mixing patterns : tips + tricks for fabric

A sweet reader named Amanda sent me an email the other day. It went a little something like this:

I loved your last post on fabric sources and tips for shopping for them. Have you written a post on actually combining fabrics? This is where I am usually stumped. I’m just not sure I have ‘an eye’ for it? Do you have any tips or rules of thumb that you like to follow on this? Can you share your thought process? I’m forever obliged if you do-I think I’m scared to make the commitment, and I could just use a little help. -Amanda 

So I started thinking about it all, and while there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to decorating your own home, there are a few little personal tricks I like to follow every now and again, and I thought I’d share them with you guys today!

First things first: Just in case we haven’t formally established this: I’m a big believer in learning how to sew. So, if you don’t know how, stop now and go purchase an inexpensive machine as a generous gift to yourself. I’ll still be here when you get back! ;} With a few questions here and there from my friends, I’m a self taught {anti} seamstress. The hardest parts = threading the machine and cutting a straight line. True story. But if you can learn how to sew a line, you can ride that cash cow all the way to the bank with handmade draperies and pillows. It’s the little things that go a long way in building a wonderfully customized look for your space. DO IT.

1. Play It Smart: Don’t be afraid of using patterns in your home. Be fearless. We use that phrase a lot around here. But with that being said, now let me contradict myself. Stay fearless within reason. Keep your head on straight and play it smart. It’s kind of like dating that skeezy guy in college. You don’t very well want to make a commitment and unknowingly drop 3,000 dollars on the latest and greatest super expenso pattern {see parallel to seemingly nice guy} just because you fell in love with him it, only to hate it when said aforementioned super expenso pattern turns up in every other magazine and home in six short months. (See Tom Brady.) {I mean, I never had that happen to me in college…I played the playas!}

I have a little bit of a method to my madness when I apply three play-it-smart concepts to my fabric selection process:

a. Keep it classic. Do it right. {see: ideally, a great marriage.} For larger elements like, say, a Duncan Phyfe Sofa, something like linen is a smart order of the day. It ‘s clean and simple for years to come, and a one time expense that won’t keep you coming back for more replacements. Cover it and cover it right. While it’s a fun notion to go all berserk on that awesome camelback sofa you just found a-la your old Domino mag, think ahead of the trends. Will you regret that choice three years from now? What about ten? {See: badly procured flame stitching circa 1993.} Your tastes will change, just like you. So if I could recommend one thing: play it smart.

b. With a dash of edgy. Now let me revise myself even further, by saying this: {Just as it pertains to hawt date nights a-la the hubs} throw in a little excitement every now and then. When it comes to trendy fabrics, they’re a great and budget-friendly way to update your home. Pillows are the most cost efficient way. You can have as many as you want. Change them as often as you like with reasonably priced fabrics. So don’t be afraid to throw in a little personality to the mix.

c. Rotate. {See: Dating your husband. When the dates at wing night get boring, or a little challenging because of musical beds with the kids (which we may or may not be experiencing yet again right now) mix it up a bit}  It’s good to keep it fresh. If you’re constantly updating {whether it’s every season, 6 months or few years} Throw in a new patterned pillow with the ones you’ve had sitting around for a while. Keep it affordable, so you can have that luxury, with no strings attached. Don’t be afraid to slice and dice, and create new things from old ones. Shop your house. And then combine them with new. Tada! A fresh look. And an entirely new way of looking at things.

So, to recap: Don’t date Tom Brady {lose your head over hot + expensive fabrics} Do it right {ideally, a great marriage} Trendy with small pops of unexpected wow {keep that marriage spicy} and rotate often {spice up the dates beyond nacho night at your Moms house where you’ll be likely to discuss great Aunt Matilda’s foot cheese a-la Everybody Loves Raymond for the fifth time in a row} to keep it fresh. It’s easy to go crazy over that latest fabric. Allow yourself a little wiggle room for later so you’re not grimacing over some insane purchase a few years down the line…

2. It’s all about contrast. Think of your room as having many layers. The first one is paint, the second, furniture, and the next is fabric. With each layer, you build interest, just like great accessories with a simple outfit. When searching for fabrics that work, I love to look for contrasting pairs. Whether it’s hints of it in the color, pattern, or shapes, these differences make an interesting multi-dimensional space. You can think of terms of contrast on many different levels. For instance:

Organic vs geometric: 

Simple vs complex: 

Light vs dark:

The possibilities go on and on…and it’s all up to how you choose to pair them together. kind of like a fun, subconscious puzzle. Even layers in the same tones can work together, as long as they have a subtle contrast.

3. They just need to ‘go’. They don’t have to match. I mentioned this in my last post, thinking outside the limiting bolt arrangements in the mass box stores. You never know what will work. I think mismatched fabrics from different lines go together in a fun way, when you tie it together with a ‘missing link.’

4. Carry it through. In terms of fabric in the overall space, think critically in terms of where you can use it again in repetitive ways to help make the room feel whole. This is also a great solution for a super large space or major problem area. Think in terms of spreading the wealth, to help bring the space together. Even if it’s something simple like simple diagonal stripes repeated in different ways…

5. Reinvent the obvious. Beyond the pillows. Beyond the curtains. Use creative solutions. Carry that color and pattern around the room. From memo boards,

fabric letters,


or unexpected combinations to bring it together in new and unusual ways.

Think beyond the typical, and have fun!

I hope this helped any of you who may have had questions about selecting that fabric. Just remember, that ultimately, it’s all about what you like. It’s all about creating a haven for yourselves and your families. This is just a short process of thought I like to use when planning out fabrics in a space, and how I like to combine + use them. Happy creating everyone, and have an inspired day!

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Responses to mixing patterns : tips + tricks for fabric

  1. oh, this is just tooo good!!! thanks for the laugh about aunt matilda and nachos, or whatever it was you were going on about in a conversation about fabric :-)

    you are truly a master of fabrication. let’s call it that, k? you are like sarah richardson’s springy, southern twin sister!

    and how much do i love that your blog looks exactly like your house? a lot.

    great post, thanks for the fun read. it was a great distraction from my chores. tomorrow’s chore?: to figure out how to become sarah richardson’s retro, coastal, colonial style triplet.

  2. Mila says:

    I love this. You had me at Tom Brady. Hilar.

  3. Ruth Fink says:

    Beautiful fabrics and ideas! Thanks! Ruth

  4. Amy says:

    Really, really loving your posts on fabric and color! So helpful. Keep them coming!

  5. Dorothy says:

    Hey, hey! I LOVE my flame stitch upholstered chairs..the ones that are now..in the basement…okay then. mever mind!

  6. Jami Nato says:

    i played the playas…best line ever.

  7. Jen U says:

    Fantastic post! Thank you so much for putting this all together!

  8. Trixie says:

    THis is really inspiring! I’m getting ready to redo a nursery for a now 2 year old and am gathering fabric thoughts in my brain. This is very helpful. I want it to be magnificent with fabric! The walls are already powder blue, all of the fabrics will be red, white and camel.

  9. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this post. How did you learn to sew? I’m dying to learn but don’t know where to start. I’ve looked into classes (but our local place seems to require that you have a fancy Bernina machine), books (but I haven’t found any that are as comprehensive and beginner-friendly as I think I need), and blogs (but I haven’t found one yet that starts with the basics). What about your machine? How’d you pick it?

  10. You always have the best mixed patterns and colors. I always get great fabric ideas from you :)

  11. Hilary says:

    Thanks for the fabulous ideas! I’ll be back often :-)

  12. Katie says:

    Love this post! I need to think of fabric items that I can mix and match other than throw pillows though – I think my husband’s ready to go crazy with all of our couch cushions :)

  13. You sure put together fabulous posts and this one is outstanding! Thanks for posting about mixing patterns, I have this linked to my patterns post too today!

  14. JAN says:

    i just had to laugh hysterically becasue the fabric I’ve been debating on getting is on this page!!!! Now I know I want it for sure but my chairs are covered with garnet slip covers. Thanks for all the great tips and beautiful fabric pics.

  15. Esther says:

    Awesome post! This is just what I was looking for. Thank you!

  16. teetea says:

    I’m just another Amanda. Thanks a lot. this really useful.

  17. Cherri Tunstall says:

    Loved this about mixing fabrics and patterns. I have doing this for years, that’s the problem! I invested in a beautiful 10×14 oriental rug 10 years ago. Ithaca a red background with some dark green and gold. My walls are a soft buttery gold. I know these colors are out of date, but I cannot change everything. Any ideas? I have an open floor plan and these colors are everywhere.
    Thank you so much,