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How to Mix and Match Vintage Fabrics

how to mix and match vintage fabrics

The vintage fabrics that I sell on my online fabric shop are nearly always one off pieces, giving the sewist confidence to create an individual vintage style. I love making clothes from fabrics that I know I won’t see anyone else wearing. However, there is a negative aspect of this. I might admire a favourite vintage print fabric only to find out that it is 90cm wide and only a metre long. I’ll have visions of making a dress or a jump suit but the fabric won’t stretch far enough. This doesn’t stop me from creating the outfit I want to make with the fabric that I love.

how to sew narrow vintage fabrics knitting and stitching show

How to mix and match vintage fabrics

Luckily the vintage fabrics I feature on this blog post are from the 1980s and are around 150cm wide. This gives us more to work with. I’ve selected fabrics that are under two metres long. Enough to make a top, shorts or a skirt but not enough for a dress or jumpsuit. One of my favourite jobs running a vintage fabric business is creating collections. The fabrics I buy are from a variety of sources. I love hanging them up in my studio and seeing what works together, what look can I create from this eclectic mix of fabric?

Here are my tips on how to mix and match prints to create an individual, vintage style.

Colour matching

navy and white vintage fabrics online shop mix and match 1980s

These three fabrics all have a very different prints. The navy and white colours pull the fabrics together as a collection. Only the large floral has an extra colour, beige, to differentiate it. By keeping the colour palette to just three colours it is possible to use all three in one project.

Mix large prints with small prints

yellow and black vintage fabrics online shop mix and match 1980s

I created my Simone co-ord set by mixing fabrics that had very similar colours but one had a very large circle and the other had a small ditsy cloud like design. Mixing these fabrics would have a similar effect. The two yellow fabrics both have a large graphic and floral design. The colour palettes are minimal, as the navy fabrics above. Black, white, yellow and beige helps match the two larger prints. I’ve added a monochrome fabric that has a small leaf print. The black and white works well with the yellow on the two floral fabrics. There is still a floral theme with the small leaf and the smaller print tones down the larger bold yellow prints.

Stripes, spots and plain fabrics

stripes and spots vintage fabrics online shop mix and match 1980s

Using a plain fabric feels like cheating a bit when mix and matching fabrics but it is still important to get the tones of the colours right. This bright pink isn’t exactly the same colour as the pink in the stripe or the pink in the spotted fabric but it works. The tone is similar plus there is only a small amount of pink in the other two fabrics so we can get away with it. Mixing graphic prints such as spots and stripes is also a winner. The stripe fabric has a black base and the spot fabric a navy base but there is enough blue in the stripe fabric for them to work well together. Plus there are black highlights on the spot fabric so they all chat together.

Be careful on colour tones

stripes and spots vintage fabrics online shop mix and match 1980s

I’ve included this photo to show you what doesn’t work. The two spot fabrics look good together, the blues are slightly different but the tone of the blue is close enough. The blue on the stripe fabric is a lighter shade but the tones are close enough to match. The white spots in both also helps tie the fabrics together. The plain red fabric is too ‘yellow’ and clashes with the red in the stripe fabric which looks more ‘blue’. When colour matching a fabric people in the fashion industry refer to primary colours. So the plain red on its own looks red but against a white background it has a ‘yellow’ tone to it, so it is more on the orange spectrum of red. Where as the red in the stripe fabric is more on the pink spectrum of red as it has more of a ‘blue’ tone. This blog post from 99 Designs explains colour theory better than I can.

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This mini collection of vintage fabrics is a case where a different shade of a plain colour does work. The plain green to the right of the photo is different to the green and the turquoise in the bold print at the centre of the photo. Yet they work really well together. The tones are similar but also the green and turquoise in the bold print trick the eye into thinking that the plain fabric is the same colour. The navy with the white spots also tones down the bold print, bringing out the navy highlights.

Be careful on fabric weights and qualities

These 1980s fabrics came in as one collection and they are all 100% Polyester with a similar drape and weight. That makes them easier to combine into one garment. It is important to match the quality of different fabrics if you are using for one project. For example, a cotton poplin that is matt and doesn’t have much drape wouldn’t work well with this lightweight and drapey fabrics. But a cotton poplin is a great combination to work with denim for example and use as a trim for pockets and the inside of the hem. Please get in touch if you are unsure and I can help you with this.

I’ve also created a video of these mini fabric collections to show the drape and hopefully a better view of the colours. If you have any questions about colour matching any fabrics on my online fabric shop, please get in touch, I’d be happy to help.