Show Us Your Ugly Things: Pattern Matching Edition

A while back I got obsessed with pattern matching in corsetry — how to have a pattern planned out to move, er, seamlessly between seams. Between that, and quite a bit of beautiful blue and brown brocade, I thought I could pattern-match myself up a phenomenal dress. Just about nothing went as expected.

My first adventure in matching designs across seams was an embroidered corset that went fairly well. This was especially difficult because it meant embroidering a layer of coutil stitched to a layer of satin, neither of which particularly liked being embroidered. But it was especially easy because I could plan out the design to meet the pattern, rather than vice versa.

But when I got my hands on a bunch of blue and brown brocade, I wanted to try my hand at starting with a design, and making the pattern fit. On top of the ‘matching all the seams’ challenge I set for myself, I also wanted to make a cowl neckline, something I hadn’t sewn before, since the fabric, which looks more blue or more brown depending on the angle, would be particularly interesting when draped in a cowl.

Lesson #1: Muslin does not drape the same way brocade does. I made a muslin, to test out how to make a cowl. It worked, up to a point. The muslin cowl looked… well… dorky. But, unfazed, I worked on.

My attempt at a selfie with the cowl neckline, which looks much more interesting in brocade than in muslin.
My attempt at a selfie with the cowl neckline, which looks much more interesting in brocade than in muslin.

Lesson #2: Angles, angles, angles. If I was working with a bold stripe, or really even a tiny stripe, I could work at a variety of angles and as long as I kept the same vertical position it wouldn’t matter. So I could get a narrow skirt or a full skirt. But with a brocade, that just wasn’t true. Some angles worked great in some places, turning the pattern into an array of teardrops. But some angles just wouldn’t work, no matter how carefully I made sure they were at the same vertical position, no matter how carefully I matched them at the waistline. The hem just wouldn’t look right. I pinned, and futzed, and pinned, and futzed, and finally went out and got blue piping to line the seams. It blocks it off, so what you see is the continuity — that everything roughly aligns — and not the discontinuity — that many things don’t perfectly align.

The first few seams, with blue piping.
The first few seams, with blue piping.

Lesson #3: Watch your seam allowance. I had budgeted 1/2-5/8 inch seam allowances. But then when I moved to the piping, I stitched much narrower seams, to be in line with the piping. (Read: Because I was lazy. I should have done this step stitching the piping in place first, so it was 1/2 inch from the edge of one piece of fabric, and then stitching the two pieces of fabric together over the piping. This whole lesson could be summed up as: don’t cut corners!) This meant that it was baggy at the waist and didn’t have the perfectly-fitting look I wanted. I went back and took it in at the waist, and I’m happier with it now.

Lesson #4: Finish as you start. Right now, one of my biggest problems with this dress is that the seams are only sort-of finished. I stitched over the edges of all the seams, to keep them from fraying, but while I was working I didn’t go back over them with bias tape, and in the end I didn’t line the dress. I think if this was something I was making for someone else I would have done both of those things. But by the time I realized how dissatisfied I was with that, I had already finished the top and bottom with bias tape, and the seams were not particularly accessible. I might go back over the accessible bits with bias tape anyway, to clean it up somewhat, but at this point it will never be perfect.

Lesson #5: Measure twice. Then twice again. Somehow, when I cut the pieces out, the side-front piece ended up noticeably shorter than the others. It was a boneheaded move on my part that meant the final dress, with a mostly even hem, was way shorter than anticipated. I might go back in and get some teal fabric to lengthen it, as even a couple inches would bring it to my knee instead of mid-thigh, which I think would mean I would wear it more often. But I had enough fabric to do it right from the get-go.

Some of the fabric I had to cut off to give it a mostly-even hem.
Some of the fabric I had to cut off to give it a mostly-even hem.

All in all, though, it’s a cute dress and it was a great learning opportunity. I’m excited to move on to my next one, and the next time I’m matching patterns across seams I’ll DEFINITELY pick something more straightforward than a brocade. Because geez.

Elizabeth Finn

Elizabeth is a geneticist working for a shady government agency and therefore obliged to inform you that all of the views presented in her posts are her own, and not official statements in any capacity. In her free time, she is an aerialist, a dancer, a clothing designer, and an author. You can find her on tumblr at, on twitter at @lysine_rich, and also on facebook or google+.

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  1. Honestly, I can just about reattach a stray button so super fabulous bravo to you! Also, that material is GORGEOUS.

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