A plaid fabric is hard to resist for me, but using plaid for me-made garments also means that pattern-matching is unavoidable. It is relatively simple when matching seams that are cut on a straight line. For seams that curve, like princess seams, it is impossible for all the lines to match up. It’s a matter of deciding on the best location for the seams to match on the garment; and releasing the need for all lines to match on the curved seam.
For this New Look 6914 waistcoat by Simplicity Patterns, I used a gorgeous main fabric, which is a Lady McElroy fabric gifted to me by Minerva. It is 100% wool in a deep brown colour and cream windowpane design. I find that a windowpane pattern is a good check pattern to try your hand at pattern-matching if it’s your first attempt. In addition, if it’s your first time, it’s advisable to choose a stable fabric like this wool which doesn’t shift and slide when you are working with it. It was also a joy pattern-matching this fabric because the underside of the fabric is identical to the right side which means that when I flip it to match left and right sides, the task is much easier.
The contrast and lining fabric is a viscose blend with a plaid design that I bought very cheaply at a local store here in Tel Aviv.
Due to my OCD tendencies, pattern-matching is a somewhat enjoyable task for me, which I consider a blessing. But it’s also a curse because mismatched patterns are such an eyesore, and I end up investing a chunk of time on it so that I get it right. The time and work put into it is worth the trouble though. In the end, when all the lines do line up, it feels really gratifying. In this blog, I share some tips and tricks on my pattern-matching process. For this task to be successful, I religiously go through a few steps that have to be added onto the pre-cutting and cutting stage of the sewing project. Generally speaking, it is not a difficult thing to do. Precision pattern-matching just takes up more of your time and labour, which isn’t such a bad thing if you’re advocating slow fashion. It definitely slows you down, so come to the task with lots of love and patience and a big jug of tea. You will be rewarded.
Tip #1: Make a muslin.
Pattern-matching may not work if fit adjustments are made after the fabric is already cut up. Important fit adjustments that affect pattern matching include full bust or small bust adjustments and lengthening or shortening adjustments. After making a muslin, transfer all the fit adjustments back onto the paper pattern.
Tip #2: Trace the paper pattern onto translucent or transparent tracing paper.
This is an absolute must because it enables you to line up the lines of the fabric with the lines of the paper pattern. Transfer all markings from the original paper pattern (fit adjustments included) onto the tracing paper copy – notches, grain line, lengthen/shorten lines, etc.
Tip #3: Cut all pieces on a single layer.
As you are retracing the patterns on tracing paper, keep in mind that all pattern pieces MUST be cut on a single layer for pattern-matching. That means that paper patterns that require fabric to be cut on the fold have to be retraced as a whole piece together with its mirror image flipped at the fold line. For example, the back bodice piece of the waistcoat is cut on the fold, and here, I’ve retraced the pattern piece to be cut on a single layer.
Tip #4: Add in the stitching line of the seams onto the tracing paper pattern.
For the waistcoat, most of the seams are 5/8”, and I draw in the stitching line for all the seams that are going to be pattern-matched. The stitching line is important because it shows you where the exact location where the plaid lines are going to be matched. Keep in mind that the plaid will be matching at the stitching line instead of the raw edge of the fabric.
To make sure that the plaid is aligned at the stitching line, I also trace this line from tracing paper onto the fabric with Chaco paper and a tracing wheel. When I am sewing up these seams, I pin them at this line to ensure precision pattern matching.
Tip #5: Use the vertical and horizontal lines of the paper pattern to line up the plaid of the fabric.
The most important vertical line on the paper patterns is the centre front line and the centre back line. Most of the time, these lines will be drawn on the paper patterns. For the waistcoat, the fold line is the centre back line. When lining up the vertical lines, you generally have 2 options:
1) Line up a prominent vertical line of the plaid with the centre line
2) Line up the centre line in between two prominent vertical lines of the plaid
For the waistcoat, I chose option #1 for both lining and the main fabric.
If you are planning on making a matching set of top and bottoms the way I did with the waistcoat and Tatjana Trousers (by Just Patterns), then staying consistent with lining up the centre front line with the same prominent vertical line of the fabric will result in matching lines between the top and bottom garment pieces.
For horizontal lines, use the lengthen/shorten lines that come already printed on the paper pattern. These lines are the best ones to use to align with the horizontal lines of the plaid because they match up across all pattern pieces. Or look out for lines that indicate the bust line, waistline or hipline. Unfortunately, these lines are missing on the New Look 6914 waistcoat, which is a big bummer for me. There are little dashes that indicate the waistline but they do not appear on all of the pattern pieces, which is strange and annoying. So what I did was to create my own horizontal lines with the help of the notches, which indicate the exact places where fabric pieces should connect with one another.
To draw these horizontal lines with the help of notches, extend the point of the triangular notches towards the stitching line so that it meets the stitching line at a perpendicular angle (drawn in the pictures in orange).
Then use this point on the stitching line to draw a horizontal line perpendicular to the grain line of the paper pattern.
I do this for all the notches that appear on seams that have to be pattern-matched.
Next, I make the decision regarding which horizontal lines to match across princess seams. Not all the horizontal lines will match because of the curve. For my waistcoat, I decided to match the bottom notch of the curve of the princess seam, which would yield the highest number of matched horizontal lines of the windowpane fabric across the bodice. From the picture below, you can see from where I placed the ruler how the line will match at the bottom notches of the front bodices. And you can also see that where the top notches are, the horizontal lines will not match.
After determining the most strategic places to match the lines, then your tracing paper patterns are ready to be used to cut up your fabric pieces. From the picture below, you can see how I’ve lined up the centre front line with a vertical line on the fabric (indicated by red ruler); and how the horizontal line that connects the two notches of the separate pieces will match (indicated by blue ruler).
Tip #6: Cut all pieces on a SINGLE-LAYER on one side, then flip the fabric pieces and cut the other side, matching up the plaid pattern.
When cutting up the fabric pieces, I like to position the connecting pieces next to each other so that I can make sure that the lines of the plaid match across the pieces. The following picture shows how I’ve done this with the lining. This is done on a single-layer. Sorry if it’s the third time I’m saying this but cutting fabric on the fold or with two layers at the same time does not work for pattern-matching.
After cutting all the fabric pieces on one side, I snip and notches and transfer all markings with Chaco paper and a tracing wheel. Then I flip the fabric pieces and match the plaid on the fabric to cut up the pieces for the other side. This ensures that the plaid is mirrored left to right. I’m using pictures of the lining to show how the second side is cut out with the first side pinned onto the fabric below. It was not possible to show this in pictures with the main fabric because the underside is exactly the same as the right side of the fabric, and therefore would not show up in the pictures.
Don’t forget to transfer all markings to the second side before moving on to sew up your garment.
Tip #7: Accentuate welt pockets.
This is a matter of taste, but since so much time is usually spent on installing welt pockets, I prefer to make them stand out instead of “hiding” them with pattern-matching. I didn’t know what to do with welt pockets when I was sewing up the Tatjana Trousers, and you can see my indecision that resulted in asymmetrical welts in the picture on the left. I made this mistake with the welts on the back pockets and it was too late to fix them by the time I noticed it.
But I’ve since come to the conclusion that the welts should not pattern match with the rest of the pants, and in the waistcoat, I placed a dominant horizontal line in the centre of the welt to contrast the pattern instead. In addition, the welt is positioned on a seam line, and even if I wanted to pattern-match, that makes it impossible. On the trousers, the welts are located at the end of two darts, so that makes pattern-matching the welts with the rest of the trousers quite futile as well. So I might as well just do away with pattern-matching welts and accentuate them.
Phew! That’s pretty much all the systematic steps that I execute to ensure precise pattern-matching for plaid or check fabric. The close-up below shows how the majority of the lines match on the princess seam; and how all the lines match (almost perfectly) on the side seam. You can also see how I’ve accentuated the welt pocket.
The picture on the right here shows how the lines match up on the lining on the inside of the garment.
Plaid pattern-matching is not so bad when you take a meditative approach to it. I’ll be honest – after cutting up pattern-matched fabric, I always need a gigantic break before moving on to the sewing stage. I feel I need to clear my mind and get some distance before I get back to it. Usually, I leave enough time in the day for the cutting, then come back the next day to start sewing. The worst thing is to feel I have to rush through it, because that’s when mistakes happen. And I’ve been there, so I plan in advance to have an expanse of time to work on it.
I’ll insert a quick pattern review of the waistcoat before I go. Sizes for this paper pattern that I bought come in sizes 4-16. I always have trouble deciding on the size to sew up with Big 4 patterns, and it’s no exception with this pattern. It’s annoying to me that they give the finished measurements for the bust but not for the waist. In the actual pattern tissue, it is printed that there’s 5.5 inches of ease for this pattern, so I chose size 8 which has body measurements of 31.5” at the bust. This is a half inch smaller than my bust measurements, but I figured with 5.5” of ease, size 8 may turn out too big for me. And it was. I ended up having to take in an additional 3/8” at the side seams at the armhole, and an additional 5/8” at the shoulder seams. And I had to reduce the seam allowance at the waist and hem because there isn’t really 5.5” of ease there. Weird, right? Anyway, a muslin is an essential step for sewing up this waistcoat.
There are other views to choose from in the pattern – another waistcoat that has only one button instead of five, and a longer version of the waistcoat that I made with actual pockets with flaps. The welt pockets in you see in the view that I made are mock pockets. In addition, there are two different collars that can be added onto the waistcoats.
The instructions are pretty clear and reliable in this pattern. There was only one scary bit when the lining had to be bagged via the slender shoulder channel, and I broke out in a sweat because I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. But it did with some squeezing and pushing and pulling and praying.
This whole outfit is calling out to me to add a blazer to make it a 3-piece suit. I’m working on it. Allow me some time to rest before I embark on a tailoring adventure.