Working With Plaids

When sewing with plaids, it’s important that the stripes of the plaid are matched at closures and important seams. In bias seams, the lines are joined in a chevron pattern. Plaids are either balanced (with a symmetrical repeat of the stripes and colors), or unbalanced (with an asymmetrical repeat of the stripes and colors). Although uneven plaids require care in matching, these designs can provide a visually attractive finished garment.

Extra yardage will be needed in order to match the plaid when laying the pattern tissue on the fabric. A small plaid will not need as much extra yardage as a large plaid; a balanced plaid not as much as an unbalanced one. In addition to the recommended yardage on the pattern envelope, purchase at least one additional “repeat” of the plaid, and keep in mind that even more yardage might be needed if the pattern has lots of pieces.

The pattern should not have lots of seaming, unless you feel ready to tackle a difficult matching task. If the pattern is cut on the bias, which produces a chevroned seam, be sure you have a balanced plaid – an unbalanced plaid will not work.

Balanced plaids may be folded for cutting, but the fabric will have to be prepared carefully. The selvedges should be lined up, and at various points throughout the fabric, pin the two layers together, checking to make sure that the lines of the plaid match on both sides. If it’s difficult to get the plaid to match in this manner, cut each pattern piece on a single layer of fabric, remembering to turn the pattern tissue over for the second cut (e.g., so there is a right front and a left front).

For an unbalanced plaid, cut each pattern piece on a single layer of fabric as described above, and be sure to use a “with nap” layout (the tops of all the pattern pieces facing the same direction).

Where to Match

Match the horizontal lines – and also check the placement of the vertical lines for continuation of design – at the center front and center back, when there are seams or openings; at the side seams, from the notch down or below the underarm dart; and at the front armhole notch (the back cannot generally be matched).

Match the vertical lines – and also check the placement of the horizontal lines for continuation of design – at the waist seam, at center front and center back; and at the collar and yoke, where they meet the bodice. It is helpful to mark the pattern pieces with colored pencils that coincide with the color stripe to be matched.

Match both the horizontal and vertical lines on patch pockets, flaps and welts.  Cutting these on the bias is often attractive and can eliminate the problem of matching a difficult plaid.

How to Match

The fact that most pattern paper is transparent will aid you in the job of matching a plaid. Once you have established the position of your main pattern piece (usually the bodice front or skirt front), you can mark the other pieces, matching them to the main piece in the following manner:

  1. Place the main pattern piece on the fabric with the center front where you want it. Make sure that any horizontal stripe across the bust or hips falls at a becoming level. Pin in place.
  2. Place the adjoining pattern piece on the fabric, overlapping the pattern pieces at the notches so that the seam lines match. Put a pin point down where the seam line crosses the notch to serve as a pivot. Pivot the second pattern piece until the straight-of-grain marking is in the correct position (even with a vertical stripe). Pin the pattern in a few places to hold it in place. Trace the plaid lines to be matched (horizontal, vertical, or both) in three different places on the pattern piece using colored crayons, soft colored pencils, or by denoting the stripe color by name. Unpin the marked pattern.
  3. Move the pattern to the area of fabric where it will be cut out. First, place the center of the pattern where you want it, then move the pattern up or down until the marked lines match the fabric stripes. Pin in place.

On a sleeve and armhole, match the seam lines and notches in the same way, marking only the horizontal stripes on the sleeve pattern. When moving it to the fabric for cutting, have the strongest vertical line fall at the center of the sleeve.

At a waistline, match the vertical stripe at the center front and center back. Also, check that the horizontal stripe placement is pleasing to the eye.

On a yoke, mark both the horizontal and the vertical stripes from the center out.

On pockets, flaps, and other details, place the pattern on top of the garment pattern and mark both the horizontal and the vertical lines.

A Trial Layout, then a Final Layout

Initially, select the cutting layout that seems closest to what you need, and place all pattern pieces in position using only one or two pins in each pattern piece. When you are sure that you have sufficient fabric, proceed with your final layout, checking each pattern piece for grain position.  You may find a trial layout helpful when your fabric is a width not indicated on the pattern guide sheet; when your fabric requires a “with nap” layout but one is not provided; or when you need to avoid a center fold line that cannot be pressed out.

Cutting a Single Thickness

Although it may take a little more time, some plaids are easiest to match when cut on a single layer of cloth. To insure that your pattern will be properly cut, trace pattern pieces that are on the fold so that the pattern piece is complete. For pattern pieces that call for a double cut, trace the pattern so that you have two (e.g., a right sleeve and a left sleeve). Mark the pattern pieces as described above in order to match the plaid. This will help you place the pattern on the fabric accurately and so that the stripes are in a pleasing place.

Reference: Coats and Clark, Sewing A to Z

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