Gathering Threads

Matching Large Scale Patterns

Posted by on Apr 09 2011, in Sewing for Children, Sewing tips

Big scale prints are everywhere these days.  Amy Butler, Heather Bailey.  The larger and bolder the better, it seems.  But how do you use these patterns in garment sewing?

I’ll show you how I handled a dramatic stylized paisley print to make this adorable spring raincoat from a really nice Michael Miller laminated fabric I’ve had marinating in my stash since last year.

I really lucked out with the buttons – they’ve got a subtle shape but they don’t compete with the busy fabric.

Cute, no?  And look at how the pattern mofits match across seams and elements like the back tie.

With the hood up.

And the pockets.  I was able to match the flap to the pocket to the coat front, so the wonderful laminated fabric becomes the focus.

Seem like an impossible task?  Really, it just takes a little planning and a few extra (but not hard steps) to make sure that your pattern (or plaid or stripe or whatever you need to match) actually, well matches.

First off, try and choose a pattern with a limited number of pieces, especially if you’re a newer sewer, or limit the large scale print to where it will be the focus, like the front and back bodice on a dress, instead of using it for the entire piece.  More pieces = more matching = more yardage = more time and $$.   I showed off a bit by matching my pockets and flaps, but in reality this coat pattern only has four main pieces – front, back, sleeve and hood – and I chose it for that exact reason.

Now, before you begin, if you’ve got your eye on a piece of fabric with a big ol’ pattern, you need to take that into account when you are buying your yardage.  You know that “Allow more yardage for plaids and one way designs” thing that they always print on pattern envelopes?  Well, that applies here.  Matching eats fabrics for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  If it is a single, simple design like a horizontal or vertical stripe, adding 5-10% to your overall yardage would be a good idea.  A medium scale print, 10-15%.  And for a big complicated fabric like the one I used – 20-35+% increase.   You will be amazed and now is not the time to skimp because it will come back to haunt you during the cutting.  It’s Murphy’s law.   Don’t believe me?  This little size 2 coat used nearly 2yds of fabric – in a solid fabric, I would have used less than a yard.

On to layout.

First off, it is easier to match fabric motifs if you are working with nett patterns.  That just means pattern pieces without seam allowances.  Don’t panic if you’ve always sewn with seam allowances.  Just trust me when I say that working with nett pieces makes matching a gazillion times easier.    I made the raincoat with an Ottobre Kids pattern from the Spring 2005 issue.  Ottobre doesn’t include seam allowances so I got to skip the whole “measure-measure-cut” thing but if your pattern has them, cut them off or at the very least mark them all the way around.

You also want to mark the CF and CB clearly.   If you have pieces that are cut on a fold, make a full pattern piece.

Lay out your pattern pieces with the fabric spread in a single layer.  It’s impossible to get patterns to match if you cut them on a doubled length of fabric.

I started by laying out the back, which I decided would be the focal point of the coat.  I centred the back sewing line on one of the motifs and aligned my grain line markings with the pattern not the selvedge.  This is important for big printed designs, because they often end up printed just slightly off grain and so cutting your pieces off grain is trumped by the visual incongruity of a wonky, crooked motif.

I wanted my motifs to be consistent horizontally,so I aligned the back, front and sleeve pieces at the bottom of the arm scye.

It will look odd at first glance, because the front and back don’t match at the top or bottom but it is correct.  By aligning them at the bottom arm scye point, rather than the hem or shoulder, when the sleeves are resting at the sides, the fabric motifs will continue seamlessly from the main body to the sleeves.

I trace around each pattern before I cut it out, so that the sewing line is marked.  Normally, I would thread baste these lines but laminated cotton doesn’t like basting, so I cheated and just used a light hand with a pencil.   I cut out each pattern piece, adding the seam allowance as I cut.  (If you’re not comfortable doing this, you can draw your seam allowances on first.)

To get perfectly aligned pieces, the trick now is to set aside the paper pattern pieces and use the fabric pieces you just cut for cutting out the reversed pieces.    Here, I’ve reversed the sleeve and am aligning it, WS together, against the fabric.

By doing it like this, you can skip all the tracing and marking and whatnot, because you have the perfect guide with the fabric itself.  Why make more work?  Just make sure to reverse the pieces you’ve already cut, so that they’re right sides together.  If you don’t do that, you won’t get a right and left piece.

Work around the motif, carefully aligning the cut edges with the printed pattern.

Then pin (well, I used pattern weights but normally, you would pin) the fabrics together and cut out the second piece.  This time there’s no need to add any seam allowances – you already added them when you cut the first side.

Now, on to the pockets, flaps and back band.  Because they’re sewn on top, rather than joined at seams, you need to handle them a little differently.  I matched them by laying each pattern piece on top of the corresponding piece, aligning the placement marks and tracing the motifs.

Once you’ve traced, simply match the tracing to the fabric, mark the sewing lines, and add the seam allowances as you cut.  Here you can see how perfectly the pocket piece corresponds to the fabric it will be sewn down to.

I had to trace a right and left pocket and each flap separately because the motifs are different one each side, because of the double-breasted pattern but given how well they matched, I think it was worth it.

And that’s all there is to matching a large or medium scale pattern.  You can use these techniques for plaids, florals and abstract repeating patterns.


  • Oh rats…I was too late getting you my raincoat pattern! This is sooo cute though! I love the fabric! I’m taking pictures of my laminate cotton one too this week – also a large-scale pattern! Is this for your niece?

  • Claire

    It is. And I’m sorry I didn’t wait for your new pattern but this Ottobre was so perfect (and easy) that I sewed it up in an afternoon. Forgive me? 🙂

  • Of course!! 🙂 I shouldn’t be so pokey! haha