrapping paper. As the tour wound its way around the main building and the new expansion building, we were treated at every turn to beautifully papered walls, stunning couches and chairs in brilliant fabrics, and imaginative pillows and wall art. Individual work stations were personalized with favorite fabrics and custom laptop skins. It was clearly a very happy place to work, and the work force appeared to be young and enthusiastic.
Time to learn and design more on Illustrator. We had just started a project when Meredith burst in and told us our fabric was being printed. We squealed with delight as we saw our fat quarters come out of the printer and feed into the heat setter and out the other end. The operator of that machine, a young, hip lady with gorgeous tatoos, had never had anyone watch their design being born before, and was delighted at our delight. We were told we had to wait until Sunday to talk about the finished product. They needed to go to the cutters to be cut apart.
We were becoming more acquainted with our co-students, and the afternoon proceeded with Becka helping us with design challenges and others chiming in with help and opinions. The excitement was everywhere and sparks of ideas were flying all around. Meredith had rented a bus to take us to the charming downtown Durham for a group meal. Great bbq and adult beverages were the perfect toppers to our day.
No sleep that night, either. I was beginning to understand a little of the possibilities in Illustrator, and was gob-smacked at the possibilities of creating on Spoonflower. When you hear the phrase "you are only limited by your imagination", I was beginning to think that my creativity, which I had always thought was pretty good, was woefully lacking. I felt my life was somehow shifted to a new path. It is hard to unsee the seen. I knew that I had the formula to do anything. It was up to me to figure out what that was.
Breakfast pajama lady was not there the next morning. I shlepped all my stuff to Spoonflower, as my dear friends Wynne and Paul Cook were going to pick me up at the end of the day and take me to their house for the night. That was another huge bonus of this whole trip: seeing them and their absolutely charmingly beautiful house in Durham where they retired to just last year. Old dear friends are priceless and these two are at the top of the list.
We talked more about design as it relates to fabric design. We talked about design size, balance, variation, seamlessness, and intention. Becka shared with us an app that her husband wrote that will help you see if your design is truly seamless. If they are not a power couple, I don't know who is! It is RepeatIt, and it is fabulous. We worked on more ideas, then got to see our previous day's creations.
They all turned out great, and very varied. A few design flaws were pointed out and we talked about how to correct them. All were different colors than on our screens and we learned how to use the Spoonflower color map to make sure what color we want printed is the one we upload to their site.
Becka talked a bit about the Spoonflower site; how to navigate, the Picmonkey tie-in, the various fabrics and what they can be used for, and how we can use our designs. Later in the day she introduced us to repperpatterns.com. Warning: once you start playing with this design tool, you will never again have any time to cook, clean, or sleep. Such a fun site! I won't even tell you what it does. You will have to discover that on your own.
Class was officially over, but a handful of us stayed for some snacks and wine and to work on projects in an informal setting. They would kick us all out at 8:00. I was sad to see it all end, but I was not sure anything else could be crammed into my brain. I arrived as a "1" on the 1 to 10 scale of how much I knew about vectors, and was leaving as a solid "6.75". I now had 13 new friends - Becka, Meredith, and the other 11 students. Along with Becka"s Spoonflower book, and other goodies, I was leaving with a coupon for a free yard of printed fabric, but Meredith warned us she may not print it if it wasn't something we designed. (there are thousands of cool Marketplace designs to buy, but the whole idea of the class was to learn to do our own!)
Thanks for reading all of this. I need to jump into the pile of stuff I have to do now that I am home, but I wanted to get most of what happened down on paper. There are so many things I didn't touch on that were part of the tremendous learning experience. Wow. If you ever want to hear me go on and on and on and on, just give me a call! xox Jerilynn