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The Wardrobe Architect Week 7: Exploring solids and prints


The Wardrobe Architect is a popular series that ran in early 2014. It’s currently being expanded (with help and feedback from you) into a comprehensive toolkit. You can read all the posts here. If you want to give feedback and get first access when the toolkit is finished, enter your email:

For the last two weeks in this series, we’ve been talking about color; first, we talked about choosing the colors that make you feel good and second, organizing them into a palette.

Today, I want to talk about something I think many sewists struggle with: choosing the right prints.

What I’ve heard over and over from you guys is that prints are incredibly seductive. Fabric stores are awash in adorable prints that look great on the bolt. But often, we get them home and don’t know what to do with them. Or, we make garments that sit in our closet and never get worn, either because they are too loud, too cute, or they just don’t go with anything.

By thinking ahead about the prints that you are really drawn to, you can narrow your choices and sidestep this feeling of being overwhelmed at the fabric store. If you know what’s really you, you’re less likely to collect things simply because they’re pretty or cute.

Prints are eye catching. When you’re out shopping for fabric, because you’re really just looking at flat fabric, solids can appear so boring in comparison that you wind up with many more prints than you actually need.

Elements of print

Here are a few things to think about this week:

  • Prints vs. solids: What percentage of your wardrobe do you actually want to be comprised of prints? Some people wear prints all the time, for others they’re more of an accent.
  • Scale: Do you tend to prefer large scale prints, small scale, or a mixture of both?
  • Contrast: Do the prints you like use lots of contrasting, bold colors? Or are they more tonal and subdued?
  • Naturalism: Do you feel drawn to flowing, organic, or naturalistic prints? Or are strong, abstract, geometric designs your thing? Or are there versions of both that you love?
  • Mood: There are hundreds of styles of prints. Are there prints you choose that relate to your 5 style words?

Types of prints

To get you thinking about prints, I’ve put together several basic print styles here to think about. Of course, there’s plenty of overlap, and some designs don’t fit in any of these categories. But these are major types to get your brain working.

Stripes, checks, and plaids

Classic striped designs like these can be printed on fabric, or woven or knitted in. The designs can be loud and colorful, or quiet and textural.


[fabrics shown: Premier prints navy stripe, J. Crew pinstripe shirting, Mod squad diagonal stripe, uniform plaid in navy and grey, Marc Jacobs check wool, classic seersucker]


When you think of dots, you may first think of classic polka dot patterns. But there are plenty of other types of dotted patterns. Usually, there is an abstract motif (a circle or other shape) laid out in a gridded formation.


[fabric shown: riley blake swiss dot, John Kaldor Cassandra dot, premier prints ikat, ikat dots, chambray dots, Dear Stella dots]


Of course, dots and stripes can also be considered geometrics, but these days there are many other geometric prints available.


[fabric shown: premier prints towers, remix triangles, Ben Talavera diamond fiesta, Lacefield Zoe, Modern Meadow Herringbone Pond, Koi organic cotton]


Flowers have been a consistent motif in print design for centuries. From big and lush florals to tiny ditsy prints, abstracted designs to photorealistic digital prints, florals take on so many moods. Sometimes they can be almost geometric, sometimes they can be used as dot motifs, and sometimes they are more naturalistic.


[fabric shown: waverly april in Paris (I have curtains from this), Liberty tana lawn in Betsy-Ann, Anna Maria Horner velveteen, John Kaldor shake, Mod Squad stem stripe, Designers Guild fabric]

Animal print

Animal print can be worn in so many ways. Some people wear it almost like a neutral, particularly leopard print. Of course, it can also be quite loud. I feel that animal print is a love it or hate it type of print.


[fabric shown: orange leopard ITY, giraffe print, white cheetah, premier prints dayo blend, robert kaufman grey zebra, leopard baby rib knit]

Novelty print

Novelty prints are plentiful, particularly in the world of quilting. Novelty prints are usually thematic and representational, depicting people, animals, or objects. They often used to be referred to as “conversation prints.”


[fabric shown: sailboats, London cats, Moda cycle time, Moda raindrop, Lizzy House constellation, birch sly fox]

Feel free to think outside of these categories as well. You may only like certain types of stripes, like pinstripes or breton stripes. Or perhaps you love tiny busy floral prints, but not large scale florals.

Personally, I tend to go for the classics (stripes, checks, dots), plaids, really lush florals, or anything that has a hand printed or hand drawn look.


  • Examine your favorite clothing. Pick out the 10-20 most worn items in your wardrobe. What percentage of them are printed?
  • Pick your prints. Write down your most beloved styles of prints. Be sure to look through your closet and your fabric stash.
  • Update your moodboard. If you have a moodboard, try adding in examples of prints you favor. I’ve added my palettes and prints to my own core style pinterest board.


What are your favorite types of prints? And are those the ones you find yourself buying?

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.


Kate McIvor

February 27, 2014 #

I am most likely to buy stripes for me and for my girls, but now that I think about it, my favorite clothes are floral. Yet another great question, Sarai!


February 27, 2014 #

My wardrobe is mainly made of solids… with some classic stripes, plaids and some checks… for accent. Nonetheless since I started sewing when I enter a fabric store and see all that designer talent poured into those wonderful prints I feel some sort of urge to buy at least one of them. Not for myself, not yet … still working on building the necessary confidence to be able to wear, say, something like this: … with poise. For now, luckily, I have a nephew and a niece to be stashing printed fabrics for.


February 27, 2014 #

As for what I wear, I am a big fan of horizontal stripes (though my mother always told me NEVER to wear them, because they make chesty girls look bigger) and plaids. I also like strong geometric prints, and I don’t like to wear anything dainty or girly. I figured out in the first week of this project that that’s because I don’t ever like to feel young and childish.

(Interestingly, my boyfriend always responds well to garments I make up in prints that look “like someone drew them.”)

However, when fabric shopping I am consistently drawn to florals! What’s a girl to do? Through some trial and error I’ve discovered that I like bold, large-scale florals best, as they seem less “sweet”, and that I don’t like ditsys. A whole dress made of a floral? No thanks. A blouse in an interesting floral print, or maybe some cool leggings? I can make that work.


February 27, 2014 #

Most of my clothes are solid. I do seem to be drawn to vertical stripes, dots, and geometric.

I’m also drawn to color blocking which in my view is a pattern with solids :-)


February 27, 2014 #

Color blocking is a good thing to mention too, thanks for the reminder on that!

Katrina Blanchalle

February 27, 2014 #

I can tell you immediately, because my wardrobe analysis has led me to see that I have a huge disconnect between what I buy/stash/make and what I actually wear. I LOVE florals, in any and all colors, and my closet looks like an overgrown garden. (Or looked like one, before I did a ruthless detox.) The Wardrobe Architect process has really helped me see that I love to look at all those big, beautiful prints but am not always comfortable wearing them. I need to focus on sewing solid-colored coordinates that I can easily put together for a work outfit. I would love to get to the point where I have mostly solid color clothing and can just accessorize with a floral belt or cardi.


February 27, 2014 #

Funny, I am totally the opposite of most people when it comes to prints. I am first drawn to solid colours, because I know I’m most comfortable wearing them. It’s only been in the last year or so I’ve begun opening myself up to buying prints, and I suppose because I have been through the process of learning what colours and fibers work best on me, that knowledge is helping me greatly in choosing the right prints.

That said, I find I definitely need to have more of an inspiration garment in mind for prints than I do for solids, and I always check the print against my face just in case! :)


February 27, 2014 #

I think my favourite clothes are 100% striped! I have a real objection to printed stripes and checks, though – woven or knitted ones are just so much nicer.


February 28, 2014 #

So true – something always looks a bit off about a printed stripe or plaid – at least to me. I’ve found that in knitting I’m a bit of a yarn snob – maybe I’m a fabric snob also?


February 27, 2014 #

Ah, very interesting! Personally, I LOVE print mixing (or print clashing, as often happens, hehehe). For me, prints are a way to add visual interest to an outfit. An additional dimension that I’d thrown in is color + prints – I have a strong, strong preference for monochromatic prints (either tonal, or print = 1 color + 1+ neutral). If my prints have more than 2 colors, then I am very picky about the colors that show up in them – they have to be in a color palette that I wear a LOT.

My reason is that when I keep my prints monochromatic, they’re a lot easier to layer, mix and match. I’m one of those people who wears 1-3 colors/outfit, not counting neutrals. If the print is monochromatic, then it doesn’t add any complexity to color mixing, but if the print has 2+ colors in it, it vastly limits what else you can throw into the mix. It also limits what other garments can pair with that print.

This is probably why the one place I use crazy prints is in dresses – because I don’t really have to match my dresses to much else, so they can just be a statement on their own. And then I want them as fun and statement-y and lovely as possible, so that they’ll be pieces I wear a lot.

I think my dilemma is that solids feel boring to sew with! I need patterns with interesting details to make up for this. Beautiful, colorful prints have a built in “fun” factor for sewing … even if we really should be reserving those for accent pillows or tote bags.


February 27, 2014 #

Yes to the last part of your comment. I think we want the clothes we make to have a “wow” factor, and prints are a really easy way to do that.


February 27, 2014 #

I also have printoholic tendencies, though I did a little more of a scientific analysis of the print to solid ratio in my wardrobe (excluding pants and jackets, which are all basically solid at this point in my closet), and was surprised at how many solids were in there! I wish I was bolder when it came to print mixing, because even though I make a lot of solid basics, the prints are what really excite me when it comes to buying and sewing up fabric. It seems that the most common ones for me are bold/stylized florals, geometric prints that are often of a paisley/swirly nature, stripes, plaids, and the occasional novelty print. Though I also am more prone to use those novelty prints for things like bags and linings, or dresses.

I did a little playing in photoshop with prints that I already have, either in my finished clothes or my fabric stash, and made a little palette that I think represents my taste in prints pretty well:


February 27, 2014 #

Your color palette and print palette play so well together, Becky!


February 27, 2014 #

I’m a big fan of tone-on-tone prints when I go for prints at all. I’m mostly a solids girl, though I do like some dainty florals and digital prints. I mostly like them for tops. I don’t wear stripes or geometrics, mostly because I don’t want the annoyance of matching, and I’ve had awful experiences with dots other than Swiss dot — invariably, I end up with a pair of headlights right at bust point.

And I am in love with the grey floral on the right in the top image. What is that one, please?


February 27, 2014 #

These exercises are so helpful! I was surprised to find that over 75% of my most-worn items are prints. I like small polka dots, ikat, hand-painted/drawn geometrics, tribal, exotic – – basically anything from Anthropologie (I wish I could mix prints like they do), but those are pretty much impossible to find as fabric yardage in flowy, lightweight, natural fibres. Now I know why I keep regretting all of my fabric print purchases even though I love to wear prints! So I guess my next step is learning and practicing fabric dyeing, painting, and stamping. Sewing my own wardrobe just got a whole lot more time-consuming – but hopefully also more fun and rewarding!


February 27, 2014 #

Great questions! I’ll definitely have a look at my wardrobe to see what types of prints I gravitate to. I’ll throw in a suggestion I have learned after buying prints that don’t work for me – if you are in the fabric store, see if you can unroll the fabric against yourself before buying! This month I bought a beautiful paneled print off the bolt, but when I got home looked at myself in the mirror with it, it is so large-scale/busy I’m not sure what to do with it!


February 27, 2014 #

I looked at my wardrobe, and have several print skirts and dresses for spring and summer, but mostly I have solids or dots…which I consider almost a neutral. I also think of some subtle stripes as “neutral” seersucker or oxford cloth. I adore prints…love the old fashioned look of Liberty of London prints in particular, but am afraid of using them. I always worry they will be too loud, and I don’t like to stand out too much. I am thinking I need to start with an A-line skirt or a blouse to get used to working with and wearing floral prints.


February 27, 2014 #

I’m trying to work with some Liberty of London fabric right now and finding it challenging. I love the floral patterns, but they are almost overpowering. So, I’m trying to imagine what solid colour thing (eg. cardigan) I would wear with it. Also, I found that if I hang the fabric and walk a few feet away, the fabric almost changes. It doesn’t seam so overpowering and one dominant colour usually comes out of it all, which makes it easier to picture it as a blouse or something that I would actually wear.

Beth B.

February 28, 2014 #

This is a really good idea, I’ll be stealing that one!


February 27, 2014 #

The clothes I wear are almost exclusively solids. However, because the only fabric stores that I have access to are quilt shops, anything I sew is a floral. Which I never wear, because I don’t like to wear prints. I’d rather add interest and pattern with a scarf.

February 27, 2014 #

Love the term, prints are incredibly seductive. Oh they sure are. I look at my so solid wardrobe, yet I am always drawn in by colorful prints at the fabric shops. I can stare at vivid prints and colors and soak up the saturation of colors yet I don’t wear those colors. Maybe going to a fabric store can be like going to an art gallery, satisfying our eyes need for color. But what we actually wear is so different?


February 27, 2014 #

I would say that I like smaller to medium scale prints, nothing really flashy or huge, somewhat subdued, and plenty of florals.
Looking at my wardrobe, I suddenly noticed that I have a lot of solids. Way more than I expected to find. I always thought of myself as a print kind of girl.
But I also noticed those items I have that do have prints on them, amazingly, are things that I made, not bought. Almost exclusively so…and those are the ones I feel pretty wearing. When creating my own clothes, I like nothing better than a floral print, it seems. I know my stash has a couple of good plaids and stripes in it that I’m looking forward to using this year. I’m interested in dots and geometrics, too, because I never really wore them before, but I noticed they’re popping up in my stash. In fact, I just completed a silk blend blouse with dots that I am so in love with. Huh. Maybe I’ll wear it tomorrow…. : )
Funny how clothes teach you about yourself, isn’t it?


February 27, 2014 #

Im a bit time solids girl. I like to use tops and bottoms as my color blocks for making a bold statement, but I have been migrating towards prints. Here are a few prints that I would love to wear as a garment.
One goal would be to develop my garment making skills so that I can smartly employ patterns without them becoming overbearing.


March 1, 2014 #

Those are beautiful! I wish fabric stores around here had something like that!


February 27, 2014 #

I’m definitely guilty of buying prints because they were cute, prints that are nothing like the ones I normally wear. It took me a long time to move away from that mindset, to go into a store and limit myself to fabric that I’d actually wear as a garment. Part of the problem for me is the prevalence of cute quilt cottons along with a very limited supply of decent apparel-type fabric offered at chain fabric stores like Joann. It wasn’t until I started shopping at places like Mood in L.A. when I figured out that the seemingly boring solids and stripes with a nice hand made for much better clothes than stiff quilting cotton. (Fortunately a shop like Mood has some nice prints too. I miss that place!)

I have the same problem with yarn, does anyone else? I’m attracted to the variegated and imaginative colorways of space-dyed yarns but really, I would prefer to wear a neutral, solid color!

Your exercise to survey your own wardrobe is a really helpful one. While it’s an opportunity to see what’s missing, it can also serve as a reality check.


February 28, 2014 #

I used to buy mostly printed fabrics when I first started sewing. Now that I am more experienced, I find beautiful natural fabrics in solids just as alluring. I like prints in dresses more than on separates, so I use them a lot more in the summer : a dress, sandals and a hat and I’m ready to go! In winter I wear more separates, and layers, so coordinating solids (or very subtle prints) makes more sense to me. The fabrics I rounded up for my Spring wardrobe include a variety of prints : florals, plaid, animal print… as you can see here :


February 28, 2014 #

Do you have the link for the ‘Designers Guild Fabric’? I absolutely love it! But the link in your post leads to a different fabric.


February 28, 2014 #

My favorite clothes are mainly tops. Mostly solids with ca 20% prints.
My favorite prints are horizontal stripes, dots and plaids but in subdued combinations. Grey and black stripes, dark green and black plaids.
My moodboard is updated here:

I find myself mostly buying solids. My favorite print by far are dots! And I love buying them.


February 28, 2014 #

My office skirts & jackets are mostly solids (with one houndstooth check jacket) and about 50% solid & 50% subtly patterned tops. My few dresses are fairly large scale floral prints. Weekend clothes are jeans & polos so not much in the way of patterns there.

Retiring soon so the entire wardrobe will be shifting emphasis – no more suits! I plan on sewing much of my new wardrobe and imagine more floral dresses; solid, plaid & floral skirts; solid, small floral & tone-on-tone tops.

One of my all-time favorite skirts was a fine cotton plaid that used the repeat of the plaid to space the pleats – creating a different look for the stitched down “waistband” area. I look forward to that sort of fabric manipulation – might even have some fun with stripes.

Amy W

March 2, 2014 #

I’ve always been a Solids girl, but last fall I made a conscious decision to start adding prints to my wardrobe. It adds a bit of fun to my otherwise ‘all function’ clothes. I had to tell myself that it’s JUST a shirt (which can be removed), not a full face tattoo. My goal is to wear 1 print a day. It doesn’t always happen, but it has stretched me in the colors and clothes I wear.


March 2, 2014 #

A bit late this week! After doing this exercise I realised a few things:

1 – I was surprised I don’t actually own a lot of patterns in my wearable wardrobe
2 – most of what I do own and wear is stripes
3 – I own A LOT of fabric with amazing patterns!
4 – amongst my favourites are stripes, dots, checks (gingham and tartan), geometric abstract patterns, ikat, vintage patterns like ticking and toile de joui, small traditional botanical patterns. No animal print at all.

So I obviously like patterns but just not ones you can find in the shops… Need to get sewing!

Some examples on my Pinterest core style board below:

Sarah O

March 2, 2014 #

I love prints and tend to gravitate towards plaids, dots, geometrics, and novelty prints with a dash of animal print. When I go fabric shopping, I tend to gravitate towards geometric and novelty prints first.


March 5, 2014 #

I thought that I owned mostly clothes in solids, but a look at my closet showed me: I have solids and prints in equal parts and on the top of the list are florals. I don’t have anv preferences: I have clothes with big, abstract flowers, others are so small, they look like dots, some are drawn and some are photographed… Stripes, checks and dots come next on the list. I also realised that all dotted garments are selfmade (and a couple more dotted fabrics are waiting in my stash)!


March 10, 2014 #

Finally posting about my prints today – I love prints so much I think I got a little carried away with this one.


March 21, 2014 #


Everything in my closet is solids… except for the dress I sewed last week and wore once… thinking of retrofitting it for my daughter… and my favorite beautiful spring print bold dress with a black outline that I wear on the right occasion. Went to the store today… this time bought solids or textured fabric for me… and more solids for my daughter too…

Even my pinterest book of outfits that I liked for my look were …


I’m an understated, classic girl… and like a simple and powerful look with only my curves saying the sexy.

maybe a print on the bottom part of a shirt or on a bag. a scarf if I ever don’t feel like a rooster when I put one on..

solids it is.

Nuhaa Dalwai

April 7, 2014 #

Hi there! I am LOVING Wardrobe Architect and am currently on week 7 on my own blog. It has been super helpful and I’ve really started to notice and become drawn to styles, cuts colours and prints that are more me. Thank you so much!