Friday, May 15, 2015

In the Details: Stripe Matching on Raglan Sleeves

Back when I taught sewing in school I mostly taught my students the basics. There was never much of a chance to go beyond that, which is a bit of a shame because once you get past the basics you can get into the details. The details turn good stuff into great stuff. I plan on doing a series called "In the Details" which will show some of the finer points of sewing that give a professional finish to a project. Today we will start with matching stripes, specifically on raglan sleeves.

The Basics:

Start off by making sure your fabric is properly on grain and the stripes match up where they should. The fabric I'm using has the stripe knit into the fabric rather than being printed on. Prints can get off grain, which makes the cutting much more time consuming. If you are just learning to do stripe matching I suggest starting with a fabric that has the stripe knitted in rather than printed on. This is the first step for any kind of stripe matching, whether it's along the sides or around an armscye. Lining up everything now will save you a headache later. I usually cut out my pieces in a double layer, but I am extremely meticulous about making sure the stripes match up perfectly before I lay out my pieces. You can also cut everything out in a single layer to make sure everything is precisely on grain.

The Details, Layout and Cutting:

One thing that is helpful to me when I match patterns of any kind is to ignore seam allowances altogether and think about matching a point rather than a pattern or stripe. First off I'll show how I match it on a paper pattern, then on a PDF pattern.

Use the dots at the top and notches closer to the bottom for help in matching.

Decide which piece you want as a your starter piece. All the other pieces will be cut according to how you place that first piece. I chose the front piece because that is where the eye is naturally drawn to on any garment.  After that is in place it's just a game of good matching to make it all come together.

Look for markings on your pattern. They are your friends. They tell you exactly where to place your pattern pieces. Markings like the dots on the pieces in the picture above are particularly helpful. These dots show where the seam will be on the finished garment and that is where you want the stripes to match. 

If there are no other design considerations (where I want certain stripes to hit on the body, etc.) you can place the pattern piece wherever it's easier to match up the stripe. I placed the center of a dot exactly over both stripes. In this pattern I cut a size 18.

Notches can also be helpful in lining up your stripes, but be careful. The picture above shows where the side seam notches fell after I placed my dot for the sleeve. Side seams are way easier to match than sleeve seams.

Once the front pattern piece is pinned, move on to the sleeve piece.  Many paper patterns have a dot for matching closer to the cap of the sleeve and a notch closer to the underarm. That is also true of my chosen pattern. Sometimes notches can get you a bit off (usually not too bad) because they match the cut line rather than the seam line. If you want to be really accurate you can measure straight in from the notch to the seam line. I love to use pins for marking, as illustrated in the picture above. This marking was just barely into the top of the black line. Don't worry about matching anything below the notch because it simply won't match up. That part of the sleeve is in your armpit anyway.

Even after all my careful placement, the notch marking on the sleeve did not match where it should have been according to the front piece. To help remedy that I pulled a little bit on the paper to get the dot closer to where I wanted it, as seen below. It's not a ton but every little bit helps.

Smooth out the rest of your pattern and secure it. Make note of where the matching dots are placed to use as a reference with the next piece. The large dot for the back piece is just off center of the black stripe.

Continue laying out your pieces using this method and cut out. Sometimes you just need to cut lay out and cut your pieces one at a time instead of laying them all out at once. Do what works best for you. The knit in this tutorial is fairly stable without a lot of stretch or drape, so cutting a double layer worked well for me.

Pinning and Sewing:

This is where it can get a little tricky and you need to make a judgement call. You can choose to pin the entire stripe in place by inserting the pin in the same place through both layers of fabric and making sure the seamline is between the two points where the pin is inserted into the fabric. I've shown that method below. The nice thing about doing this is that you can be pretty sure the stripes will match perfectly. The drawback to this method is that it can sometimes warp the fabric a little in places where the stripes won't be parallel across the seam. It's hard to show that on a raglan sleeve, but makes a big difference on a set in sleeve.

The ends of the fabric may not always match up. It is still within the seam allowance, so no big deal. Had I cut out in a single layer they would have matched up perfectly.
The other good pinning option is to put the pin through where the stripe meets at the seam line and then secure the pin wherever it happens to fall most conveniently. When I do that I always have to be really careful about not sewing over my pins, but it's very precise. Stitch up the seam and you should get something like this:

PDF Patterns:

The instructions for getting the fabric ready for a PDF pattern is the same as for a paper pattern. The difference is that a lot of PDF patterns don't have the same markings you can use to match stripes. So we make our own. That's actually a good thing if you want a particular placement for the stripes.

Start by drawing the seamline on the sleeve pattern piece.The pattern I used has a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

Place your front pattern piece on the fabric. When you have it where you want, use a ruler to mark stripe placement across the pattern.

I like to mark several lines to make sure I've got it well in place. I also shaded the black stripes for ease.

Fold back the seam allowance on the sleeve piece and lay the cut edges of the sleeve and front pieces together. Now your seam lines are touching.

On the sleeve piece, make a small mark where the stripes will meet. Unfold the seam allowance.

Using your marks as a guide, use a ruler to draw the stripe lines on the sleeve piece. Make sure to draw the stripes parallel to the stretch. This sleeve pattern is cut on the fold so I just drew perpendicular to the fold edge.

Place your sleeve piece, matching the stripe lines. Repeat the proess for the back piece. In the pattern I used, both the front and back used the the same pattern piece. I cut them as one. If your pattern calls for them to be cut separately you'll need to watch the stripe matching on the sleeve and on the side seam.

The method for pinning and sewing is the same as a paper pattern. The only difference I'll mention here is that you can choose how often you want to pin. If you're being really careful you an pin at every stripe. Whether or not I do that depends on the project and how much I care.

Pin a lot or a little but pin accurately.
If all goes well you'll have lots of perfectly matched stripes.

There are few things as satisfying as perfectly matched stripes.
So there's how to match stripes on a raglan sleeve. Now, because I'm all about honesty, I have to confess that the stripes on the paper pattern...didn't match up. Say what?! Yeah. The pattern I used requires that you stretch the front piece to fit the sleeve. It didn't state it on the pattern tissue and, silly me, I didn't read the instructions. Another confession: I still haven't read them.

My sleeve seam ended up looking like this:

Boo, non-matching stripes! I stretched the other side to fit to see if I liked it better:

I didn't like it better. Not one to admit defeat, I added two tiny tucks to the sleeve to ease it in without stretching and to rematch the stripes. Now it's a design feature. :)

"Never give up, never surrender!"
No post is compete without the finished product. Q-ball is, as always, unimpressed that I made him something.

At least he was accommodating in posing for the picture. A little.

I didn't really go over matching stripes as the side, but I'll do that in another post. I promise won't be so long-winded in that one. But I did match the stripes down the side seam.

I love it when I can't find the seam in a picture.
Whether or not Q-ball likes his new shirt (he seems to be on the fence about it) he does like the mommy who made it for him. And I certainly love him.

If you want to get a look at more matching skill you can click on the links to this striped shirt, a checked shirt, my recent houndstooth hoodie, a ridiculous chevron tunic, and, last but not least, this striped bridal gown. What other details would you like to see in a tutorial? I have lots of tricks up my sleeve so let me know what you want to see.