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Sep 8, 2011

Pattern Mixing: Confidence vs. Competence



Friends, today I want to talk about mixing patterns.   

This is something I should be able to discuss with ease (this is MPB, after all) and yet it's complicated.  Most of us were schooled in What goes with what as children, when we were told by (anxious) parents-or-guardians that our paisley shirt and striped pants simply didn't go together (They were only trying to protect us, poor things -- as you do your children) and we took it to heart, never again daring to pair a print with anything other than a dark solid -- if at all. 

Usually we just played it safe.



Or wore jumpsuits.



Let's face it: mixing patterns takes confidence.  It also takes competence.





I flatter myself in thinking that my pattern-matching competence (ability) outweighs my pattern-matching confidence (I've never worn that beret-and-scarf outfit out of my apartment and probably never will.).  But sometimes the opposite is true. 

I chose my BurdaStyle sew-along fabrics from a thick (235 page) Westminster Fabric catalog.  I had hundreds of choices but I had to choose one or -- since I knew the dress pattern in question called for contrasting trim -- two.  I thought of Leah and the colors she'd look best in, and I came up with these (click on photo to supersize).  But it's nearly impossible to choose patterns well without seeing the exact scale of the fabric on the bolt, and I was, frankly, overwhelmed by the wide selection.



It wasn't until I received my fabric and realized how narrow the bolts were that I decided to cut the pleat underlay in the contrasting paisley.



I assumed the pleats would hang completely closed and you'd rarely see the underlay and when you did, it would be a fun surprise.  Instead, it was a very obnoxious pinwheel.



As my mother always says, when you're young, everything looks good on you (though she no longer says it to me), and lovely Leah would look cute wearing a lobster trap, but this dress does not work for me.  Maybe you like it -- it's your right -- but to me it looks like something Madame DuBarry would wear to a sock hop.


Do the two fabric patterns go together?  Well, you can see that in the catalog, they share a similar palette.  But the dress -- and again, this is purely subjective -- doesn't look right, and I'm not talking about the fit, which as you know, needs work.  The fabric patterns could work together, perhaps: a lot depends on the scale and proportion of the garment.  On those pleats, the contrast is too great, imo.

Anyway, yesterday, I took the dress completely apart.  Since I'd been sent extra blue fabric (even with the contrasting underlay, I didn't have enough), I recut the underlay panels and remade the skirt.



Now I know, based on your comments yesterday, that some of you are going to be like, I loved the contrasting underlay, why did you change it? and others are going to heave a sigh of relief.  I place myself squarely in the second camp.  The fabric is bold enough as is.  If you want to mix patterns, throw a paisley shawl on top.  At least that's removable.

Tasteful readers, in closing, how do you feel about pattern mixing?  Do you consider yourself more confident than competent, more competent than confident, or a disaster all around?!

Even the pros can get it wrong.


If you are highly skilled at mixing patterns, how did you learn and do you follow any particular method, or just go with your gut?

Can you mix paisley and stripes?

We're all ears!

53 comments:

  1. You made the right move..it looks much better.

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  2. I am a big chicken when it comes to matching prints. But, I feel confident when I like what I am wearing and taking that kind of risk leaves me feeling insecure for the day.

    I think the peeking underlay is cute, but I agree with you, maybe not with those prints. I'd go a little more subtle if planning it out.

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  3. I do it all the time with shirts with diff patterns on cuffs or the yoke lining and under-collar, but I don't know HOW I do it. It's a right-brained thing that doesn't have words attached to it.

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  4. I love different prints together, but it does have to be complementary. Also the location has to be at a place you're okay with the eye going. I did a camp shirt with different prints on the collar and sleeve hems that came out well. This is a good post! Thank you.

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  5. Hi Peter,
    You did a super job replacing the pleat insert with matching fabric. I wonder if you would like the look better if you closed the pleat up by maybe four inches so that it didn't open as much. Those two fabrics go together fabulously, but on the skirt it wasn't a good look. In a quilt top it would have been terrific.

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  6. Love the changes you made; excellent move. Given that i quilt and have done for 12 years now, one would think that i had some level of competence or confidence in both garment sewing and quilting, but i have neither :( i labour over fabric patterns in every imaginable way; i'm a disaster.

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  7. Man, I'm SO glad you changed it - I really wasn't keen on the underlay fabric. You've made the right decision. The underlay took it right over the line into upholstery territory (obv it's a matter of taste, other opinions are available, etc).

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  8. I mix prints all the time. I don't really have a 'method'. The prints I put together either 'look right' together or they don't. Part of it is scale. If the print you used in the underlay had been in a smaller scale, I think it would have gone with the main fabric better. Karen S

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  9. I think the skirt looks much better now. I actually think you can wear paisley with stripes if, and only if, they share the same colour pallet. However, two busy florals with only some matching colours seem a bit much...
    Personally, I'm not very couragous with prints. I make some summer clothes in print... but usually just one at a time.

    By the way, did you read my comment yesterday, about the way those pleats fall? I'm not trying to make myself seem important here, just to save you unnecessary frustration with that skirt.

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  10. I did -- thanks! -- and I will make sure Leah wears some sort of slip underneath next time. The bodice will be lined too, which may help.

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  11. If you had pieced the pleat insert (by slashing the pattern piece into three pieces) so that you had the contrasting fabric on the edges and matching fabric in the center, I think you could have accomplished the peek-a-boo interest you were striving for.

    But of course that's more work.

    Cheers,
    -M

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  12. I find a way to put the fabrics together and then squint or photograph the combo. Squinting and looking through my eyelashes gives the effect that people see at first glance and also from a distance. Initial compatibility is obvious after squinting. The photo lets me see if it will annoy me. Then of course it has to be color wheel friendly, I am not into too much chaos. I would have done a similar intensity& hue green fabric with dots or stripes or a check for the pleat. By the way, I was out shopping, and the fall palette where I shopped made me ill. It was dreadful at first glance, after squinting, and up close. Highly annoying.

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  13. Much better in the matching fabric! I have very little skill with prints. I don't even wear them much if at all. My latest creating (a print dress) may be too much for me. I love it, but I ponder if I look like a crazy person. I don't know. Prints always look too juvenile or too mature or they simply overwhelm me and make me look twenty pounds heavier than I am. I go for nice solds most of the time, occasionally with interesting textures. Nearly all of the prints end up going to my sister, who can't wear anything and look cute, but looks cute in anything she wears out of the house.

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  14. I think very, very few people have the talented eye for mixing prints, even among professional designers. I am certainly not one that has an eye for it! Funny I don't have a problem with print mixing when it comes to interior decorating though. At least I don't think so.

    I very much admire your courage and willingness to put in the extra work to try new things. And, knowing when to back away! I am one of those that are glad you changed the skirt. Many kudos for trying it!!

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  15. Mix prints? Hah! I hardly even USE prints! So I definitely agree with you on your change. Although a complimentary or contrasting solid would've looked good, too.

    That being said, I think you rock the beret-and-scarf-and-pattterned-suit look. And Oona's pattern-mixing is always awesome, even though I don't think I could pull it off myself :)

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  16. I like to think I have good taste. I like to think I like clean and simple and plain. The sad truth is that my hubby says I "have the taste of a color blind gypsy". Now normally I would huff at this however I can be a bit unpredictable. The really depressing part is I think it all goes. Apparently one cannot wear a cranberry cardigan with a bright blue circle skirt dress with sailboats on it. "They had cranberry on the sails!" I said, but alas, Hubby turned me back and said "and you wonder why people think you are 'interesting' at work". Humph! I guess sometimes too much is just too much.

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  17. Paisley with corduroy, that's all the stripe I can see working there.

    The skirt in it's contrasting form would have worked if Leah was in a revival of "The Rainmaker".

    The change to all blue is for the best, it shows off both the silhouette and your skillful construction (made under inordinate pressure no less!).

    Pattern mixers about as common as brown-eyed redheads. Few out there, but they make it look so effortless.

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  18. Put me in the "disaster all around" category. I tend to play it safe. But I'm glad you changed the skirt. The original would have made a great quilt. As a skirt, I think the new version looks a lot better.

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  19. The beret outfit is fabulous, absolutely perfect.

    I mix subtle patterns: light stripes with a bright floral and pale plaid, or various textured fabric. I generally use the rule of three; two looks confused, but three looks deliberate.

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  20. Check out koos van den akker he is the master of mixing patterns, tried to find a website for him but cant just google Koos Van Den Akker

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  21. I'm glad you changed the skirt.

    I have consciously tried to start mixing patterns. It's hard, but I eased in by getting all analytical about it and combining prints within a limited palette. I look at a list of qualities of the main fabric and then choose another fabric that is only different in one or two of those qualities - and the more they differ, the bolder I feel about my skills.

    My list of qualities is something like this: background color, design color, print type (floral, dot, stripe), scale, orderliness (randomly placed or lined up?).

    So tiny, orderly black dots on white go together easily with narrow black stripes on white. A more adventurous combo would be using the same dots with a big scattered print of white flowers on black. Right now I am too chicken to combine the dots with a floral on a background in a third color, but I'm getting there! One of these days I'll do a blog post with examples.

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  22. Yesterday, I was in the contrast camp. Today, I'm sold on your revision. You've saved the dress!

    I'm a big fan of mixing patterns, but not good at it myself. "I may not know art, but I know what I like"!

    However, I consider it worrisome that I find your beret garb is weirdly charming. Perhaps it's the élan with which you wear it.

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  23. Looks much better. Remember, Peter, I quilt, too, so I flatter myself that I'm halfway competent at it. I think the trick is to not go with patterns right next to each other that are too busy or too bold...

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  24. I have to agree with you - those two fabrics work together, just not in that way. I'm sure you'll find a fab use for the second fabric!

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  25. Dude! Seriously want those Carrie Donovan glasses. And that suit rocks.

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  26. I'm in the camp that prefers the all-blue skirt! Pattern mixing is harder in clothes than home decor or quilting. Frankly, I think scale counts for a lot too, and the scale of most quilting prints are wrong for clothes.

    I am terrible at pattern mixing. I usually wear patterns with a complementary solid color -- partly because I don't want to put THAT much thought into it. I don't really do accessories or styling either.

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  27. Can one be OVERconfident in print matching? I think that's me. Quite excessive. I probably fall into the dasaster category.

    I sometimes try to wear solid colors and monotone prints and things that match but it makes me feel boring. Until I saw your beret and scarf photo (what IS that suit? Printed velvet? I'm drooling!!), Duro Olowu was my all-time pattern mixing hero.

    I would have left those gorgeous contasting underlays in the skirt.

    Didn't the lovely Leah have an opinion?

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  28. Leah SAID she liked it, but I think she was just being kind.

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  29. Anyway, it's my reputation on the line. ;)

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  30. It looks like the book of samples had precoordinated print combinations ... perhaps one of those would have worked better? But I don't think your original choice looked bad, either. (The designer examples you show above look desperately mismatched, and not in a good way, IMHO.)

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  31. I really love mixed prints, but I think I may like your changes on this dress better after all.

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  32. For some crazy reason, I fear and mistrust patterns. Especially florals. But I'm working on it. Two patterns together? *tremble* That's too much for me. I do like it on others though.

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  33. Much cuter the new way. The patterns were ok together (for instance if the paisley were the straps), but the way it was was unflattering. She was still smiling, though.

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  34. I think it looks good either way, but I'm really wondering what Leah thought of it.

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  35. I agree that it looks better all blue; maybe it would have been good with a darker print as underlay?

    I'm currently working on my first print mixing project - a Colette Macaron dress where I mix big plaid and tiny floral. ( pic of work in progress @ themuslinette.wordpress.com) And I have to credit Versace, who I'm knocking off with this dress.

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  36. Hell yes, you can mix them. My preference is floral and stripes. And you look fantastic in that top photo. You remind me, somehow, of Stanley Tucci (whose style I love!).

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  37. 1. Forgot to say that the tam, Carrie Donovan glasses, and cool jacket and pants outfit gave off a Stanley Tucci vibe.
    2. The reworked dress is looking great.
    3. I'm seriously missing "Pleasing My Palate!"

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  38. I adore mixing fabrics (so does KOOS).. You have to think of where on your body the divisions go, and make sure it doesn't look choppy. I have been stash diving to-day, and came across smaller pieces of Waverly and Sanderson dec fabrics. Mmmmmmm... I also have gorgeous smaller pieces of fabrics, to put into garments, with colours that sing to me. They have to sing. LOVE this blog. Cathie & Robert

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  39. The more one tries, the more one succeeds with pattern matching.
    And, by reading fashion blogs, my eye has gotten used to seeing it and liking it more. I definitely want to take more risks, so I guess it is a process! I am with you on the choice to take out the contrasting fabric and put in the blue. These things just have to be tried and learned.
    That's my theory!

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  40. I like prints mixed when the color palette is really limited. I think the underlay has too many other colors. I like to mix prints when they are very simple, like two black and white prints. The scale of the print is important, too. Not that I'm an expert, just my two cents.

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  41. reminds me of the skirt I made for my daughter. I used plain piece for the underlay. I do like to see the surprise when she runs around. I called it the peekaboo skirt.

    Thinking about it, I actually sew the top panels together so they would be not spread apart when attached to the bodice. I also had top stitched the top panel so it would remain stiff.

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  42. I like the *idea* of those two prints done the way you originally made the dress, but the reality of it looks like a pillow or a curtain. I think it's the pleat--if the contrast was less hidden (piping or even some of the bodice pieces), it would look more deliberate or something.

    And to prove my fashion cred, I totally had my senior pictures taken in a polyester jumpsuit that was *exactly* like the one in the photo (except mine was black).

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  43. Yes, I do. I was told that things do not need to match, but they need to go together. With that advice, I am able to create interesting clothes for my daughter. I was trying to match things, and that didn't work.

    I really don't like the fabric of the dress or the contrasting fabric. It looks more like curtain fabric. They are to matchy matchy.

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  44. I concur with Tammy that the skirt might hang better if you closed the pleats a little at the top.

    I love mixed patterns in children's clothes and quilts, but rarely on adults. I do like your scarf and beret emsemble, though.

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  45. The blue rose fabric is gorgeous, it doesn't need a contrasting fabric. I think it looks more elegant this way. But I have always hated matching rules, it tell more about what's popular than what actually goes together.

    I see that you have used Dries van Noten as an example of what can go wrong, you should look again. He is the absolute master of bold pattern and colour combinations.

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  46. Yep, I think the change is an improvement too. I'm also with the people suggesting closing the pleats a bit. I think the problem was more because of the pattern than your original fabric choice. It just looks to me like a dress that will look a bit chunky whatever you do, and the matching underlay and closed pleats might visually counteract that. Nonetheless I'm sure Leah will look great in it as would my 20 yr old daughter, so I'm also agreeing with your mum! (I blame the time difference for not having anything original to say and plead that I'm just thinking alike all the great minds who said it first. And on mixing patterns? I'm a totally unoriginal one pattern one or two solids sewer.)

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  47. I'm a complete disaster at matching patterns, altho I'm always ready to give it a go unfortunately!
    The dress definitely looks better in one colour, the before looks like a Riverdance Irish type costume with the contrasting pleats.....
    Goto to say your leopard print trousers are just spiffing!

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  48. I think the patterns do go together, the hang of the finished dress was just a bit of a surprise. I don't often mix prints on my body. I quilt and get it out of my system that way.

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  49. I think I am more competent than confident. Also, I'll often see the perfect matching print in my mind and not be able to find the actual fabric. I like to wear just about anything with striped tights though.

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  50. I love the new skirt! I agree that the idea of a contrast underlay was great, but you would have had to close the pleat at least 6 inches down for it to look right. I can envision a re-do in the blue rose with the paisley on the cuffs of cute little half length sleeves and a collar, all 50s-like.

    As for pattern mixing, I like the idea, but I don't go there. My fashion sense is whacky as it is! What I wore yesterday is a great example. Nice jeans, black stiletto booties, and a poofy-sleeved early-90s monstrosity in red rose-patterned brocade cinched with a wide vintage red and tan Holt Renfrew belt with a "tongue depresser" closure (quotes courtesy of my room-mate!). My boyfriend said I looked nice, just not-normal :P I really should start taking photos of my crazy outfits...

    BTW, I still remember the first time I saw your houndstooth outfit. It's still so inspiring! I've got 3 yards of small B/W houndstooth waiting for the perfect pattern :D

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  51. FYI. McCalls 8934 is not technically a boxer pattern. It is rather boxer-inspired shorts. There is no fly.

    I've made McCalls 8934 several times. My husband loves to wear them as lounge-wear shorts.

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  52. I am not sure how I went this long without discovering this blog! Great personality in your writing and very informative. Regardless of how my parents tried to guide me as a child, I went to school wearing polka dots, checks, stripes, or whatever else I wanted to showcase for the day. My parents eventually let me be. Now that I am older, I wont think twice about mixing era's and styles.

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