Custom-Made Birthday Suit

Designing the pattern of my life

Lucy Blackwell
3 min readJan 2, 2017

Turning 40 is one of those times when you take stock of your life and wonder if you’ve done everything you should have done. When my 40th birthday loomed up a few years ago, I honestly wanted to run and hide. I was unmarried, had no kids and while I was happily committed to a wonderful partner with a vibrant work life, I couldn’t help feeling like I hadn’t quite checked all the boxes. Until it finally dawned on me that maybe my lifelong ability to jump out of boxes was in fact something to be celebrated. Forty years of freedom. Yes.

Forty years of ”me” would be commemorated by creating something unique for myself. But what? Lady Gaga once gave Beyoncé a diamond-studded whip for her birthday — now, that’s pretty unique. But while custom-made things are fairly routine for the rich and famous, is it possible for the rest of us to customize our lives? With a little research online, I uncovered a growing legion of customizing opportunities, ranging from designing your own shoes to ordering a 3-D printed model of yourself. In fact, with a little imagination, it seems you could customize just about anything.

I’ve always liked the idea of designing my own fabric, and what better way to outlive my 30s than to create a new party dress made out of the patterns of my life?

I began collecting artifacts: the lion tattoo I’d designed for my best friend, Jessie; the cupcake characters I’d created for another friend’s cafe; a drawing of a purple monster I’d given to my grandparents when I was a kid; and strange objects I’d made in art school. I compiled the elements in Photoshop, created a design filled with the story of my life so far, and uploaded the pattern to

Spoonflower specializes in digital textile printing, offering short runs of fabric, wallpaper, decals and gift wrap. Started in 2008 by a couple of Internet geeks whose crafty wives convinced them that custom fabrics would have a wide appeal, the company has grown rapidly, confirming a huge consumer desire for this new technology.

Unlike mass-market fabric production, where it’s incredibly expensive to produce a small amount of fabric, digital printing is the complete opposite, providing small quantities of fabric at an affordable price — and making it ideal for Etsy enthusiasts and bespoke projects like mine. I waited anxiously for my fabric to arrive. I was dying to see if the colors were vibrant enough and the detailed images legible. I was not disappointed. To my delight, my bright-yellow-polka-dot-collaged-creation was just perfect. My friend Rita, a highly skilled seamstress, used her magic to sew the fabric into a simple, elegant, sleeveless dress, and it was fabulous. I finally felt ready to turn 40. Let the party begin.

My friends said I looked like the ”belle of the ball,” and while most people didn’t initially realize the fabric was imbued with the history of my life, when I explained how the pattern had been born, they were fascinated — and quickly asked if there were any scraps left they could have. Their responses inspired me to create new patterns and fabrics; after all, doesn’t every person have a unique story, a special pattern hidden inside, ready to be proudly worn on those days that require an extra dose of you-ness?

So while some may bemoan the digital age for making our experiences more generic, it’s evident that with an ounce of creative magic, digital tools can open the floodgates for truly unique forms of expression. When we can customize everything from how we look to the products we use, we remember that each of us has our own quirky preferences that make us that tiny bit different from one another — and that’s definitely something to celebrate. Be proud of who you are, and celebrate your life by wearing it like no one else can.

Originally published at