Cutting Out Plaid

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I’ve been playing catch-up since Thanksgiving, and an annoying cold hasn’t helped much. But I’m here with a cup of tea, some soft music, and I’m ready to continue our plaid conversation! This is a text-heavy post, so if you were hoping for lots of images, I don’t have them for you today. Towards the bottom of this post, I have linked to some very useful PDFs for you that have more images.

When you’re choosing a pattern for your plaid fabric, choose a simple style. Look for a pattern that will keep the crosswise grain level at the bust and hips. Garments with complicated construction or style lines (such as princess seams) can appear too busy, and can distort the fabric design unfavorably. Often, a pattern will say “unsuitable for plaids, stripes, and obvious diagonals”. I’d recommend that you follow the pattern company’s advice!

Plaids (and stripes) require special consideration when laying out and cutting your fabric. You’ll need to buy extra fabric for your project because of this. It’s generally recommended that you buy an extra 1/4 to a 1/2 yard for matching small plaids, and 1/2 to 1 extra yard for large plaids, but exactly how much extra you need depends on the  design or repeat. Watch out for fabric that is off-grain, because it will be much harder to match and you could end up with twisted seams.

Most plaids are “directional”, meaning that you need to cut everything out so that it’s facing the same direction. Be sure to check each side of your fabric to determine if it has a “nap” as well, or a different texture on one side (such as flannel). Identify if your plaid has a right and wrong side, or if there is no difference between the two sides. It will be much easier to cut out your garment if you can use both sides of the plaid.

Remember when I talked about squinting at your plaid to find the dominate line in my last post? The placement of this dominate line is argued by some seamstresses. Many feel that the dominate stripe should be place along the center front of the garment, while others believe it is best to place one on either side of the center front. I personally think that its placement should be determined by the plaid you have chosen, and what color you want to have as the focus of your garment. Place that color along the center front to make it more noticeable.

Illustration from a 1961 Better Homes and Garden Sewing Book.

Now look at the most dominant horizontal line on your plaid. It is best if one of these falls just below the shoulders. If you are making a skirt, try to make sure that the waistline of it doesn’t begin with a heavily colored bar.

Your garment will have certain places where it is important to have the plaids match perfectly. These are the center front and back, the sleeves and bodices at (at least) the front notches, the center back collar and center back, pockets (if not on the bias), the yoke at center back, side seams of the bodice, and all skirt seams. If you are wearing the plaid in a two-piece ensemble, such as a jacket and skirt, then the vertical bars of the plaid should match at the center front and back.

When you are going to match up each of these areas, you will match them up based on your seamline, and not the seam allowance line. Draw your seam lines around all of your pieces to make sure that you will be correctly matching up all important parts of your garment. If it helps, once you have your bodice front and backs cut out, you can draw the corresponding plaid lines onto the other pattern pieces to make sure they line up appropriately. Look at these designer plaids, and check out their stripe matching. What do you notice?

Left- the plaid stripes do not line up; Center- the pant and jacket plaids do not match up at the jacket hem; Right- the plaid goes up one arm, across the body, and down the other arm

If you decide to cut two layers of fabric at once, there is a chance that the fabric could slip and you would not be cutting exactly along the lines you’re trying to match. The best way to know that your plaids will match is to cut out each piece in a single layer. Yes, it takes more time, but it will be worth it when you’re sewing later on. I know that it is extremely tempting to pin your plaid together and then go for it. If you really want to cut two layers at time, at least baste them together, using the needle to go straight up and down thru the fabric, and not entering at an angle. This will keep the fabric from shifting.

I used a white pin to mark where the blue squares need to line up to make sure the pattern continues around the garment, unbroken. The piece labeled “A” is a side back piece that has already been cut out.

I traced out each side of my center back pattern piece, instead of cutting it on the fold, to make sure my lines were straight.

Each side of my back bodice piece is labeled as “A” and “B”, because I had to cut this two-way, one-directional plaid so the pattern was continuous around the garment.

Now here is where I debated drawing up samples of all of the different types of balance and unbalanced plaids with cutting instructions for each of them. I began crossing things off of my “stuff I’ll get done today” list, because I knew that drawing all of that up would take me until well into the early morning hours. But then I remembered that the internet is awesome, so I found a few PDFs for you that you can print off at home and use after you’ve determined the type of plaid that you have. You can find them here:

Working with Plaid Fabrics

All About Plaids

My next post may be about sewing plaids, but I might also give myself a break. I’m about to go cross-eyed with all of these stripes!

—-> See the other plaid posts here!

It’s Plaid Week (Kind of)!

Balanced vs. Unbalanced Plaid

Sewing Plaid