Getting the best from fabric

How often do we buy a new pattern and fabric and, full of excitement about our new venture, rush to cut it out and sew it together? Often this happens with only a cursory glance at the pattern envelope to see how much fabric is needed (and sometimes a quick look at the cutting layout suggested in the guide sheet) with no thought at all about the actual details of the print on the fabric.
Before starting a new project, it is a great to think about where we will wear it and how great we will feel , however, having a close look at the fabric and giving some consideration to how to use the print to its best effect will greatly improve the result and our satisfaction with the end result.
Taking this considered approach can greatly affect the finished outcome and take a “simple” garment to a higher level entirely.
What do I mean about the details of the print?
When the print is small and with no obvious directional pattern (Figure 1 below), the layout in the guidesheet is usually fine. However, some fabrics have an obvious repeat (Figure 2 below) or one way pattern (not always obvious at first glance) and the finished garment would look a little strange with the pattern running up the front and down the back. One of the best ways to check for a one way pattern is to stand a few metres away from the fabric and have a look – this will often highlight what we can miss when looking up close.

No obvious pattern to match

No obvious pattern to match

Obvious pattern needs to be matched

Obvious pattern needs to be matched

When a print is very distinct, for example the plaid below, it needs to be matched horizontally and vertically as much as possible so the balance of the plaid is not disturbed.

Definite pattern which needs to be matched horizontally and vertically.

Definite pattern which needs to be matched horizontally and vertically.

There are lots of readymade garments where this has not been done and the whole effect can be spoiled.
This is where the benefit of careful observation comes into play. By measuring the length of the pattern repeat (in the example from the top of the tan colour bar to the top of the next tan colour bar) you can calculate how much extra fabric will be needed to allow a perfect match at the side seams. The usual amount of extra fabric is the length of the pattern repeat for each major pattern piece.

Another example of where pattern matching is important is at the centre front and centre back where there is a zipper inserted.

Medallion pattern centred at front

Medallion pattern centred at front

Matched at centre back seam with invisible zipper.

Matched at centre back seam with invisible zipper.

I hope this helps next time you are buying fabric.

Next week I will be starting a tutorial series covering zippers.

See you then.

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2 thoughts on “Getting the best from fabric

  1. A very important and worthwhile exercise Alison, as so many people get this all wrong. just think unmatched plaids on short, skirt and pants – a really bad look, so well done.
    Lynn Cook

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