Today is the day! It doesn’t matter if you are in the military or in front of a sewing machine it is time to ‘earn your stripes!’ Learning how to sew stripes doesn’t have to be a challenge. It starts with laying the pattern, cutting the fabric and then sewing with some precision while matching the stripes.
Step One: Know Your Stripes
Stripes can be broad or thin, horizontal or vertical, even or uneven and finally printed or woven.
The size and directions are easy concepts to follow and you can add diagonal stripes by cutting diagonally on on the bias.
Even or uneven refers to the size and pattern of the stripes and the color way.
Then the stripes can be in the dye print or in the weave of the fabric. If your stripes are woven then generally the stripe is visible on the reverse side of the fabric as well.
Step two: Understand your pattern:
It is important to choose a pattern that suits stripes. A pattern that is too fussy and has too many different pieces makes using stripes difficult. Choose a simple pattern with perhaps a yoke design if you want to play around with stripes for the first time. A band, pockets or collar can also be used to add interest.
Step three: Pattern layout:
When you lay out your fabric ready for cutting, fold it in half and pin your stripes together to get them to match before you place down the pattern. Keep in mind that the stripes may have been cut crooked in the shop so check the edges carefully.
For really fine or difficult to match stripes, you may find it easier to cut with the fabric unfolded. Don’t forget to flip pattern pieces that will need to be a mirror image.
Side seams are one of the key matching options, so look for notches that will help you match. Another easy way to match stripes is to start matching at the hem.
It is a good idea to use dressmaker’s carbon and a tracing wheel to transfer the pattern markings and remove the pattern before you cut. This way you can keep your eye on the stripes and double check as you go. Just don’t go cross eyed! Small stripes are very hard to look at for long periods of time.
Sleeves are difficult to match up so depending on the stripe, try to fix the center stripe to match and as many others as you can. Don’t get too fixated on this as the sleeve top is a curved edge so will rarely be exactly matched.
Further reading – Napped Fabric, What is Nap in Sewing
The key and most visible areas you want to match are:
- Any back or front seams
- Side seams
- Sleeves if possible
- Underarms for long sleeve garments
In the below example I matched the pieces at the hems and then matched the sleeve from the bottom of the armhole at the front.
Step Four: Sewing stripes:
Pin with pins going down the seams (vertical pinning). Open up the pinned seam and do a double check that the stripes are matching. You can then change the pins to a horizontal position if necessary.
Basting is a very good idea to prevent the stripes from slipping and ease the sewing process.
Stretch fabrics, in particular, tend to move around as you sew if not securely pinned or basted.
Match and sew the front and center back openings with stripes first. It is difficult to match stripes when setting in sleeves and other aspects of the garment so work with the most visual sections first.
Step Five: More ideas with stripes:
- Stripes make interesting inserts, piping and accessories.
- Take care when using bold stripes across the hip area as it is not flattering on all body shapes. I’m very pear shaped so try and avoid this.
- Follow the ‘without nap’ guidelines on the pattern for your stripes pattern layout.
- Follow ‘with nap’ for uneven stripes on the fabric.
- If you have stripes with multiple widths, then select a dominant stripe and use that as the center point. The rest of the stripe pattern will follow round in the garment.
There is a lot to take into account in order to earn your stripes. However, you don’t have to be caught up in military uniformity! It is possible to be rebellious, throw caution to the wind and sew up your striped fabric in an easy come easy go fashion. Just dare to be different and choose the style and fabric to suit the end result you are aiming for.