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I can’t help but notice that since I got back from my little abduction incident weird and inexplicable things have been happening. You know, suddenly all of my left shoes are too big, the cat has been winking at me, sometimes the anchor on the evening news finishes a story with, “Did you catch all of that, Elaine?” Nothing too nerve wracking.  Until last night, that is. I was working on the Burda ruffle blouse from the 4.2007 issue, had finished a muslin and was starting to cut out of my brown striped poplin:

I used my usual trick for doing symmetrical plaid matching. But this time, it didn’t work!  I couldn’t get the stripes to match.  What! Here’s what I mean.  I cut out one sleeve from a single layer of fabric. I then flipped the sleeve piece I had cut out onto the fabric with the intention of matching up the stripes and cutting the second sleeve. But this happened:

Do you see what’s going on here?  Look at the top of the photo.  See how the stripes on the sleeve piece match up so perfectly with the underlying piece of fabric that you can barely distinguish it?  And then as you progress down the photo, the stripes get more and more unaligned? I KNOW. 

I tried moving the sleeve all over the fabric, aligning it with different stripes, including the exact same stripes from which I had cut the first sleeve (i.e. placing it right below where I had cut the first sleeve along the length of the fabric) and I could not get the stripes to match up!  Here’s a close up:

And it wasn’t just the sleeves.  I couldn’t get the bodice fronts to match, and I couldn’t get the back to be symmetrical on both sides either!  You might be thinking that there’s something about the fabric that is causing it stretch along the cut edges, but this is not the case.  After cutting, the fabric pieces are still exactly the same size as the paper pattern pieces. WTF?

Eventually I decided to give up on trying to make the blouse perfectly symmetrical. I decided better to have the stripes not match perfectly than try to ease  and force things to match and end up with one side of the blouse actually being physically larger than the other. Because the shoulder seams are fairly short, I was able to force the stripes on the bodice front shoulder to match the stripes on the back shoulder, which is where I think mismatched stripes look the worst. Otherwise I figure it won’t be too bad.  It’s a fine stripe and the stripe at least looks regular, so if there happen to be one or two more stripes on one side than the other, or the stripes are aligned exactly the same on one sleeve as the other, it’d take a lot to notice.

But seriously, how weird is that? Has this happened to anyone else? Life is becoming very odd indeed.

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.


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


Cut out your piece as you normally would…


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:


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:


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:


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…


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!

About this blog

The Selfish Seamstress loves to design and sew garments, but only if she gets to keep them. I'm Elaine, known in the online sewing world as elainemay, and welcome to my selfish sewing blog.

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