Ah, knit stripes – one of our favourite things to wear, and one of the most annoying fabrics to sew (at least if you're fussy about matching stripes along the seams!) With that said, mastering the art of matching stripes can elevate your sewing projects to new heights. In this guide, we'll show you how to perfectly match stripes when sewing knit garments (like our beloved Marine, a classic-with-a-twist Breton style top from our Crew pattern line). Let's get into it!
Choosing Knit Stripe Fabrics
Knit stripe fabrics come in a variety of styles, including horizontal, vertical, and even diagonal. Before diving into your project, it's crucial to understand the direction of the stripes and their impact on the final look of your garment.
You can choose to run stripes in any direction you choose. Horizontal is most common, but vertical is also a fun option, and can also have a lengthening effect. Most often, stripes run perpendicular to the selvedge, and knits generally have the most stretch from selvedge to selvedge, so stripes typically run in the same direction of greatest stretch. If you're sewing a close-fitting garment, you'll want to make sure that the direction of greatest stretch is running around the circumference of your body, so that may end up dictating what direction you choose to run your stripes.
Also consider factors like the weight, stretch, and fiber content of the fabric. For a classic Breton style top, look for a midweight knit with decent structure and an alternating wide+thin stripe motif.
Also, note whether the stripe is printed or woven. If the striped fabric was woven in the round like many knits are, when it is cut open by the manufacturer to expose the selvedges, you will not be able to fold it in half, perfectly match the stripes along the selvedge edge, and stay on grain. Since the stripes run around the tube in a spiral as it is being woven, when it's cut open the selvedge will look angled when you match the stripes on each end. There is nothing wrong with the fabric - it's just due to how it's woven! See below to see how the selvedge angles over the length of the yardage.
Cutting Tips for Matching Stripes
Cut on a Single Layer
Stripe fabrics should be cut on a single layer only. It is very difficult to properly match stripes when the fabric is folded, and cutting flat gives you greater precision and control. We highly suggest using pattern weights and a rotary cutter for a minimum of fabric distortion.
Draw Guidelines on Your Pattern Pieces
Draw 2-3 horizontal lines across your pattern pieces perpendicular to the grainline. These will act as guidelines when aligning the stripe across your pattern piece. Draw them at the same height along front and back pieces.
To help match stripes across the bodice and sleeve, we suggest drawing a line at the front sleeve notch on both front and sleeve pieces. This lets you match stripes along the cap of the sleeve. Depending on the shape of your sleeve you may only be able to match some of the horizontal lines running across the cap. In the example above, you can see that the sleeve cap is quite short compared to the length of the front bodice above the drawn line, so we'll likely only be able to match stripes below the line.
Align to the stripe, not the Grainline
It's generally important to use the grainline to orient your pattern pieces, but for striped projects, it's more important to align to the stripe, since this is the strongest visual element.
Transfer Stripes to Pattern Pieces
It is super helpful to mark where stripes are landing on your pattern piece. This way when you mirror or match pattern pieces, you know exactly where to align it with the corresponding stripe. Below I've marked in pencil where stripes are hitting near the waist to ensure it's accurate across the body.
Mirror your Pattern Pieces
Most front and back bodice pieces are cut on the fold. As we've mentioned, you never want to cut stripes on the fold. Instead, you'll want to flip or mirror your pattern piece. Align your pattern piece as needed on the stripes and mark or pin along center front. Trace with a marking tool or cut out the left side, and then flip the piece along the center front line to cut out the second side. Below I traced the left side before flipping it to the right.
For even more accuracy matching the stripe, cut out one side first. Then fold it along the center front line to make sure you are exactly matching the stripe placement on the other side.
Adjust your fabric if Needed
Don't be scared to adjust and tweak your fabric to get the stripes to match up! Sometimes the fabric will be mildly distorted for whatever reason, and I always play with it so that the stripes end up where I want. Obviously, this won't work if your fabric is super stretched out so use your common sense!
Sewing Tips for Matching Stripes
The work isn't done with careful cutting! In order to keep those stripes in line, you'll want to follow these tips to ensure they stay aligned during sewing.
- Pin, pin, pin. When you're aligning your pieces along the seams, use as many pins as needed to keep the stripes aligned. Fusible knit stay tape is even better as it temporarily fuses the layers together, ensuring zero shifting.
- Draw in your seam allowances with chalk, and use that as a guide to make sure stripes are matching precisely at the stitch line.
- Use a walking foot! This ensures your presser foot and the feed dogs feed both layers through at the same speed. If you're struggling with stripes misaligning no matter what you do, this is the solution.
- Baste before serging or zig-zagging! We all know how annoying it is to remove a lightning stitch or serging - instead use a long straight basting stitch to anchor your pieces together first, just outside your stitch line. Check that the stripes match before sewing the final stitch, and then remove the basting stitch.
Matching knit stripe fabric may seem like a daunting task, but with a little time and attention to detail, it can be a rewarding and enjoyable part of the sewing process. Have fun with stripes and enjoy that impeccable symmetry. Happy sewing!
Watch Monsie walk you through cutting out our Marine top:
Pin for later: