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Tips for Mixing Prints

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There are so many talented fabric designers creating beautifully harmonious collections, mixing prints has become a snap. They've done the work for us. For most of our S4H projects, we've stuck fairly closely with one designer's collection, because possibilities are nearly endless, and a satisfying result is all but guaranteed. For our Pretty Prints Please projects, however, we used NINE prints, each from a different fabric collection. Here's how we did it, plus a few tips on mixing it up.

Mixology 101

We chose prints from the collections of seven fabulous fabric designers: Amy Butler, Valori Wells, Anna Maria Horner, Erin McMorris, Tina Givens, Sandi Henderson and Paula Prass; accented with solid turquoise and zebra print fleece, plus a pink designer solid from Free Spirit, and some solid gauzy cottons.

Define your style

Style options vary widely from formal, traditional and modern, to whimsical and trendy. Stick to prints that work well within your chosen style. This is a breakable rule if you're comfortable doing it.

Pretty Prints Please: Lydia, our lucky teen, wanted a trendy, warm and welcoming room where she could study and hang out with friends. She had her eye on some of the $$$ teen bedding she saw in stores and catalogs, so we took a look at her favs to better understand her vision.

Begin with color

Start with a basic color scheme in mind. Decide whether you want a room with warm undertones (reds, pinks, yellows, oranges), cool (blues, greens) or neutrals (off-whites, tans, grays). Next, consider whether you want it vivid and energetic, pale and serene, dark and intense, or some other concept. Although not always true, too vivid can look garish, too pale can appear washed out, and too dark may feel somber.

A pleasing balance is achieved by selecting at least three colors: a dominant color (60% ish) a secondary color (30% ish), and an accent color (10% ish). Uneven numbers of colors are better, so three or five colors is preferable to four.

Pretty Prints Please: We happily began planning, using the existing saffron-colored walls, and so designated saffron as our secondary color. Pink became our primary color, and turquoise an accent. Pink and saffron are analogous colors – near each other on the color wheel. Turquoise is a complimentary color – opposite on the color wheel. Complimentary colors are often good accent colors. We stayed with fairly saturated, or bold colors because that's look Lydia wanted. We brightened the feel of the room with the addition of white, and sharpened with a touch of black.

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Add some texture

Mixing textures is not difficult. But use restraint. A texture is most appreciated when it's not competing with too many other textures. You can break this rule successfully if you focus on texture and choose more solids than prints.

Pretty Prints Please: We used quilting-weight cotton for most of our projects, but added in some cozy fleece for texture accents. The bed curtains are a drapey gauze, which helps soften and balance the crispness of the cotton prints.

Pick your focal print

It's best to start with one fabric that has a range of colors and motifs to provide a starting point from which to select the rest of your prints. There were five considerations in our selection process:

  1. We wanted plenty of pink, our dominate color.
  2. The fabric had to include saffron, our secondary color.
  3. A dash of turquoise, our accent color, would be a plus.
  4. An appealing motif we could use as a repeat.
  5. It should be the largest of the prints.

    Pretty Prints Please: We chose Tango in Ruby from Valori Wells' Del Hi collection for its large scale pattern with all the right colors. Perfect. The butterfly became our repeating room motif.


    Start mixing

    One of the easiest ways to mix patterns is to gather up fabric swatches, toss them on the table (or digitally on your computer) and start moving them around. Plan to have at least three to five times as many swatches as you want final selections. In other words, if you want five prints in your final mix, work with between fifteen to twenty-five options to begin. You want enough prints to be able to easily let go of the ones that don't work. You may need to go back for more swatches, but that's okay, because you're getting closer. Eventually you should feel that ta-da! moment when they all fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.

    Pretty Prints Please: Here's our thinking behind the selection of the additional eight prints.

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    1. We knew we wanted one more butterfly motif somewhere in the prints. We chose Tina Givens Butterfly in Fuchsia. Color and style blend is perfect.
    2. Amy Butler's Park Fountains in Fuchsia, from her Midwest Modern 2 collection, adds a simple geometric feel with a hint of a chic bedroom wallpaper. The pink and white design is simple and and doesn't overwhelm.
    3. We added in some 'funky' with Anna Maria Horner's Groovy Petals in Pink from her Chocolate Lollipop collection...
    4. And, echoed the Groovy Petals with an airy Petal Party in Pink from Sandi Henderson's Farmers Market .
    5. To bring out the saffron color, we chose Modern Vine in Fuchsia from Erin McMorris' Wildwood collection. It was a surprising choice because it seems a bit off our style at first glance, but it ended up being a favorite with an almost mystical elegance we all loved.
    6. Pure whimsey; Tina Given's Pink Veranda from her Chloe's Imagination collection was a winsome addition with its cute little turquoise ladybugs. Great accent color pick up.
    7. We tied it all together with a multicolor stripe; Paula Prass' Beach Stripe in Summer from her Flights of Fancy collection. See how it picks up the hint of turquoise and the black.
    8. Finally, because who doesn't love a zebra print, we added a fleece print that just zips up the room.

    I'm sure we looked at fifty or more potential fabrics before we settled on these pretty prints. So, don't give up if the first few you select don't seem to go together, keep pulling in new options and soon you'll have your own perfect palette.


    I do my fabric searching online because it's faster and easier for me; plus I have so many options and swatches at my fingertips. If you use this method, be sure to pay attention to the actual size of the swatch and the repeat (the distance between the beginning of one complete motif, and the beginning of the next one). I wish all fabric sellers and manufacturers would indicate size and repeat, but not all do – don't assume. You'll want to do your mixing and matching with swatches at the same scale.

    Where to Buy

    The fabrics we use are from very popular designers, and their fabrics are available from many sources. You may have to look at several fabric shops and online if you want to match exactly what we show. We worked with QuiltHome on this particular order because they are so great about showing swatch sizes, and had most of the fabric we needed. We found the fleece at Harts Fabric. There are, however, many terrific fabric retailers where you can find these and other fantastic options.




    Comments (5)

    avstar said:
    avstar's picture
    Thanks so much for this - I lovel sewing but I've come to realise I'm notvery good at matching prints & colours, thats why everything I do is just one colour lol!
    greg.keene said:
    greg.keene's picture
    Monitor accuracy is a very tricky business. I will walk you through some options, however, in the end, it is going to be hard to rely on color accuracy when it come to Internet content.

    Assuming you have a system and a monitor that can be calibrated, that is an option, depending on how sophisticated you want to be, it will range from free to over more than $1,000 (definitely not necessary just for looking at content). Macs have a built-in basic calibration and it is worth doing if that is what you are using. If you are using Windows that does not have calibration (the flavors vary) or want to use a calibration system on your Mac, you will need to purchase a screen calibration device.

    At the low-end (about $65) is something like the ColorVision Spyder 2 Express:
    ColorVision Spyder 2 Express

    Additionally, many people like the ColorMunki product line:

    It goes up from there.

    At Sew4Home, we do work with calibrated screens and process and encode our photos using sRGB for the as accurate color as we can. However, every monitor is different and depending on how much you can control your light (sunlight, florescent lights, etc.) and even how tired you are (yes that changes how you see colors), screen colors can look very different. At the end of the day, getting a sample of fabric and looking at it in the room light that you will use the fabric is the only way to be sure it is going to be a color you want.

    Good luck with whatever option you choose and thanks for your support.
    mjay said:
    mjay's picture
    I wonder how you can tell the colors on the monitor. My monitor is not that accurate. Anyone have any ideas?
    hosmomma said:
    hosmomma's picture
    I just have to thank you guys so much for this posts and others like it. I am a beginner at this but have lots of excitement to create. You really enable me in ways other resources don't and I am forever grateful!!

    Megan in France