How To: Layering Patterns

July 28, 2006

I’m asked often how I layer patterns, since it’s something I love to do with pillows, bedding, and even in the kitchen with various textiles. Would you like to know?

How To: Layering Patterns
It’s actually very easy, though difficult to put into words since most of it comes as second nature. I don’t mean this in a snotty way, because other things (like numbers) do not come as second nature. We all have our strengths. Anyway, what I’m saying is that I never really put much thought into it. For the benefit of decor8 readers who send emails asking about the art of layering, I’ll try to see if I can explain it. For readers who have an alternative way to explain the process, please comment below and share your knowledge. I’d love to learn about your technique.

How To: Layering Patterns
There are several ways. If you’re new at it, I’m thinking it may be wise to use patterns that coordinate somehow, working off of the same color palette. For instance, you have a floral that you are dying to work with and it is in red, blue, white, and yellow. Always try to drag in a solid or a small print into the mix as a foundation. Then, blend in something geometric, maybe sqaures, a check or a stripe with all of the colors in your floral, or perhaps just one or two of those colors. Next, locate a floral with a print much smaller (at least 50%) than the other floral print you have. Perhaps tiny yellow tulips against white poplin. For a solid, maybe a deep cobalt blue. I like to start with my solids first, so the cobalt blue would be the fitted sheet. Next, either use the large or the small floral for the top sheet, then add the geometric pillows, and then add again, either the small or the large floral print for additional pillows (some people sleep with 4 pillows on their bed). That’s at least, how I do it. Are you following me?

How To: Layering Patterns
For those looking to advance beyond that (i.e. you’d like to add prints to the mix that don’t contain any of the colors as the other prints you’re using), make sure you understand that this technique takes a little longer to master. If you understand color theory very well, and travel with your handy color wheel in tote, you’re on your way. Use caution as you begin to layer with too many color choices or patterns from different cultures or eras. Make sure that the colors you are working with harmonize, a color wheel can help you with color relationships. Don’t forget to consider your fabric – mixing textiles that are very expensive and well made with those that aren’t (like polyester) will only cheapen the look. Also, consider what time period they are from. It’s easiest to layer with patterns from the same period or culture, 20s, 30s, 40s, Danish, Early American, Japanese, etc. It’s also best that you try not to mix eras that are too far apart in years. 60s prints don’t always vibe with prints from the 30s, for instance. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but for beginners, it’s a good way to start training your eye so you can advance onwards from there.

How To: Layering Patterns
Now you try it. Head over to Repro Depot, a fabric supplier online who sells fabrics according to several categories. I did these and came up with all of the examples below, sticking only with one category at a time. Open up Photoshop (or whatever graphics program you use) and visit each of theese categories. Pull the images off of their site and drop it into Photoshop, arranging your favorites. Since they don’t carry solids, try drawing boxes that show the colors you think would work nicely together.

I’d like to see your results, so when you finish a few, pick up to 3 combinations that you really love. I’ll feature them here on decor8 today and throughout the weekend with your name/website so others can see what combinations you’ve come up with.

Have fun… And don’t forget to shop Repro Depot when you’re finished!

How To: Layering PatternsHow To: Layering PatternsHow To: Layering Patterns

Related posts: Color Theory, 6.27.06
(images from reprot depot)


  • Reply susanna July 28, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    This is really helpful. I’m always stumped when it comes to decorating my apartment. Thanks for the advice!

  • Reply sonia July 28, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    ohhh! have learned a lot! what a great post! thank you so much!

    here is what i made up to!

    i just bought some Etsuko fabrics and i want many more!


  • Reply decor8 July 29, 2006 at 11:06 am

    I’m glad it’s helpful Susanna!

    Sonia I looked at your photos, nicely executed!


  • Reply Melissa July 30, 2006 at 8:20 am

    I really appreciate the tutorial and the link–I’m going to try this out but can’t this weekend! Keep up the good work on Decor8, it’s a great read.

  • Reply Louise July 30, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    You make it look so easy, Holly…!

    I’m trying to apply your words of widsom to my guest room! I’m normally terrified of colour, but fell in love with this chair –


    The room is currently a blank, white canvas – … white everything! I’m not sure how to bring the room alive and would love to hear what you think, if you have a minute.


  • Reply Anne July 31, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks for your comments! I’m saving this to my computer. I love this look in the magazines and haven’t had much luck with it!

  • Reply holly August 2, 2006 at 3:46 am

    i love, love, love that first grouping of patterns! i’m bookmarking now for inspiration later. thanks, holly!

  • Reply IMEDAGOZE August 6, 2006 at 3:33 am

    ah this is so cool! very informative post! thank a lot for sharing! I’ll try it out.

  • Reply Melissa August 11, 2006 at 3:30 am

    I finally had a chance to try this out. Not sure how I did :) http://underconstruction.clubmom.com/under_construction/2006/08/planning_ahead.html

  • Reply natascha August 20, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

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