The Selfish Seamstress is feeling pretty smug because she’s come up with a foolproof way to do perfectly symmetrical plaid (and stripe) matching.  She has searched the web and a couple of sewing books for instructions on how to match plaids, and has yet to see this method. She’s therefore convinced that she came up with it herself, even though it’s so obvious that people have surely done this before. As you may know, I like to take credit even where no credit is due.

Plaid matching at seams can be one of the more frustrating aspects of sewing.  It’s no fun finding out that the two legs of your pants don’t match because you aligned something incorrectly. My little trick applies to situations when you want to cut two mirrored pieces, for example two pant fronts, two skirt side panels, two identical halves of a waistband. Essentially any situation when you want two identical pieces, with one of them flipped over. 

There seem to be two primary schools of thought on how to match plaids. The first school is to fold the fabric *very* carefully in half, making sure that the top layer and bottom layer are perfectly matched, then put your pattern piece on top and cut through the double thickness as usual.  I think this is really the worst way you can do it.  Even if you’re really careful, it is just too easy to have it slightly off somewhere.  And if you’re cutting a big piece, say two pant fronts, good luck being completely sure that your layers are aligned the whole way through. Once the fabric is folded in half, there’s really no good way to look at the bottom layer.

The second school of thought is to open the fabric out in a single layer, lay down your pattern piece, cut it out, and then flip the pattern piece over and find another spot on the fabric where you can match the notches to their location on the first piece you cut out. This method is conventionally accepted as the “right” way to do it, and this is what I had mostly been doing all along. This can, however, still lead to some imprecision. Particularly if you’re working with a large plaid in which small inaccuracies can be ridiculously noticeable.  Think about a Burberry type plaid.  You might estimate that a notch falls about 1/3 of the way between two stripes, but if you’re even just a couple of millimeters off, it’s going to be noticeable in the end.

And then I figured out this neat trick:

The Selfish Seamstress Method of Plaid (and Stripe) Matching

(Note: I will continue to take full credit for this until someone (probably soon) points me to a bunch of other folks that recommend doing this. The Selfish Seamstress needs to pat herself on the back a lot.)

I made a little “toy” skirt back pattern and am using a remnant to illustrate.

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First cut out your pattern piece and lay it on your fabric as desired:

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Cut out your piece as you normally would…

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Okay.  This is the point at which conventional wisdom would have you flip the pattern piece over and try to match the notches to the piece you just cut, like so:

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You can already see this is not so easy to do. It’s even harder if you don’t have that nice skirt-shaped hole to look at. AND it’s even harder still if you’re working on the bias.  Are those notches in the same place?  Close enough?  I’m getting an ulcer just thinking about it.

The Selfish Seamstress Method recommends that instead of using the pattern piece to cut the second skirt back, you instead use the skirt piece you just cut, remembering to flip it over for mirror symmetry, and match it to the plaid in the fabric:

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Oh my goodness, you can probably barely even see it. That’s because it’s SO MATCHED.  Don’t worry, it’s easier to see when you do it in real life.  Just use plenty of light. Here- maybe it’s easier to see once it’s pinned in place:

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Or maybe not.  But you should get the idea.  You can totally tell if your plaid is matching or not, and it’s easy to line up because you’re not just relying on the notches, you’re using the whole plaid as a grid you can match.  Now cut around the first piece, being careful not to cut into the first piece, and also being careful not to cut the second piece larger than the first piece. Snip snip snip and flip…

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Voila! Perfectly symmetrical left skirt back and right skirt back!  There’s no way that won’t match when you sew the center seam.

Of course, this isn’t the complete solution to all of your plaid and stripe matching woes. You’ll still need to match notches for other seams, such as matching the skirt front to the skirt back. But at least this way you’ll know that your right and left sides are the same. And that’s it!

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