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Free download: How to match plaids and stripes

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I wrote these instructions for making Dahlia or other garments in plaid or stripes for this blog post before deciding to also create the free download.

If you don’t have them already, click the button at the end of this post to get the download. They’re helpful for all kinds of plaid and stripe situations.

When we designed Dahlia, one of the features that excited me most was how great it would look in plaids and stripes.

The use of small gathers instead of darts, the raglan sleeve, and the inset waist all really enhance the effect of plaids and would look equally awesome in striped fabric. But there are a few things to keep in mind when making any garment in a striped or plaid fabric.

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Here’s version 1 of Dahlia in a soft, lightweight wool flannel with a large plaid pattern. I did my best to match the plaid wherever I could.

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Stripe and plaid matching seems tricky, but almost all of it happens in the cutting phase, giving you a chance to play around with your pieces until things look exactly right.

Use these tips, whether you’re sewing up Dahlia or anything else.

Purchasing fabric

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Because plaids and stripes require exact placement of the pattern pieces, you almost always need a little extra fabric.

The rule of thumb is that for small plaids, get at least an extra 1/2 yard, and for large plaids go with up to an full extra yard. This is usually enough to cover you, but I like to be safe instead of sorry.

Decision time

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Before you start, make a decision about where it’s most important to have your plaids match.

It’s often impossible to match every single line. For example, depending on the size and scale of a stripe or plaid, it may be impossible to match your plaid both at the armhole and also at the side seams, just due to the way you must lay and cut your pieces.

I rank the importance of seams by how visible they are. Here’s a rough idea of how I’d rank the importance of matching some common dress seams:

  1. Center front and center back. If there is a seam going up the front or back, these should always be matched. Thankfully, this is extremely easy because the pieces are mirrored. All you have to do is lay your fabric correctly (see the laying section below).
  2. Armhole and sleeve. This is trickier to match because of the curves, but it’s highly visible.
  3. Waistline. This is also highly visible. It’s usually not difficult to match both the waistline and the armhole. If your garment has an inset midriff (like the Dahlia dress), another alternative is to cut the midriff on the diagonal (bias). This creates a cool effect and obviates the need for matching several pieces at once.
  4. Side seams. If there are no sleeves, you might want to match the side seams so that the stripes or plaids go around the body in a continuous line.
  5. Shoulders. Matching a plaid at the shoulder can provide a nice little detail.

For this dress, I’ll be concentrating on matching the sleeve, since there is no center front or center back seam.

Bias cutting

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Once you’ve decided on a main seam or seams to match, decide if you want to change the direction of any pattern pieces.

If you’re using plaid and your pattern has a lot of pieces, cutting some of them on the bias instead of straight will look good and keep you from going insane trying to match multiple seams at once.

If this seems like cheating to you, take a look at almost any man’s plaid shirt. Often, the back yoke, pockets, and plackets are cut on the bias. It just looks better, and draws attention to the lines of the garment instead of obscuring them.

The same goes for stripes, except you have even more options. You can cut some pattern pieces on the bias, or change the direction of the stripes for another effect.

For the Dahlia, I’ve cut the front and back midriff on the bias, which I highly recommend. If you’re making the sleeveless version with the paneled skirt, you may want to change the direction of the center skirt panels too.

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Draw in a new grainline on these pieces, at 45 degrees to the original grainline.

You will need to cut these pieces on a single layer, then flip them along the center, since you are no longer cutting on the fold.

Drawing match stripes

So now we’ve decided that the main seam to match on this dress is the sleeve.

Dahlia has a raglan sleeve, but this works with a set in sleeve as well.

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First, draw in the seam allowance on all the pattern pieces, including the sleeve.

The reason for this is that you want your stripes to match at the seam where they are sewn, NOT at the raw edge. With curved and diagonal seams like this, a stripe can easily match at the raw edge, but not at the actual seam.

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Mark a point along the seamline of the front of the sleeve where you would like to have a stripe meet the bodice. Usually about halfway up the sleeve cap is good, because it’s a visible spot.

Use a pen and a ruler to draw a line on the sleeve from this point all the way across to the other side. Make sure the line is perpendicular (90 degrees) to the grainline.

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Walk the bodice front with the sleeve along the seamline, beginning at the underarm.

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When you get to the point you marked on the sleeve seamline, stop. Stick a pin through to mark this point on the bodice as well. On my pattern, this is where the red line meets the blue line.

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Draw another line from the point you marked with the pin across the bodice front. Again, this should be perpendicular to the grainline.

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Now, you’re going to repeat this for the bodice back.

Walk the sleeve and bodice back together, beginning at the underarm.

When you reach the match stripe, mark again with a pin.

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Draw another match stripe across the bodice back, from the point through to the other side. Again, this should be perpendicular to the grainline.

Now your sleeve is all nicely marked for cutting.

Laying fabric

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Lay your fabric out and align the selvages, as usual.

You may want to adjust the fold of the fabric if you are using a plaid and will be cutting any pieces on the fold. You probably want your plaid to be symmetrical on the bodice, so make sure the fold is in a spot you’re comfortable with. Cutting a plaid dress only to realize your stripes aren’t centered is a big bummer.

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Carefully pin the selvages together, matching the stripes. Smooth out the fabric to make sure there are no lumps. If you’ve adjusted the fold, the selvages may not be exactly lined up, but the stripes should still be.

Laying pieces

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Lay the bodice front and back pieces on the fold, aligning the match stripes with a prominent line on the fabric. Make sure the match stripes on each piece align with the same type of line in the plaid.

Cut these pieces out.

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Next, lay the sleeve piece. Again, align the match stripe carefully with the same type of line in the plaid. You may need to play around with the placement, which is why this can take a little extra fabric to get right.

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If you’re just matching horizontal stripes, you can skip this step. But if you’re matching a medium or large plaid, you might want to mirror the plaid at the armhole. Otherwise, the horizontal stripes of the plaid will match fine, but not the vertical ones.

To do that, lay your front bodice on top of the sleeve piece, matching up the armhole edges. Now slide the sleeve left or right, until the plaids form a continuous pattern. Notice how the plaid looks unbroken?

Once you have that sleeve in place, you can remove the bodice piece and cut the sleeve. You’ll get a nice mirrored look at the front armhole seam now.

You can use this same trick on any seam where you want to mirror the plaid! I did the same thing to match the plaids at the side seams.

Sewing

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Sew your garment together as usual, but take special care to align the stripes while sewing.

It can be helpful to hand baste areas with matching stripes before sewing the final seam, to prevent seams from shifting. Often, pins aren’t enough to keep things perfectly on track, especially with curves.

That’s it! Make sure to cut other pieces like the midriff with the new grainlines you drew in, and you are all set. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

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10

How to sew bias tape straps

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Today, we’re going to go step by step through the process of sewing the bias tape straps for Version 2 of the Dahlia dress. We’ll be using bias tape to both finish the raw edges of the neckline and create the straps.

As stated in the pattern, you’ll need 3 yards of ¼” double fold bias tape. You can use prepackaged bias tape, or you can go all out and make your own! Here is a tutorial for making your own bias tape.

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(In these photos, I’m using a bodice mockup to illustrate the process, but you’ll want to make sure you’ve completed all steps prior according to your instructions. Essentially, your dress should be nearly complete except for the neckline and hem.)

FINISH UNDERARMS

Cut a piece of bias tape just a bit longer than your underarm seam. Unfold the first fold in the bias tape and look at the remaining two folds – one is smaller. Unfold this smaller fold and align the raw edges of the bias tape and underarm seam, right sides together.

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Pin bias tape along entire underarm edge.

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Stitch bias tape to dress following crease closest to the edge. This should be approximately a ¼” seam allowance.

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Refold bias tape on creases around the raw edge of the fabric and pin.

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Edgestitch along inner edge of bias tape through all layers.

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Repeat with other underarm seam.

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ATTACH FRONT AND BACK BIAS TAPE

Sew two parallel rows of basting stitches between dots on bodice front. Pull threads to gather fabric down so that it measures 6” between the dots. Anchor threads.

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Cut a piece of bias tape that is 5” longer than the back neckline edge on each end.

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Find the center of the bias tape and back bodice. Open bias tape and pin centers together, raw edges aligned and right sides together.

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Pin rest of edge.

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Stitch in first crease along entire edge to attach bias tape to bodice just like you did on the underarms. Stop there – we’ll be refolding and topstitching the bias tape later.

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Repeat to attach bias tape to the front in the same manner. Again, don’t topstitch yet.

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SEW STRAPS

Mark 3” down from end of each strap. Open bias tape all the way and pin right sides [fold sides] together, being careful not to twist straps.

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TIP: Mark the outside of each folded strap near the ends and match the marks when you pin so you don’t accidentally create a twist.

Try on dress and adjust straps if necessary. Stitch straps together and trim excess to ¼”. Gently press seam open.

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Refold bias tape on creases all the way around neckline. Repress if necessary, especially where straps are joined.

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Starting on the back bodice, edgestitch along bias tape all the way around the dress, stitching along back bodice, first strap, front bodice and second strap. Go nice and slow when you’re sewing the straps.

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Clips all threads and press gently.

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11

Thanks (+15% off ends tonight)

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Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who made Dahlia such an incredible success!

I would in particular like to thank:

Kristen, who put the most work into this pattern of anyone. Seriously, all compliments can be passed along right to her. She worked HARD on this one.

Kenn and Meg, for getting things running so smoothly and shipping more orders in a day than I thought humanly possible.

Alyson, for helping out early on and bringing us cupcakes. With cats on them.

And of course, all of you guys for your kind thoughts and ever present support. It means the world. Although I obviously can’t reply to every comment on the Dahlia post, I read and appreciate every single one. If you asked a question and didn’t see an answer, be sure to check if someone else asked. There were many of the same questions, and I think I got to all the major ones I saw.

Sewalong and discount

And don’t forget, we have a sewalong starting November 3, taught by Devon. She’s been working hard on it and will be available to help you if you run into problems along the way.

And one more reminder: the 15% off on Dahlia ends tonight, so be sure to take advantage of the discount while you can. The printed pattern is $15.30 and the digital is $9.35. And (I know I’ve mentioned this a million times), we also have new lower shipping prices.

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Where to buy Dahlia outside the US

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So many of you inquired about where to get Dahlia if you aren’t in the US and don’t want to deal with international shipping. I thought I’d post a rundown of retailers who may have it first in your area.

This isn’t an exhaustive list since there are many more who are still in the process of ordering. But these are the shops that ordered as soon as it was available, and will be first to get it. They’re awesome, please support them!

Australia

SewSquirrel (online)
Stitch 56 (online)
The Drapery (online)

Canada

Effiloché (Montreal)
Gala Fabrics (Victoria, Vancouver)
Patch Halifax (Halifax)
The Workroom (Toronto, online)
Spool of Thread (Vancouver)

Germany

Santa Lucia Patterns (Berlin, online)
Zugeknoepft (online)

France

Remember that you can buy a printed pattern locally and download instructions in French at our site.

Fifi Jolipois (Toulouse, online)
Lil Weasel (Paris, online)
Un Chat Sur Un Fil (online)

Great Britain

Dragonfly fabrics (online)
Fabric Godmother (online)
Flo Jo Boutique (online)
Fondant Fabrics (online)
Guthrie & Ghani (Birmingham, online)
Sewbox (online)
Trixie Lixie (online)

Sweden

Bitu (online)

You can also check our stockists page for other shops in your area that are likely to carry it soon. If they don’t have it, be sure to ask. It doesn’t hurt.

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Introducing Dahlia! 15% off this week

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Here is how I knew we had a good thing going with our new pattern, Dahlia.

After taking a slew of pictures in the studio with our beautiful model Amie a few weeks ago, we stepped outside to capture a few outdoor shots before the sun went down.

As we were walking around for about forty minutes, Amie got no fewer than three (!) compliments from strangers on her plaid dress.

That’s a good sign.

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A dress for all seasons

To be honest, we originally conceived of Dahlia as a spring pattern. But schedules changed, projects were flipped around, and we realized that it would be the perfect dress for fall and winter too. I couldn’t help but imagine it in plaids and tweeds.

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Version 1 is the most obvious cold-weather option, with mid-length raglan sleeves and a barely flared skirt with small back kickpleat. So far, we’ve made it in wool flannel, raw silk (the emerald green version), rayon suiting (the plaid version), and wool tweed. All beautiful, warm, and great paired with thick tights and a sweater.

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Version two is sleeveless, and uses bias tape to form simple and easy straps. The skirt is cut in six gores, for a smoother but still gently flared shape. We made this sample in a beautifully drapey black rayon, finished with metallic gold trim. I think this version would make a fantastic holiday dress, but it would also be great for those of you in the southern hemisphere. It works just as well in cotton lawn, voile, seersucker, or linen.

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A return to feminine shapes

The other day, I was having lunch with a friend and we were discussing the fact that shapeless clothes are in fashion right now.

I admit that I don’t mind the occasional shapeless dress. I like comfortable clothes, after all, and a dash of androgyny does tend to liven things up.

But there is nothing quite like a pretty dress, one that’s designed to flatter curves and make you feel good about what you’ve got. When I said that I wanted to return to our roots, that’s what I had in mind – something pretty, ladylike, and most of all, classic.

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Dahlia has an inset waist yoke, which is one of my favorite ways to play up curves. This type of styling was common in the late 1930s and 1940s, and lasted through the 1960s. It’s a feature that’s difficult to find in modern dresses, but I find it to be universally flattering.

The sleeves are cut in a raglan style, with a slightly loose fit that allows plenty of motion. Raglan sleeves have a diagonal seam from underarm to shoulder rather than a circular armhole with a set-in sleeve. In some ways, they are easier to sew and to adjust (no easing or sewing in the round!), though the fit is a bit different.

If you’re curious about sewing this type of sleeve, you’ll want to join the sewalong we have planned for next month. It will begin on November 3. I’m pretty keen to try some color blocking with this sleeve, myself.

The perfect dress for stripes and plaids

Without a doubt, my favorite versions of Dahlia so far have been the plaid ones we’ve made.

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We specifically planned the design lines of Dahlia to work with stripes of all kinds, from the raglan sleeve to the inset yoke to the use of gathers instead of darts in most places.

If you want to try making either version of Dahlia in a plaid or stripe but are intimidated about matching, you’ll want to grab a copy of our little bonus pack on sewing it in striped fabric. There, I go over how to cut the pieces, plan your sewing, and match stripes and plaids throughout.

You’ll not only figure out how to sew this dress in plaid, I think you’ll come away with a better idea of the theory behind plaid matching for anything else you might want to sew.

This information will also be posted in a tutorial on the blog next week, but if you want, you can download it now.

Goodbye facings!

When I showed Dahlia to a group of ladies from Modern Domestic (our local sewing studio) last weekend, our friend Lupine (co-owner of the shop) commented that she loved that there are no facings.

Yes, facings are often necessary and sometimes make finishing easier, but often they are just too fussy.

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Both versions of Dahlia are finished with bias tape instead. If you’ve ever made our free Sorbetto pattern, you know that bias tape can be very easy to work with, faster to sew than a facing, and also really fun to make in different colors or patterns. But even if you don’t want to make it, there are a lot of fun options on the market these days.

Now in French and English!

One more piece of good news. We also have translated instructions for Dahlia in French, so if French is your preferred language, you can download the instructions and sew along more easily!

Whether you buy the printed or digital pattern, you can download the French instructions from us either way. We’ll also be translating some of our other popular patterns into French and releasing those very soon.

We’d love to translate into other languages as well, but we’re beginning with French because we have a great translator with sewing knowledge.

Get 15% off, now through Friday!

I’ve talked enough, so head on over to the shop and get Dahlia for 15% off through Friday!

I can’t wait to see what you guys make.

Details:
Model: Amie at Muse
Photos: Sarai Mitnick
Makeup: Hayley Miller
Hair: Brianna LeBlanc, Bandit Styling
Fabrics: Emerald green raw silk (v.1), plaid rayon suiting (v.1), black rayon with metallic bias tape (v.2), purchased locally
Styling help: Kristen Blackmore
Shoes: Vintage Ferragamos
Bag: Vintage Coach

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