Curating Colour


Work has commenced on the Vogue toile. That severe angle above is a kimono sleeve gusset. The V stitching is there to reinforce the corner. I’m going to have to sew an entire seam into that severe angle. Wish me luck!

buttonhole instructions

I’ve realised that this dress involves the insertion of a single bound buttonhole. Instructions are above. A bit different to my own 41-page set of instructions! But I’m excited to play again.

Overnight I discovered that this dress journey may entail surprise elements that no one – myself least of all – could ever have predicted. Details to come!

curating colour

Finally, I leave you with a question about what I’m going to rather loftily call curating colour. Do you find this challenging? (Above two very bright pieces in my stash. A neon pink silk twill and a neon orange … something.)

I noticed that TMOS often has two or three fabric rolls that compliment each other, arriving from the same retailer source. He pulls them out so that I can see how two fabrics work well together.

This led me to realise that when we wander into a clothes store, a lot of the colour curating has already been done for us. Everything perfectly selected and matched, according to seasonal trends. When we begin sewing, we cast ourselves adrift on a sea of colour! What to pick, how to choose, where to begin? Mistakes are made along the way, and I suspect we have to re-learn what suits us.

Have you conquered the curating of colour? Or do you have a stash of clashing fabrics?

neon colours

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37 Responses to Curating Colour

  1. jay says:

    The pink and orange together are splendid. I realise that wasn’t the question. Finding the exact colour or match or co-ordination in the fabric you want is often nearly impossile, in spite of the efforts of stores to display fabrics helpfully. Toile is making progress!

  2. Ella says:

    I tend to pick the same colours all the time but I still have this urge to buy something “stunning” occasionally only to bring it home and find it doesn’t look anywhere near as stunning once the shopping rush fumes have vanished, and it doesn’t suit me at all. Recently, I’ve decided to buy lots of greys – in yarn as well as in fabric – because everything goes with grey and it even tones the shockers down to wearable. That and light jeans blue and the classic black and white. I’m still not sure which colours really look good on me, though.

  3. I love bring orange and pink, I can’t wear much orange, so tend to use it for accents, a bright teal/ green blue also looks fantastic with either of these colours.

  4. I find I have a lot of fabrics in the blue/grey/purple range as those are the ones I am drawn to just looking at the fabric. And I suppose the colour becomes more important as the shape/style doesn’t influence what you think when it’s flat fabric. I am sure when I was buying rtw I would have overlooked a colour/ pattern I loved as I didn’t like the style or vice versa.

  5. anne says:

    At the beginning of a season, I go through my fabric cupboards and take out all the fabric that appeals to me this season, and fits with what I need. For example, I won’t take out anything for a special-occasion garment, because I plan those things individually.

    So, in a couple of weeks (I’ve got a rent inspection next week, so that takes priority, unfortunately!), I’ll open my cupboards (and go through the pile that _doesn’t_ fit in the cupboards any more), and drag out all the fabric for work clothes and weekend clothes that looks right to me, and chuck it all on my bed.

    I then move it around into overlapping rows – skirts (I wear mainly skirts at work, as they’re quick to make, use less fabric, comfortable, and conservative people approve of them), pants, jackets, tops, dresses.

    Patterns will then emerge (actually, since most of the fabric is plain, maybe not ;-), where I see colour/texture/pattern combinations that I might not have expected.

    I’ll also grab some of my existing clothes for that season, and see what coordinates, including my shoes. I tend to buy shoes, then find clothes to go with them (since making shoes to my preferred standard is definitely beyond me).

    I then edit it down to about four times what I’m likely to make, as my eyes are way bigger than my time to sew, and put those aside in a box, with matching thread, zips and patterns if I have them already. I live in the Hills, so I buy up those in advance. I’ll also cut a sample off each piece of fabric and stick them into a zip-lock bag so I can buy the rest of the thread/zips/buttons/etc I may need, and if I buy RTW, more shoes or tights. You can never have enough shoes and tights 🙂

    That’s how I do it, and I do love the rasberry and orange together – they just don’t like me 🙁

  6. I love your posts and how thought provoking they are!! I have recently been asking myself this colour question, as sewing a me made wardrobe is more than just picking the right silhouette, I pick fabrics that I love only to find sometimes they dont love (or suit) me or I see something rtw that I love and think I would never have chosen that fabric if I’d seen it on the roll…!! Confusing
    To help me a little I took a New Years pledge not to buy anymore grey fabric, I found I had loads in my stash and it totally washes me out, I’m doing well …. so far.

  7. Vicki Kate says:

    I had never even considered that shops have done that already. It makes complete sense as customers are more likely to buy a complete outfit that way rather than going looking for a top that goes with the skirt or whatever. TMOS is a smart cookie, but we kinda knew that anyway!
    I do find it challenging, the colour curation. It may explain why I like to sew and wear dresses – no matching required! I’m planning a separates wardrobe at the moment and finding it VERY challenging in that I want the pieces to work together, so just grabbing a favourite fabric and going for it isn’t really the right approach. So much thinking about it before I’ve even started pattern prep!

  8. SewingElle says:

    I love the colour curating stuff we can do as sewists with large stashes. See, another reason to have a large stash. I also like the red and pink together.

  9. Excellent insight Karen, I hadn’t realised that shops do the curating for us. I have started to work with colour palettes, it really helps with buying fabric. I used to buy anything that caught my eye but now I can’t buy it if it doesn’t go with anything else. Sounds like a restriction but I’m a lot less overwhelmed and indecisive when fabric shopping now.

  10. Kerry says:

    Interesting question about colour. I have noticed that my stash heavily features certain colours and although I ignore the ‘trend’ colours overall, it can be interesting when magazines or shops combine colours you would never normally think to put together. I’ve just blogged about choosing yarn colours for an Icelandic sweater and that process was really challenging, and I spent ages holding pieces of yarn against each other and trying to balance the colours I love with the colours that would work together.

  11. Janome says:

    Matching colour(s) to my makes is one of the most important parts of picking a project for me. I’m actually not that into colour theory or even think of myself as a very visual person. (I couldn’t imagine a room repainted in a different colour if I tried all day). It’s basically a manifestation of the inside of my head and the specific type of optimism I have for wearing the clothes. Big example, colour picks just before summer. I start sewing with the brights I think can be carried off in blazing sun (I live in North Africa) or the ones I think can lift up long, dull, grey days (I lived in Belgium before and I’m originally from Coventry) or the ones that match the culture where I am at the time (I had a very Belgian thing for burnt citrus colours combined with sludgy neutrals for a while back there in Brussels). And it’s a sure fire way to add some life or fun or even (and this does happen) sophistication to balance out the work of learning, the fiddliness of a make, or the simplicity. I had no idea I had such opinions on colour until I looked at my toppling stash pile and saw the trends. So, there’s another argument for a toppling stash pile.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I’m used to shops curating things for us – I worked in retail for many years and did this all the time. New collections get released with guidelines about what to display together to help customers see how to co-ordinate outfits. However, when it comes to my own sewing I get seduced by gorgeous fabrics too and then have things that don’t go with anything else in my wardrobe! I’ve recently made a pair of trousers (you can read about them on my blog) that I love, but they’re a really awkward colour. I’m going to try and be more co-ordinated in future ☺

  13. Ann Rowley’s instructions for inserting a gusset are very clear and easy to follow. Highly recommended. Love the colour combo!

  14. Cinderellis says:

    This is a bit of an ongoing problem for me, as I’m a massive print magpie – I find all the bright, colourful fabrics, then realise that everything clashes. This is part of the reason I always wear dresses as there’s no need to coordinate! I’m planning on making a couple of plain linen skirts this spring, so I have something to wear with all those lovely bright summer blouses that are currently orphans in my wardrobe!

  15. Kathy Lynch says:

    TMOS obviously adores you. I’ll bet he doesn’t drag heavy, extra bolts out for anyone else! 🙂 Happy toile-ing!

  16. Kimmy Rocket says:

    Much to my distress, my stash is a cacophony of colour. I tend to select patterns and fabric in harmony, and order a little extra fabric for other makes, but a colour coordinated stash this does not make. I’m torn – I want to make garments in the fabrics that I fall in love with, but I also want my sewing to make good use of bitty fabric remnants so it’s not wasteful, which means mixing and matching from my stash. I’m wondering if it’s even possible to have it both ways?

  17. Lesley King says:

    I think it partly depends on where I shop. Here in Edinburgh we have relatively small choice if fabric shops which don’t have a huge turnover of stock. Therefore its practically impossible to go shopping with a list of colours you want – as such my colour choices have already been curated. One of the reasons I try to snatch time when I’m travelling is to find other fabric shops and expand my horizons. A recent trip to goldhawk road had me somewhat overwhelmed!

  18. Sheree says:

    When the Grand National was on the TV at the weekend there was a piece with Gok Wan interviewing a jockey’s wife. She planned to wear a
    Roksanda dress (at £965, so completely out of my price range) but it got me inspired. Your colours are used in it, combined with black. It called “Turnham color-block stretch wool-blend dress” if you want to google it.

  19. fabrickated says:

    The great joy of making clothes is that we can choose exactly the colour palette we want, although of course fabric colour trends are closely fashion related. I hope you go with orange and pink – I love the combo but couldn’t carry it off myself, but your deep cool colouring is ideal (with navy, black or brown say) to wear these two together.

    I love patterned fabric but the combinations are not always ideal, so I have started to paint or dye my own fabrics. I guess it is similar with knitting in that you can put your own colour combinations together as you wish.

  20. carly927 says:

    This is my least favorite part of sewing. I recently tried on this skirt: and even though it wasn’t something I wanted to buy, I was marveling at how they were able to get coordinating fabrics and trim. I always have a pretty good idea of colors and patterns that I want, it just turns out that what I want doesn’t exist in places that sell fabric to home sewers.

  21. Anna says:

    The instructions for the bound buttonhole are quite clever. I’ll have to try that!

  22. Catherine says:

    I am not a brave blogger like you, but I adore colour. It’s a recent discovery for me and came with learning how to sew again, having not sewn since I was very young. I choose colours by deciding what suits me and then trying to find fabrics in those colours. I like to be bright. I’m sure I often make mistakes, but I enjoy making them.

  23. aha !the good old single bound buttonhole. Now that takes me back to my ‘a’ level textiles (32 years ago ) shhhhh. I shall wish you luck, but have I have faith in your abilities.
    Those instructions look like ‘pop art’ ?
    bestest daisy

  24. Curating colour! I love that! And I admit, it’s one of my very favourite steps in the sewing process. I curate, both in the store and with my stash fabrics. If I’m in the store, I will get my primary piece of fabric cut, so I’m more comfortable walking around looking for matches {although match may be the wrong word, LOL}. I get a little giddy when I *hit* the right complementary fabrics. Sometimes, it’s quite unexpected, even to my eyes! But! I know it, when I see it! And then there are times that I pull out an assortment of stash fabrics; drape them on my dress form, and let the fun begin!

    One bound buttonhole! My biggest challenge seems to be making my bound buttonholes exactly the same size, so having just one to do sounds great!

  25. Liz M says:

    I like looking around to see what’s happening in nature & what other people are wearing and how they’re using colour. It wasn’t until I looked at an autumnal leaf that I realised how well orange and green go together. Now I’ve got yarn in both colours, waiting to be made into wristwarmers, for example.

  26. symondezyn says:

    Colour curating is one of my greatest joys; all my life, as an artist, I’ve studied and practiced the art of colour theory, and it comes relatively naturally to me.

    THAT SAID, this brings with it its own unique challenges when it comes to sewing. Colours that thrill me do not all look so thrilling ON me, so I have learned to stick within a colour palette that I know suits me. Therefore, I tend to buy fabric piecemeal, as I come across it, so I don’t necessarily plan a whole coordinating outfit or wardrobe all at once. In addition, the wardrobe of my dreams is always so much larger than the time I have to sew it in, and I can never seem to figure out whether I should sew what I love or sew what I need… and how to recognize the difference between the two! LOL

  27. Chris says:

    Goodness, that kimono corner does look rather severe. Makes me rethink my “This is gonnna be easy” assessment from the other day.
    Well – curating colour and me don’t go together rather well. I love colour, bright colours, loads of colours – but I have no taste so quite often my combinations look rather garish… I try to stick with more conservative combinations now…

  28. Cynthia says:

    I will sometimes pull out a favorite scarf that has multiple colors and use the colors in the scarf as a guide to what will work together.

  29. I actually love the pink and orange together…a lot! I don’t often buy plain fabric (or rtw clothes), so I always end up with clashing prints…always! I’ll never learn!

  30. V Reed says:

    I’ve learned over the years what colors I love and what suits me. I have an absurd amount of teal and pink in my stash, although the pink is mostly for my daughter. I know I can wear brown as long as it is a skirt or slacks with a nice buffer between it and my face. Because of that, I practically never buy brown fabric, but I load up on grey bottom weights preferring it over black. If I am buying a print for a top or a skirt, I won’t leave the store without a coordinating solid to balance the print. More often, I have a solid fabric in hand from my stash and I’m looking for a coordinating print to round out an outfit.

    In the last couple of years, I have accumulated loads of bottom weight fabrics that I’m now working my way through. New fabric purchases require a specific purpose. I’ve switch from buying impulsively to buying to sew with a plan.

  31. Caroline says:

    Since beginning to make my own clothes I have discovered I love navy (it’s my black!) and plains suit me best but I LOVE pattern.i have a Pinterest board which I made over time before realising when I see RTW clothes I go for plain but in fabric shops I go pattern all the way. To indulge myself I tend to line pockets and have little touches in pattern. Makes me happy!

  32. SO true, in shops generally things are arranged to look fabulous, and I sometimes find I get my purchase home and it is not as fabulous when away from the amazing shop display. Not just fabric! I love warm soft reds and purples and olive greens and my wardrobe is basically these colours in varying combos and intensities and lots of black. The only time I seem to bust out of this is for dresses, because they are an entire garment and so don’t need to go with anything but themselves, which is one of the many marvellous things about dresses!

    • PS, your kimono top will go just fine, you know it will. They are never as intimidating in action as they seem in thought. Years ago I made a silk organza bolero for a wedding dress with cut in sleeves so I had to add the underarm gussets for it to sit properly. It was such a great exercise in discipline as ever seam showed through and it was so simple and unadorned and ivory, any mistake would have been seen from space! It was quite beautiful in the end, as was the dress. It’s these triumphs of skill over fabric that give us the deepest satisfaction is it not? 🙂

  33. LinB says:

    Fabric finds me, not the other way around. Much of my current stash is from friends’ dead relatives. Once you get a reputation as a fabric hoarder, folk are best pleased to gift you with old fabric, rather than just heartlessly chuck it in the trash. (Although I am happy to throw away or donate what I don’t want, once they’ve left the driveway.) ((I threw out some old quilts that had obviously been stored in a barn for decades. They had been donated for an auction. There were still mice in them.))

    I find it extremely useful to stack fabrics of like fiber and weave together, then organize by color. Sometimes I find combinations that I would never have thought to group together in a million years make an amazing effect. I like to use the remnants as would a quilter, varying scale and intensity within a color family, to make garments of mixed prints. I am not above snagging already-sewn clothes from my closet to scavenge for recombinant garments, if I need a little bit more in the way of sleeve or button band or collar.

  34. I often find it really inspiring to go and walk around M&S or Next and look at all there colour combos and different fabric types. Now I need to transfer this inspiration to my fabric purchases!

  35. Jessica says:

    I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of color, so finding colors that combine well (or “clash pleasingly,” as one might pleasingly clash patterns) has never been a problem for me. I’ve also always had a rule for myself that I use to evaluate any garment that I consider buying, and I’ve translated this to the fabrics that I buy/garments that I make – it has to go with at least 3-5 other existing garments in my wardrobe. This ensures no wardrobe orphans, that I’ll have a much better chance of actually wearing whatever I buy/make, and results in a stash/wardrobe that tends to coordinate. The result? I have two color “families” that I work with and that have some crossover – a blue/purple family, and a warm red/pink/orange family that accents well with mustards, teals, and rich purples (the teal/purple is the crossover; I just tell myself that everything goes with mustard). And then I have a small stash of neutrals that extends my wardrobe by a factor of 3ish. I find it really helps to buy colors that have a similar level of saturation. The other thing to do is to keep outfits monochromatic (so look for red and white prints, for example, instead of red and yellow or red and yellow and blue.

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