Probably one of the most frequent comments I hear about my sewing is “I love the fabrics you choose!” It never fails to bring a smile to my face, as well as a little bit of a blush.
One of the things I touch on in the classes I teach is fabric selection — not just the appropriate type of fabric to use for a garment but also color, print and scale.
Give any 10 sewists the same pattern and you’ll likely get 10 very different interpretations of that garment, each with a very different “feel.” A lot of that has to do with fabrics they chose. It’s not just about color, but about how the colors and prints work with (or against) each other.
When I pick fabrics for a project, I think about who I’m sewing for plus how many fabrics I want to use and where I’ll use them. Samantha’s Miss Madeline pattern is illustrated with dresses that use the same fabric for the sleeves and dress, with a contrasting fabric at the waistband and apron edges. I like to mix it up a little more, so I use that same contrasting fabric on the sleeves as well. (Of course, I think it would be super fun to add another fabric into the mix and have the sleeves be something entirely different.)
For this particular dress, I knew I wanted to use that gorgeous orange floral print from Sandi Henderson’s Farmer’s Market line but I wasn’t quite sure what to put with it. The person I was sewing it for said she likes stripes and wanted a very fall feel to the dress. I literally went to the quilt store, pulled the bolt of main fabric off the wall and started walking around to find fabrics that spoke to me. (Doesn’t that sound so zen? LOL!)
I do it fairly often, actually. It’s not unusual for me to pile a table with bolts of fabric so I can lay them on top of each other to see how the colors and patterns work together. Often, it’s not so much about matching colors exactly but seeing if they’re harmonious when placed alongside each other. The orange in the stripe from this Amy Butler fabric is pretty darned close to one of the oranges in the flower but what really makes the two work together is the graduated shading of the green stripes. It kind of echoes the graduated shading of the flowers. Similar but different. It’s why I chose the Flutterby panel for the apron. The greens sort of fade into each other and really complement the bordering stripes without being an exact match. When put together, the three fabrics give off a similar vibe; they all say “fall” with the same subtle voice.
Contrast that dress with these two, also made with the same Miss Madeline pattern. They have a completely different feel, thanks to very different fabric choices:
Another thing that’s important to think about is the scale of print. Most fabric lines made by quilting fabric manufacturers include a large print, medium print and small print. Why? Because when you are combining fabrics, it’s pleasing to the eye to have prints of varying scale. A good rule of thumb for choosing a fabric based on scale is fewer seams, bigger print. Bigger pieces of fabric will maintain the integrity and feel of the print, whereas smaller prints can more easily accommodate more seams and smaller cuts.
I absolutely adore the aqua mermaid fabric on the dress to the left. Those mermaids, however, are HUGE, about 12″ tall and 8″ wide. If I tried to use that fabric for a patchwork twirl skirt, for example, it would lose so much of the under-the-sea effect that it just wouldn’t be the same. Instead, I chose to make a jumper-style dress with two big pieces and two side seams. The accent fabric is a medium-ish sized polka dot that balances the larger print.
I don’t really think of these as hard-and-fast rules by any means but these are the kinds of things in the back of my head when I’m selecting fabrics. Ultimately my goal is for whatever I make to reflect the wearer’s personality, rather than wear the owner.