How to match prints along seams

One of the biggest pet peeves is seeing unmatched prints, stripes and plaids on RTW (ready-to-wear) garments. It seems so lazy! Especially on higher end garments. (This shirt isn’t high-end but still! Not even the slightest effort to match the plaids..)

Since I’m a production manager as my day job, I know that it costs extra to match your seamlines. It uses more fabric, requires special markers, and increases the sew price charged by factories. So I can see why people cut costs by not matching prints, plaids or stripes.

But that’s the wonderful thing about sewing your own clothes, you can take the extra time to get it right!

When I cut out the Coral Garden skirt, I wanted to get it perfect. Matching the print along the centre back seam is a little touch that makes it extra special, and adds to the beauty of the print. It would be really distracting if there were mismatching coral pieces along the back. Plus, most of my readers are people who sew, you guys would spot the mis-match right away!

I thought I’d share how I matched the print along the seamline. If you have a different technique that works for you, please let me know!

NOTE: you may need more fabric than your pattern asks for to match prints, especially large-scale prints.

Also, we’ll be cutting our fabric open, with the printed side facing up.

First, cut out your first piece you need to match. In this case, I’m matching the centre back seam. I have to cut two side back pieces. Instead of cutting the piece once, through two layers of fabric, we’ll be cutting this pattern piece twice through a single layer of fabric.

When I laid out my first piece, I had a general idea of where to place my second piece. Especially with a very large print, I needed to make sure if I was cutting a half-shape along centre back, that I also had enough room to cut out the other half of the shape along the opposing seamline. (This may be a bit confusing! Watch and hopefully it will make more sense as I go.)

Here’s my left back piece. I’m going to be matching the right edge to the right back piece. Press under the seam allowance along the centre back seam. This will be the line we need to match against our right back piece.

Then, lay the left back fabric panel on the fabric, matching the print pattern as you go. See how I’m lining up the dark coral squiggly lines?

Now, take the pattern tissue, and press under 5/8″ seam allowance. This will help us line up our right back along the matching line.

Line up the folded edge of the pattern tissue along the left back fold line.

The edges should meet, fold to fold, with no space between.

Now pin the pattern tissue to the single layer of fabric around all edges. After pinning around the edges of the tissue, lift off the left back fabric panel. Unfold the centre back seam allowance on the tissue piece, and pin along the edge.

Cut out right back skirt piece.

All this hard work and attention while cutting out will pay off when we sew up the centre back seam. I inserted an invisible zipper, and stitched the centre back seam below, and look! A beautifully matched seam.

Close-up of the invisible zipper – yes, it matched up on the first try!

From far away you can’t even tell there’s a seam – which is the ultimate goal. You may want to baste the seam before stitching for even more accuracy. Baste the seamline, press open to check the print matching, and if you’re happy with it, stitch the seam.

Hope this was helpful.  Stay tuned for photos of the finished skirt!

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57 Responses to How to match prints along seams

  1. Stacy July 12, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    AWESOME! I was never taught how to match prints and patterns! This is great. I am gonna have to try this! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. A Sewn Wardrobe July 12, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    I agree – this was a *really* helpful tutorial. Thanks for taking the time.

  3. The Cupcake Goddess July 12, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    Fabulous tutorial! The skirt looks stunning! Like there is not even a seam there. Perfect!

  4. Lisa L. July 12, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    That’s amazing. If I didn’t know there was a seam there I’d think it was one piece! Looks great!

  5. Clare July 12, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    This is fab, your seams are perfect! I’ll definitely be referring back to this post – thanks, Tasia!

  6. Clare July 12, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    I would add, as an afterthought, and becuase this is the kind of step I don’t always take, that it would be *really important* to make a muslin first to make sure fit is perfect. Otherwise an extra cm taken in here and there would mess up the matching.

  7. Shannon July 12, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Great tip! I will definitely try this sometime. The skirt looks like it will be a fun design. Can’t wait for the big reveal.

  8. Jessica July 12, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Thank you for the tutorial! I confess that I am sometimes lazy about print matching – I’ll match stripes and plaids, but bigger designs? Not unless I think it’s going to look weird. I like the tip about folding back the seam allowance, I hadn’t thought of that!

  9. Alana July 12, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    Perfect timing – I’m about to make a top with a centre front seam from a print. This will make it a whole load easier :)

  10. Lizzy July 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Thanks for the tutorial!! It has very easy to follow instructions, it’s always hard to make prints to match, I will use yout tutorial next time!

  11. Tilly July 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Great post! Very clear and VERY helpful. Will bookmark this page…

  12. Venus de Hilo July 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Excellent, clear, instructions. I love matching a print as exactly as possible, even though it is fiddly to get just right: the satisfaction is so worth the extra effort.

  13. Renay July 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Wonderful. That skirt is going to look perfect! I always have trouble with this. I just cut and hope for the best…… not the greatest technique. Will definately use this in the future Thanks!

  14. Marta July 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Very clever! The thought of matching up prints overwhelmed me before but this makes so much sense.

  15. Elizabeth July 12, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    OMG! I think you just saved my sanity. It seems so simple and a no brainer, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to do this. I could have benefited from this tutorial long ago. Thank you so much for posting this for this dumb person! ;)

  16. Kristie July 12, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Ah, nice tutorial. Makes sense and so helpful.

  17. Gail July 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    thanks for the tutorial. I recently finished a paisley jersey dress that was an agony to match. It took two hours to lay out and cut, but the result was worth while. Today I was in a waiting room and saw a girl in a nice plaid coat. Then I looked at the mismatched checked at the seams – it screamed cheap, factory made!

  18. rita July 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    I never thought of folding the edges! What a great idea – thanks!

  19. Carla July 12, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Wow! Thank you for this fabulous tutorial. You have really demystified this for me. I love your blog, by the way.

  20. Tasia July 12, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Oh wow! I’m glad that so many people found this helpful! It was one of those ‘aha’ moments when I was thinking about how to match up the print…after deciding it was definitely necessary, I wondered if there was any firm rule on how to match prints? So I thought, if I don’t know, there are probably lots of others out there who don’t know either…
    @Clare: Really excellent point! I didn’t think about it, since I’ve made this skirt five times, but you’re right. If you’re at all concerned about fit and think you may have to take in or let out the seam you’re about to match.. make a muslin first, to perfect the fit.
    @Gail: I checked out your paisley, you did a great job matching the print! It’s such a sign of good quality when the prints or stripes or plaids match perfectly.
    @Carla: Thanks for the compliment on my blog – I love writing it!

  21. petite josette July 12, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Hey Tasia

    I can’t wait to see the finished skirt ! Matching pattern is also one of my obsessions, and it makes such a nice difference at the end !
    Thanks for sharing, I’ve been doing this exactly but I don’t think I’d been able to explain it as clearly as you did….

  22. The Sew Convert July 13, 2010 at 3:46 am #

    Oh! this is a great tute! Thanks for the tips:)

  23. Darci July 13, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Tasia, this is SO helpful! You made it look so easy, I’m sure I can do it, too!
    This is a serious lifesaver!

  24. pretty little pictures July 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    This is such a fabulous tutorial!! Thanks so much :)

  25. Rachel July 14, 2010 at 3:57 am #

    Thanks Tasia, this is great! And very inspiring. I must admit, I never think to match a more abstract print. I would do it for a stripe or plaid – and now I’ll be doing it for prints. Thanks for the very clear instructions too.

  26. Tasia July 14, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    @Rachel: I wouldn’t always match a print, but for this project I wanted it to be extra special. Now that I’ve done it and realized it’s not so bad I’ll probably aim to match all my large prints going forward.
    @Darci: Of course you can do it! And if you get stuck when you try just give me a shout.
    @petite josette: Thanks and I’m glad my tutorial was easy to follow! I find pictures make all the difference.
    So tutorials are a hit and super useful – is there anything specific you wish there was a tutorial on, that you’d like me to do?

  27. Ali August 5, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    I’ve been meaning to thank you for this! I just returned to re-read this when considering matching stripes. So, so helpful :) Hope you’re enjoying your time away!

  28. Lakshmi August 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    I have a weekly post on blogs that i discovered to be very useful and share it with my readers. This week i am proud to present a link to your blog. Your blog is so useful and interesting to read.

  29. Paula September 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Thanks, Tasia! This will be a great way to match when using a pattern! Here’s another tip: fabrics with repeating patterns usually have marks in the selvages to let you know when it the pattern begins. For instance, the fabric I’m using has cross. Imagine cutting two pieces of the same fabric and then putting them side by side, so that the left selvage of one piece is next to the right selvage of the other piece. The patterns should match up. The trick is knowing how wide of a seam to sew. I am sewing a duvet cover and trying to match the side seams (one 60″ wide panel for the middle, then another cut in half lengthwise for the sides). I cut the sides longer than the middle to allow for the pattern repeat. Now I need to figure out where the seam needs to be to match. I might be able to adapt Tasia’s technique.

  30. Kath October 20, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    Very late to the party but this tutorial is BRILLIANT(sorry I get over-excited when I read good sewing tips) Thanks a lot for this how-to!

    • Emily October 25, 2012 at 12:46 am #

      This is awesome!!! Any tips on matching up prints in the bodice (since the seam is not a straight line and will never match up completely)? How do you decide where the print should line up?

  31. carolinascallin November 1, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Wow – this is a great help! Thanks so much for posting your step by step directions. Unmatched seams has ALWAYS been a pet peeve for me as well…and I’ve seen it on some surprisingly higher priced fashions.

    This is one sewing gaffe that should never happen :)

  32. Lisa July 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    I’ve never learned how to do this properly, so thank you! Now I want to go make something with a big print just so I can try it out…

  33. Christina August 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    This article has been so helpful.. I am sewing my first dress in a paisley print. Unfortunately I came accross this article a little too late. You live and learn, BUT I see everything so differently now concerning checks, prints and plaids.. I’ve noticed that most rtw clothing apparel and frankly even high end pieces done in prints are not matched up whatsoever on the seam. I am so surprised. I won’t ever be able to work with a print again and not match up the seams. I am learning so much from your site and all of the valuable feedback from my fellow subscribers. Thanks.

  34. LSV August 26, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Brilliant! Thanks so much for posting this :-)

  35. Cindy November 22, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    I hope you’re still looking at comments! I’m very late to this game! Does the matching pattern mean that if the first half of the skirt was cut on the straight of grain that the matched piece has also been cut on the straight of grain? Do you think it’s necessary (or just angst producing) to try to match a small houndstooth pattern across seams? Thanks! Love your blog!

    • Tasia November 22, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Hi Cindy,
      I wouldn’t bother matching a small houndstooth pattern! In fact I’d really only bother matching a very large print, or a print with very distinct outlines where a flower will be cut in half and look strange. Otherwise you’re right, it’s just angst-producing!
      The only thing I might consider with a houndstooth print is to match it horizontally, like it was a horizontal stripe, if it will look crooked otherwise. But if it’s really small, I wouldn’t worry about it!

      • Netti January 28, 2014 at 10:40 am #

        Hi Tasia

        Like Cindy a little late to the party on your pattern matching tutorial, again like Cindy I’m unsure if the side skirt pattern pieces have a ‘grainline’ how i should deal with this. I can see in your tutorial the left back pattern piece has a grain line – should this be measured against the selvedge? Sorry I’m confused!

        Thanks for such a fab blog it’s a fabulous resource for sewing hints and tips

        • Tasia January 28, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

          Hello Netti! This tutorial works best when you are matching two pieces where the grainline is parallel to the seamline to be matched. If you’re thinking about matching the side seam, which is probably curved to fit the contours of your body, you won’t be able to match it exactly like this. Otherwise you’ll lose the curves and your skirt won’t fit – which is way more important than matching the print! So I wouldn’t worry about it, except for places that have a completely straight seam. You may want to match the pattern horizontally, if it has a strong horizontal pattern, kind of like it was a stripe running around the body.
          To be honest, I pretty much never match prints like this, unless they are huge prints that would look terrible cut in half, or if I’m trying to match up a patch pocket with the print so it’s invisible. Hope this helps!

          • Netti January 31, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

            Thanks Tasia, I follow you now! Really enjoy your blog, it’s a fantastic resource for sewing tips, you have inspired me to take up dressmaking again! Love your patterns too :) x

  36. SandyH May 21, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Hello Tasia. Have been trying to work this out myself for a long time and this is such a simple tutorial to follow. Thank you.

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