We see it every day in our patterns group:
"Which pink looks better with this?" "What color should I use for the ruffle?" "Are these fabrics too busy together?"
And I'm right there with you! When I'm planning out a special outfit I always love to get a second or third -- or fiftieth -- opinion as well. Because, let's face it, fabric choice makes all the difference in the outfits we make!
While there are no absolute rules or official guidelines as far as choosing fabrics for our projects (we all have different tastes too) I have found some techniques that help make it easier to get great results every time.
TIP 1: The easiest way to have your fabric match perfectly is to buy coordinating fabric from a collection, such as the outfit above. The three fabrics all came from the same collection. I could have rearranged them different ways and they still would have looked great!
When shopping in stores, keep your eye out for the word "collections" or any type of category where you see the same color scheme. There is often a main pattern with other complementary designs. This means they've done all the work for us and we just get to enjoy! The same goes for shopping online. Whenever I see I print that I can't live without, I check to see if there are coordinating ones to go with it.
TIP 2: The next technique is the one I use most often. I will demonstrate it using this adorable fabric from Katie's Quilt Shop. Basically what I do is choose one main print with multiple colors/designs in it and then look at how to duplicate the parts that I want to have stand out. In the fabric above I really like the pinks, grays and yellows. And I don't want just any pinks, grays, or yellows. I want them to match as perfectly as possible, even if it gets tricky.
After browsing Katie's shop, I found these dots. See how the pinks and grays are right on with the the doll fabric? I also love that they add a new dimension to the overall look. I have to grab this one for sure. Now I want a third fabric for the Amanda's skirt I'm making. Looking back at the first fabric, I think it could use some yellow for balance. I sent Katie a message and asked her which yellow in her shop she would recommend to go with these two.
Just my luck, she had this one in stock and she assured me that they matched well in person, not just on the computer. (That is important - I seek out shops that will answer my questions!)
I went ahead and ordered from Katie, and it all arrived just as perfectly as I'd hoped!
Isn't it darling? I let my daughter choose the order that she wanted the ruffles in. She loves it!
We even pieced together a number seven applique for her birthday today! (You can learn to do that on knit here.)
TIP 3: To choose the fabric for the Easter skirt above, I asked Katie what SHE would put together for a soft springtime look. Have you ever asked a fabric shop owner for their suggestions? If not, DO IT! There's a reason why they sell fabric for a living. They love fabric and most of them would be thrilled to be involved!
TIP 4: Think outside the box while staying within certain categories. What I mean by this is that we often see professional looking outfits that look "thrown together" and random. Their quirkiness makes them stand out, right? It's a really fun way to make over-the-top outfits. But that does NOT mean that we can just walk into the fabric store and close our eyes and point, and then expect the fabrics to look good together. Nope. For the outfit above I did think outside the box (love the hippie style!) but I still kept the colors/patterns related even if they look like they're not. Here's another example:
This is Claire's Patchwork Dress that I made using some of my mom's leftover fabric from dresses she made for me when I was little. Amazing, right?! I love how it turned out. But you need to know that there were also fabrics in her pile that would NOT have looked good together! I searched out the ones that were made of bold, saturated colors. True orange, true, yellow, true blue, true red. None of them were light pastels or deep shades. You see it now, right? So it is definitely fun to mix and match different patterns and designs but I almost always stick within one color "category". That brings us into the next method.
TIP 5: Think of an 8-pack box of markers. Those colors go great together. Now imagine that you add white to all of them and they lighten up - those colors go great together. But now imagine that you took the box of markers and added gray to all of them - those colors will go great together. Neat, huh! I'm not saying that you always need to keep colors within the same families, but it is definitely one of the easiest ways to have outfits look professional.
This also makes fabric shopping go more quickly. I close my eyes and picture in my mind the color that I want to find, lock that in my brain, and then browse - ignoring everything except for that color. Do it! You'll be amazed.
That's not to say that professionals ALWAYS stay within color families. Certainly not. This Jewel's dress above was my most popular last fall and it obviously breaks my color rule by throwing in the bold reds. But by strategically placing those reds in a way that keeps them balanced all over, it adds a pop of drama! I love stripwork dresses for this reason. The key is to keep it balanced all over, or if you only have one of something, make sure it is in a place that you want to have as your focal point.
If you look closely, you can see that the bold strip still incorporates the lighter oranges in it. When I found this combo I bought a TON of it because I knew it would be a winner. Anytime you love a fabric that uses different color families, pay close attention and follow its lead!
What's also cool about having a main fabric that uses two different color families - we can focus on whichever one we want to. In the dress above, even though the floral fabric has a lighter blue in it, I wanted to focus on the bright pink so that's what I used as my underskirt and straps. It's a bright spring dress! If I had wanted it more subtle and soft, I might have chosen a light yellow or a mint green for the underskirt.
While we're talking about color, it can also be really sweet to choose different shades/hues of the same color. I love the three purples here. If we had put in just one blue somewhere, I think it would throw the whole thing off, but since they are all purples it looks great to me to be mixing hues/shades.
TIP 6: Now let's not forget the neutrals! White and black and gray almost always look great in an outfit! Sometimes we are so insistent on making colors match that we forget to throw some white or black in there!
It's the same with solids. Especially on tweens and women, solids may be just what we're looking for to add drama and class without busy-ness.
TIP 8: Repeat an element. The best way to make things look like they match (even if they don't) is to repeat them. My daughter insisted that I make her this outfit using the purple on top and the red on bottom, for her first day of school last fall. They technically do match because the red of the pants is exactly the same as the red details on the top. But when we first put it on her it kind of looked like mismatched pajamas! (Is that mean?) But my dear daughter was still in love with the combo so I decided to add a red sash that makes it look like a complete outfit. Don't you think?! Later we made her a red hair bow as well that made her coordinated from head to toe.
(Note: This works in home decor as well! Even if you have non-matching secondhand furniture, just make some inexpensive matching pillows of various sizes to throw all over the room, and suddenly you've got style!)
TIP 9: When choosing and buying fabrics, plan which ones will go where on your outfit. Fabric placement is sometimes just as important as fabric choice. The picture above would look quite different if I had put the stripes going different directions or if I had randomly placed my polka dots. I'm so glad I took the time to plan ahead! It never hurts to write down those plans if your mind is going a bunch of directions all the time like mine is.
TIP 10: Finally, use these suggestions as guidelines and not rules. If something looks fabulous to you, then it probably is fabulous. When I was shopping for this skirt, I picked up these three fabrics within one minute of going into the store. I then spent an hour trying to find other fabrics that worked better with each of the three. With my kids going nuts, I finally gave in and bought the original three. The results are more than just a little okay, don't you think?!
If you have some fabric-choosing tips of your own that you'd like to contribute, please add them below in our comments! I want to give Katie's Quilt Shop a special thanks for giving me so many great fabric suggestions over the past few months! If you ever get stuck, she would love to help you out. Katie sells quality name brand fabrics that are completely adorable.
I still enjoy posting my fabric questions in the patterns group to hear my sewing friends' opinions too. If you haven't done it before, try it out! It's fun to help each other and then show off the results.
Let's create! ~ Kristen