Matching Plaids: A Step-by-Step Guide

We’re switching topics for the day, from blouses to tartan plaid capes, with a post on matching plaids! Matching plaid is all about the cutting. The good news is that once the cutting is done, the sewing part is very easy! The bad news is that laying out your fabric and matching the plaids is a very tedious process. It’s so worth it though!

For the Tartan Cape, I’m going to match the plaids along the sideseams and side front seams. I’m also going to match the plaids on the facings and the collar.

Matching plaids are a mark of good quality. Isn’t it just the worst when you see un-matched plaids on ready-to-wear clothing? So lazy! (Like this shirt I purchased here – $55 for a shirt with cheap-looking buttons and unmatching plaids!) I’m lucky that this cape doesn’t have too many pieces to match. It will be well worth the time to get it right! (My ‘walk in the autumn leaves’ fantasy doesn’t include mismatched plaids.)

Some tips for better plaid-matching:

  • Buy a little extra fabric. You know how they say ‘Allow extra fabric to match stripes or plaids?’ Make sure you do! I’d ballpark about 25% more than the pattern calls for, more if you have a very large plaid.
  • Pick a pattern with not too many pieces. Even matching the plaid on this cape took a long time! If you pick a coat with a lot of seaming and panels, you’re creating a lot of work for yourself. And either the seaming will be lost in the plaid, if the plaid is perfectly matched – or there will be plenty of opportunities for less-than-perfect matching to be seen!
  • Think about where you want the plaid lines to be placed – at the hemline, on the collar, over certain areas of your body. I’d never want a wide band of plaid around my hips! (But I would over my bustline for extra oomph.) Think about which lines you want at the hemline, especially if it’s curved. I aim to have the dark navy at the hem as much as possible.

You’ll need a few things:

  • Your plaid fabric
  • Your pattern pieces
  • A pencil and ruler
  • A lot of pins!

Here’s how to match your plaids:

First, lay out your fabric on your table or floor, folding in half as shown. See how quickly the stripes become un-aligned? It has to match both up-and-down, and side-to-side. (Right now it kind of matches side to side but vertically, the plaid intersections are off.)

What we’re going to do here is line up every plaid intersection and pin them together. Tedious and time-consuming? You bet. But it’s the best way to ensure perfectly-matching plaids through both layers.

Alternately, you could cut the fabric open and cut each pattern piece twice. That would mean less matching of plaid intersections, but more marking plaid lines on pattern pieces. You’ll see!

Ok, so how are we going to line up the intersections? One by one! Likely you will run out of pins, so we’ll pin a section, cut a piece, and then pin another section.

Start at one end of the fold edge. Stick a pin through one of the intersections – this will be easiest if you always use the same place on the pattern. I’ve chosen the outer edge of the turquoise lines.

Now, flip over your fabric and look at where the pin went through on the other side. Our goal is to get the pin poking through the exact same place on the plaid pattern.

Uh oh, this pin is not in the right spot!

We’ll need to shuffle the fabric around so that the pin can line up. What I do is reposition the pin so it’s through the right spot, and then smooth the fabric around the pin.

Next, secure the pin through both layers of fabric. I find it helps to always pin in the same direction.

Now repeat with the next intersection. Stick the pin through the intersection, check and re-position the other side, and secure the pin.

And that’s it! Repeat, repeat, repeat. Continue until your matched sections are large enough to place your first pattern piece. I’m going to place my back along the fold line, so I will continue matching along the fold first.

Once the fold has been matched, work your way towards the selvages.

Keep going…

and going.

So much matching! Now that there’s enough of a matched section to lay our first piece, that’s what we’re going to do.

If you wanted to, you could continue pinning intersections until your whole piece of fabric is pinned. That works too! I didn’t, because I don’t have that many pins, and I get bored of pinning. If you get into a groove, by all means pin the entire length!

At the very least, you should have an area of fabric pinned and matched large enough to fit your first pattern piece.

I’m going to cut out the cape back piece first. This piece is supposed to have a centre back seam. Do you remember my post a while back about centre back seams, and why you need them? I’ve checked and I can safely eliminate this centre back seam. It’s not needed for shaping, this piece doesn’t have to be cut on the bias, and there’s no zipper or closure. So I’ll be lining up the seamline (not the edge of the pattern piece) along the fold.

It helps if you already know where you want your plaid lines to fall! For the back, I’m mostly concerned about the hemline. The cape hem is slightly curved, so I want to have a mostly-navy hem so the lines aren’t obvious along the curve.

See how I’m lining up the hem just above the turquoise stripe? This way, there won’t be an awkward stripe of blue that disappears as the hemline curves.

Line up the hemline first, and then continue pinning along the centre back. I’m folding back the seam allowance, and placing the centre back seamline on the fold instead.

Pin all around the cape back, smoothing out the tissue.

Now you’re almost ready to cut! Before we cut, we’re going to mark the main plaid lines onto the pattern piece. Use a ruler to continue the main plaid lines on your pattern piece. I’m doing this on the sideseams, so I can match the front sideseam plaid to the back sideseam plaid lines.

Draw the lines approximately 2″ onto the pattern piece. That’s all you need, as the lines may not meet in a straight line. We’ll have a slight V where the plaids meet on the sideseam. The important part is to know where the plaid lines cross the seamline. I hope this makes sense!

Repeat the markings for each wide or dominant plaid stripe, all along the seamline.

Now you can cut out the back piece.

Remove the tissue carefully. We’ll remark the plaid lines so they’re slightly darker, now that we can write on the table and not a layer of soft fabric.

Now, we’ll transfer these markings to the front pattern piece. In my case, I have a Side Front and a Front. So we’ll take just the Side Front and lie it on top of the Cape Back, matching sideseams.

We’ll be able to see our markings through the tissue, so we can just trace them onto the front piece! Using a ruler, trace the plaid line markings to the front, all along the sideseam.Now our side front piece is ready to cut! Pin another section of plaid intersections like we did earlier, covering enough space to cut out the side front.Now place the front piece on the fabric, matching the sideseam markings to the main plaid stripes.

While the pattern piece is on the fabric, we’re going to draw straight lines across the pattern piece along the plaid lines.

I have a Front to match to this Side Front, this will give me plaid lines to match along the seamline. Is it starting to make sense now? There’s a lot of mark, pin, cut – mark, pin, cut – repeat! Patience is definitely necessary. Patience, and lots of time!

Finish pinning around the pattern piece, and cut it out. You can see I’ve ignored the grainline on this one so that the plaids would match. If I had followed the grainline, the plaid would have gone up and down along the side front seamlines. (It should all makes sense when the cutting is complete!)Next, we’ll cut out the undercollar. No matching required! It’s completely hidden. I did make sure that the plaid intersections were pinned so both halves were the same. This one’s important to keep on grain according to the marked grainline, so it rolls nicely.Here’s what the undercollar looks like, all cut out:

And here’s what the side fronts look like, cut out:

Are you still with me? This is a good post to bookmark for later, because if you’re not sewing and cutting plaids right now this might look a bit intense!

Next, we’ll mark the plaids on the Cape Front. Take your Side Front pattern piece, and pin it to the Front along the seamline.

Make sure to overlap the pieces like they will be sewn, and line up any circles, dots or notches. I’ve pinned through the large circles to be sure the pieces match.

Continue the plaid-marking lines from side front to front piece. You’ll repeat this method across all of your seamlines – which is why it’s good if you pick simple styles for plaid projects!

Un-pin the front pieces, and your front piece will be marked and ready to use!

I bet you can guess our next step – pin another section of plaid intersections!

You’ll get really good at this by the time we’re done cutting. (I hope I haven’t scared anyone away from plaid fabrics! Trust me, the sewing will be a piece of cake once the cutting is done.)

Now line up your front piece with the dominant plaid lines, just as we did before:

Pin around the edges. Before you cut, let’s place the facing piece as well. We’re only going to line up the horizontal plaid lines, so they continue around the opening nicely. When my cape flies open in the wind, you’ll see that the plaid lines wrap around centre front from cape to facing!

Use a ruler to make sure the bottom edges are in line, and ensure that notches fall on the same part of the plaid. (You can see my notches fall on a turquoise stripe on both the facing and front!)

Cut out these pieces as well. Let’s lie out our cut pieces as if we’re about to sew and see how well we did matching!

Pretty nice, don’t you think? Here’s a look from the front. You can see what I was explaining about the facing and centre front, how the plaid wraps around the edge.

One last piece – the top collar! This one is a matter of personal preference. I like to match it to the centre back, which is really easy to do. Simply place the collar pattern piece along the same foldline!

The last thing we’ll do is make sure the dominant plaid stripe is centered along the collar. Mark the centre of the collar with a small pencil mark, and then centre the marking along the dominant plaid stripe.

Check it out! Our collar matches the centre back plaid, and will look really nice when the cape is finished. Very professional!

So there you go – a very intense step-by-step guide to matching plaids!

Do plaids scare you, because of all the matching? Personally, I love plaids, so I deal with the matching part because I love the end results. Do you follow this method, or do you do something different? Any tips or tricks?

I’ll be back with another Sew-Along post tomorrow! Plus, I’ll catch up on responding to questions and comments. So if you’ve asked a question in the last day or two, don’t worry, I will get you the answers you need. Thanks to the readers who’ve jumped in and responded to questions in the meantime, I really appreciate it!

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49 Responses to Matching Plaids: A Step-by-Step Guide

  1. julie s February 2, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    Great information on matching plaids! I think I could actually do it now!

  2. Katie February 2, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    What a great post! Even though there are a lot of steps, this method does seem to be pretty simple. I have some plaid fabric that I have been a little nervous to use, but I think I will try your method out! I really love your plaid, the colors are so pretty!! Can’t wait to see the finished cape!

  3. CGCouture February 2, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    I’ve never sewn plaids because I always chicken out. Stripes? I can sew them all day long, but for some reason plaids scare the crap out of me. This tutorial will come in handy once I finally get up the courage to sew something up in plaid.

  4. K-Line February 2, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    AWESOME tutorial! You seriously need to do workshops. The first thing i thought was, I’m bookmarking this for later!

  5. Misty February 2, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    I can’t wait to see how your cape turns out! I’m finding this to be generally true — the preparation part of sewing is what is turning out to take the longest. I’m used to preparation being a minimum and just jumping right into my knitting projects! And of course your post prompted me to ask a question — when is it safe to ignore the grainline on your fabric? I assume we usually follow the grainline so the fabric doesn’t hang funny or stretch out with wear. Are there certain types of fabric where you can ignore the grainline, or certain garments or shapes?

  6. Casey February 2, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    Brilliant tutorial! I love sewing with plaids as well, even though I’ve only used a plaid fabric a handful of times, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort to get a neatly matched up look. Definitely bookmarking this to refer to in the future (I had never thought of pinning together the plaid intersections–I usually just cut a single layer at a time.) Can’t wait to see your cape all sewn up–it’s going to be stunning! :)

    Oh, and btw: I cut out my Pendrell blouse yesterday evening and started sewing it! Looking great so far! :)

    ‚ô• Casey

  7. Marina February 2, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Great tutorial! I was also cutting a single layer at a time before. Looking forward to the final garment!

    Marina

  8. Alex February 2, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    I have sewn one plaid dress; I kept it simple with only 3 pieces and a straight hem. This will be very useful for next time! I had the folding and matching part down – but I had never thought about marking my pattern pieces! So smart!

  9. Clare February 2, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    This is a brilliant tutorial – such clear instructions! Your cape is going to be a thing of beauty!

  10. Michelle February 2, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    This is so perfect, I am doing a plaid shirt for Peter’s MPB sew-a-along. Great timing and thanks!!

  11. Lisa Lassie Sullivan February 2, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    As many have already stated…Brilliant. I am sewing in a sew-a-long and have never used plaid before and am using it now. It was the first day of the sew-a-long and I already was having trouble with the plaid and voila there was this tutorial in my in-box. Thanks a million.

  12. Corinne February 2, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Outstanding tutorial Tasia!

  13. Tasia February 2, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Yay! Glad it was helpful!! I bet a lot of people are making the Negroni in plaid, so this tutorial is here for your reference especially! Well and anyone making a cape of their own. And quiet-and-small-adventures’ plaid coat. This was so long I almost broke it into two posts, but thought that might be annoying to find later. Anyways – here it is! Ta-da, matched plaids.

    Misty, that’s a really good question about when you can ignore the grainline… I know from years of experience when you can get away with it and not. And even then, sometimes things will hang funny if you ignore it. Even this thick coating won’t hang quite exactly as intended now that I’ve shifted the pieces slightly, but I’m OK with it. Experience (and bad experiences!) will show you over time, when it works and when it doesn’t. Off the top of my head, there are two things that let you skip grainlines: very fitted silhouettes, and very thick fabrics. And even then, you’re sacrificing just a teeny bit of the original fit and design when you do. Say for example, you’re making a fitted, strapless dress. On the bodice, you could turn some of the pieces diagonally, for a fun look, because there’s so much other structure that the grainlines aren’t totally necessary. And if they’re heavily interfaced, then there is no ‘give’ left in the fabric so it doesn’t matter as much which way you turn the pieces.
    Also, some very thick fabrics can be turned off grain, like this one. But you know, that’s not even always true as I made a coat out of thick fabric, but the coat’s skirt is offgrain and now it hangs weird. I suppose the bottom line is, if there’s a chance the fabric *could* go wonky, then don’t do it. Like a skirt – if you make a bias skirt and cut it OFF the bias, it’s going to be weird and not fit right.
    OK – and if pieces are decorative and not functional, such as tabs, or pockets, or ruffles, then that’s OK to ignore the grainline. Say you have a coat in plaid, and it has patch pockets. You can turn the pockets on the bias for a cool, diagonal look, without affecting the fit of the coat.
    Does that make sense? Besides trial and error, the best way to find out is to test it first. Make a muslin, with the pieces cut the way you want to, and see if there are any funny hanging issues. If you have a skirt and want the stripes to be on the diagonal, test it out first to make sure it will fit and be comfortable. Any time you go off on your own tangent, away from the original design, there’s a chance it won’t look like the original. This can be a good thing, putting your own spin on it! Or it could just be strange and look homemade.

  14. Debi February 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    FANTASTIC! this is so helpful! Thank you soooo much!

  15. HipDroppedStitches February 2, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Wow, awesome tutorial!!! I can’t wait to give this method a try…

  16. SewSister February 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    FANTASTIC tutorial!!! I will bookmark this post and am sure will refer to it many time in the future!

  17. gina February 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I bookmarked this one, thanks for taking the time to show us this! great job!

  18. Gail February 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Great tutorial on matching plaids. It’s summer here now, but have bookmarked it for my plaid winter dress.

  19. Paunnet February 3, 2011 at 4:24 am #

    super useful and super thorough!
    Looking forward to see the finished cape!

  20. Janice February 3, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    Very useful tutorial! I’ll make note of this when I start sewing for F/W 2011.

  21. Tasia February 3, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Yay! Thanks everyone!

  22. Christina February 4, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    Thank you for this great tutorial! Once I find my dream plaid I’ll definitely use it.

  23. Bridget February 5, 2011 at 4:00 am #

    Absolutely fantastic info here – very helpful indeed. I just wish I’d read it before I made a plaid shirt for my son last week – what a nightmare I had matching it up! Am new to your blog, but you’ve already sold me on a cape … carry on …

  24. quietandsmalladventures February 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    i’m so glad i waited on cutting my plaid wool for my coat until after you posted this and i could read it a couple of times! fantastic tutorial!

  25. Tasia February 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    @quietandsmalladventures: Oh good! And if you get stuck or have any plaid-matching questions, just give me a shout!

  26. Charlotte March 7, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Thanks so much for this great tutorial. I’ve just recently made a small jacket / cape with plaids but I haven’t found your website. I managed it well enough but it was hard work. You make it look so easy and thank you for the many photos. They are a great help!!

  27. jarka March 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Thank you for the tutorial, but why are some pictures in the middle section missing?

    • Tasia March 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      You know, they’re missing when I read the post on my phone, but they’re there when I read the post on my laptop. (I checked earlier in the day from my phone and made a note to fix it when I got back into the office, but it’s fine now.. strange.) Might be that they are slow to load, there are a lot of photos in that blog post. Try refreshing the post and see if that works, and try reading from a computer rather than a phone, I hope that helps!

      • jarka March 21, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

        Not true. I am not reading the article on the phone but my laptop. And I have tried to read it in different browser, reloading few times. Does not worked :-( May be at your laptop the browser is loading the missing pictures from the cache, from history… Anyway, pictures are stil lmissing. It is these four:

        pinnig the back cape piece
        line up the hemline as desired
        line up the hem, and then line up the centre back
        pin along the edges of the back piece

        Also I have tried to open directly the link for each picture and always this appeared: Uh-oh page non found

        http://sewaholic.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/pinning-the-back-cape-piece-e1289887851334.jpg

        That does not happen with any other pictures. Is it possible to send me those pictures? if i provide you an e-mail?

        • Tasia March 25, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

          Ok! I’ll see what I can do.

  28. Laraine April 3, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share this tutorial on plaids! So thankful that I saw this before I just gave up and just cut it. I was becoming frustrated and was somewhat lost on how to make it all match. I am starting to make a plaid elliptical skirt for a Victorian/Civil war event next month and I wanted to match the plaids as you have here on your cape. You have explained this so perfect. I knew I needed to make the stripes match somehow going all around it – and like you, I didn’t want to even wear it without the stripes matching somewhat-even under the pleating. Also, I want to mention that your tip on making the darkest stripe come close to the top or at the bottom hem is valuable as well and I know will also make my skirt look much better. Again, thanks so much. I’m going to purchase many ore pins and get to work on pinning, matching and cutting out my skirt.

  29. Deborah October 2, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I’m new to apparel sewing, so when I bought some plaid coating online this week, I figured it would have to sit in the stash for a while since I’ve never sewn with coating or plaids or made anything as complex as a cape or coat … but then I found this tutorial. It’s quite well done and will help immensely. I might get my (first) dream coat done sooner rather than later!

    FYI, it appears that two photos are still missing from the section where the back piece is being pinned to the fabric.

  30. Keren November 17, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Thank you so much for this, such detailed and clear information ; I’ve bought some lovely plaid for making a skirt and I had absolutely no idea how to go about matching the pieces up….. until I read this!
    Now I’m looking forward to cutting.

  31. cecily January 10, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    Love this post, best one I’ve seen since I’m trying to put together a plaid skirt but 3 of the pictures are broken. But definitely the best tutorial on cutting and sewing plaids

  32. Lavonne Taveggia March 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    I have just found your tutorial on matching plaids… I am making my grandson a romper and there is a seam right down the middle in the front and back. I don’t think this method would work because I would have to take into consideration the seam allowance down the middle on each side. I think the only way I can cut it correctly is to cut each piece separately and move each piece so that the seam won’t interupt the plaid. Am I right on this? Do you have any tips…or am I just confused and should cut each piece identical? Thank you.

    Lavonne

  33. Tara July 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Great article, very informative. I am currently in the process of making a 6 panel plaid corset. This is my first time using plaid as well and I got it to match perfectly. What I did was lay it single layer as it was an uneven plaid and chose a point to line my waist up with and used it as a focal point. This also meant that everything else matched up. It also created an interesting effect that made it look like there’s a belt around the waist as it was on a bar. I’m thinking that this might also work for having the bar be on the hemline.

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