Mixing fabrics or prints within the same garment is a fun way to add a unique twist, interesting texture, or creative design detail to your style. For some brands, it is a way to add personality or customization to their designs. For other brands, the fabric-mixing patchwork results from creative use of leftover materials or scraps. Patchwork has become a trend too, as hand-crafted details and upcycling have become more popular. But, beyond patchworking a beautiful design, mixing fabrics in a way that is efficient in production and holds up to consumer use, takes some technical planning to get just right.
Shrinkage is something that I’m always keeping an eye on for both knit and woven fabrics. It isn’t generally an issue if you know ahead of time how much your fabric shrinks and make the pattern accordingly. However, when mixing multiple fabrics in the same garment, it gets a bit trickier. Not only do you need to know how each fabric behaves, but you need to know how they behave together. If your two fabrics shrink differently either during washing, wearing, or ironing (if applicable), then the garment will end up with wiggly, bubbled, lettuce-like seams where the two fabrics are sewn together.
If you’re making one-off garments, you can get around this by washing/ironing your fabrics before you cut them so they are already pre-shrunk. In factory production, though, the fabric isn’t washed before the garments are cut and sewn. To keep your patchwork design looking great for many washes and wears to come, your fabrics need to shrink similarly enough in size and under similar circumstances so that the final garment looks just as good as when it first came off the production line. You can test this by sewing a piece of each fabric together and then testing the shrinkage on the combined piece to see any differences.
Like with shrinkage, you’ll want to find fabrics that do best with similar care. The fabrics you combine will all end up in the same garment, and so they need to be able to be washed, dried, and cared for in the same way. You wouldn’t want to combine one fabric that is dry clean only and another that shouldn’t be dry cleaned at all.
The fabrics don’t have to be identical in what care they can withstand, but there needs to be a set of care instructions that overlap. For example, you may be combining a fabric that can be washed and dried on high heat with another that is more delicate and needs to be laid flat to air dry. In this case, as long as the first fabric also does well washed on delicate and laid flat to dry, you can use those milder instructions on your care labels.
Also, keep in mind that the fiber content of each of your patchwork fabrics needs to be listed somewhere on the garment tags (often the care label). It is required to list the fiber content of your garment, so don’t just put the content of your main fabric and leave out the others.
When you have a color difference between the fabrics you are pairing together, you’ll want to test for colorfastness. Often new clothes recommend washing before wearing as some color can bleed/fade during the first few washes. You’ve probably noticed this on dark wash denim or new towels.
Again, fabrics are not usually washed before being cut and sewn in production. If there is any color bleeding or fading that happens when the garment is first washed, it will be after the fabrics are already combined in the garment. When you are testing the shrinkage and care instructions above, take note of any color transfer from one fabric to the other. If there is color transfer, you might want to consider a different fabric pairing for your design.
Sewing and Construction
One last technical thing to consider about combining fabrics is how they will be sewn together. The fabric type determines the types of seams, thread, and needles that are used when sewing. When the garment has more than one type of fabric, there needs to be some overlap in what construction method and machinery will work for both.
For example a light silk fabric uses a specialized sharp needle, while a heavy denim uses a much bigger needle size and a different shape. Sewing these two fabrics together may be tricky as the denim needle would pull and snag the silk threads or punch holes in the fabric while the silk needle may break or may even be too small to thread the appropriate thread size for denim. This is an extreme example, and many fabric combinations would work just fine with the right techniques, but you’ll want to talk to your patternmaker, samplemaker, or factory about the fabric combinations you are considering to make sure they will work for production.
Combining different fabrics in one garment to create a patchwork or color-blocked design is a fun way to add interest to your garment and be creative with your materials, but it takes some planning to get the perfect pairing. Seeing how fabric combinations behave together during washing and wearing, as well as production will help you make decisions about which combinations are the best match.