Wednesday 18 June 2014

Co-ordinating Fabrics...

Co-ordinating fabrics is a skill and, just like any skill, not everyone excels at it. It's also subjective - we all have different tastes. However, there are certain combinations which appeal almost universally. Some people just have the knack of knowing what fabric combinations work well.

I'm not one of those lucky people. I have to work at getting the right fabrics for a project. The good news is that with practice, your skills at choosing fabrics will improve.

When I choose fabrics for a particular project, I like to shop from my stash, as I cover the floor with different combinations. It's a bit hard to do this in the shop. Usually, but not always, I start with what I think will be the main fabric and I just keep pulling fabrics till I get the ones I'm happy with. 

For me, it's most often an aha moment - I know the combination that will work for me when I actually see it. I am insanely jealous of those who can visualise combinations in their head.

When I chose the fruit fabric in the red skirt, I initially had no idea what I'd put with it. As I so often do when sewing children's clothes, I ended up with polka dots. The red in each ties it all together.

The blue and green skirt is one of my favourites. The two fabrics are by different manufacturers, but just happened to contain the same green. It's not all about finding the right fabrics. The proportion of each fabric is important, too.

Through practice, I'm becoming faster at choosing fabrics. As I look at the photos here, I can see that, for me, a largish or bold print works with a smaller print or solid. The larger print is usually the one I choose as the dominant fabric.

When choosing co-ordinating fabric for children's clothes, there are two main factors to consider: the colours and the prints. Both are important for the combination to work, but as I said at the beginning, it is subjective.

Liesl Gibson, from oliver + s, has written a series on the Principles of Fabric Selection. focussing on choosing fabrics for children's clothing.

And here are a couple of more general posts:

When it comes to patchwork, more factors come into play. The pieces of fabric used are much smaller than on clothing and there's more of them. I thought I'd play with patchwork for my last zippered pouch. My results did NOT work for two reasons; the design and the colours. 

I cut random sized rectangles and sewed them together, not thinking about the finished arrangement. There are too many pieces of similar size and oriented in the same direction. To make it worse, the three colours just don't work. I won't be using this patchwork on anything, but I will keep it to remind me of a combination to avoid in the future.

I know the colours don't appear to be the same, but the photos were taken under different lighting. The true colour is somewhere in between. To my eye, removing the grey makes all the difference. This now works for me. It's not... ooh, aah, I love it, but I am happy with the combination.

I do love my QAYG fabric basket, though. Now I can't take any credit for the fabrics. The trimmings came in a packet from Umbrella Prints, so naturally, the colours and prints co-ordinate well. That only left me to work out the shape, size and arrangement and I think I've nailed it.

Not only am I new to patchwork and quilting, there are more factors to consider when choosing fabrics. I know my skills will improve with practice, but I've found the following resources which I intend to read through.

Quilts are another step up from small patchwork projects. I bought a jelly roll for my Scrappy Blocks quilt. Again, I had to decide on the design, this time for the block, keeping to the same colourway for each, and also the overall look of the quilt.

At the moment, I'm finishing off another quilt sewn with a jelly roll. Again, the colours just work with no effort on my part. It's a good way for me to pick up clues and learn more about co-ordinating fabrics for quilts.

Are you one of the lucky ones who can pick up a piece of fabric and just know what other fabrics will look good with it? Or are you like me and have to work at it? 

If you have any tips on choosing fabrics and what works for you, I'd love you to share your thoughts below. Feel free to leave links to any resources on the topic.

... Pam


  1. Fabric shopping for me is dreadful if I have to find coordinating prints. Yokes especially I tend to avoid. I must go through the links you have posted here. Thanks for collecting them Pam :)

  2. It takes me FOREVER to make a decision. I've kind of learned the hard way that I prefer bold contrasts. -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  3. I am a slow sewer, and also a slow decision maker when it comes to fabric coordinating! Unless something clicks for me, it takes me forever because I keep second guessing myself. Thank you for all the links, looks like I have some readings to do!

  4. An interesting topic and blog post! I pretty much chuck together whatever I like and hope it works ;) Sometimes I might pick out fabrics for a project and let it sit then when I come back to it change things up a bit but usually I go with my gut!

  5. I really have to work at it, it is not natural to me at all.

  6. I envy people who have the ability/skill to mix and match colours and prints and values - I know the basic "rules", but am usually too nervous to trust that my choices are actually OK - I second guess myself too :D I tend to play it safe and stick with combos of only 2 prints (or one print and one solid). I also like to buy multiple prints from a single line because someone else already did the hard part of co-ordinating things D:

    When it comes to scrap quilts though, I don't worry - I just put everything together and am always happy with it :)

  7. Pam , first i can tell you that with time we develop a better eye or easier eye for co-coordinating fabrics. Lately i made a jumper with many tiny leftovers and it is a hit where i go with it ,, but i must tell you that the first reaction is "how did you manage to make it so tasteful?" . I sat with it and the scraps i used were all over the floor, and i picked them by sight . but sometimes when i put it at it`s designated place it looked wrong, thus i moved and picked another choice. Another trait you will get over the years that you will dare to be more adventitious, because we all are getting used to more `daring` combinations. I think the skirts are Great. Thank you for this thoughts provoking post . mirjam

  8. The floor of my sewing room looks... well... interesting to say the least while I am choosing fabrics! I think I would struggle to get a combo of 3 fabrics out of my stash.

  9. Great post. I'm a combination of both - sometimes I just get it straight away, have the vision and go with it and other times I don't fully realise the potential until the end.

  10. Pam I don't know if it's luck or instinct or learned, but I have always been good with color. It was my love of color that attracted me to quilting, knitting and other crafts. I hear often from people they have trouble choosing colors. When it comes to making anything with fabric you should choose at least one light, one medium and one dark fabric for variety. Then vary your scale of prints if using prints. Choose a med-large scale print, a small prints and something that reads as solid. Those things help to balance your quilt. One tip for choosing color is to find a multi-colored fabric that you like and choose fabrics based on that fabric. Or even look at a magazine or a painting or something like that for inspiration for color and then choose your colors from one of those examples. Perhaps you will always need an example to help you with your color choices or maybe after a while you will gain confidence in choosing your fabrics later. Whatever works for you, use it.

  11. I'm jealous of people who can match patterned fabrics together easily. I think it can be learned, but some have more of a natural eye for sure! I try to remember the rules, but I know some people can hit it right without ever thinking about those things :)

  12. Choosing the fabric combination is the hardest part for me Pam, it takes me ages! It is an even longer process if I am making something for a swap or Bee :)

  13. finding contrasting fabrics and prints that go with other prints and colors are easy for me, its the way the fabric is made that is harder, like non-stretch vs little stretch, or knits, other then that I have a great eye for colors and its like I can see the pattern in my mind while I look at the fabrics and see the design of what I will use it for, like a shirt or skirt, I love colors, and fabric, I guess its a gift I have, I never knew there were people who have a hard time picking out colors and something to match but yet different. I don't know what to say other then I have a ball getting fabric I am like a kid in a candy store, I usually have a hard time to know when I have enough I like to get all kinds of fabric at one time, I am fabric Poor, hahahah, anyway, I am going to make a mixed matched design of fabric that has the same background of colors but very different patters of print, but I know when it is finished it will look so wonderful,

    1. You are indeed lucky to have this skill, Teresa. I think most of us are like kids in a candy store when we are in a fabric shop... LOL!!!


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