19 Feb 2024 • • by Heather Lou

How To Orient + Sew Striped Fabrics for Button-Up Shirts

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Our new Jenna Button-up Shirt and Fran Pajamas are an absolute dream when sewn in striped shirtings, but if you haven't worked with stripes much in the past (and even if you have!) there are a few considerations you need to make before you start cutting out your shirt. Read on to get our tips for orienting + cutting stripe fabrics for all your shirtmaking projects!

Determining Stripe Orientation

Before you do anything, determine the main direction you want your stripes to run. This can be a fun exercise; print out the tech flat for your pattern and experiment with drawing in stripes in different directions to see what you like best. Make sure you're thinking about front and back.

Most stripes run parallel to the grainline, which means if you follow the grainline on your pattern piece you'll have the stripe running vertically along the length of your body. However, you can always choose to orient the stripe horizontally as well – you'll just need to rotate your pattern pieces 90 degrees to do so.

Here are examples of stripes running both vertically (left) and horizontally (right). Vertical stripes are more classic, while the horizontal orientation feels a bit fresh and unexpected.

Orienting Stripes on Secondary Pattern Pieces

You'll note in both examples above that additional pattern pieces like pockets, cuffs, and collars also play with the orientation of the stripes. This is another important factor to consider; do you want perfectly matched striped details throughout the garment, or do you want to rotate select pattern pieces to highlight different design elements?

With pockets, you have four options. One is to switch the orientation from the main body fabric by 90 degrees as we've done above. But you can also perfectly match the stripes so the pocket disappears (below left), cut it on the bias (below right), or intentionally misalign the stripe motif so it appears staggered (below right – this option works best when the stripes are of equal width so you can match each colour perfectly). Switching orientations is also a great option when you don't have enough yardage to perfectly match prints.

Collars are another area to consider. Most shirts have a collar stand and the collar itself. Traditionally the stripe runs horizontally around the length of both pattern pieces (below right), but lately, we've been playing with running a vertical stripe along the collar (below left). It's really up to your personal preference! Just keep in mind that you may not be able to slavishly follow the cutting directions for your pattern; you won't be able to cut the collar and stand on the fold, for example, if you want the stripe to run vertically.

Cuffs + cuff packets are yet another place to determine alignment. Traditionally the cuff runs in the opposite direction since it can be challenging to perfectly match stripes in this area. If your pattern has a placket, consider whether you want to try and stripe match, or switch the orientation yet again for more pattern contrast.

How to Align Striped Fabrics for Cutting

As I mentioned, you may need to determine your own cutting layout if you are not cutting each piece along the indicated grainline. As you can see in the example below, if we want the stripes to wrap around the collar and across the pocket, these pieces get turned 90 degrees along the indicated grainline and are not possible to cut on the fold.

When cutting main body pieces, it's also really important to note where stripes will begin and end, otherwise you'll find you may have a weirdly skinny stripe on a visually prominent area of your shirt! For the Jenna shirt, the button placket is integrated into the front piece. As you can see below, I've marked a red dashed line where the final folded edge of the placket will be (the seam allowance is marked in blue). When cutting, I'll try to make sure a full stripe aligns with that line for both left and right sides to keep things even and symmetrical. If you're sewing a pattern with a separate button placket, you'll want to make sure to do the same along the center front seam allowance for the front, and then either match or rotate the placket piece stripes based on your preference. With skinnier stripes, you may decide you prefer to center your line of buttons directly along the stripe; in this case you would align the stripe with the location of the buttonholes rather than the location of the placket.

The back and yoke also require some thought. In the example below, I've turned the yoke 90 degrees so it runs horizontally across the shoulders, which will contrast nicely with the vertical stripe through the lower back. You can also try to match stripes here. It's possible with Jenna, but any shirt that has a deep pleat or gathers may prove more difficult.

Again, consider where the stripe falls on the pattern piece. The brain likes things divided evenly, so I've centered it along the middle of the stripe, with equal width white stripes on either side. For the yoke, I've tried to align it along the bottom seam allowance so there will be a full-width stripe right along that seam line.

Below you can see some interesting stripe placement. The collar and collar stand perfectly match along the back, and the blue stripe is perfectly centered on the hang loop. (Our patternmaker Judith is a true sewing legend, she obsesses over details like this!)

Here's an example of a sleeve layout. I've centered a stripe on the marked placket opening on the sleeve and then aligned a full-width stripe along the fold line of the cuff. I've switched orientation for cuff and placket for a few different stripe directions in this area.

Cutting Tips for Striped Fabrics

We've covered this already in our recent post on how to match stripes for knit fabrics, but it bears repeating here! Read on for tips when cutting out stripes.

  • Always cut stripes on a single layer. It's a bit more time-consuming but it's also a more efficient use of fabric and gives much more accurate results.
  • If you are trying to precisely match stripes, draw guidelines on your pattern pieces. For example, to match a pocket precisely cut out the front first, and then match the pocket pattern piece to the front you just cut out to identify where the stripes should fall on the pocket - mark the lines with a pencil on the pattern piece.
  • Align the pattern piece to the stripe, not the grainline. Most stripes are printed, so if the fabric is printed slightly off grain your project may be cut slightly off grain. However, the stripe is so visually dominant it takes precedence over the actual grainline of the fabric itself when orienting your pattern pieces.
  • For pattern pieces that need to be cut on the fold, mirror them along the CF or CB line; trace or cut one side out first, and then flip the pattern piece over to cut the remaining side. If you're using a stable fabric like cotton, you can actually use the cut half of the fabric itself to trace the remaining side. Flip it over along the center line and then perfectly match the stripes on either side so it's perfectly balanced and even.
  • Short on fabric? Piece larger pieces and play with stripe direction! For example, you can split a yoke along the center and cut it on the bias for a cool chevron effect, or change the stripe direction on larger pieces like front and back.
How to sew a curved faced hem // Kalle Sewalong // Closet Core Patterns

Sewing Tips for Striped Fabrics

Of course, when it comes to sewing you need to be just as methodical! Here are some tips for sewing striped fabrics.

  • For pockets, glue sticks are your greatest ally. We use regular old Elmer's glue sticks to temporarily baste pockets in place before topstitching them, but you can also rely on lots of pins, or fusible stay tape.
  • If you're trying to match stripes along seam lines, use a walking foot. This ensures your presser foot and the feed dogs feed both layers through at the same speed.
  • Baste first. Check that the stripes match before sewing the final stitch, and then remove the basting stitches.
  • Don't sew super long seams in one go. Even with a walking foot, the fabric can distort a little. It's better to sew, stop and check and then resume the seam. Always check both your fabric layers and adjust with your fingers as you go.

And that's it! A little thought and prep work are key to any striped project, and make a huge difference in the finished result. Hopefully, this makes sewing with striped shirtings a little easier 😉

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