A Dalek Outfit, and 10 Things I Hate About Spoonflower

Apologies to those who read the title and thought this would be a “listicle” post- I’m not Buzzfeed, nor The Warrnambool Standard*, and I think we can all agree writing lists requires a certain brevity which I do not possess.

This Spoonflower review is a long time coming – almost so long as to make it redundant! (Sorry, guys.) But I figured if I was going to share the garments I made from my Spoonflower purchase, I may as well share some thoughts on the quality of their fabric.

A tweet from Tim Brunero. Tweet reads, Mrs Dr Karl makes all his shirts. Today was the first outing for this number, a dalek/classic Obama poster hybrid. Picture is of two men. Dr Karl on the left wears a shirt with a Dalek print on it. Man on right wears plain tee.

My story began in late 2015 (yikes!) when I saw this tweet, featuring pop-sci personality and personal style icon, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, in a shirt covered in daleks. Being a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I had to have that fabric, and luckily (so I thought!) found the exact print on Spoonflower. I chose the cotton poplin, and placed my order. After spending more money than I ever have on fabric before, what I received was not what I had expected.

The fabric was off-colour, badly. The vibrant red of the background had become a faded orange. The Daleks were dull and indistinct. Worst of all, when I put it through the wash, the dye came off in streaks, leaving white lines travelling across the width of the fabric!

An image of a fabric, with a Dalek print on it. White lines run across the fabric, horizontally.
This was taken with my shitty old phone. The white streaks are much more prominent in real life.

When I contacted Spoonflower, they offered me the same print on their Organic Cotton Sateen Ultra, which was supposed to be a new, superior printing process. The colour certainly was different, and a much better match to the original image. It even survived a wash! What it did not endure, however, was being sewn with.

Left is a print of Daleks on a red background, text reads Exterminate. Right is two fabrics in the same print, with varying colour trueness. Left fabric is more vibrant and truer to inspiration image, right fabric is dull and washed out.
L-R: Spoonflower image, Ultra Sateen, poplin

Not only did the needle struggle to pierce the fabric, making a dull “thud” sound when it made a stitch, it actually made holes in the fabric which did not disappear. The regular cotton poplin had the same problem – even my sharpest needles struggled to sew through the oddly thick, stiff fabric, leaving lines of skipped and malformed stitches.

The needle also took the Ultra dye off, leaving a series of white holes from which the dye had been stripped. Further investigation showed that the dye was so poorly applied, it could be scraped off with a fingernail!

Two images of fabric. Left has been sewn, right has been sewn and unpicked. In both cases, the needle has left white holes in the fabric where the dye has been taken off.
Why yes, that is the effect I’m going for when sewing.

Frustrated, I emailed the Spoonflower rep again. She refunded my costs, and attempted to justify the fabric issues:

I’m sorry to hear about the trouble with this fabric! It is true that our unique printing process causes us to face some challenges that traditionally dyed fabrics face, however we feel it is worth the sacrifice to be able to offer non-toxic, environmentally friendly products.

Large areas of darker colors are the most difficult to achieve and retain with pigment inks, so if you use Spoonflower again, you may want to start with test swatches of a design with more lighter areas.

We hope you will consider donating your fabric to a local scrap exchange or sewing club rather than throwing it away in order to help us stick to our core values of low waste and sustainability.

I thought I had researched Spoonflower well before ordering, but it’s entirely possible I just read sponsored posts and fell for the marketing hype. Either way, as soon as I did some Googling I found many, many posts from customers who had the same complaints. Except they didn’t frame them as complaints – most found their rapidly fading fabric charming, or shrugged off the white lines as a rustic look.

Now, I’m no fabric snob – stained vintage sheets work just as well for me as cheap poplin from Spotlight – but if a fabric loses its dye in one wash, or from the very act of being sewn, that is a faulty product. Especially when you are charging customers a premium – my fabric order cost about $100AUD, once you factored in the post and shitty exchange rate, which is more than I would usually pay for any fabric. But in this case, I assumed I was purchasing a premium product, and the cost reflected that. Clearly, I was wrong.

It is evident from Spoonflower’s emails that, at the time, they were well aware of this problem and didn’t seem intent on rectifying it. And trying to brush off fabric quality issues as a matter of sustainability struck me as patronising. Surely making a product that survived one wash would be a more environmentally friendly option.

After this experience, Spoonflower passed the point of no return, whereby I’ve had so many problems with their products that I will never purchase from them again. After having the fabric sit in my wardrobe for months, I finally decided to sew it up with the assumption that whatever I made would not survive more than a few wears. (I’ll review the garments I made – the Burda Emily Shirt and a basic box-pleated skirt – next time. Sneak peek pics below!)

I’m curious! What is your experience with Spoonflower? 2015 is a long time ago – have they remedied their mistakes? And does anyone have other suggestions for fabric printing services?

An image of a woman standing in front of kitchen cupboards. She is wearing a button up shirt with Dalek print, skinny blue jeans, and brown boots. She is smiling.
A woman stands in front of a wooden fence with Australian flora in the background. She wears a chambray button up shirt, gold circular necklace, Dalek print skirt, and red polka dot shoes. She is smiling and her right hand is on her hip.

* Seriously, that article. It’s like he was trying to see how far he could go without getting fired.

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

26 thoughts on “A Dalek Outfit, and 10 Things I Hate About Spoonflower”

  1. I read a blog post about Spoonflower (after doing some research on kiddie prints for Mum) and the blogger had a similar experience to you. She was making an Elsa (from Frozen) dress for Halloween or a costume party and found the perfect print and ordered it but it was just all kinds of wrong when she ordered After several frustrating attempts she eventually got through to customer service of offered her a replacement of a different fabric sort but it wound up being so dark a blue you couldn’t see the very fine edging deign (which is why she wanted that fabric.) She had purchased previously from them before and hadn’t had any trouble, so didn’t expect any this time. What she got was a whole lot of unanswered email and phone calls – I think she wound up posting on their Facebook page or something before she actually got a response the second time. It’s a real shame because they have some absolutely gorgeous unique prints and patterns there.
    The shirt looks great by the way. 😀 I loved the dress you were wearing yesterday – did you make it or did was it a lucky op shop find.

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    1. Sorry Chantelle, your comment got lost in the spam filter! I just discovered it. I honestly can’t remember what I wore on Tuesday now! I didn’t even realise that was the same week haha days just blur into one for me.

      You’re right, there are some spectacular prints on Spoonflower, and it’s a shame they are so poorly printed.

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  2. I LOVE your dalek shirt – I hope it lasts.
    I’ve had mixed experiences with Spoonflower.
    My 17yo got some basic cotton with her own design on it through school in 2015 – obviously they chose the cheapest (not cheap) fabric, so I had seen that it is fairly stiff and thin and didn’t buy that the first time I purchased from them.
    When I did finally decide to splurge at the beginning of 2016, I was incredibly disappointed when I then got an email from them a few weeks later saying that they’d changed their printing processes, but had had a lot of feedback that the new dyes were not as vibrant, and were going to change back to the previous dyes. Of course my purchase just happened to fall in the month(?) long time frame when they were using their ‘new’ dyes. So I don’t know whether those first things I bought were a lesser quality.

    Anyway they included some modern jersey which has washed well (I’ve worn it a lot to work, I haven’t blogged it yet but it’s the cross ever blue top recently on my instagram), and I’ve been very happy with it. Also some cotton canvas which I made into a bag (never washed) and is holding up well.
    I did buy some cotton sateen with that first order but it was a border print which oddly wasn’t printed with the border in reverse on the opposite edge, which means it lost half the print, so I haven’t sewn it yet if ever.
    I later bought some more organic cotton sateen which I sewed into the bicycles dress on my blog https://thesedaysarefew.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/shop-and-sew-bicycles/
    I found the pins would leave marks on the fabric if I didn’t put them in the seam allowance. I confess it was an event dress and I haven’t dared wash it yet!
    At that time I also bought some cotton spandex jersey which is the stripey K9 shirt recently on my blog. It has sewn up nicely. I’ve only washed it twice so far as it’s a recent make but it’s holding up well at the moment.
    I then did a third order recently and bought two more prints in organic cotton sateen, some sport Lycra, and some fleece. I’ve only sewn one of the sateen prints, and it doesn’t seem to have washed well, however I did chuck it in a random wash and tumble dry it. It is a dark colour and also has the problem of marking as soon as a pin or needle pierces it anywhere.
    The fleece is really odd. It’s more like a slightly stretchy felt. I was expecting it to be like sweatshirt fabric and make a skirt but I’ve no idea what you could use this for. I think it would bag badly in the seat if I made a skirt, but it doesn’t seem drapey enough for a top.
    The sport Lycra however is a big success. I made swim pants and a rash top from it and it’s terrific.
    My goodness that turned into a novel! I think I might do my own blog post on it all…

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    1. I think you should do a blog post! You’ve got a lot of really good information there which I think would be useful to others. I’m especially interested in how it all holds up over time – the stuff you’ve sewn with at least. I love your K9 top! Obviously I’m partial to a Who print myself. Knit Picks have recently released their Time Traveller colour way in a 10ply (it used to only be in sock yarn) and I’m seriously tempted.

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  3. What a shame about the fabric quality – your shirt looks fantastic! $100 certainly is a an awful lot of money to spend on fabric that may not hold up. Much like yourself I purchase the bulk of my fabric (in reality oversized clothing that can be cut down/altered!) from op shops. Cheers
    Sharron

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    1. It’s really hard to go back to retail prices when you mostly buy from op shops! I prefer to stick with them as at least you know you’re saving something from going to waste.

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  4. I think Contrado has had good reviews! There is also a local fabric printer – Max Frost that looks good. I haven’t tried them but they seem the most promising. Though their minimum order is 50m which is quite a lot – I had researched them when I wanted to make a small collection under my EM Originals name.
    There is also Frankie & Swiss which is also local – they have some beautiful looking fabric options actually. If you need a hand with actually making patterns let me know – I’m a bit of a wizz with Adobe Illustrator (its my day job!).

    I have always been suspicious of Spoonflower! They never really looked like glowing reviews.

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    1. Thank you for the kind offer! And apologies, your comment got lost in the spam filter. I have no eye for fabric design, but would love to purchase some custom prints that some other clever person has thought of. That’s the appeal of Spoonflower – there are just *so many* designs uploaded by the general public, so people like me have the pick of the bunch. It’s just a shame they don’t take full advantage of their customer base and produce better quality fabrics.

      I had a look at your Facebook page for your business – you make some gorgeous stuff! I have style envy now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aww thanks so much!
        I know about the huge pile of designs on spoonflower is rather overwhelming! I guess its easier to upload something than to actually choose a fabric and make something out of it ha! Imagine if their print resource could be put to good use!

        And thank you for your witty words and no-bullshit demeanour! 😀

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  5. The shirt is amazing! Shame that the fabric quality is so poor. I read a few reviews of Spoonflower fabric when everyone in the entire world was shilling for Sprout patterns, and there was a lot of “oh yeah, it does fade, but if you use this one specific type of jersey it’s basically OK” which is not really good enough for the price, I don’t think.

    Also, that’s a properly wanky response they sent you…

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    1. Ah, Sprout Patterns. They make no sense to me. I wish it was more acceptable to leave a proper negative review of a product. Like you say, having a largely defective product line seems like a pretty big flaw to me.

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  6. Well I am glad you were able to make things with your Dalek fabric, but I am so sorry to hear that you dealt with quality problems: what a massive disappointment! >=[ I had read or heard of similar experiences with Spoonflower before, and then when I realized how much they charge for such a sub-par experience, I was floored. I swore off trying anything from them, ever. (And seriously, totally in agreement with you about that patronizing “sustainability” BS in light of their products’ inability to withstand washing. WTAF.)

    I have read good things from people I consider honest about a service called My Fabric Designs. They do the same type of thing as Spoonflower, but people seem much more pleased with their results from that company. It is still not budget-friendly (IMO, anyway) but at least people seem to get better quality for the premium sticker price.

    I can’t wait to read the full posts about your garments, especially that shirt, as it looks SMASHING in the preview photo! =)

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    1. My Fabric Designs looks promising, though I wish I could see more information about international shipping on their site. I hate having to create a profile and near complete an order to get estimates!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh gosh, I hadn’t even thought of that–I’m sorry!! It’s easy to forget about those extra considerations when you are part of a very-much-catered-to group. =/
        I can’t believe they expect you to basically finish an order before they’ll spring those shipping figures on you; that needs to be upfront so their international customers can decide early in the process if the service is right for them!

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        1. Yeh, it’s pretty common. I don’t shop on Amazon for that reason – they won’t display shipping fees upfront, and I have to go to the cart (and nearly complete my order) to find out that post is $60!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s such a shame that the quality was this poor, this design is so cool!

    I’ve had very good experiences with Spoonflower, but I have only tried their polyester fabrics, not the cotton ones. I’ve ordered both their Performance Piqué and their Poly Crepe de Chine quality and with both the colors were vibrant, the print looked exactly like it did on the website, and I had no fade at all in the wash.
    I haven’t sew the Performance Piqué yet but I made a dress from the Poly Crepe de Chine and it held up beautifully after dozens of washes. The dress was actually a review for Sprout Patterns (you can read it here: http://en.decoudvite.com/2016/07/sprout-patterns-a-detailed-review/) and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the fabric. I’ve many bad reviews of their cotton fabrics however. Apparently the dying process is very different for natural fabrics and synthetic ones, so I would stick with the poly.

    I’ve also seen many samples from Contrado (https://www.contrado.co.uk/), and the colors were really good. I don’t know how they would hold up in the wash though. However, I am NOT impressed by their PR team: they offered to send me fabric to review, but wanted me to hide the fact that the fabric was sent for free so that the review would sound “natural and genuine”. Sooo… yeah, never ordering from them.

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    1. Yuk, that sounds really shady on Contrado’s part. Makes me suss on the whole company when they pull stunts like that.

      I just read your review of Sprout Patterns and I have to say I LOVED Barbie Fashion Designer as a child! We had the program but no paper, so had to stick with making designs on the computer. But my friend had the program AND the special fabric paper, so we could print clothes for our Barbies! So cool.

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  8. I had the same bad experience! Had to settle for the ‘vintage’ look but so disappointing. I did order some knit fabric though at a friend’s request and that one did seem to hold up better.

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  9. I bought cotton poplin which was not the colour that it showed on the site, and has consistently faded as it’s washed. They used to do an organic silk cotton. I bought that and it was an utter dream to sew with! They don’t do it anymore. I think the cotton sateen has replaced it.
    Timely article as I have a voucher to spend and I was going to get some extra stuff too. Think I might just spend the voucher now.

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  10. It sounds like the synthetic fabrics are overall much better, which agrees with my experience. I want to love them all because their prints are so fabulous but it’s not much good if you can’t wash them!

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  11. Hmmm. It seems their sustainability/eco-friendliness is nothing more than a sham label. By selling such shoddy goods which leach dye and are essentially unusable, they are passing on the environmental and financial costs of water treatment and landfill to their customers.

    Like

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