Conversant In Color: Buying Fabric Part 2

This is part 2 of the Conversant In Color: Buying Fabric post from earlier this week.

Colors: Gather your friends

Click for source

If you don’t know what colors work best for you, check out my posts on Warm/Cool and what that means, Observing Your Favorites, and Harmonizing with Your Environment.  I don’t have a slick system for choosing colors, I think the process is too individual for that.  Time and observation are your best bets.

Once you have an idea of a few colors that work for you and you want to apply that to sewing with a purpose, you’ll need to assemble some colors into a “team.”  These are the colors you shop for.

Simple = attainable

  • Start with a neutral- black/white/ivory/khaki/brown/raisin/navy.  Pick one to build your wardrobe around.  It is the anchor.  I suggest picking the one that suits your personal coloring, your taste and your environmental needs the best.
  • Fill in two other colors that you favor the most.
  • Then choose ONE accent color- this can be a color you LOVE but can’t wear much, or a brighter-than-usual shade.  This keeps things simple.

Here’s mine for Summer 2013:

Click for photo source

If you’ve been keeping an eye on me for a while, you’ll notice it’s very much the same as Summer 2012.  I leaned heavily on bright reds and blues, with aqua and pink for accents.  This year, I’d like to lean on blues/aquas/seafoam and introduce some gold/yellow/orange as an accent color.  This will help me refresh my Summer 2012 wardrobe with new pieces that I can mix in easily.

These colors worked really well for me- my temperament, environment and lifestyle. Oh yes, and with my coloring!  I used white as my neutral then, and white is my neutral this summer.  I like it.  Besides, I need to replace some of my ruined whites.

Keep It Simple, Sugar

I plan my fabric shopping like some plan their grocery trips.  The planning prevents over-buying and simplifies the process of sewing outfits and dressing myself.   At the same time, I try to stay flexible.

This is a very, very simple breakdown of how to use color in wardrobe planning- intended as a starting point (I used my colors from the palette above):

  • Neutral: Workhorse garments- 40-60% of the sewing.  Tops, bottoms, and a jacket/vest/topper.
  • Color 1: 25-30% of your fabrics. The best color near your face.  Shop for shades or tones of the same color to avoid looking too monochromatic or “matchy.”  This color should look well with your neutral, as well as your face.
  • Color 2: 20-25% of your fabrics.  This is a color you like, looks ok on you, and one that works well with Color 1.  If you feel timid use a complementary color, like the seafoamy teal in my wardrobe palette.  If you feel a little more confident, go for a contrasting color, like the red I used.
  • Accent Colors: These will make up about 5%-10% of your sewing fabrics, if that.  An accent color may be any color you like that mixes well with your other colors.  I’m choosing yellow/orange as my summer accents because I like them but can’t wear much of those colors.

The Importance of an Accent Color:

When I’m sewing a wardrobe I may need just a tiny bit of color on a project- maybe threads, buttons, embellishment, or a nice clash-y lining.  It’s nice to have some accent colors already in mind and to hand, and using a consistent accent color creates continuity in the sewing.

This also makes it simpler for me to thrift for belts and bags.  If it’s my accent color, decent quality and a good price, it goes home with me.  If it’s one of my other colors, I might consider it.  Otherwise, it stays put even if it is a steal.  I don’t need that much stuff in my house.

click for photo source


Use four colors in your wardrobe- Color 1 + a complement and Color 2 + a complement.  The trick is to make sure all the colors are wearable together, even if you wouldn’t necessarily wear them every day.  Try working with a larger wardrobe concept, too.  Do set yourself a few basic guidelines so you don’t end up with five tops and no bottoms! (Unless that’s what you need, then do it.)

Basic Wardrobe Planning for Beginners:

If you’re new to the process of wardrobing, I suggest starting with:

  • a basic topper with a bottom in a neutral (a suit, or a casual jacket/cardi and a bottom) (Use the Neutral Color)
  • a simple blouse/tee (Use Color 1)
  • a more “interesting” blouse/tee (Use Color 2)
  • another bottom (Use Color 1 or 2)
  • maybe with a dress in a color/fabric that harmonizes with the rest.

This would give you two tops, two bottoms, a “topper” and maybe a dress.  That’s eight outfits.  (Did I count right?)  If the idea of sewing a “topper” sounds scary and weird, then don’t sew it.  With the dress, that’s still 5 different outfits.

This is manageable.

Mix it Up with Prints

Find a print that uses more or less the same colors you like to wear/look best on you.  Be sure to buy it in an appropriate weight for your project- lighter, softer fabrics up top and heavier or more textured fabrics below.  In general.  You could build your color story for a wardrobe around a great print, and don’t forget the neutral!

I know we had a LOT to say about the use of novelty prints and quilting cotton for apparel sewing last time. I did not intend to create guilt or raise any hairs- just a simple bit of advice because I’ve been there.  Switching to solids/stripes/checks was the one thing that lifted the overall tone of my sewing.  Dramatically.

I LOVE prints, when used well.  If you want, I can work up a nice post about that…  Some also asked for information about fibers.  I’ve written about them extensively in the past, I can look back through the archives and re-publish/re-work/update those articles as a regular series.  Yes?

Speaking of improving the overall tone of sewing- did you see Tanit-Isis’ post on Homemade Legitimacy?  She builds a good argument for striving for sewing excellence while questioning the standards we hold ourselves to as sewists.

Sunni is rallying the troops to sew wearable wardrobes that provide free range of motion, too!  Everyone is doing it! “The Everyday Wardrobe is about building that wardrobe that you can wear every. single. day. And feel good in, look good in and still move in.”

What do you think?  Would you put color together in a wardrobe differently?  How do you do it?  Which of this week’s palettes catches your eye?

Be sure to vote for the Tiramisu Covergirl’s name!  Penelope is ahead by a small margin.  I think you can vote as many times as you like, though it only counts as one entry in the Polka Dot Jersey Giveaway!  It closes in four hours, so do get in!

Next: Tira Lady Named and The Winner, with an online source for navy or red polka dot cotton (limited supply!)

Later: Lila’s wardrobe project progress- A Trio of Tiny Shorts and Quantifying My Sewing


  1. Great post as usual! I’ll particularly treasure that “how much to make of what”, because it’s the sort of advice I feel I have been looking for my whole adult life of working in offices (one of my pet hates is so-called “business dress”, I won’t even start or I’ll rant for weeks).
    A few weeks ago I took a ginormous bag of clothes to the charity shop and I was a little worried about the size of my donation, and yet I have not thought about (missed?) wearing a single one of those garments. Goes to show that a radical re-think is what I need, and this will really help!

    The only thing I am worried about is maintenance, as in how often to wash things and how long it takes for clothes to dry. It seems something that is never mentioned when you read about “capsule wardrobes” and the like. I always wonder “Am I the only one that sweats? Or is there a housekeeping skill I haven’t mastered yet in my adult age?”.
    (ooops! TMI, sorry!)

    Then again, I always wash fabric in the way I always plan to wash it, as soon as I bring it home from the shop to avoid surprises, so I should just remember how it behaves when I start sewing some sensible separates. Which I will do. The fact that I have 80% of my last summer dress done won’t stand in the way, promise!

    Thanks again! :)

    • I’m not sure what you mean about washing a capsule wardrobe… Usually, I think the writers of wardrobing stuff assume you have other clothes you’ll mix in, so you’re not really expected to wear 2 shirts in a week… I do laundry once or twice a week, it works fine for us? :)

      I don’t generally wash things that aren’t dirty. It’s interesting, actually… When I wore more wovens and semi-tailored skirt with cotton or silk or linen blouses, I washed my clothes less frequently than I do now, when I lean more heavily on knits. Hmm…

      • I do laundry once or twice a week too, aside from the running kit that needs to be ready all the time and admittedly it works alright.
        I think I just wish I had “less stuff” and clothes are the first on that list, so I’d like to be able to rotate them better. We could talk about closet space but that would be some serious ‘fessing up! :D

        • Hmmmmm- so you mean, where does wardrobing, sustainability, and good hygiene meet? I don’t know, to be honest. Working on that one. :) I can guarantee you it’s easier to pare down a wardrobe of thoughtfully chosen separates.

  2. Funnily enough, I was at the hardware store today to look at paint chips and they were using the same percentages as recommendations for color in a room. :)

    I guess it’s just good “color science”.

  3. I love this, so well put together and illustrated! I really enjoyed your recent posts, they are really thought through and I think I was unconsciously nodding my head in agreement a lot of times ;)

    By the way, I think you’ve really found your style over the course of the past year and it suits you so well. Hats off to you! You look striking.

    • Thanks, frisfris! :) That means a lot to me, we’ve been blogging for a long time.. I’ve been trying quite hard.. Sometimes I think it’s right, sometimes not. :) So thanks!

  4. What an excellent and clear description of how to move towards thoughtful coordinated sewing and dressing. This is quite similar to how I choose colors for my own sewing. While I love color (how could I not, being an artist) there are only a few colors that look well when I wear them. I tend to wear the colors of my hair and my eyes, as brighter colors make me feel and look washed out, since my own coloring is rather muted. For example, if I wear bright cobalt blue, I get comments like “what a pretty dress”; if I wear a soft indigo, the comments are more like “you look good today” I guess I would rather wear my clothes than have them wear me, in a manner of speaking… My friends who have higher contrast in their natural coloring look great in the bright colors that do not suit me.

    My usual choices are indigo, grey, chocolate brown, and black. Having limited my wardrobe colors makes fabric shopping easy, and makes getting dressed in the morning a snap. Where I have difficulty is in coming up with good accent colors. I tend to use one of the colors in my palette that is not in the garment as an accent. Perhaps you have some suggestions for how to pick a good accent?

    I love your choices for your own wardrobe palette, and how well they compliment both your coloring and your personal style

    p.s. I just found where I hid (put away in a safe place) the Sisters of Edwardia pattern I was working on testing for you, so I can get back to that now as well

    • Excellent- and what a fantastic description of blues! Thank you for that. :)

      I’m pretty high-contrast, so that’s how I tend to dress… should write about that, it’s helpful… Hmm!

      You’re right, it’s sooooooo easy to dress from a carefully limited palette. Mind-blowingly easy.

      Accent colors… Hmm… Well… I tend to choose by whim. Last summer, I wore a lot of reds and pinks and white, I used turquoise for a bright POP of color… Casual shoes, bracelets, eyeshadow sometimes, a little handbag that was worthless for anything but looking cute and holding my lipstick but I still liked anyway…. It was fun.

      I’m sure I’ll still use the turquoise accessories this summer, but bringing in the yellow is a way to freshen my color choices a bit without changing everything radically. Like… I’m keeping an eye out for yellow canvas espadrilles, I might pick up a silly little yellow handbag if I find one in an op-shop (or maybe just make one…), or make some new belts.

      For your colors and what you describe, I might suggest a bright blue… I know you said you don’t wear bright blue dresses, but you may find you really like the effect of a pop of bright blue against your beautiful indigo. Mustard or yellow is another color that might work well as an accent to your chosen colors, I know a year or two ago everyone was all super-thrilled about mustard and grey, and I think it’s a good choice for the right person.

      If you were feeling conservative, you could always go for black or grey as an accent, but that’s kind of monochromatic.

      oh! Why not try a bit of deep red? I use red as a default accent color, too… In my wardrobe, it’s one more of several bright colors, and in yours it might provide just a little bit of edge without being too overwhelming… :)

  5. Great Series Steph, pre-planning fabric purchases is not just efficient and cost effective but provides a continuity that actually makes it easier for us to get dressed in the morning. Anything to streamline our lives is a good thing. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for this series, Steph! Seems lately I’ve been walking into my closet and thinking “UGH” (too much black). I get bored with my wardrobe after a while, but I hate to shop for clothes. I think it’s time to purge (getting ready to move and need to downsize from a walk-in closet to one about half the size). I’m a cool/winter, and generally go for jewel-tones next to my face… I do love the seashell color palette.

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  8. These posts really have me in a muddle. I plan to take some this weekend and sit down and write myself some notes. I completely agree with all you have said about prints versus solids and it’s something I’ve been addressing in recent months, but I keep changing my mind about what works for me, colour wise. I worked on a purple base colour for my SWAP with full intention of building on it with another solid base colour that paired with the prints, but then I got distracted by pretty prints and special patterns I just HAD to make immediately. I have a couple of distracting fabrics I want to sew up to get them out of my sight but after that I’m working on my new plan based on what I’m learning in these posts. Thanks for all of the inspiration! I’ll name my collection after you :)

    • Oh no! I’m trying to do the opposite of muddle things….!

      Writing notes is a great way to explore these ideas… Just setting some things down and looking them over really really helps, I find. Then once I’ve thought things through, I don’t have to think much about it later. Unless I’m writing a series of posts on the topic… ;)

      I would *love* that. The naming. I’ve named a few garments and even a collection after people, I’m so pleased you’d name yours for me. :D

  9. Hmm.. I seem to be consistently drawn to the same colours – as I discovered when I found that fabric earmarked for a blouse was the exact right colour to co-ordinate with a print dress, and now I don’t have enough left to make the blouse – but I’d never thought about percentages of neutrals to colourful colours. I think my neutrals are waaaaaaaaaay off. I may have to go shopping.

    • Let me know how you get on. It’s all a basic outline, nothing set in stone you know… I found when I mixed in more neutral colored separates, it really opened up my options for what-goes-with-what…

  10. My goodness, you and Sunni have just blown my mind wide open! I made a dress in quilting cotton that I got on mega-sale, smugly congratulating myself on making a Wearable Muslin. Except it became the Wearable Muslin that I Did Not Wear. So, between your mention of quilting cottons, recommendation of neutral colors, and Sunni’s instruction to figure out why one is not wearing a garment, I had a lightbulb moment. I used cheap black dye (knowing it doesn’t work well) and that bright yellow floral with metallic accents became a soft grey-plum (still with metallic accents) that I love. Thank you so much!

  11. This is a fantastic series, and I am really loving it. I had been thinking along these lines recently, and it’s been wonderful to see yours (and Sunni’s) series crop up. It had shifted my pattern and fabric purchasing, and added focus.

    For me: Neutral = Black, Colour 1 = Blue Colour 2 = purpley pinks

    Accents are the ones that have me flustered. ;)

    Also a lot of thoughts for me have accumulated into this tempting idea of a uniform… still toying with it.

    • Well, for an accent, why not take a quick stroll through some “fashion” blogs for color trends for this season? It might inspire you to a color you might never try, and since it’s “fashion forward” you can “get away” with it.. .if you know what I mean.

      I like the idea of a uniform, but I’m more married to the idea of a “pattern wardrobe” which is a whole other conceptual thing… I realized I had a pattern wardrobe about a year ago, and it was kind of the same as having a nicely workable personal color palette. I could forget about figuring out what cuts would look well together, and instead focus on my simple, well-fitting basics that I could change for design details. Then I realized I was onto something… And now I have Cake. I’m absolutely dying to get Tiramisu squared away so I can show y’all the next patterns…

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  15. This is a great post!! I feel so validated because this is exactly how I approach colour, and it feels right to me. However when I started sewing/blogging I felt like I needed to use lots of colour in order to be interesting. I’ve never been much into prints, other than subtle ones; and when I wear colours that aren’t ‘mine’ I feel out of sorts :) The only exception is summer dresses – for some reason I feel like they don’t have to be in my usual palette ^__^

    I’m glad I don’t have to feel guilty or boring for choosing ‘my’ colours anymore; there’s already so few garments I wear that I’ve made, it’d be a shame to make any more that go unworn.

    Thanks for posting this and helping me feel better about my colours!! :)

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  20. so, OK, I have read through all these fab posts and thank you for a satisfying morning on the internet. May I suggest you update each one of the posts with the links to all the others? Gems! all of them
    Carry on, and happy blogging!
    Now, for me to step away from the computer and time for fitting session on my coat muslin.

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