Creating a Swatchbook

| January 10, 2007 | 1 Comment

Before the start of each season we are faced with the task of choosing flag designs, fabrics and colors to complement this year’s show.  For those with fantastic budgets this may mean simply perusing various catalogs and websites, choosing from their pre-designed collections and simply placing a phone call.  But for those of us on tighter budgets demanding that we find volunteers to sew our flags or for those desiring a more customized design it may mean sitting down with paper, pencil and swatch book in hand to choose just the right mix of colors and fabrics.

Fortunately, many color guard fabric suppliers now provide excellent sets of swatches which you can usually request free of charge.  Some provide a cardstock board with fabric swatches labeled and attached.  Others provide small plastic baggies with loose 2” x 2” fabric swatches.  And the most helpful companies provide you with both.  However, each season, I still find myself squinting and staring down at these tiny swatches (sometimes less than 1/2” in size) and wishing out loud that I had larger samples to work with and compare.

That is why I decided to start compiling my own swatch book to compliment the ones provided by the companies.  I went back through the bolts and bolts of leftover fabric and scraps in our guard closet and cut out pieces that were about 8½” x 11”, roughly the size of a piece of notebook paper.  I also asked friends of mine from other schools for scraps of their fabric in colors different from the ones I had.  For each color of fabric I then took a sheet of white cardstock and folded the edge over about 1” and with a glue stick I attached the fabric to the cardstock under the fold (I left most of the piece of fabric loose from the cardstock so that it wasn’t adhered and could be held up to let the light shine through).  On the back I taped a clear plastic baggie into which I placed several smaller squares of material that could be taken out to compare side by side with other fabric, cut into shapes or included in my design proposals that I give the band director each season.  Finally, I punched holes through the card stock and fabric and labeled the card with the fabric type, color and the company it was purchased from for future reference.  I suppose I could also go back and record on the card which flags I have previously used this color in and whether we have any leftover fabric in our guard closet for additional information.

Finally, I set up a large 3-ring binder where I keep my larger samples along with the swatch cards sent to me by the various fabric suppliers we use. 

While it does take some time to put together and, obviously, you wouldn’t have every color available to you in the first year, over time your swatch book will grow into a collection of large, easy-to-see fabric samples that may make it easier to compare colors in different combinations when making those critical early-season decisions that are so hard to change once the money has been spent!  I wish I had done this before the season when I wasted almost $100.00 ordering fabric which looked good to me when I held the tiny samples side-by-side but looked terrible once we got the larger pieces we had ordered and put them together!  I learned two critical things through that experience.  First, that I needed larger samples to make the decision and second, that I should not make a final decision until I have looked at my fabric combinations in the light they will be performed in (in that case under the yellow lights in the gym!).

I am finding this to be a great tool in helping me to choose colors and design flags with less error and less worry, allowing me to focus more on coming up with really cool and really creative original designs!  Of course, I have been coaching at the same school long enough that we have a LOT of fabric scraps saved in our guard closet.  If you’re new to a school or haven’t been in the habit of saving scraps don’t worry!  You can start a swatch book too!  Try contacting guard instructors from surrounding area schools and setting up a fabric swap after your flags are sewn mid-season.  Each of you can bring enough fabric scraps in the colors you have for each person to make their own swatch card.  You can help each other out AND get to know the other coaches in your area at the same time!

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Category: "DIY", Costumes, Design, Equipment, Floors & Props, General

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

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