Tina Sparkles is here today to tell us all about color-blocking. It’s a technique that will help you refashion/revision clothing and materials into fun, new combos and designs. Tina has a new book coming out in September, Little Green Dresses, with fifty designs for you to sew and tons of tips for sewing your own clothing. Tina’s a refashion expert and teaches sewing classes in the Austin area, where she’s a member of the Austin Craft Mafia. Enjoy Tina’s post today and be sure to check out her site for details about her upcoming book and more.
Color-blocking is one of my favorite ways to refashion old clothing or materials into something new. I love mixing bright colors or funky prints in geometric arrangements. When you recycle already existing clothes, sometimes you only have a limited amount of usable material to work with; creating a design using multiple different garments is an easy way to work around that problem. There are many methods for blocking or patch-working fabric together to create a garment, but the coolest method, in my opinion, is by altering and cutting up an already existing garment pattern. I made myself a cute little tunic/dress using this method and took photos along the way to show you how to DIY!
Step 1 – Find your Materials
Gather several garments or pieces of fabric that have colors or prints that might look good together. It is important to make sure all of the fabrics are similar in weight and texture. Generally, it is not a good idea to mix knits with woven fabrics, but there are always exceptions. If you have one or two fabrics in mind already, but want to add more to the mix, cut tiny fabric swatches from your garments and take them with you to the thrift store to help make the right matches. If you are working with knits, make sure each fabric has a similar amount of stretch. For the main part of my tunic, I used a blue velour stable knit that I found at my local thrift store. When I found a similar scrap of a bright pink knit in a free bin a few weeks later, I knew the two were meant to be together.
Step 2 – Find a Pattern
You can color-block just about any garment pattern, but its best to choose a simple pattern that doesn’t have a ton of design details like darts, pleats or gathers. Simple A-line skirts or dresses are perfect for this type of project. Choose one of many available commercial patterns, or you might even try your hand at making your own pattern like I did. I decided to use a pattern from my upcoming book, Little Green Dresses, called the Deep V Mini Dress.
Step 3 – Create your Design
Use colored pencils or markers to sketch out possible design variations for your garment. Start out by drawing the outer silhouette of your garment and then fill in the interior with new style lines and different colors. Draw as many of these variations as needed until you come up with a design you like. It’s fun to see how the same silhouette can be completely transformed just by adding new style lines in different arrangements, and how different line placements and color combinations can create optical illusions to flatter your figure. If this is your first time trying something like this, stick with a simple design and try to make sure each new style line meets the exterior of the pattern piece.
Step 4 – Prepare and Alter your Pattern
If your design has lots of new style lines and sections, you might want to consider removing the seam allowance from your original pattern before you start your alterations. This will help to avoid confusion a little bit later. Alternatively, use a highlighter or marker to remind you of what edges have seam allowance.
Since our bodies are symmetrical, most patterns typically only represent 1/4 of the body (for example, the right front side of your body). If your color-block design is asymmetrical and spans the whole front or the whole back of the pattern (like mine), you’ll need to create a whole front or a whole back pattern piece. You can do this in a couple different ways. Simply trace another copy of the pattern piece and tape it to the original along the center. Or, fold a large piece of paper in half, temporarily tape the pattern piece on the paper with the center along the fold, trace the pattern piece with a sharp tracing wheel, remove the original pattern piece, unfold the paper and use a pencil and rulers to fill in the whole pattern shape, following the tracing marks.
Draw your style lines on the pattern using rulers or just sketch them out free-hand. I used a french curve ruler and a hip ruler to create a curved diagonal shape across the front of my dress. Label each new section and put large dots or notches along the style lines in a couple places to help you match up the fabrics when its time to sew. Make sure to transfer the grainline arrow to each pattern piece.
Cut along each of the new style lines to separate the pattern pieces. Use a clear ruler to add seam allowance to the new cut edges (if you removed seam allowance from the entire original pattern, you’ll add seam allowance around the entire perimeter of each of the new pattern pieces). If you are using a commercial pattern, make sure to check the pattern instructions to find out what depth seam allowance is being used for your pattern. Most commercial patterns use 5/8”.
Step 5 – Prepare the Fabric and Cut out the Pattern Pieces
Make sure to wash your garments or fabric scraps before cutting out your pattern pieces. If you are recycling a garment, use a seam ripper or scissors to deconstruct and remove large sections of fabric from the garment.
If you ended up working with a whole front or back pattern piece then you’ll be cutting your pattern pieces from a single layer of fabric. Make sure to keep the fabric and pattern pieces in the same orientation for each pattern piece (i.e. fabric on the table with the right side facing up and the pattern piece on top of the fabric with the right side facing up). Make sure that all your pattern pieces are placed on the fabric with the grainline arrow parallel to the lengthwise direction of the fabric. If you have a selvage on your fabric the grainline arrow will be parallel to the selvage. If you are recycling fabric from a garment or other item without a selvage, gently tug the fabric along both directions of the straight grain to determine which feels stronger. The direction that feels stronger is typically the lengthwise direction of the fabric. Another hint for determining the lengthwise direction on recycled fabric is to reference how to fabric was oriented in the original garment; the lengthwise direction is typically positioned vertically on a garment.
Clip all of your notches by snipping into the seam allowance by a mere 1/4” at the notch location.
Step 6 – Stitch it Up
With right sides together pin and stitch each of the color-blocked sections together until you have the original whole front/back piece. Depending on the type of fabric you used and your design, you’ll want to experiment with which direction to press your seams. You can either press the seams open completely or press both layers in one direction or the other. I pressed both layers of my seam allowance toward the blue fabric and then top-stitched them in place right next to the seams.
Once you have all your color-blocked pieces stitched back together, the last step is to sew the rest of the garment together following the original pattern instructions.
New Knits by Patty Young for Michael Miller are available for preorder in the shop! We’ll begin shipping these orders on 6/28.
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» Sewing + Quilting Tips » How to Refashion with Color-Blocking