Balanced vs Unbalanced Plaids

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I am amazed at bloggers who can manage to put up a blog post every day, never mind writing up multiple ones each day! I admit made a terrible scheduling choice when deciding to make Plaid Week this week. With classes to teach and a holiday happening tomorrow, what was I thinking?! I’ve decided I’m going to spread out these plaid posts over next week as well.  We have so much more to talk about!

So, now that you have a bit of background on plaid from my last post, and have maybe already started noticing it in both your wardrobe and every day life, let’s look at a few more patterns that are plaids. There are many prints and patterns that you may never have considered might fall into this category.

The word “plaid”, as we discussed yesterday, has changed in meaning. It is no longer just a piece of tartan worn as a long cloth, it is a term that encapsulates a wide range of fabric designs. Very simply put, plaid is defined as a plain, twill-weave or knitted cloth with a pattern of intersecting stripes. It does not necessarily mean that all plaid has to be woven with said stripes- the fabric can now be printed and still be considered to be a plaid. The pattern that is made will be repeated throughout the fabric, and repeat both horizontally and vertically. The spacing of the bars or stripes could be even, uneven, or random. Let’s take a look at a few more fabric samples, and see how their plaids compare.

Each of these garment fabrics are easily identified as plaids. They have intersecting bars of color at 90 degree angles. The gingham and the windowpane check are some of the simplest plaids that one might find. Another name for gingham is “shepherd’s check”, and it was one of the first fabrics woven to create even-sized colored blocks.

Argyle has an interesting place in the history of plaid. Many do not consider it to be a plaid at all, and say that argyle is a fabric category in and of itself. I personally do consider argyle to be a type of plaid because of the history it has in relation to tartan. The two were traditionally worn together (the argyle being worn in the form of socks), and were often made of matching colors and stripes. Those socks were known as “tartan hose”.

A traditional plaid fabric will have stripes (these stripes being either woven or printed) that intersect at right angles. However, many modern fabric designs do not leave these stripes as completely straight lines. Fashion and fabric designers have created their own takes on plaid, and many look nothing like their historical tartan counterparts. These are a few plaid examples from the book Plaids, by Tina Skinner. The entire book is a “visual survey of pattern variations”, and shows a wide range of what plaid can really be.

Once you have identified that the fabric you have is indeed plaid, you should see if it is either balanced or unbalanced before deciding on a cutting layout. A plaid may be even or uneven lengthwise, crosswise, or both directions. Things are about to get a bit more complicated here, but also more fun!

To begin, take your plaid and lay it out flat in front of you. Note any differences in colored stripes, shading, or if the plaid you are dealing with is made of either squares or rectangles. It is also a good time to note if your fabric has a right or a wrong side, or if both sides of your fabric can be used on the outside of your garment.

Squint at the fabric to find a dominant line. Fold the fabric lengthwise on this stripe and turn back one layer of fabric at the end. If the lengthwise lines are identical on the fabric underneath and the fold, the plaid is balanced in that direction.  Fold the fabric widthwise as well, and check that it is balanced. It will reverse on all sides of the main color bar.

Now fold it in half and turn back the top layer of fabric on the diagonal. Do the lines and colors still match along this line? Look carefully! If so, it is a even balanced fabric that can be cut with the pattern pieces in either direction. It will have the same lines on the left and right and the same lines above and below the dominate line.

This gets tricky, because a plaid can be balanced, but it will still be uneven. Watch out for plaids that are evenly spaced, but with colors that do not repeat or mirror exactly on the opposite side of a main color bar. If the lines, spaces and colors in both the lengthwise AND crosswise directions do not match when either of them are folded on the bias, then it is uneven. An easier way to look for this is to check if your balanced plaid is made up of squares or rectangles. If it’s square, it is even. If it’s retangular, it is uneven.

If the plaid balances across, but not up-and-down, or if it balances up-and-down, but not across, it is what is called unbalanced. To be more precise, it is a one-way, one-directional plaid. Look for different thickness of threads, different colors, or for plaids that have thicker or thinner stripes on either side of the main fabric focal point.

If the plaid is unbalanced and one-directional both up and down and across the fabric, then it is a two-way, one-directional plaid. These are the most difficult plaids to cut and sew. They often are made up of many thread colors.

While you’re checking your fabric, make sure that the fabric is on grain, and not stretched or distorted. The plaid should have true right angles. If it does not, it will be very difficult to correctly match up while sewing. Always look at the fabric before you buy it- if it’s distorted, you will have many issues when laying out your pattern and constructing your garment.

In my next post, we’ll review each of these categories of plaid and talk about how to cut each of them out! For all of my US readers- have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

See the other plaid posts here!

It’s Plaid Week (Kind of)!

Cutting out Plaid

Sewing Plaid