I love the sweet spot for mixing technology and craft so I jumped at the opportunity to test out JOANN’s MyFabric, a new service joining the world of print on demand fabric. I’m most familiar with Spoonflower, which offers print on demand of your own designs or those created by other designers, and Hawthorne Supply Co, which offers print on demand of their in-house designs. And finally, I’ve recently become a designer at Honest Fabric, a new print on demand service focusing on large print areas (intended for quilting). I ordered two different substrates from JOANN’s MyFabric, and here I’ll share some details about that process and my experience.
When I first visited the MyFabric listing page, I found 4,500+ designs to be a little overwhelming. While I was able to filter the designs (by collection, style, etc.), my initial reaction was “Where do I begin?!”. Outside of the search filtering, the only starting point I saw was a few targeted collections (e.g. modern farmhouse, black & white) shown on the landing page.
Customizable fabric listing page for JOANN MyFabric.
From browsing, I quickly determined that JOANN’s MyFabric is limiting printing to in-house designs and I reviewed JOANN’s press release on MyFabric to confirm. Users can modify repeat type and scale in all of the designs, and color choices in some of the designs (this is not clearly indicated).
MyFabric currently sits as a hybrid between Spoonflower and Hawthorne Supply Co: users are limited to specific designs, but pattern scale, pattern repeat type, color, and substrate can be customized. The press release indicates that MyFabric will expand to allow customers to upload their own designs in early 2019, although there’s no indication that MyFabric will include a marketplace like Spoonflower where designers can make their designs for sale to the public and earn a cut for each yard sold. The technology driving the customization and the printing is provided by Durham, North Carolina-based WeaveUp.
EDIT (Added January 10th): Thanks to feedback on this post, I’ve quickly gained more insight into how WeaveUp works. It appears that JOANN’s is selling designs provided by the designers from the WeaveUp community, without mention of the designer’s name on JOANN’s website. Although, I will note that one of my fabric selvages included a designer name that left me puzzled. You can browse the WeaveUp fabric here and they offer a valuable Starter Kit to examine the substrates and color printing behavior.
After I selected two designs I liked (shelly and Breakfast Party), I clicked on the “Customize this Fabric” option on the product detail page to go to a full-width customization page. I modified the colors and scale of the repeatable pattern in shelly, and I modified the scale of the pattern only in Breakfast Party.
Example screenshot of JOANN MyFabric customization of fabric including color, repeat pattern, scale.
Example Screenshot of JOANN MyFabric customization of fabric including repeat pattern and scale.
After I saved each customization, I returned to the product detail page to select a substrate. I ordered one yard of silk cotton voile in the customized shelly design, and one yard of 4-way knit in the customized Breakfast Party design. I couldn’t find more information about the substrates I was ordering, which made for a difficult user experience. According to the press release, physical stores will carry the fabric options for any customers who would like to touch and see the substrates before ordering.
Clicking “About Fabrics” on the product detail page did not provide any fabric information (on a desktop browser). From the MyFabric landing page, there is a popup that contains information about only 15 of the 27 substrates.
Here are price lists for one yard of 54” wide printing (different widths noted) to get some context of pricing. However, substrate names are not normalized, so it’s difficult to compare without further research or sampling:
From my own experience of custom fabric printing, colorstay, color bleed, and fabric texture (stiffness) have occasionally been an issue, so I was curious to see how MyFabric compared. Upon arrival, the JOANN MyFabric substrates did not appear to have any stiffness issues. The 4-way knit felt more like a poly/Lycra blend than I expected, so I changed my sewing plans for it.
In both substrates, I noticed color bleed and color discrepancies, and the one-yard cuts were not the labeled 54” width. The silk voile measured 52”, and the 4-way knit 58”.
A side-by-side comparison of the customized silk voile on a browser (left) and what I received (right). The motif is more red/purple than the dark aqua than I chose, and color bleed changed the volume of the motif.
A side-by-side comparison of the customized 4-way stretch knit fabric on a browser (left) and what I received (right). Gray and pinks didn’t absorb well, and there was minimal color bleed.
I didn’t wash the silk cotton voile because it’s dry clean only, but I washed the 4-way knit as instructed (wash normal, tumble dry low). The colorstay passed my test with no visible fading.
Despite the noted issues, I made an infinity scarf from the silk voile and leggings from the 4-way stretch knit. Sewing with the two substrates was as expected and I had no problems. The silk voile is very lightweight and finicky to work with as silk voile can be, and the 4-way stretch knit was suitable for sewing (combined with serging). I would be interested in working with a simple quilting cotton or a heavier weight substrate next, of the 25 remaining substrates.
My personalization and sewing experience overall was positive and I was excited to receive the custom fabric, but I think there are a few kinks that need to be worked out with this brand new product offering by JOANNs.
I experienced a handful of software and usability issues that would frustrate most users. I couldn’t find any information about the fabrics when I was ordering, so I found myself guessing at the fabric care based on previous experience. While I personally didn’t have an issue customizing the fabric, I was frustrated that there was no indication of limited color customization of designs (i.e. there was nothing indicating that Breakfast Party could only be edited in scale and repeat type).
From my observation, competitors like Spoonflower and Hawthorne Supply Co. have had more time to grow organically. As a result, they have established expertise on the challenges in custom fabric printing (such as color calibration, colorstay and color bleed). I would be surprised if JOANN’s has been able to quality control test 4,500 designs x 27 substrates (121,500+ choices without customizing color). That being said, I am not surprised to experience color issues on my order, though they weren’t significant enough to stop me from sewing.
I was overwhelmed by the 4,500+ design options and lack of any marketing focus (outside of collections). In all of the press release, landing page, listing, and product detail pages, I see only three photos of items created with these custom designs, so it’s difficult to get a sense of how the designs will work in real-life sewing.
This lack of marketing focus leads me to think more about what the intended audience is here: Is JOANNs experimenting with this new technology to see what sticks? Are they looking to upsell to existing customers (who typically pay less per yard for non-customized fabric) to a more personalized experience? Or are they looking to compete directly with Spoonflower and other print on demand providers? According to other press releases, JOANNs is investing resources leveraging other new technologies (e.g. 3D Printing and the concept store) to capitalize on experience, community, and personalization. I believe these are efforts to keep brick and mortar shops relevant in this age of online shopping. But, I think JOANN’s MyFabric needs a clear audience and supporting marketing strategy to reach a bigger community and gain momentum.
Do as I Say, Not As I Do: Order a Sample
If you find you a design you like from JOANN’s MyFabric, I would advise determining if your local store carries the 27 substrates for you to examine, and visit it to touch the options. Ordering a sample is the best way to test if MyFabric will work for you, as it will help you sort out any color issues like calibration, bleeding, and colorstay. For what it’s worth, this is the same advice I would give when ordering from any print on demand provider.