Working with Prints – It’s all about Color and Scale

Combining embroidery with patterned fabric is challenging but here are a few tips for a successful outcome.

• Add a plain fabric as the base for the embroidery.
• Take your color cues from the printed fabric.
• Differentiate the scale of the embroidery

In this tunic, I selected a base fabric (manufacturer unknown) that matches one of the colors in Valorie Wells Free Spirit Jenaveve Linen print. Notice it contrasts in color and value from the background of the print and defines the embroidered area.

Use the colors in the fabric as your guide for selecting threads. I selected a dark, very dark, brown thread that pops off of the medium value plain fabric. That same dark brown thread is also the same shade as the background of the print creating a unified schematic.

Rarely is it a good idea to introduce another color scheme when balancing embroidery with a large scale print. Of course, you want the embroidery to be visible so select threads the same color as the print but of a different value. It’s the contrast between the base fabric and the thread that makes the embroidery visible.

Now select the embroidery design. Make sure its one that coordinates in style with the large print yet contrasts in scale. If the main fabric in the garment is a large print, then stitch a simple, medium-sized, repeating design. Large prints draw the eye across the fabric while the embroidery here frames the face and adds a touch of texture on an otherwise flat surface. Audition different sizes of designs – too small and the embroidery will be completely overpowered by the large scale print. Too large and the embroidery will battle with the large scale print for center stage.

But what about small scale prints? Apply the same principals keeping the focus on the embroidery, not the print. I made this jacket (Indygo Junction Midtown Trench) with Ty Pennington’s Impressions sateen fabric, Kimono, in taupe.

Way too busy of a print to splash embroidery across, I opted for a black collar washed with open, airy embroidery designs.

I selected black for the collar because black is the smallest element in the Kimono print. Next, I used taupe and silver thread to stitch the embroidery. The threads coordinate with the fabric and most certainly separate from the black base letting me achieve my ever present number one goal – let the embroidery be seen! The large designs, built-in on the Brother Quattro, do not fight with the Kimono print, rather they complement it very well.

I enjoyed making both of these garments and learned quite a bit about working with luscious, printed fabrics – both large and small! It’s always good to stretch your creativity and get out of your comfort zone.

So tell me, have you noticed all of the large scale prints in the quilt shops now? Do you love them, or do you prefer more subdued fabrics? Leave a comment and you’ll have a chance to win an Embroidery Tool Kit – my favorite set of tools! Can’t stitch without the Angle Finder and new target rulers! You’ll love it too.

The winner of Stipple Butterflies is…Mary Kvam!

“I just bought a Babylock Embroidery Professional which is totally new to me. My goal is to learn how to use it and to make a small picture to start with to show off to my husband for bragging rights! I just love colorful butterflies and was planning experimenting with different designs.”

Congratulations, Mary!

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56 Comments on Working with Prints – It’s all about Color and Scale

  1. Pam Duxbury
    March 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm (4 years ago)

    I like the smaller designs better, but that doesn’t mean that they look good on me. The size of the prints doesn’t seem to make much sense when it comes to what looks better on me. So I just hold it in front of me and ask my DD what she thinks.

  2. Diane Hilton
    March 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the large prints..You don’t always have to use much to make a statement…I love using them in making little girls clothing..When you add co-ordinating colors ,it really can make a stunning outfit…Even in the BIG girls clothing,it can work…Where you place the large print, is what matters..
    In quilting, it is so easy to fussy cut motifs to make an award winning project.. I made a double Irish Chain using this method..It was awesome..When I make pillows from a large print, in order to tone it down a bit, I use smaller prints and tone on tones for extra pillows..Then everything goes together without it being overwhelming..

  3. Beth
    March 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm (4 years ago)

    I like the large prints – and I like the small prints! I find that I will go through phases, where I’d prefer to do something with large prints, then switch and like to work with the small prints. Bottom line – if it has nice colors and an appealing theme, it’s fun to work with!

  4. Marsha
    March 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm (4 years ago)

    I’ve seen some large prints that i like ok and some that I really don’t care for. I’ve used medium to small prints for a long time but am really ready for your new line to hit the quilt shops. The scale and colors are so great and the prints aren’t so busy. It is so pleasing to the eye and won’t cause me to have an anxiety attack. When can we expect to see it?

    • eileen
      March 3, 2011 at 1:22 am (4 years ago)

      Oh Marsha – sorry to mislead you but I don’t have a line of fabric in the works. The two fabrics featured in this blog are designed by Valorie Wells and Ty Pennington.

  5. LeAnne
    March 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm (4 years ago)

    Some of them I like, some of them I don’t. The Ty Pennington ones are a little more subdued. The Amy Butler type prints make me cringe.

  6. Pam Pike
    March 3, 2011 at 1:14 am (4 years ago)

    I actually like all of the large scale prints that are out now and the bright colors are really great.

  7. Annette Haney
    March 3, 2011 at 1:41 am (4 years ago)

    I love the large prints if they don’t have too many colors in them. If they do they are too busy. I love the print and “almost” solid you used for the tunic. And the design was just right!

  8. Penny Kitzmiller
    March 3, 2011 at 3:51 am (4 years ago)

    Your garments are fabulous!! I like all of the new fabrics out. Well let’s just say that “I love any fabric” I think you need both big and bold along with the small too. Thank you for sharing your blog with us.

  9. Katrina H
    March 3, 2011 at 4:32 am (4 years ago)

    I love the large scale prints, which I have many of! But I have a hard time using them… I think now I need to add more solids and dots to my stash.

  10. Mary Parker
    March 3, 2011 at 4:45 am (4 years ago)

    Hi Eileen,
    I just love the big prints, I just finished a quilt top using the black & white Willow Bold Damask Pattern, it is so beautiful and looks great in the quilt. Want to make one using the Red Bold Damask Pattern!

  11. Kathi Miller
    March 3, 2011 at 5:40 am (4 years ago)

    I’m really not wild about the larger prints. I favor Batiks and Civil War prints. The larger prints do have their place – like for One-Block Wonders, 9-Patch Pizzazz and similar patterns. I just finished a Buggy Barn “Heart Crazies” quilt using small scale red, white and black prints. I backed it with a wild large-scale print that was a little out of my comfort zone. Looks great though!

  12. Ellie Swigart
    March 3, 2011 at 10:20 am (4 years ago)

    Yes, I have noticed these big prints………and would love to be brave enough to use them in clothing…but I am short and heavy. What do you think about using a large print on a short person? I have always been taught to be careful in selecting that area. BUT how about the large print in a top with a plain skirt or slacks. Opinions welcome.
    Thanks, Ellie

    • eileen
      March 4, 2011 at 4:42 am (4 years ago)

      Ellie – I’m short! I’m only 5’3″ so I make sure I use the bold print on top and pair it with solid pants (in fact, I wear black leggings and shoes with the tunic shown).

  13. Cathy
    March 3, 2011 at 11:24 am (4 years ago)

    I love the large scale prints in quilt shops now. I just love fabric.

  14. Barbara
    March 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the new bold patterns! They make my projects pop! Plus any excuse to add to my material collection is most welcome!

  15. Ane
    March 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm (4 years ago)

    I prefer the subdued fabrics on a whole but occassionally enjoy a larger print.

  16. Betsy
    March 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm (4 years ago)

    The large scale fabrics remind me of some of the outfits I wore back in college….long ago. I won’t be using them for apparel any more but they sure do inspire some stunning quilts…Stack and Whack, One Block Wonders.

  17. Susan S
    March 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm (4 years ago)

    I love prints — large, small, medium, whatever size. Sometimes I find it hard to put together an outfit! I really love the idea of picking a solid and pulling the colors from a print. This is definitely on my list of future projects! Thanks.

  18. Chris Bowyer
    March 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the large ones but in small doses! I tend to surround them with lots of small prints and solids that have the same colors as the large print. Then I can have my taste of it but be comfortable.

  19. Nathalie Poiré
    March 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm (4 years ago)

    I’m not a fan of large scale prints and I’m not a fan of small scale prints but I love what the designers do with the mix of large and small prints together. I realy have work on this, maybe with times I will be a New Fan!

  20. Joan Davidson
    March 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm (4 years ago)

    I was always afraid to work with the large scale prints, although I love them and have some in my stash. You have given me some great ideas on how to work with them. I think I might have the confidence to try out one or two of them in the near future. I envy those that can just pick them up and know exactly what to do with them!

  21. Helen Dyckson
    March 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm (4 years ago)

    Most large prints are too much to handle when you are trying to put something together. Some can be worked in but on the whole, smaller prints seem to fit better in most situations.

    • eileen
      March 4, 2011 at 4:44 am (4 years ago)

      I agree, smaller prints are easier to work with. You can almost treat them like a solid.

  22. Janice Murry
    March 4, 2011 at 2:19 am (4 years ago)

    My favorites are still the small prints, but with the right color combination with solids the quilt can be striking.

  23. Lynn Aronson
    March 4, 2011 at 2:28 pm (4 years ago)

    My favorites are large prints.I have noticed all the large prints that reference to the 60’s in bright, bold, beautiful colors and designs. I get in the fabric store and my mouth waters. I stay for hours it can get a little confusing, then i tell myself wait what was i looking for. Thanks Lynn

  24. Kimberly Strange
    March 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the new large print fabrics that are out in the shops! I have several patterns that lend themselves to these fabrics and I have made several gifts using these. I really like them when they have the rich bold color schemes in my favorite colors, teals and reds and pinks. You can also make something fabulous with just a simple square pattern such as a four-patch or nine-patch and the larger prints take center stage. Can’t get enough!!

  25. Pat B
    March 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm (4 years ago)

    I prefer small prints — but both garments were great.

  26. Gail Beam
    March 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm (4 years ago)

    I love all kinds of prints and fabric colors. I added a zebra print fabric to trim a black pillow with an embroidered zebra on the front just recently for my granddaughter. Large prints can be used to achieve awesome effects and make a single color item pop.

  27. Rhonda L Gillette
    March 5, 2011 at 2:51 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the big prints and want to thank you for such an informative set of tips. I made the mistake twice now of embroidering on a background fabric where my design just disappeared. Lesson learned. After seeing your examples, Now I want to make some cloths to embroider on. More quilts too. Thank you again.

  28. michelle grunkemeyer
    March 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm (4 years ago)

    I prefer small print fabric – I feel like the larger print fabric emphasizes my hips.

  29. Teresa Jackson
    March 5, 2011 at 10:16 pm (4 years ago)

    I am loving all of the large prints with the bright colors. It reminds me a lot of the sixties and seventies (the era in which I grew up). However, I do love tone on tone polka dots to mix and match with the bolder prints.

  30. Vicki Posey
    March 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm (4 years ago)

    The larger scale prints totally took me out of my comfort zone as I’m pretty subdued when picking out fabrics which are usually the smaller prints. But, I love the large prints! I purchased 2 yards of a large print and a coordinating smaller print fabric with no idea what to do with it – I just loved it. I am very pleased to say that I took a class and made the “Professional Tote” with the large print on exterior and it’s awesome. Now, large, “bright” prints are catching my eye! And, my grandkids are thrilled that I’ve brighten up my fabric selection! :)

    Thanks, Vicki

  31. Donna G.
    March 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm (4 years ago)

    I like large prints, as well as small, but to me it’s the proportion and color that are important. I look at color first, then determine if the proportion of the print looks good for the project I’m doing. I also like to check my design collection for coordinating designs!

    • eileen
      March 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm (4 years ago)

      You’re so right, Donna, proportion is very important and I neglected to discuss it! Thanks for bringing it up.

  32. Connie
    March 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the large scale prints, but have been afraid to work with them. Thanks for the great tips!

  33. Dale
    March 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm (4 years ago)

    Both the tunic and coat you made are stunning. The embroidery you used just pushes them over the top. I would love to have either one. That being said, I love both of the fabrics. My preference as to large or small prints would depend on what I am using it for.

    • eileen
      March 7, 2011 at 8:58 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you, Dale for the kind words!

  34. Cheryl
    March 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm (4 years ago)

    I prefer the smaller prints for several reasons. One I make porcelain dolls for a Hobby and smaller prints are always better. Second I am a chubby lady and really do not like big bold patterns.

  35. Patty Ojeda
    March 8, 2011 at 12:06 am (4 years ago)

    I love both the large and small prints! I make quilts, and both of them can make a quilt just beautiful! Thanks for the chance to win the tools!

  36. Peggy
    March 8, 2011 at 1:46 am (4 years ago)

    I started making One Block wonder quilts, and have a new found love of large prints!

  37. Melody♪♫
    March 8, 2011 at 4:28 am (4 years ago)

    Large prints are fabulous when paired with coordinating stripes or plaids or even polka dots. I just finished a baby’s floor quilt that utilized a couple large-scale vintage prints. I used solids to break it up, & then did “redwork”-style embroidery picking up some of the figures in the prints.

    My projects express colors & prints I wouldn’t dare sew into clothing for moi!

  38. Sheila
    March 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm (4 years ago)

    I love the large prints especially when mixed with polka dots and small coordinating prints. Your idea of adding solid fabric for embroidery is great because I am never comfortable when choosing a design to embroider on the large print that will show boldly and not get lost in the print.

  39. April
    March 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm (4 years ago)

    I don’t mind the large prints if I’m working with a backing, or a large panel within a quilt, but I prefer to work with smaller scaled to mid-scaled designs. I use smaller sized blocks when sewing and you can’t see the larger prints at that size.

  40. Tonja H.
    March 8, 2011 at 5:53 pm (4 years ago)

    I like both! I even like using both together! The large prints are fantastic in quilting projects, especially for kaleidoscope or fussy-cut blocks, since moving your pieces just a little changes the whole look of them… a blessing when you’re working with a limited available selection of fabrics in your chosen color palette. The large scale prints add a lot of punch with just a small amount of fabric, too, within mostly solid colored garments, which is how I’d use them in clothing (rather than have my larger frame get mistaken for a piece of furniture! LOL)

  41. Peggie
    March 8, 2011 at 7:57 pm (4 years ago)

    I am not fond of all the large prints. Many are not only large but too busy for my tastes. I have seen some used on kids clothing and just do not like the look, however, some bags do look good in them.

  42. Wendy Scott
    March 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm (4 years ago)

    I love big bright prints. Last year I purchased some cotton fabric with large bright flowers on a white background and one of the women with me asked if I was going to make a tablecloth,I told her no, I am going to make a sun dress out of it. It turned out great. Waiting for it to warm up so I can wear it again.

  43. Patty Happel
    March 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm (4 years ago)

    Love, love, love large prints and bright colors in my quilts!

  44. Janet Walker
    March 9, 2011 at 2:55 am (4 years ago)

    It depends on the project I am working on whether I want to usse large prints. They work well in many quilts and home decor items. I also make a lot of purses and handbags and the print can get lost in the smaller items.

  45. Hope Kehrhahn Hyatt
    March 9, 2011 at 4:27 am (4 years ago)

    I enjoy all size print fabrics, depending on the print and color, I select for the current project I am working on. What is important to me are the quality and color.

  46. Judy McLain
    March 10, 2011 at 3:53 am (4 years ago)

    I like the colors & big prints but when you’re only 5 ft tall you have to be careful you aren’t lost in the garment. It is easy to be overwhelmed in too large a print. Be sure the print “fits” you.

  47. Leann McClain
    September 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm (3 years ago)

    I prefer the smaller prints, but the large scale ones are pretty as a quilt back or whole cloth quilt, not pieced, and enjoyed for the quilting effects.

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    November 1, 2012 at 7:34 pm (3 years ago)

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    March 7, 2015 at 4:36 am (3 months ago)

    I belong to a sewing group to improve and learn more about sewing and fitting for me and I am color challenged. To see what you did with both fabrics and embroidery is awesome and inspring. Your completed tunic and jacket are beautiful! And, your discussion on how you made your choices is one I understand and can learn from. I quilt using smaller to medium prints. However, the large prints encourage me to find ways to use them in my sewing and quilting.


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