I get a lot of comments on my sewing about how everything seems to work together to create a look that is complete–like all the elements were made to go together. To me, sewing design choices are not just picking a pattern, fabric, and notions independently and putting them together–its making decisions based on the look and feeling you want to evoke from the completed project. I want to make something that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
Its not just a pattern and fabric thrown together–there’s a sort of formula that makes the pairing into something magical.
Sounds pretty theoretical, doesn’t it? Well, I’ve dissected my design thought process and wanted to share some practical ideas with you that you can implement as well. Although I do most of this internally and intuitively, here are some of the things that go into my sewing design choices.
Design Choices when Starting with a Pattern:
Look at the pattern and determine what makes it special: is it the simplicity? A particular detail? Knowing what you want to highlight in your pattern helps you pair with fabric(s) that further your goal. Once you’ve determined what makes your pattern special, all your other choices need to support it, not overrun it.
When I was making this Lillian top, the pleats at the neckline were the details I wanted to highlight from the pattern. By choosing a brown chambray, the pleats really pop because the shadows and folds aren’t blending into a print.
I did make one mistake though–I personally think that sweet face upstages the shirt, but I’m okay with that. :)
Another thing to think about is knowing when a pattern and fabric are right for each other. I started with this Georgia Twirl pattern, and took the line drawings from the pattern with me down to my stash. I knew I wanted the dress to be a statement piece and wanted the underskirt to be white. And while there were lots of choices that would coordinate with white, I was trying to match the vibrant personality of my girl. This bright plaid shirting is busy–which has stopped me from using it in the past–but when paired with the crisp white, it jumped out as the perfect choice for both the pattern and my girl.
Design Choices when Starting with Fabric:
When starting with a specific fabric, study the fabric pattern and texture. Just like starting with a pattern, what makes it special? Is it a color combination, a pattern you want to play up, the drape, or a texture that makes you want to touch it? Those things that drew you to the fabric are the things that will help you choose a design to complement it.
Look at the printed/woven design. Look at the scale and placement of the design on the fabric. Is it uniform or do you have special designs you need to keep in mind?
For example, if I have a larger print I typically wouldn’t go with a detailed pattern. Instead, I’d keep it simple and use the print to make the dress shine. When I looked at this Amy Butler fabric, I saw strong motifs and a busy print. I wanted to sew for my 1-year-old so I knew that the scale of the print would be even bigger on her. So I needed the pattern to be very simple.
The bodice and faux cap sleeve in this Caroline Party Dress are one continuous piece so it kept the bodice simple. Also, since there was a strong motif, I made sure to center the lighter flower medallion on the front of my bodice to almost resemble a necklace. It makes a busy print work for me instead of overwhelming my little one.
Another thing to keep in mind is the total effect of the end product. When I was creating this Butterfly Tunic, I knew the star needed to be the butterfly. Everything else needed to support the butterfly and complement–but not detract from–the main focus.
I chose to pair it with a natural muslin because it has an earthy feel that wouldn’t detract. White would have been too stark and any other color would have weakened the effect.
I wanted to to echo the feeling of butterfly wings with the pattern and I didn’t want any back closures to interfere with the butterfly. And when you put all those elements together, they create a feeling that this butterfly could be flitting around a field of flowers.
Design Choices for Trim
I don’t use a lot of trim, but when I do, I make sure it serves a specific purpose. Trim can easily upstage other design choices if you aren’t careful, so use them intentionally and be able to identify the reason you’re doing it. One type of trim I do use regularly is piping. It can highlight the areas of your pattern that you want and completely make a design.
I was making the Phresh Blazer and Potato Chip Skirt and needed them to go together. They’re from different designers and I wanted to make them come together. Fortunately, both patterns had great lines–the princess seams in the blazer and the pockets on the skirt.
Neither pattern called for piping, but once I put the piping and the coordinating button on the pieces, they suddenly became part of a whole–a little suit with definite class and that looked like they could have been designed to go together. And honestly, its all due to the piping in the seams.
Another example is the Charlotte dress. The whole reason I chose this pattern was for the front bodice detail. The plaid I chose to use was a great choice for drape and for my daughter’s coloring and preference, but it disguised the bodice detail. So I found a trim that could stand up to the business of the plaid and make a statement. Pair that with ivory buttons, and the details are beautifully displayed without taking away from the plaid.
Other things to think about when choosing trim is color, weight, contrast, and that the trim supports the main design choices you’ve already made. A bold print may need a trim that is equal in visual strength rather than something too dainty. And often a contrast trim shows up better if thats your goal.
Overall Design Choices
I sew a lot from my stash, and I make sure I buy things I know work with my style and will work together. And while I don’t always have the perfect thing on hand, I do know what I’ll use when I see it which helps. But the same principles apply whether you’re picking things from a store or at home. Just make sure you’re making choices rather than letting things happen.
Hopefully these design choices tips will help you create beautiful garments over and over that really convey what you intended and bring you joy.
Need help choosing fabrics to go together? Check out this post on Choosing Fabric Combinations for more tips and tricks