Future is now for digitally printed fabrics

Printing fabric digitally on demand is the specialty of Modern Yardage, a new company in South Jordan, Utah. With a team of 20 designers on staff, the business has a database of fabric designs to choose from, or customers can design their own fabric and watch as their order is printed onto white cotton fabric.

An Arts and Crafts-inspired quilt for a baby features fabric digitally printed by Modern Yardage that was designed by one of the company’s team members.

This child’s dress is made from digitally printed fabric by Modern Yardage.

A Folky Dokey handbag is another product created from fabric printed from Modern Yardage’s design database.

April Cobb, owner of the fabric manufacturing business Modern Yardage, recently put a digital printer in the Pine Needles Quilt Shop in West Jordan, Utah, so customers can watch fabric being printed. Her goal is to lease or sell such printers to independent quilt shops across the nation, effectively changing the way people “think about and purchase fabrics,” she says.

April Cobb, the owner of Modern Yardage in South Jordan, Utah, can see the future.

And she’s not wasting any time in making her vision for the fabric industry a reality.

Only one year since becoming a digital textile fabric manufacturer, printing fabric on demand for online customers, Cobb has placed a digital printer in an actual quilt shop in the Salt Lake City area.

“For the first time in history, customers can walk into a shop and watch fabric being printed for them,” Cobb says.

At Pine Needles Quilt Shop in Gardner Village in West Jordan, Utah, Cobb’s company offers fresh, contemporary fabric motifs from a team of 20 designers.          Customers also can design their own fabric and have it digitally printed as well.

The machines are 8-feet-long custom inkjet printers with special fabric handling systems. Environmentally safe, water-based textile paints are used on 100 percent white cotton, “a tighter weave than traditional cotton that comes out very soft,” Cobb explains.

With conventional fabric manufacturers, the process can take six months to a year before a new design is printed and appears on the market.

Fabric ordered through the online store, modernyardage.com, takes about one week to be processed and shipped to customers, Cobb says.

This first in-store machine is a test site, but the goal is to place the equipment in independent quilt shops nationwide so their customers eventually have access to a database of thousands of designs, a concept similar to iTunes.

“We want to change the way people think about and purchase fabrics,” says Cobb, who has a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on marketing. She also is attuned to social media.

Her husband, Jay, also holds an MBA and is an attorney; he handles the financial aspect of Modern Yardage.

The couple have four children, ages 3 to 11, and their mother manages the business while tending to them as a stay-at-home mom. She takes advantage of hours while they are in school and pulls some late-night shifts to make it work. April Cobb describes herself as “in my forties.”

She’s always loved fabric and sewing and designing sewing patterns, having worked with Joel Dewberry and for Riley Blake Designs in the past. She enjoys making handbags, aprons and clothing, especially skirts.

Cobb says she’s aware of the modern quilt movement, too, “which is only in its infancy.” Young people want to learn to sew, and blogs are allowing them to do that at home.

As both a pioneer and already an expert in digital textile printing, Cobb has been asked to speak about the subject at a Cotton Inc. fashion design summit this summer at Mississippi State University.

“It is becoming more prevalent,” Cobb says. “It’s used sometimes on ‘Project Runway,’ for example, and they want today’s students to know what all is possible for future careers.”

She lists as advantages the ability to print only what is ordered, no speculating on trends, no shortages or scarcity of fabric (once it’s in the database, it can always be reprinted) and no limits on color or scale.

Ultimately, Cobb says, “We want home printing machines (for fabric) to be available one day.”

“Anyone who thinks that’s not going to happen is kidding themselves. And it’s going to happen in less time than people think,” she says.

With the future of the fabric industry in capable hands and forward-thinking minds like Cobb’s, who isn’t excited to discover what develops next? Modern Yardage indeed.

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