As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of solid color clothes for their versatility.  But recently I’ve been pushing myself to experiment with using prints strategically.  During the current quarantine I’ve been sewing like a fiend, but the concepts in this post apply just as readily to print tops your might buy ready-made.  Here’s what I’ve found …

My #1 Rule is to only add a new item to my wardrobe if it works with at least 3 things I already own.  That filters out prints that don’t fall into one of my pre-determined color schemes.

Black with brown is a sophisticated color mix I love in cool weather, and this cotton knit print lets me enjoy it in warmer weather too.  I’ve worn this criss-cross styling in ready-to-wear so Kwik Sew 4188 was an easy choice.  Unlike many wrap-over styles that can get waaaay too low, this one had a stabilized neckline that keeps evrything discreetly in place.  The pattern also has a slightly longer flared version that could easily expand into a summer dress.

Here are season-spanning mixes with a chocolate ponte pencil skirt, black denim, off-white jeans and a wheat-color cardigan. Style tip: See how combos 1 and 2 create a good vertical flow top-to-bottom but #3 has a strong horizontal break right at the hip line.  Hence the addition of the cardigan to the mix. The sweater’s cotton fiber and open  weave keep  it from  getting  too  warm.

(If you’re interested in the sewing details, you’ll find all these garments on my Pattern Review page.)

I had the same print in a gray/turquoise mix.  That aqua/turq/teal color range is so universally flattering that I decided to overlook the print duplication and sew it up too.  I chose Kwik Sew 3915 for the interesting neckline, which turned out to be a bit floppy.  My review of the pattern shows how I’d correct for that in the future.  Style lesson:  although it works the required 3 ways, I’m not crazy about the horizontal hemline. See the difference when it’s partially tucked?  Another idea for “next time” is to shape a shirt-tail curved hemline instead.  Meanwhile the turquoise cardi tied around the shoulders pulls some of the focus away from my hips.

Green + navy is another favorite color combo, but one that works better with a link of some sort.  A top in this print is the ideal choice for connecting those colors when I don’t want to wear a scarf link.  The pattern – McCall 7092 – is a deep-deep V neckline with a contrast insert to keep it modest.

After considerable angst over which color insert to choose, I realized I already owned camisoles in green, navy and cream – problem solved!  That gave me the option to skip the inset and instead use the various camis to fill in and create (TIP:) “bottoms-up” styling – repeating the bottom garment color near the top of the look for a more cohesive look and greater vertical (elongating/narrowing) emphasis. See how that’s working in views 2 and 3?

NOTE:  Each of these tops looks far more polished and flattering with sleeves pushed up and shoulder shapers in place.  If you don’t already have both items in your closet, check out the Slim Style Set in our online store.

This variegated stripe knit is from our own collection.  I loved it as a link (visual connector) between my many berry pieces and my jean jacket and chambray shirt.  And it works in reverse too – with dark jeans or other navy bottoms and a berry cardigan. The fact that it has multiple shades of berry and of blue makes it extra easy to coordinate (that principle – multiple shades of a color in a print – applies to print selection overall, in any range of colors).

I wanted to play up the stripe by running it in various directions, so McCall 7538 was the perfect choice.  The shoulder area is too narrow to insert a Shaper, but the wide-cut neckline helps create a strong horizontal anyway.  And having the stripes placed vertically on the bottom panel minimizes the horizontal break where the hem meets the bottom garment.

Can you fine 3 ways to wear each print knit top in your own wardrobe?  Take the challenge and let us know what you discover.

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Lisa Humlicek-Taylor on May 8, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    Height elongating and narrowing of waist in one garment. I love it.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 8, 2020 at 3:07 pm

      I need all the help I can get – what can I say!

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