How to Match Plaids When You Sew

on August 12 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Super Online Sewing Match | by | with 6 Comments

Jennifer Beeman is the designer and pattern maker behind Grainline Studio, a shop featuring modern, fashion-forward patterns that fit seamlessly into your wardrobe. The Cascade Duffle Coat from Grainline Studio is our big finale in the Super Online Sewing Match II, and our three finalists are already hard at work on this Round Five challenge!

Grainline Studio patterns are all drafted with a contemporary fit. Jennifer studied fashion design at Columbia College with a focus on pattern making and technical design. Detailed illustrations and ease of use are important considerations for Jennifer when she designs and produces her patterns, and all of the patterns can fill your wardrobe with classic looks and modern lines. We can’t wait to see Jennifer’s newest pattern on September 1; we don’t know what Lark will look like, but we know we’ll like it!

Jennifer has lots of tips for how to match plaids in your sewing, a skill that can make a big difference in the professional look of your finished product. It’s almost plaid season! You can use your new skills to make an Archer Button Up Shirt for fall, or a Cascade Duffle Coat like our finalists. Find more from Grainline Studio on the blog, and via Instagram and Facebook.


I’m excited to be here on at Sew Mama Sew today talking to you all about plaid matching, and just as we’re about to jump into plaid season! Personally I love working with plaids; they yield such professional looking results when done well and I swear, every project I use them for is instantly cozier because of them. A lot of people hate cutting and sewing with plaids. It’s true, they can be finicky, but a lot of frustration can be taken out of the process with just a few easy tips, and the joy felt with a perfectly matched seam is quite nice. We’ll be using the Cascade Duffle Coat as our example for the most part, since it’s the pattern we’re waiting to see the final contestants sew up (so excited!), but I wanted to also touch on a few shirt specific things while I’m here. The pattern used for that is our Archer Button Up. All right, let’s match some plaids!

The first thing you need to do before you start laying anything out on your fabric is to prep your pattern pieces. The most obvious place that you’ll want your plaids to match is horizontally across the garment, meaning you want the same stripe of the plaid running around the body in a smooth line. The easiest and most effective way to accomplish this is to mark a line perpendicular to the center front/center back connecting the underarm points. Since these points are drafted to meet you can be sure that the plaids will meet here as well. Below are two illustrations showing how to mark both a one-piece and two-piece sleeve. Remember to transfer this line to any front facings your pattern may have as well!

It may take a bit of extra time, but by tracing off the number of pattern pieces you need to cut you can then lay everything out at once and double check that things are in the right place before you cut. So, if you have a piece that says “Front: Cut 2,” you’d trace off the piece so that you actually have two of them and anything that says “place on fold,” you’d trace off so that you have the entire pattern piece.

If you’d like to have a particular vertical plaid stripe fall in a certain spot down the front or back of the garment it’s a good idea to mark where you’d like it on the pattern before you start cutting as shown in the illustration above. This way when you start laying out your pattern you’re less likely to make any mistakes.

I find it’s much easier to cut plaid flat if you have room. When the fabric is folded it takes a lot of pins and time to ensure that everything is perfectly aligned, and you’re often left guessing whether it actually is going to work. By cutting flat you can see exactly where each line of the plaid is falling on each pattern piece and you’ll also save the prep time of lining up each major point of the plaid.

It may not be possible for your sleeve caps to match the plaid they’re joining at the armhole, so don’t beat yourself up if they don’t. A pattern must be drafted with this in mind in order for it to go off without a hitch. As a general rule, the closer the height of the sleeve cap is to the height of the armholes, the closer you’ll get to having the plaids match though, again, the curve of the armhole versus the sleeve cap will ultimately dictate how well they match.

There are certain situations where you won’t be able to match the plaids for one reason or another. In these instances you may want to consider cutting part of the pattern on the bias. The most common places where this occur are:

  • A yoke when it’s sewn to a back piece with a pleat such as a button down shirt.
  • Cuffs when used with sleeves that have either a placket or pleats.
  • Front bands on a coat or button down shirt.
  • Patch pockets that cross a seam line such as the pockets on the Cascade.

Be aware that if you are cutting a piece on the bias it is more prone to stretch out of shape while you work with it. For button bands and cuffs I recommend applying fusible interfacing to the entire piece if the pattern doesn’t already call for it. For shirts where two yoke pieces are cut, I recommend cutting the exterior yoke on the bias and the interior yoke on the straight grain. This way you have something anchoring the bias yoke, which helps to prevent stretching.

Regular patch pockets don’t need to be cut on the bias, but it can be a fun touch. If you’re cutting other pieces on the bias it can help to make the decision look intentional and create more unity in the garment.

Unless you’re making a rectangle that’s the exact width as your plaid’s repeat, you’ll be unable to perfectly match vertical plaid lines along the side of the garment due to shaping. This is completely normal and I like to think it’s just another perk of having arms hanging at your sides!

The prep work and cutting are the most important parts of getting your plaids perfectly aligned but there are also a few tips you can use while sewing to preserve all your hard work.

When pinning your pieces together place pins at the major plaid lines, matching them up as you go. This way when you sit down at your machine you’re already perfectly aligned.

If you find your plaids are shifting while you sew, try using a walking foot. When using a regular machine foot the feed dogs move the bottom of the fabric through the machine ever so slightly faster than the top layer of fabric due to the friction of the fabric on the foot. By using a walking foot both layers of fabric are drawn through the machine at the same rate which can alleviate subtle shifting problems.

Finally, don’t sew over your pins! Besides the fact that you can jam your machine, having a pin in the fabric while it’s passing through the feed dogs and foot can cause the fabric to feed through unevenly. This is a good rule not just for plaids, but for everyday sewing as well. Always remove that pin before it gets to the throat plate!

Those are my tips for sewing plaid. I follow them every time I work with plaid, which is quite often, and I’ve had great success. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and possibly learned something new!


Round Five of the Super Online Sewing Match is sponsored by Fabric Depot. Each contestant receives a $100 gift certificate! Fabric Depot is one of the largest, most complete, independent and family-owned fabric stores in the U.S. FabricDepot.com stocks a wide selection of apparel, quilting and home decor fabrics, as well as sewing notions, quilting supplies, books and patterns. Free shipping is always available on orders of more than $100 and local sewists can take advantage of in-store pickup.

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6 Responses to How to Match Plaids When You Sew

  1. Linda Wilson says:

    It can never match when there’s a front dart, however match across the hemline then the eye sees the matching across the fronts and side seams and backs. By the time your eye reaches the side seam at the bust dart, it is usually hidden by your arm or a sleeve!

  2. Stacy says:

    Very good tips!

    Stacy from http://www.stacyco.com

  3. laurie says:

    Thanks for a great tutorial. I have always struggled using plaids, even though I love the look of them. I can’t wait to try it using your tips.

  4. ann says:

    HI Nicole. You will never be able to match the plaid or check at the side seam above the dart as you have detailed above. Bust darts on patterns vary in width. If you are wanting an exact match have you thought about pivoting the bust dart elsewhere. That way you will always get an exact side seam match. If you were making a blouse for instance the bust dart could be pivoted into the armhole – and once this is stitched all you would see is a stitch line which I think would make for an interesting look given the plaid or check. The bust dart could be pivoted anywhere around the pattern – give it a go. I think you will like the outcome – plus it is always good to mix it up a bit.
    Cheerio
    Ann in Australia.

  5. Lusty says:

    Love this information! One stupid question: you’ve got your vertical marks on the two “front body” pieces, but when showing them laid out on the black & red plaid it seems you haven’t drawn it in a way that is using those vertical marks. You would just shift left and right to line up with the stripe as you wanted?

  6. Nicole says:

    Great information! I would love to see a tutorial on matching a print (stripes, plaid, etc) at the seams when your bodice has a bust dart. I’ve run into an issue where I cut out the front and back of a shirt and the pattern matches at the seams…until I sew up the bust dart. Then it doesn’t match because the bodice print shifts up.

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