It's easier than ever to find retro-style fabric. These are fabrics reminiscent of the styles popular in the 1950s through the 1970s. The nostalgia for the time has created a wonderful resurgence of period-style apparel, furniture, appliances and home décor. In fact, you will have no trouble recreating an authentic looking period room just as if you stepped into Mister Peabody's WABAC machine and set the dial back 50 years (credit: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show of the 1960s). Like many people, I've been loving the prop and set decoration in the AMC series Mad Men where the early 1960s are recreated so faithfully. If you lived through the era, you know the style instinctively; but retro style is popular with all ages for its uninhibited bright, zany color and fearless bold designs. This week, S4H kicks of a new series we call "Retro Fun" starting with a trip back to a 1950's kitchen, and a toddler's project apron. We'll move forward in retro years from there with additional projects to come.When hunting for retro-style fabric, you can also find reproduction fabric and the real thing – fabric that survived the decades on a bolt in a storage room or at the bottom of grandma's stash (the most desirable fabrics are expensive now). For our purposes, however, we're sticking with a retro sensibility, meaning fabric that when combined with an appropriate pattern produces a believable retro-style result.
The Retro-Style Era
Put on your bobby socks and cat eye glasses and enter the Atomic Age, as 1950's families leave traditional styles behind and turn to new streamlined organic designs, such as the modern furniture and architecture of Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen with his still-stunning Tulip chair. The strong Scandinavian influence made teak furniture a must-have addition.
Space-age Googie-style architecture (named after the California coffee shops) became a phenomenon with its revolutionary angles, bright funky signs, huge plate glass windows and cantilevered roofs so memorable on fiftie's drive-ins, bowling alleys, and funky motels (think: The Jetsons). Fiberglass bullet planters with tripod legs were commonplace as were gigantic starburst wall clocks, wood paneling, kidney-shaped coffee tables, brick and stone interior walls, pink and turquoise bathrooms, and the new modern kitchen full of time-saving appliances.
Popular fabrics often had colorful, organic patterns. While the early fifties continued to feature sweet kitchen prints and ginghams, these quickly gave way to the bold colors and shapes that transitioned into the style of the early sixties.
For images of 1950's Interior Design, visit the 1950's Interior Design and Residential Architecture flickr pool.
Cowabunga! Surfer cool brought a tropical influence to many homes in the early sixties. Nearly everyone had Tiki torches in their yard and at least one piece of rattan furniture. Later in the decade, the counterculture movement, rooted in opposition to the Vietnam War, brought us flower power. Big, brightly-colored flowers were everywhere – on walls, clothing, and VW Beetles. And, speaking of The Beatles, they were everywhere too. If you are named Sunshine, you were probably born in the sixties. Décor became trendy and disposable. Inflatable chairs and TV trays, Lucite furniture, Lava Lamps, and Andy Warhol reprints. It was a decade full of contrasts.
Textiles designs were bold and vibrant. Prints of magenta, orange, brown, white, green and mustard colors dominated. Kitchen and bed linens and even curtains took on wild patterns. This counterculture movement heavily influenced design well into the seventies.
For images of 1960's Interior Design and Residential Architecture flickr pool.
It was the decade that brought you the iconic have-a-nice-day smiley face . A poorer economy in the seventies tamed the exuberant style of the sixties. Moderation brought renovation. Remodeling existing homes and opening up spaces became popular. I'm still searching for positive words to describe the style of the decade of shag carpeting, supergraphic geometric shapes on walls and textiles, macrame plant hangers, knitted afghans on the sofa, and lots of Brady Bunch orange, yellow, olive green, gold and brown.
While I personally can't feel the love for seventies interior design, I do like many of the geometric-inspired fabric prints from the time. You can see the influence in some of the fantastic geometric prints of today. I believe it was the strength of seventies style. And, I'm sticking with that.
For images of 1970's Interior Design, visit the 1970's Interior Design and Residential Architecture flickr pool.
In looking for fabric with a retro feel, we found an absolute trove of wonderful options. A few of our favorites are shown in the image at the top of this page. The key to achieving an authentic retro style is to match an appropriate sewing pattern to an appropriate fabric. An iPad case made from a geometric print may not feel 100% like a period piece, but it can still look groovy. If you want a fifties-style apron, you can search for original patterns (some are free to download online, some are for sale in their original pattern sleeves), as well as new patterns in the style of the day; one of which will be featured in our fifties kitchen... coming soon. If you want to create a retro-style project, it's a good bet you already have the sense of the era and you can feel comfortable going with your instincts.
In the image at the top of the page, the first column represents the 1950s picks, second column the 1960s, and the third column the 1970s. These fabric choices are not all marketed as retro-style fabric, yet they would work beautifully for period projects.
Column one, top to bottom:
- Grape Ovals from the new Freebird collection by Momo for Moda Fabrics. Freebird is a contemporary collection, but the ovals that come in three colorways have a distinctive fifties feel. I'm thinking living room curtains lined in ecru.
- Mod Stripe in Grey from the Isso Ecco collection by Lecien . This particular color and print is beatnik-cool and would make conversation-inspiring throw pillows.
- Lagoon Lava Light from the Lagoon Group by Michael Miller Fabrics. The epitome of fifties hip, this print would make a fun half-apron worn with Audrey Hepburn skinny black pants and a turtleneck. Serve martinis, of course.
- Aqua/Brown Blocks from the Color Defined collection by Marcus Fabrics. These blocks are a natural for a simple quilted baby blanket. Backed in a vanilla chenille stripe, it would be fantastic in a boy's nursery. A great go-with for our Funny Bunny tutorial.
Column two, top to bottom:
- Morning Glory in Ripple from the Botany collection by Lauren & Jessi Jung for Moda Fabrics. I chose this one print from the collection for its tropical feel and vintage Hawaiian colors. It reminds me of beautiful old Hawaiian shirts – the ones that were so popular right after Hawaii became a state in 1959. This would look lovely as an accent in a fifties-style bathroom. A shower curtain, backed with a waterproof liner would make the room. Follow our easy shower curtain tutorial using snap-on grommets.
- Flashy Wheels from the Sugar collection by Patricia Bravo for Art Gallery Fabrics. Flashy Wheels has sunny-morning good vibrations. How about a breakfast nook tablecloth set with a color mix of vintage Fiestaware. That would get me out of bed with a smile.
- Black Plink from the Kaffe Fassett Prints collection for Westminster Fibers. Combining bold bright colors with an abstract print gives this fabric an almost black light fluorescence reminiscent of the late sixties/early seventies black light poster craze. I see this as an accent fabric, or one you might use on throw pillows on a plain (and hopefully brightly-colored) chair or sofa.
- Peace from the Peace Group by Michael Miller Fabrics is intended as a retro collection. While Peace will not be out until May, it was too perfect to pass up. Similar peace sign prints are popular on the Pottery Barn teen site. Check out our teen room makeover for some project ideas.
Column three, top to bottom:
- Spice Mushroom Border from the Spice Group by Michael Miller Fabrics. This print would be fun-fun-fun in a girls room. It's a border, so it would look especially cute as curtains or a bed ruffle. There is no question about the retro coolness of a room with polka dot mushrooms and rick-rack accents.
- Orange Summer Stripe, from the Summer Song collection by My Mind's Eye for Riley Blake Designs, is brand new. This collection gives me flashbacks of things I wore in the seventies. It has an Orange Creamsicle appeal for accents on quilts and pillows, trim on a pillowcase, or cheery cloth napkins. It is also available in flannel.
- Happy Butterfly in Pumpkin from the Meadowsweet collection by Sandi Henderson for Michael Miller Fabrics. Her entire collection has a lush retro/vintage feel. The cheery butterflies in all their pumpkin glory look like they just flew in from the seventies.
- Zesty Serpentine from the Naturella collection by Patricia Bravo for Art Gallery Fabrics. Just out in March of this year, this collection has several prints with a seventies vibe, but the Zesty Serpentine wins the seventies award. On a natural linen or gold sofa or chair, a couple of throw pillows would send you back in time. In a good way.
If you see a particular fabric online you like, you can check your favorite fabric source to find out if they have it in stock or can get it for you. You can also try Googling the fabric name along with the designer's name or the design house, for example: "Meadowsweet" Michael Miller Fabrics. Prints from older collections can sometimes be found on Etsy or eBay.