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Designing for Beginners - Using Paper Cutouts

16 March 2015 08:00


Have you tried designing your own fabric yet?  If you've not done it before, it can be a bit daunting.  But it is possible to create a good design without using expensive software.  OK, there are some things you won't be able to do, but there are plenty of ways you can create a design. 

First, you need to think about what you want to use the design for, and therefore the scale you want to use.  If you're planning to make curtains, you may want a larger design than if you're planning to make a dress. Some designs can just be made larger or smaller, but some won't work as well at a different scale.

How are you going to create your design?  Drawing or painting?  Using a photo?  Collage?  There are some blog posts already here with lots of ideas for ways to create a design.  There's a round-up of some of them here; using pattern-filled shapes, using sun-print paper, using pen & ink tracings and Photoshop, using rubber stamps and using text.  Today, I'm going to use paper cutouts.

Creating a design with paper cutouts

A year or two ago, there seemed to be lots of die-cut paper shapes available, certainly from my favourite craft catalogue.  However, when I looked recently, they seem to have disappeared!  Shame!  However, I found some lace paper, part of a card-making range.  (After I'd finished, I also found some lacy cup-cake covers, which would also work well.)  The advantage of these pre-cut shapes is that they are pre-cut - with nice clean edges.  If you're good at cutting out, you can cut your own shapes.  What we're looking for is a good silhouette.

Carefully trim the individual elements from the sheet and arrange them on a piece of card or paper in a contrasting colour.  My shapes are pale, so I've used a black background.


When you have a good design, or the elements of a good design, place them carefully on a scanner and put the contrasting paper on top.  Scan.

The simplest type of design is a single element or group of elements.  I put two flowers together on the scanner, so I have a small element containing two flowers which doesn't need any work.  If your cutout is a car, or a building, for instance, one is all you need.

Open your scan in suitable software, such as or Photoshop.  I'm using, which is free to download and fairly straight-forward to use, but currently not available!  It's more limited than some software, but does everything we need for this design.

Save your scan, then crop around the image you want to use.

You may want black fabric with a white design on it, but you probably want different colours.  You can change the colours using the colour picker and the paint bucket tools.  You can choose the colours by looking at the screen, but they won't necessarily look the same when printed.  (If you want to know more about colour, there's a blog post, surprisingly titled Colour!)   I have a colour guide, which shows what some colours will look like when printed onto our fabric.  I chose a colour from the guide, then used the hex number of that colour to tell the computer which colour I wanted.  I used a pale aqua(d7eee7) for the background and grey (a3a6aa) for the flowers.

Then click on Image, Resize and select a resolution of 150 dpi and the size you want your pattern to be.  Remember that you can make your design smaller, but if you try to make it much bigger than the original scan you run the risk of distortion of the image.  (Which is why our web site won't let you make your design bigger once it's uploaded.)

Now save your design and upload to our web site.  Here you can decide whther you want a straight repeat or a staggered repeat, either half drop  (vertical) or half brick (horizontal.)  I chose a half brick repeat for my design. 


You can also look at it on different sizes of fabric, to get an idea of what the design will look like as a skirt, for instance.  If you decide you want to make the design smaller, you can do this on the web site, or go back to your design in and resize it there, uploading the amended version to the web site.

If you want the design repeats closer together or further apart, adjust the area of background around your design before you upload it.

Get it printed!

If you would prefer a more complicated design, perhaps with more elements and maybe a continuous repeat, look out for the blog post in a couple of weeks, when we'll look at that.