I can't even begin to guess how many different fabrics there are in the world. Of course, any fabric can be used by itself, but fantastic results can be achieved by mixing different patterns and colors together. Now, if that seems out of your comfort zone, here's a tip: the easiest way to start mixing patterns is to choose from a fabric designer's collection made specifically for mixing. You'll look like a pro on day one!
Let a Fabric Collection Work for You
Many fabric brands, like Michael Miller Fabrics, Free Spirit, and Westminster Fibers, have designer collections that are made to coordinate with each other. While it makes the selection process so much easier, it really doesn't dampen your creativity. Many of these collections have thirty or more fabrics from which to choose, so the possibilities are nearly endless. Check out a few of the designers and their collections at the above links. As you get more comfortable with mixing fabrics, move on to selecting fabrics from several designer collections. With just a few additional guidelines – you can't go wrong.
Creating Your Palette
When S4H plans a room, we start with a concept as we did with Patio Party. When it's time to choose fabric, we look at many collections and narrow it down to the top two or three before making a final pick.
With Patio Party, we ultimately selected Heather Bailey's Freshcut collection from Free Spirit for its perfect mix of summertime nostalgia and festive modern design. Along the way, however, we actually created two other fabric palettes, one using Farmer's Market by Sandi Henderson for Michael Miller Fabrics, and the other: Lila Tueler's Soirée for Moda Fabrics. Both beautiful collections, by the way (click the links above to see the full collections)!
Hints for Mixing Patterns
Colorways: Many designer fabric collections use what are called colorways -- a range of colors grouped within a fabric collection. For example, Heather Bailey's Freshcut has three colorways: Spring, Summer and Fall. If you're new to selecting fabric you may feel more comfortable selecting from just one colorway. However, with a well-designed collection like this, you can confidantly be a bit more adventuresome.
Proportion: It's better to use varying amounts of each fabric. In other words, three equal size pieces of fabric are not as appealing as using a dominant or primary fabric, a smaller amount of a secondary fabric and then just accent with the third. Even if you only use 2 different fabrics, avoid using the same amount of each.
Scale. If one of your fabrics has a small-scale pattern, you should mix it with a larger-scale pattern. Scale creates drama and interest in your finished piece. If all of the patterns are the same scale, the result can be lifeless.
Pattern. Mix it up. Florals, stripes, plaids, polka dots -- they can be mixed together beautifully. The key is to mix them up. For example don't use three same-size polka dots patterns and expect a winning result. A small plaid looks pleasing with a large floral. Stripes and polka dots look terrific together.
Try Before You Buy
You can either buy a small amount of each of your fabrics, cut swatches and move them around until you get the effect you want, or you can use online fabric sites and digital swatches to do the same thing. One warning about online sites, look for fabric sites that tell you the size of the swatch. Otherwise, you don't know if that swatch is six inches or a foot. That will really throw your scale planning into a tailspin! I love how Quilthome shows swatches in three sizes using their FabView™ dropdown menu.
Below is the palette S4H created for Patio Party.
Following, are the two palettes we didn't use. You may prefer to try our Patio Party tutorials with one of our alternate palettes. If you're looking for a little bolder version of our Patio Party palette, try Farmer's Market. If you want a softer version, Soirée has a gentle warmth.
If you want to swap our our palette with one of of our alternates, replace #1 one in the Freshcut palette with the corresponding #1 in either Farmer's Market or Soirée. Or mix it up, or even better; try making your very own palette!
Fabric: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Like fashionable apparel, popular fabrics come and go. At some point, even the most gorgeous fabrics are no longer available. While we think S4H projects are just as relevant as a black sheath dress, you'll simply need to put on your creative hat and choose from another wonderful fabric collection if you can't find what we used. Hint: if you really REALLY love a fabric and think you can come back anytime to buy it... think twice and buy it while can.