Working With Plaid: Tips for Sewing This Classic Fabric

Posted by on May 4, 2014 in Sewing |


Are you mad for working with plaid fabric? Originating in woven wool, plaid is a pattern made with colored threads woven as warp and weft, creating horizontal and vertical bands that repeat the blocks of color. While traditional plaids are seen in Scottish dress, plaid (also known as tartan) has migrated to almost every fiber and colorway from crisp silk dupioni to cozy cotton flannel. It can be seen in garments as different as a steampunk bustled skirt or the classic gentlemen’s blazer jacket. Here’s some ideas and tips for sewing with this timeless fabric!

White plaid Chanel-style jacket

Image via Craftsy member AliceT

Plaid works well in such a wide variety of styles, that you can find a fabric for almost any project. If you are just starting out, a pencil skirt is the perfect item to practice your matching techniques. A great intermediate project is the fitted Chanel-style jacket from the Craftsy class The Iconic Tweed Jacket done in a windowpane check.

Pink plaid dress

Craftsy member LynnWA made this dress in the Craftsy class The Couture Dress

A dress with interesting seaming allows lots of opportunities to play with the pattern and make the plaid a design element.

Here are a few things to consider when working with plaid fabrics.

Is your plaid even or uneven?

Two plaid fabric swatches

An even plaid is symmetrical and the bands of color appear regularly across the fabric both. A plaid that is uneven will have multiple color bands or stripes that are not symmetrical. The black and white plaid is an even plaid and the blue one is uneven. This makes a big difference in the design and cutting out of your fabric. I recommend choosing an even plaid for your first few projects while you get familiar with the special requirements.

Cut in a single layer.

Cutting plaid in a single layer for matching

Cut one of the pattern pieces. Then flip it over, placing it on the fabric and matching the plaid so you can cut your second one. This avoids the problem of the fabric underneath shifting in alignment with the upper layer.

Match at the seam lines, not edges.

Matching plaid at the seam line example

When you lay out your pattern pieces, the critical juncture points are on the seam line, not the edge of the pattern piece. That little difference of the seam allowance is enough to “un-match” your careful pattern placement. Critical points are the center front, side seams and center back.

Use bias elements.

Jumpers with bias plaid

Sometimes it is impossible to match throughout a garment, so try using bias elements. It adds a lot of visual interest and solves the matching problem in some tricky areas. Waistbands, pockets, flaps and side panels on princess-style seam garments work well on the bias.

Combine with other fabrics.

Red plaid jacket with black sleeves

Another way to minimize matching and add interest is to combine another fabric with your plaid. A pencil skirt in plaid with a leather yoke would be a great combination. I refashioned this holiday blazer by swapping out the sleeves for a solid and adding the bias peplum.

Watch for horizontal darts.

Plaid dress side seam

The first plaid garment I made in 7th grade was a jumper that matched so nicely in the center front, but I didn’t think about darts! Remember that horizontal darts draw up the fabric, so be sure to start matching at a point underneath the dart in a side seam.

Leave the pockets for last.

Orange plaid flannel shirt

Craftsy member Mike Portuesi made this flannel shirt in the Craftsy class The Classic Tailored Shirt

Set aside your remaining fabric and wait until you have the main pieces sewn, then you can play around with the pockets as a design element. You may want a bias pocket for accent or a disappearing plaid pocket. Audition a few variations and choose what works best for the garment.

plaid jacket with pocket

Image via SunnyGal Studio

Plaid is definitely a challenge but it really flexes your sewing muscles. A jacket where the plaid matches everywhere including the sleeves, body, lapel, collar and shoulder seam is the ultimate in sewing satisfaction.

plaid collar and lapel

Image via SunnyGal Studio

If you are ready to tackle a new technique, try sewing a a classic jacket using plaid fabric as the perfect addition to your wardrobe. You can learn how in to sew this wardrobe essential the Craftsy class Classic Tailoring: The Blazer.

Have you tried sewing a plaid garment? How did it turn out? What plaid item would you like to make?