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Sewing with Stripes

The Barcelona dress…. all the stripes in all the directions!  Stripes can be tricky little blighters, on the move when you think you’ve got everything straight! It does take a bit of extra work to get matching stripes but good stripe matching starts with accurate cutting out, take your time in the beginning and you’ll be halfway there.

PSA: I would like to point out that I did not get those stripes looking like that first time, I practised on samples and I unpicked. Sometimes do a lot of getting it ‘wrong’ before it goes right. I’m OK with that! Try not to suck the joy out of sewing yourself a dress by setting unrealistic expectations of perfection, it’s overrated. It’s supposed to be fun! If a stripe isn’t perfectly matched does it really matter? (It doesn’t) The other thing to remember is that you are your own worst critic so be kind to yourself! Oh, and by the way, Barcelona is delightful in a plain fabric too!

Do I need extra fabric to match stripes? Truthfully, you might! The Barcelona dress has it’s stripe costings based on a 2cm wide stripe with all the pattern pieces cut in one direction (a one way lay / with a nap) but I can’t do a costing to cover every stripe on the planet so you may need to allow more or less depending on your fabric!

Even or uneven stripes? Start by looking at your stripe fabric. Is it EVEN (also called symmetrical or regular) or UNEVEN (also called asymmetrical or irregular)? To check, fold back a corner and if the stripes match across the diagonal fold they are even, if they don’t they are uneven. Why is this important? Because even stripes can be cut in either direction but uneven stripes need to be cut in one direction with all the pattern pieces facing the same way and will most likely (but not always) take more fabric. (I actually prefer to cut everything in one direction if possible / just a preference no actual logic).

Lengthwise or horizontal? The next thing to look for with stripes is which way does the stripe run? Is it a LENGTHWISE stripe – does it follow the direction of the selvedge/grainline along the length of the cloth? Or is it a HORIZONTAL stripe that runs ACROSS the fabric? Again these will make a difference in how you lay up your pattern. If you look at The Barcelona pattern you will see both the STRIPE DIRECTION and the GRAINLINE marked for this reason because depending on the stripe direction of your chosen cloth they may or may not be running in the same direction! You can cross reference the 2 lines to make sure your pattern is cut with the stripes running in the right direction and is on grain (make sure you keep the grainline parallel to the selvedge).

Guesstimate! If I am ever unsure about the amount of fabric to buy I’ll lay it all out and measure it. I use washi tape or masking tape and actually mark the width of the fabric on the table (or half the width and pretend it’s on the fold), for stripes I also mark the pattern repeat and then lay out the pattern as if I was going to cut it out to give myself an idea of how much fabric I need.

I think my way will be more accurate but it’s not always possible to do a full layup of a pattern when you are in a fabric shop so I’m including a couple of ways I’ve come across on the old internet for general ‘rules’ of guesstimating the extra you may need for stripe matching.

  1. Allow around half a metre for smaller stripes and 1 metre for wider stripes or those with a big repeat.
  2. The other way is to count the main large pattern pieces and multiply that number by the width of the stripe repeat. So 4 main pattern pieces (front bodice, front skirt, back bodice, back skirt) x stripe repeat of 5cm = 20cm of extra fabric.
  3. If in doubt buy a bit extra on top of those!

Make a full pattern | I find it easier to lay up stripes using a single layer of fabric. And it’s easier to do this if you have a full pattern. By this, I mean any pattern pieces on the fold should be traced so they can be cut without needing to fold the fabric.Take a piece of paper, larger than your pattern piece. Fold it to make a nice sharp crease. This will be your Centre Front (CF). Place the CF of your original pattern piece right on the fold. Be accurate – if it’s not exactly on the fold you can add or lose millimetres from your garment before you even start! Pin (or use weights) through the layers of paper, keep everything as flat as possible. I always trace around my pattern pieces with a sharp pencil and a ruler, as I feel it’s more accurate than just cutting out.Transfer all the markings. This is where a tracing wheel is very handy. Draw the STRIPE DIRECTION/ grainline all the way across the pattern.Once traced, remove the original pattern. Make sure the lines that are dissecting the CF fold (neck and waist) are doing so at a right angle (90°) or you will get weird pointy shapes at your neck and waist! While its still on the fold, I’ll repin to hold together before cutting out on my pencil line.

Once cut, mark in your grainlines/stripe direction and I like to circle my marker dots. Label and date your pattern piece so when you find the cat playing with it on the floor in 2 weeks time you’ll know where it came from.

You can trace all of your pattern pieces, to give you a left and right. You will only need to use a single layer of paper if the pattern piece is not to be cut on the fold. I don’t trace everything but that means when you are cutting in a single layer you have to remember to flip your pattern piece over to make sure you are cutting a pair. For example, when I cut a right back bodice I’ll mark a cross in pencil on the face side of the paper pattern, so I know which side I’ve already cut and then I’ll know to turn the pattern piece over to the other side before cutting the left back bodice.

Laying up & Cutting out |

So as we said before the trick to good stripe matching starts with accurate cutting!

So we are going to cut the fabric in a single layer with the Right Side Up (RSU), so we are in control of those stripes. It can be difficult to match them and keep them aligned when the fabric is folded and frankly I get really bored because it just wasted so much time trying to line them up and pin them together! You need a large flat area, it often ends up being the floor, and be sure that if you are using a table that isn’t quite big enough that any overhanging fabric is not dragging your lay off grain and making your stripes go skew-wiff.

When deciding on where to match and place stripes, think about visually what will be noticed first. A wide dominant stripe will draw your eye to that point so consider this when placing your pattern and cutting out your fabric. It’s usual to match the CF, CB and side seams, so stripes run continuously around the body. Shoulder seams may not always match and the dart tucks on The Barcelona will not match because of the angle they are on.

The Barcelona pattern already has the STRIPE DIRECTION marked on each pattern piece. It’s just a case of lining it up with the stripe on the fabric and keeping it consistent for each corresponding pattern piece. The underarm is an easy place to line up for bodices, and the hem is often a good place to start for a skirt or sleeve.

If you need to add a stripe direction line to a pattern piece, draw it all the way across and in whichever direction you choose to have your stripes but MAKE SURE IT’S STRAIGHT!If you haven’t traced the whole pattern, you can chalk around one pattern piece and then flip it over to cut the matching piece. You can also stagger your pattern pieces rather than having them in a row straight across the fabric. Just make sure you are still placing them on the same part of the stripe. In the photo above both armholes are placed at the bottom of a white stripe each time.

Cutting the skirt | The skirt of The Barcelona is cut on the bias grain to create a chevron at each seam. So the STRIPE DIRECTION LINE is at a 45° angle to the CF and CB seam. The same principle applies to lining up the STRIPE DIRECTION line and consistently placing it on a stripe for all pattern pieces.

As the seams are quite long I also made extra checks as I cut to be sure those stripes matched up. First, I cut the right front skirt panel, again placing the STRIPE DIRECTION line to the bottom of the white stripe.Then I flipped over the pattern piece to cut the left front, again aligning the STRIPE DIRECTION line to the bottom of the stripe and I pinned the pattern in place.Before I cut it out I can double check my stripe matching skills by laying the skirt panel I have already cut ON TOP (fabric with RST) of the pattern piece. I can see the stripes actually matched before I chop out the second skirt front. You can repeat this when cutting the back skirt. Before I unpinned the pattern piece from the fabric I copied and drew the placement of the stripes straight onto the pattern piece.Which I then transferred to the back pattern piece so I knew they’d match. I just placed the side seams of the back and front patterns together and used a tracing wheel and a ruler to mark them straight through. Remember they need to match at the STITCHLINE! It’s a useful trick to have handy if you are matching a long length of stripes, because technically the stripes are evenly repeated but actually, it’s a woven fabric and sometimes I’ve had to ‘encourage’ the stripes to do as they’re told! The STRIPE DIRECTION line does meet at the same point along the side seam because I made sure it does during testing, but if you are adapting a pattern this is one of those things you need to double check because if you can’t just randomly draw a line and expect it to match another one!It’s then just a case of cutting out the back skirt and methodically checking the seams will match.

Sewing with stripes |

Troubleshooting | I’ve stitched my seams with my usual machine foot, but if you are having difficulty controlling those stripes, consider using a walking foot. A walking foot will feed both layers of fabric through the machine at the same time, helping to keep the stripes aligned. My new machine doesn’t have one, but my old one did. I will be buying one very soon!Start by marking in the seam allowance, the stripes need to match at the stitchline (I may have mentioned that before).

Pin every stripe so they are directly on top of each other. The more pins the less likely the stripes are to move as you stitch. Never knowingly underpinned is my motto! For the chevron, I placed the pins at an angle to follow the stripe direction. Remove them as you sew. Don’t tell anyone but I sewed over them with no ill effects but I’m pretty sure it’s a criminal offence so I’m not recommending it.Machine baste (use the longest machine stitch you have) on the stitchline. If you sew to one side of the stitchline those stripes can still move. When you sew don’t rush and take your time!

A machine baste is preferable but if you decide to tack by hand – they need to be small and tight stitches and it can be difficult to pull out randomly coloured tacking thread after stitching on top of it.

Check the stripe match. If anything has shifted, you could just unpick that section and restitch. Or not, depends how you feel sometimes near enough is the way to go!Machine stitch the seam closed with a 1.5cm SA with your usual stitch length on top of the basting.

You may find that some machine basting stitches have strayed either side of your permanent stitchline. Remove any basting stitches that are not under the permanent stitchline. The ones that have strayed either side of the seam will hinder your seam pressing open neatly. Be careful not to pull out or break the permanent row. I did. I wasn’t careful enough. C’est la vie! Before pressing a seam open, always press seam allowance flat and together. I don’t know the science behind it, but you do get a better finish!Neaten the seam, press open and …

Aah…’Tis a striped thing of beauty!