Sewing with Plaids

First of all, a confessions: I love wearing plaids.  Mom and Dad have the little kid pictures to prove it somewhere ... I adore plaids.  But (and it's a huge "but") nothing will inspire sewists to tear their hair out quicker than trying to sew with a plaid ...

What kind of plaid?
The first problem - and step - with plaids is figuring out what kind of plaid you actually have.  I flexed some of my Google-fu, and discovered something strange: There doesn't seem to be agreement about plaid terms!  No joke ... I looked at several reliable and oft-linked/cited sources and they don't agree on terminology, much less definitions.

There are two pairs of terms, along with differing definitions, when referring to plaids.  The first set is balanced/unbalanced, and the definition deals with the symmetry of the plaid.  That is, if you set a mirror along a center stripe/yarn of your plaid, will what's in the mirror (the reflection) match exactly what is behind the mirror in the fabric?  If it does, then you should be able to fold your plaid fabric along the center grainline and have the stripes/bars/yarns line up along the selvage ends as well as the raw cut edge.

The other set of plaid terms is even/uneven, and here is where it gets tricky.  The horizontal repeat and the vertical repeat must be equal ... that is, if you fold over your plaid and then turn a corner up at a right angle on the 45 degree (true bias) then the horizontal lines will match the vertical lines exactly.

As is obvious, these two sets of terms are not the same, even though a couple sources used them interchangeably.  Horribly confusing to pedantic geeks like me and maggie (who inspired this by asking about the Stewart plaid wool we both own).  To top it all off, not only do a few sources use these sets of terms interchangeably, but others seem to mix them up by using even/uneven to also describe symmetry as well as the horizontal/vertical distance.

Eek!  Ick!  Totally not cool!  I want hard and fast definitions!

In the absence of universal agreement on what to call plaids ... I am going to make up my own set of terms to describe my plaids ... using a combination of FOUR terms resulting in FOUR types of plaid:
  • Uneven, unbalanced: the repeat isn't symmetrical, and the horizontal/vertical distances aren't equal.  I'm sure I have a $1/yd cotton print as an example somewhere.
  • Uneven, balanced: The plaid is symmetrical in its repeats, but the horizontal and vertical measurements aren't equal.  My lovely Stewart plaid wool is my first example.
  • Even, unbalanced: This may be tricky to find ... but while horizontal and vertical match in distance there is not true symmetry in the repeat.  I think I have now seen one at a fabric vendor's site ... the plaid was a three color repeat A-B-C-A-B-C both ways ... the lines themselves matched up, but I couldn't tell if the colors did.
  • Even, balanced: symmetry and it lines up perfectly when the corner is folded over, meaning the horizontal and vertical repeats are the same measurement.  Sounds like the easiest type to match ... now the big question is - do I have any?
Now, since I've done all of one plaid garment where I attempted to match the plaid (and succeeded!) I'm going to wait for further research and experience ... but now I have at least defined the problem.

While I'm at it, I wonder why fabric vendors online don't include a pic of the plaid with a corner turned up to show whether it's even or uneven?

My plaid bookmarks
I'm sure I'll collect more as I go along, but these are the first ones in my bookmark folder.

Matching the $%@#&*ing Plaids to Cut
  1. If you can fold it in half, and still have the lines and repeats line up ... do a happy dance!  Your task is so much easier!
  2. If you can't fold it so everything lines up just so ... cut it single layer.  Remember to flip your pattern piece over so you have both sides of the garment!  (I can just see myself forgetting this on a regular basis so maybe if I post it here ...)
  3. If you have a shorten/lengthen line (often double lines from what I've seen) on your pattern - use it!  Verify that it indeed is the same place all around, then pick a skinny stripe or yarn to center it on.  This will at least get you a horizontal match.
That's about as far as I have gotten at this point ... I just got lucky on the rest.  LOL

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