Monday, March 17, 2008

Embellishing a Garment - Part III

Or..."The Rule of Three"

There was some discussion in the comments section of the prior embellishment posts about "The Fear of Overembellishment." I believe that if you follow "The Rule of Three" you won't ever have to worry about overembellishing a garment.

This rule simply stated is that a garment should not have more than three pieces of embellishment on paraphrase Coco Chanel, once dressed in all your finery, take off one piece of jewelry and you're ready...basically that's how the Rule of Three works...only three types/pieces of embellishment on a garment...I think of it as a more than three elements to the theme.

Now, if my garment has buttons on it, that is one element! And I can only add two more, plus the buttons must work with whatever trim or embellishment that I've chosen for the garment.

If you stick with the "Rule of Three," you can also use it effectively when fabric is the trim or embellishment detailing.

~This green linen border print - the border is the embellishment at the hem of the dress and on the tie.

~and this border print is on the sleeves, on the banding and in the tie

But see how a theme is developed and the garment tells a story. I first learned about the Rule of Three from the Ronda Chaney book, "Make It Your Own" which for a time was my embellishment bible! The Rule of Three is MY first rule of embellishing.

My second rule is subtle is so much more effective.
What I mean by this is that you should pick an embellishment that enhances your garment and does not detract from or overwhelm the design of the garment.

This Barrie Pace dress is a perfect example...

See how the subtle use of color in the piping adds to the dress. It punches up the original color without overshadowing it.

Or if I may, Marji is making an awesome jacket for her sister. The trim that she has picked for the garment enhances it and even the buttons play their part!

When embellishing a garment, think about what you are trying to say and use the trim to enhance the conversation...because isn't a wonderfully designed garment all about a great conversation between the fabric, the fit, the styling and the embellishment?!

My third rule of embellishment is - plan, plan, plan!
In the conceptual stages, I work out what trim or embellishments I am going to add to the garment. That way they are not afterthoughts but integral parts of the garment. It also makes sewing the trim on so much easier and the end result has a more professional and clean finish.

So how does someone who has a fear of embellishment begin?

Well this is something that is also addressed in Ronda's book. Her advice is to open your eyes, explore the world around you and t-r-y to look at things differently. She gives a series of examples, which I think of as exercises, that are designed to encourage you to think out of the box when making design decisions. I know to some of us this is intuitive and that others struggle with it but if you open yourself to the experience and are willing to go with the flow, I believe that you may surprise yourself with what you can imagine.

Personally, I love trims and embellishments on garments! I love the extra detail or flavor that it gives a all of the pieces have been carefully assembled and constructed to tell one amazing story. So I am always looking for opportunities to tell that story...and you can too!

The next embellishment post will be about MY technique for applying embellishment ~ well my technique for my two favorite types of embellishment...piping and binding. I will discuss what methods work for me and I will invite others to share their techniques...because I have found that there is more than one road to reach a destination! And maybe someone has found another path that we can all enjoy and spend the day exploring!


  1. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!! What a wonderful informative post! I tend not to accessorise or embellish as it always seems too much or not enough, getting that balance right is something I find so difficult. The rule of three is so simple! Thank you!

  2. great advice, I agree with everything you wrote, after all, if you spend time making a garment with beautiful fabric, you should kill it with to much embellishments, just the right touch is all that is needed, your embellishment series is very inspiring and thought provoking

  3. Great post! I immediately went over to eBay and picked up a copy of Make It Your Own. I can't wait to get it!

    Oh yeah, listen young lady - you keep giving me the gears about showing off my latest projects, but what have you done for me lately??? Hmm?? :) Get crackin' lady - I need a Carolyn garment fix and I need it bad!

  4. What a beautiful dress, Carolyn!I love the Barrie Pace dress, too, very inspiring.

  5. Carolyn, thank you for all the book recommendations you make (and for your lovely photos). I'm still 'getting back' to sewing and your blog is an inspiration.

    Thank you again.

  6. Great post, Carolyn! Thank you for all the advice. I'm going to request the book from the library.
    For me, embellishment is the most difficult part of sewing.

  7. ummm, methinks you need to change the picture you placed - that's the embellishment that Didn't work. The one that did, in fact, contains 3 elements - so it follows the rule of 3. ;)

  8. Thank you so much for the great post, Carolyn! This is really inspirational for me, especially since embellishment is something I've never been very "good" at doing. You've encouraged me to try!


  9. Carolyn, when I saw the Barrie Pace dress, I thought, this is a Carolyn dress. Thanks for the info on embellishing, I'm planning to incorporate some in my next garment (whenever that is!!!)


  10. Excellent article, Carolyn! I agree with everything you stated! I could add that sometimes the garment stylelines also count as embellishment; wuen they are simple you can spend a lot more effort embellishing the garment and if they are not simple, the embellishment should be used with caution and always taking care that it won't compete with the garment stylelines.

  11. Great advice. Let me say that my doctor about two years ago wanted me to get my cholestrol and weight down. He said not to go on a diet as they don't last/really work. He said use the rule of three! Three cookies, three crackers, three whatever, except not three bags of MM's ( my downfall). Rule of three for embellishing is great concept, thanks for the post.

  12. Thank you for the great tutorial on embellishment. Love the three rule and will keep that in mind for future project. I'm asked to make prom dresses and sometimes the young ladies want to over embellish! Your explanation sounds alot better than, "That's too much!"


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