I’ve always loved colour blocking. And yet I haven’t made a great many colour blocked garments. It’s difficult to find suitable fabric combinations and even harder to place the colours in a pleasing way. I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately because the October issue of Burda provided an excellent example of the pitfalls. The two dresses below are from the same basic pattern, 101-10-2014. The red version is fantastic. The green and grey one doesn’t work at all. If I’d only seen the second version I’d have passed straight over the pattern.
So what is it that makes the difference? I think there are several things. The colours in the red version (which is made from a single piece of fabric with a colour gradient) work together much better than the grey and green. I agree with Jen (NY) that the colour contrast needs to be either very strong or very subtle in order to pull off colour blocking. Washed out grey and green is neither one nor the other. Another case in point: the mix of browns and textures in Vogue 1409 doesn’t work for me.
The second thing is the prints. Neither Burda dress is made up in flat colour fabric. The red one is matelassé, ie textured, and the grey and green fabrics are prints. The matelassé is OK because the same texture appears all over the dress, whereas the green and grey prints are in opposition to one another. Different colours and two different prints in one garment is too much fuss to be pleasing to my eye.
And finally the all-important colour placement. The change of colour halfway down the arms and body on the second dress breaks up the line in an unflattering way. I think it might have worked better with more contrasting colours – perhaps the change in colour at the waist would be good for breaking up a long torso – but the placement on the red dress is far more pleasing.
This isn’t simply theoretical. I have Vogue 1408 in my pattern queue, a style that seems made for some sort of colour or texture blocking.
It’s hard to see on the pattern photos but I think the original is mostly black with two different greys used on the side panels and some of the skirt panels. I haven’t found any other pictures of the original dress online that made the colours any clearer. I like the layout on the original dress but I’ve also been playing about with other options in a graphics program. I started with different layouts of much the same low contrast black and grey as the original. I’m also considering using a shiny black fabric such as thin neoprene with a matte black one, so the grey in the pictures below could stand in for the shinier fabric. I’m definitely avoiding prints.
I prefer the mostly black version, which probably not coincidentally is fairly close to the original; DKNY know what they’re doing!
I also tried out a version with several tones of the same colour graduating across the dress. I really like this one but it would be impossible to get the same fabric in four toning shades in practice.
I also had a go with strongly contrasting colours. I couldn’t make this work at all. The version below is the best I came up with and I don’t like it at all. I think strong contrasts probably work better with straight-edged panels rather than the very curvy ones in this style.
So I think I’m probably going to go with the mostly black version, assuming I can find the right fabrics for it. Anyone else planning to make this up? Are you going for contrast or subtle?