How to Match Plaids When You Sew

I’m excited to be here 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!

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