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30-Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode 19 / Pattern Matching

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

On Episode 19 of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech host Ceil DiGuglielmo and workroom expert Susan Woodcock discuss pattern matching. (Air date July 10, 2019) Pattern matching is a skill that is used every day in the workroom.

You can listen to this episode here: Pattern Matching Podcast

The Basics

There are two types of pattern matching discussed on this episode of the podcast.

One is where the fabric design is matched when joining cuts of fabric together. You will see this on draperies and roman shades, duvets, bed skirts and valances. Anytime you need the fabric to be wider than it comes off the bolt will be sewing the fabrics together and if it’s patterned – pattern matching.

The other is where you cut out the pattern motif to make matching sections across a valance, or matching pillow fronts or cushion cuts.

Joining Cuts of Fabric Together

Susan shares three methods that she uses to pattern match fabric cuts. (Three right ways!) The method you choose depends on the project. You can find how to instructions for the first two methods in Susan's book Singer(R) Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades and Top Treatments.

1. Fold over one selvage edge to find the match and press. Apply an iron-on fusible tape along the folded edge; peel away the paper from the tape; line up the pattern match to the next cut of fabric and press with an iron to hold the fabric in place; sew together along the crease on the wrong side. Seams can be trimmed (cutting off the selvage) or serged.

A pattern matched fabric

2. Fold over one selvage edge to find the match and press. Pin together along the crease

where the fabric matches and sew, being careful to not sew over pins. Trim off the selvage edges and press the seam to one side, or press open.

3. Fold over the selvage to pattern match, and then top stitch along the fold. This method is called “pin stitching” by Penny Bruce at Denton Drapes in the UK. You can see how this is sewn in the Method Share video below from The Workroom Channel with Ann K. Johnson.

Choosing which method is best for your project depends on the fabric and how it’s being used. For example; there are times when you will want to press open the seams for a cornice board, roman shade or table skirt. For those purposes use the pinning method, where the seams can be trimmed and pressed open.

"For drapery panels, I like to use the top stitched fold method. It’s fast, and easy to do at the sewing machine without pins", Susan said.

If the pattern motif is difficult – perhaps there’s very little space at the edge to make it match or it’s a really busy design, then using an iron-on fusible tape is the best method. Susan explained that with this method you will be able to "see exactly where to place the fabric and it stays put until it is sewn".

When a Fabric Doesn't Match

There are times when the fabric doesn’t match. That can be very frustrating.

If it’s a window treatment style like a pleated valance, then you can hide the seam behind a fold. That’s not a big deal.

For drapery, if it’s a pattern that starts off matching and then gradually gets off pattern (like a Buffalo Check), then do your best to make sure the good match is eye level, or in a more prominent area. "If the fabric doesn’t have a good match at all, I will do my best and be sure to place the seam to the back of a pleat where it will be in the shadows, and not as noticeable" Susan shared. "But a Roman shade, or something flat like a duvet or headboard, you will certainly notice if the pattern doesn’t match". Susan suggests adding a small welt cord in the seam, to give a visual break that will make it appear matched even if it isn’t perfect.

Occasionally there will be a fabric that just does not match. No way – No how!

Susan's practice is to notify the client and then if they approve, do the best she can to match the fabric. In situations like this it’s important to remember the overall look of the fabric in the room. Be certain to line up the pattern motif from one panel to another, or one shade to another to create harmony with the overall pattern design.

Examples of Difficult To Match Fabric

Silk buffalo check is commonly off scale. When the fabric is woven the tightness of the weave can vary, or the silk threads can vary in size.

Crewel embroidery is another fabric that can be difficult to match. But, that’s also the beauty of this style of fabric because of the hand-crafted quality.

Some upholstery fabrics have the pattern woven right to the edge because it’s most likely a railroaded fabric, and intended to be placed horizontally and not matched at the selvage.

Susan shared that she recently had a floral fabric where in one place it looked like the fabric was caught up in the printing rollers, and the design was misprinted for about a yard. "That was a flaw and marked on the bolt and I was able to make it work out" she said. With some fabrics, the pattern match isn’t near the edge, and you will have to sew over into the design, or cut down the width. This can be a problem because you will lose fabric that was intended for fullness. If you can’t order more fabric, then you might need to change the heading or pleat style for one that uses less fullness, or the client will need to approve that the pattern will not match at the seam. For something like a Roman shade (yikes!) then a design element might be needed to hide the seam like a flat banding or trim.

All Over Designs

Do you try to match fabrics with an all-over design; like a small dot or a texture?

It’s worth a try! Some fabrics like a tiny dot or texture can be seamed together without worrying about pattern matching. But don’t assume there’s not a pattern match! You might not be able to see it up close, rolled out on the table…but if you hang up the fabric and walk across the room, or look at the fabric in a photo, you will be able to tell if there is a repeating design that needs to be matched. You always have to “see” the fabric the way it will be hanging in the room.

The fabric below appears to be an all-over design but you can see that it does have a pattern match. Photo courtesy of Rosemarie Garner, R. Garner Custom Designs LLC.

What appears to be an all over design actually has a pattern match.

Matching Patterns for Top Treatments

Good pattern placement can make or break a top treatment. On something with sections, like a pleated valance, the pattern motif can be repeated and centered on each section. The box pleated valance below has a centered pattern match which also matches at each pleat. It's worthwhile to study the fabric before deciding on how many sections the valance should have... too many boxes would have crowded this design.

A box pleated valance with centered pattern motif

The first instinct is to center the motif, and most often that’s just fine and the best choice but it can get too matchy-matchy, and repeating the same motif over-and-over in isn’t always the best look.

For example: imagine a fabric with a red flower on a box pleated valance with 5 sections. That would be 5 flowers in a line and if it’s a large pattern motif and small sections, the valance would be VERY red. "That’s when I will plan to match on every other section", Susan suggested, sharing that this works best with an odd number of sections.

A – B – A – B – A. The two in-between sections (B) can be another flower, or an open space with vines or leaves.

Another option that can create balance if you have an odd number is to raise and lower the motif instead of centered on each section. This works well with longer valances.

For fabric designs where is it difficult to choose a distinct pattern, you can cut and sew to make the fabric flow across the top treatment, instead of matching the center of each section. The valance below was made in class at Workroom Tech by Susan Sousa. Notice how the fabric is matched at each pleat. This didn't happen by accident! A lot of planning went into this valance.

A shaped, box pleated valance with pattern matching

Raising the pattern above the center is also something you need to think about with Roman shades, especially stationary shades. You have to think about framing the pattern for the best look from across the room. On stationary roman or london shades, place the pattern in the top half, or top quarter of the shade (depending on the length). "I do the same with swags and try to put something interesting in the top section, above the folds" Susan said.

And the opposite for bed skirts. You have to take the length of the coverlet or other bedding into consideration. It might look best to have the pattern fall near the bottom edge and not centered.

Some people will slightly raise up the pattern on pillows because he bottom of the pillow sits in the chair and isn’t showing. But Susan prefers to center the pattern on pillows because the users are not always putting the pillow in the chair right sides up. In the photo below, the pattern motif is clearly shown but it wasn't easy to find! A quick photo and another pair of eyes was needed to "see" the design.

planning pillow cuts

Tips for Success

It’s always good to have a plan and to roll out all the fabric and make sure you have enough pattern repeats BEFORE you cut. Use blue low-tack tape, or pin paper pattern pieces to the fabric to make sure you can cut and match all the pieces. You can see examples of this in Episode 9: Box Pleated Valances.

When sewing top treatments, the design will not match at the seams so it’s easy to sew the pieces together. Once all the pieces are cut, it’s just a matter of sewing them together in the right order.

Matching can become an obsession. OMD! Obsessive Matching Disorder. Does it REALLY matter if inside of each pleat matches? Well, yes. Sometimes it does. Sometime it doesn’t. Susan explains that it’s our job as workroom professionals "to decide if it will make or break the window treatment, and if it’s worth the extra time or not".

One challenge we face is with windows that are different heights. An example would be in an open floor plan where there’s a few steps up to the next level from a kitchen or family room, but the same fabric and drapery is used throughout the space. The pattern has to flow evenly across the room or rooms, so you will have to adjust the cuts so that the pattern motif is cohesive. If you are not given this information on the work order, it could be a disaster. It’s so important to have good communication with the client or designer. It’s good to be aware of these things. If you get an order for different lengths of drapery for the same job – same fabric, and the work order doesn’t specify what’s different…ASK!

Matching patterns requires skill and patience but the effort will set your work apart.

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