One of the most inspiring creative projects I’ve worked on lately was creating custom designed pajamas for Holly, my dear friend Heidi’s daughter.
This is Holly, a nine year old girl who has rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She was diagnosed in August of 2015 after weeks of terrible pain and numbness in her head and face. What was thought to be an ear infection turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor. She endured 43 weeks of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment to kill off the cancer. Last summer she was declared cancer free and enjoyed a few blissful months of normal childhood. Devastatingly, in January she started experiencing numbness in her face again. The cancer is back.
After making it through the first marathon of treatment, learning that Holly was going to have to do chemotherapy again was heartbreaking for Holly and all those that love her. My mom and I wanted to do something special for Holly and her family to show our love and support. We decided to make Holly a cozy set of pajamas with a custom fabric design.
Through all of the ugliness and trauma of cancer treatment, Holly has been an incredible example of looking for “the good” around her. Early in her treatment her mom, Heidi, shared the following Facebook post:
See that awful list of things Holly has to endure tomorrow? But then shift your eyes to the bottom where Holly, all on her own, wrote the words “Love is Everywhere”. It warms my heart knowing that she feels the outpouring of love for her. It truly is everywhere.
“Love is everywhere” has become a powerful mantra for Team Holly—the community of family and friends that have supported her throughout her cancer experience.
Inspiration & Design Decisions
Once, during a visit at the hospital, Holly created this beautiful painting of her mantra. I used it as the inspiration for Holly’s pajama fabric.
I love the painterly quality of Holly’s artwork, but because of the resolution limitations of custom fabric printing, I decided to flatten the original image, creating a more graphic interpretation of her design. My mom mentioned that purple is one of Holly’s favorite colors, so I selected a color palette that featured purple prominently.
After a bit of exploration (I’ll spare you the less beautiful versions), I created this swatch in Adobe Illustrator. You can see that the edges of the swatch are all solid purple. This allows the design to be tiled to create a seamless, repeating print. I selected a tiling format when I uploaded the swatch design to the fabric printing website. Experimenting with the available tiling methods helped me pick one that made the pattern repeat less apparent. I used the half-brick repeat.
I carefully monitored the scale of the print in Illustrator as I was creating it so it would print at an appropriate size for Holly’s pajamas. By following the image resolution guidelines of the printing company, I was able to control the scale of the final print. I wanted the size of the fabric print to match the size of my artwork.
Custom Printing: Spoonflower
I chose to print my fabric through Spoonflower. They specialize in printing custom designs onto fabric, wallpaper and giftwrap. I liked the wide variety of fabrics that Spoonflower offers (21 choices!) and the ability to print very small quantities of fabric (individual fat quarters or continuous yards). We chose the Organic Cotton Interlock for Holly’s pajamas. This was my first experience with Spoonflower, so I took the extra step of ordering an 8” square test swatch before buying any yardage. An inexpensive test swatch buys you the assurance that your custom fabric will look and feel exactly the way you want it to.
In order to get the colors I wanted, I had to use the Spoonflower color map (my chosen fabric source, with whom I have no affiliation) from the Adobe Swatch Exchange. The pigment in the fabric printers that Spoonflower uses is limited to a specific range of colors. By downloading the digital palette (it’s free!), I was able to ensure that my onscreen artwork would look as similar to the fabric print as possible. I also made sure to follow their resolution and file formatting recommendations to the letter. You can read more about their design specifications here.
The scale and resolution of the print out looked great. However, the background of my test swatch was considerably lighter than I expected it to be, so I chose a slightly darker purple for my final fabric from the digital palette. There were faint white lines where the pattern repeated so I adjusted the final file to eliminate that error. To me, being able to make these alterations before buying the final product was definitely worth the extra time and money.
I also washed and dried my test swatch to get a better understanding of how much fabric I would need to order to make the pajamas. The cotton interlock shrunk a lot more than I had anticipated. Since you have to order in whole yards, however, I ended up ordering the same amount as I had originally planned (2 yards). The fabric was stiffer than I expected, but it was a stable knit that I knew would work well for the pajamas I was planning to create.
After waiting for eight long days for a package, my final fabric arrived and it was beautiful. The edits I made based on my test swatch worked perfectly. The purple was more saturated and the white lines were gone!
The next thing I needed to do was turn the fabric into pajamas. Follow the blog next week to read Part 2 and see the pajamas I made for Holly. I’m excited to share the results with you!
Learn more about Holly’s story here.