I don’t enjoy discovering something I like is fashionable. I finished a little color-blocked version of the Bow Tie Tee last night. Naturally, I put it on immediately. A friend then looked me over and informed me that color-blocking is one of the hottest trends right now. I’m positive she meant well. A google search confirmed my trendiness with hundreds of thousands of hits on “colorblocking 2012.” Great.
When I hear words like “Blah blah is so trendy,” my first thought is always “Where, exactly?” Trends start in different places and show up on various continents seasons or even years apart. If everyone in, say, New York is wearing something right now, when can I expect to see it on the streets of Brisbane? Since most people rely on manufactured clothing, the decision for when a trend will show up in a geographic location depends more on clothing manufacturers and shipping rather than the personal choice of the consumer.
When is something trendy where you live compared to the place whence it came? Why do strangers in another city, state, continent, or hemisphere get to decide the styles you, a sewist, will wear?
I think trends are pretty irrelevant. In the age of fashion blogs and Fashion Week/Oscars/Royal Wedding feeds streaming internationally, traditional ideas of “trends” and “trendiness” just don’t make sense.
For example: If something is trendy in New York and I sew and wear it in Brisbane, am I ahead of the times? Will people around me look at me like I’m insane for wearing future fashions? (Answer: YES. It can be just as bad to be a few seasons ahead as behind, I find. Best to play it safe and wear clothes 80 years out of date.) If I wait and wear the fashion later when it’s trendy in Brisbane but it’s passe in New York, am I trendy and hip or am I hopelessly behind the times? It’s impossible to figure out, simpler to just wear what I like.
I digress, back to color-blocking… I found a handy working definition: Color blocking is a technique where blocks of various fabrics are sewn together to create clothing with a few different solid colors.
“…if you want to indulge in the trend without engaging in mix-and-match color theory each time you put an outfit together, the easiest thing you can do is to find pieces that have already done the work for you. We’re talking graphic tops, dresses, skirts, and accessories that make traditionally simple cuts way more dramatic. Add just one of these to your look, and you can take it easy with the rest of your outfit.”
Intriguing. The “style advice” is almost the same as the bald definition of the phrase.
I have a slightly different perspective on color blocking, possibly as a side effect of bathing myself in early and mid-20th century fashion and sewing publications (I can’t remember the last time I cracked open a contemporary Vogue or “Buy This Crap Now” monthly). To me, good color blocking marks a thrifty and clever sewist.
Ever find yourself in the position where you have a piece of fabric that says to you “I am a dress”? You rummage through your patterns only to discover the chosen dress fabric is 1/2 yd shorter than every *single* dress pattern you own. Or perhaps you have several shortish lengths of delicious knits at your disposal but none of the pieces are large enough for an entire top…
A vintage solution to that problem is to color block. “Make Do” by using another co-ordinating fabric or fabric(s) to make up the required yardage. Sometimes necessity is the mother of great style.
I spent some time thinking over colorblocking and came up with a few tips for color-blocking as a modern sewist:
- Pair like fabrics- a bright pink textured linen and an aqua blue slub knit cotton may not be the best choice for a garment marriage. Separately, they may work together, but exercise caution when pairing wildly different fabrics and clashing colors
- Use colors that compliment you. You know the colors you wear and everyone asks you if you’ve just come back from holidays? Those are your colors. Don’t feel bound by the limited palette you see on trend sites and in shops. If you want to play with color-blocking, why not pair two or more of your best colors in a single dress, skirt or blouse? For a more conservative approach, try pairing a darker neutral that suits you with a paler version of the same neutral (tan and brown, charcoal and black, etc).
- Strategize with color: Use colors from the same family (warms or cools) with lots of contrast, or go for two colors very close to each other like red and magenta. Another great color strategy is use of complimentary colors (that is, pairing colors that are opposite each other on the colorwheel.
- Think through the fabric use carefully. Look for a single pattern piece or element you’d like to highlight in the garment and use a piece of contrasting fabric for that piece. Then think about where else you can use that color, or another color you can introduce if desired. Make the use of color look like an essential element of the design.
- Remember that color-blocking is supposed to be clear and graphic. Pick out one or two small details from the garment to highlight, but try to avoid using a different color fabric for each pattern piece. Unless you really, really want to, then go for it.
Like so many other trends and fashions, as a sewist you have way more options for colorblocking than someone who doesn’t sew. You have the freedom to choose the styles and colors that flatter you best to create a fun and apparently on-trend garment.
I spent the weekend completely absorbed in the pattern making project (staycation!), and I’m pleased with the results. Tomorrow, I’ll show you my own color-blocked Bow Tie Tee!