Check out these dead-simple color-blocking tips for sewists. Color-blocking is easier than you think!

I felt strongly about making my Darling Ranges shirtdress in navy long before I sewed it. Navy is my neutral (as established in this Wardrobe Architect post).

But I worried a completely navy Darling Ranges would be to “meh” for me. That’s when I started kicking around the idea of color-blocking this sewing pattern. (My finished dress is pictured above!)

This post covers my best color-blocking tips and lets you peek into my sewing design process. I love hearing this sort of stuff from other sewists, and I hope you do, too!

I also hope this simple guide helps you cast aside your fear of clashing and try color-blocking in your own sewing practice!

Before I dive into this post, I wanted to share that I’m taking the week of Labor Day off. I’ll be back the following week with a full pattern review of the Darling Ranges shirtdress. OK, onto the color-blocking!

The basics of color-blocking

Here's a color-blocking tip: Get comfortable with the color wheel.

Color-blocking gives an accent or contrasting color on a garment mega real estate.

Let’s say you have a black dress with white piping. The next level — color-blocking — is adding a white yoke. You’ve increased the area (like square inches area) committed to the contrasting color.

You also can color-block with clothing separates — for example, black top, white skirt, red shoes.

To keep color-blocking from feeling too random, here are two fail-safe suggestions:

1.) Use complementary colors (colors on the opposite side of the color wheel)
2.) Use analogous colors (colors next to each other on the color wheel)

My navy-and-white dress works because navy is close to black, and white is the opposite (complement) of black. Purple or green (analogous colors) also would have looked nice with navy, as would have a burnt orange or mustard (complementary).

Complementary and analogous are just two ways to go for color-blocking. If you are deeply moved by some other combo, do it to it! Sew to delight YOURSELF!

Why try color-blocking?

Color-blocking can add interest to simple garments. I’m talking a sewing pattern you might look at and think, “It’s kinda boring.”

A lot of color-blocking is geometric. If modern, clean shapes and lines fit your style, color-blocking definitely is in your wheelhouse.

Color-blocking is a great way to break up solid-colored fabric — or a print that’s too intense for you.

Color-blocking also lets you bust scraps that you can’t bear to toss.

Where to find color-blocking inspiration

If you're struggling for color-blocking inspiration, search Google for "color-blocking street style."

I think the best place for inspiration is (no surprise) Pinterest. When I was interested in navy-and-white color-blocking for my Darling Ranges shirtdress, I searched for stuff like:

  • Navy shirtdress
  • Navy-and-white shirtdress
  • Navy color-blocked dress
  • Color-blocking shirtdress

It’s OK to go with the obvious search! I had some color-blocking schemes in mind, but I wanted some second opinions.

I also suggest doing a web search for “color-blocking street style” and checking out the image results. The above screen grab is the results of that search. Sweet color explosion!

Visit a modern art exhibit (hello, Mondrian!) or check out book on mid-century modern from your library. Pay attention to proportions.

Finally, for COLOR inspo, play around with Adobe’s Kuler, an online tool for exploring color schemes. Consider Kuler your gateway to color theory.

Another fun tool is Canva’s Color Palette Generator, where you can upload a photo and discover the color scheme behind it. If you have vacation photo that makes you feel serene, dump it in the Color Palette Generator to identify those peaceful hues. Then proceed to buy fabric in those peaceful hues!

How I approach color-blocking

I take an excruciatingly simple approach to color-blocking, sewing friends. If I’ve got the itch to color-block, my brain flips through two options (really, that’s it):

1.) Leverage existing pattern pieces and seams.

This is the easy button in the world of color-blocking. I look at a sewing pattern, evaluate pattern pieces and seams, and decide how to balance color-blocking in a way that pleases my eye (obviously an arbitrary call).

Here’s a great example of working with what the pattern gives you:

An easy color-blocking tip is use existing pattern pieces and seams.

You could sew a faux-top dress with any dress pattern that has a bodice that’s separate from the skirt. And if you’d like the dress to look like more of a dress (vs. separates), make the sleeves in the skirt fabric.

2.) Create new pattern pieces and seams.

Making new pattern pieces and seams is trickier, but it lets you feel like you’ve truly put your own spin on a garment.

I strongly considered using this black-and-white dress as the color-blocking roadmap for my Darling Ranges:

The bodice of the black-and-white dress gave me color-blocking inspiration.

In my mind, there were three things that called for vigilance if I were to create new pattern pieces for this strapless-look bodice:

1.) Nailing the fabric transition at the V-neck.
2.) Nailing the fabric alignment on the bodice side seams.
3.) Ensuring the strapless bodice back isn’t too high (so that it doesn’t look like a tube top where the top of the “strapless” part is parallel to the hem).

These weren’t impossible tasks, but they’d have taken patience. And testing. Patience and testing are to be expected if you want to color-block by creating new pattern pieces.

I still think this hack for the Darling Ranges would be darling. Someone work on it, please!

How I got to my Darling Ranges color-blocked design

Like I mentioned, I searched Pinterest for ideas. Then I created a board with the pins that most appealed to me:

Next, I put the technical drawing of Darling Ranges on my croqui and sketched some different color-blocking schemes using my pins as inspiration. Then I turned to my Instagram sewing friends for help! (Use the arrows to flip through my options.)

I need your opinion, #sewing champions. I used my new croqui to model the #mndarlingranges dress I’m making this month for Project #sewmystyle. (If you’d like to read about how I made my croqui, check out the link in my bio. And even though the arms/shoulders don’t match the tech drawing, I’m still LOVING my model here! Such a good investment of time! Carrying on…) I’m experimenting with different color blocking schemes of navy and white. Which one is your favorite? (Simple question with a huge preamble, haha.) #sewcialist #sewist #sewistsofinstagram #instasew #instasewers #instasewing #sewingfun #sewingproject #isew #memade #custommade #seamstresslife #diyfashion #handmadefashion #seamstress #homesewn #diystyle #fashionsewing

A post shared by Erin Van Handel | Sie macht (@nerninerin) on

I thought the strapless-look bodice options would be more popular, but it was the white hem that IGers liked most. And of all the color-blocking options, that was one of the easiest — rectangles and straight seams! Bonus.

Those are my best color-blocking tips, sewing peeps! Whew! How do you feel about color-blocking? What tips do YOU have for color-blocking a sewing pattern? Please sound off in comments!

P.S. Here’s last week’s post, ICYMI: Behind the seams of the Saldana T.

P.P.S. Aaaand because I’m going to be off next week, here’s some other posts from the archives. I don’t want to leave you kittens hanging! Egads!

Anorak sewing pattern guide: 3 popular jackets, side by side
How to press scuba knit and more: Tips for working with scuba fabric
Sewing patterns for yoga clothes: 4 yoga sewing patterns, side by side
5 Sew Pro convention takeaways for every sewist