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Working with Prints

Hello!  Today I’m going to talk a bit about working with prints.

I’m almost finished my Jamie Dress, which I’m using a print for and I noticed something about one of the pieces I had cut that I knew would bother me if I didn’t change it.  But more on that later.  First I want to go over some factors to consider when using a fabric with a print, particularly one that is directional, or that has a large print or a print that will stand out if not lined up properly at the seams (such as a plaid or a side-to-side directional print).

A directional print means  the placement of the print is consistent and runs in a specific direction.  This photo is a good example of a directional print because all of the animals are sitting right side up so it’s obvious which direction the print runs in.  This particular print also runs in rows from top to bottom as well as side to side. When you look at it, you can tell which is the ‘top’ of the fabric, and which is the ‘bottom’.

Notice the objects are placed right side up.

Notice the objects are placed right side up.

When cutting fabric with a directional print, it’s important to make sure the pattern pieces are laid out in the same direction as the print (top to bottom) so you don’t wind up with an upside down print. For those that run in rows side to side such as the fabric in the photo above, even more care must be taken to ensure the print lines up at the seams.  (So if you were making a pair of pajama bottoms out of the fabric in the photo above, you wouldn’t want upside down penguins or the rows to not meet at the seams, particularly the centre seam!)

Sometimes a directional print can be a bit tricky to determine.  In the example below, only the palm trees in the back ground and the writing on the surf boards indicate the print is actually directional.

The palm trees & the writing on the surf boards indicate a directional print.

The palm trees & the writing on the surf boards indicate a directional print.

Non-directional means the placement of the print is randomly laid out and doesn’t run in one direction.  This photo is a great example of a non-directional print because the mushrooms are placed in all different directions.  Looking at this photo, it’s difficult to tell which is the top and which is the bottom.

Notice the objects are placed in all directions.

Notice the objects are placed in all directions.

Paisley prints are typically non-directional as well (though I do see a hint of rows in this one).

Prints such as this paisley don't require much effort for pattern placement.

Prints such as this paisley don’t require much effort for pattern placement.

Motion means there is movement with the print.  The print is randomly placed (I use the term random loosely because of course the layout of the print is intentional) so when you look at the print, it looks like the objects are moving rather than sitting static.  Here is a great example of motion.  You can almost see the balls moving!

Doesn't it look like the soccer balls are falling?

Doesn’t it look like the soccer balls are falling?

With this fabric, the print doesn’t necessarily have to line up at the seams and since it’s non-directional, it wouldn’t matter how you laid out your pattern pieces.

Below is an example of a non-directional print with no motion.  However, even though the print is non-directional, careful pattern placement becomes necessary to ensure the rows of dots line up at the seams.

A non-directional print with no motion.

A non-directional print with no motion.

All of this information is important to realize before laying out pattern pieces and cutting your fabric.  There’s nothing more disappointing than realizing the print is upside down or that the print at the seams doesn’t match up after you’ve already cut your fabric.

When I’m working with prints, I typically open the fabric to one layer rather than with it closed with the rights sides together (thus creating two layers) as most pattern instructions usually indicate.  This way, I can be mindful of where I’m placing the pattern piece on a large print and ensure the print or any lines line up nicely at the seams.  (Trust me, it’s VERY noticeable when they don’t.)  Tasia from Sewaholic provides a great tutorial here on how to match prints along seams.

Now, for the piece that was bothering me so much about my Jamie Dress.  You may recall from an earlier post the fabric I chose is a cotton spandex (3%) with a large floral print.  (The print kind of reminds me of an abstract water-colour painting but that’s besides the point.)  You can see the print is non-directional – the flowers and stems do not run in one direction.  With prints like this, I’m not as fussy about lining the print up at the seams.  But I am particular about where and how the print is placed on the pattern piece.

Non-directional print.

Non-directional print.

This is the original back piece I cut that was bothering me so much.  Notice the position of the only green stem?  It’s upside down.  Clearly I wasn’t paying attention when I placed this pattern piece prior to cutting.

Notice the one and only stem on this piece is upside down?

Notice the one and only stem on this piece is upside down?

This wouldn’t have bothered me if there was another stem  on the piece placed in a different direction however being the solitary stem, I thought it gave the impression that I cut my piece upside down.  I know that once it was attached to the skirt it probably wouldn’t have stood out so much but I’m super picky and I knew this would be something I would always think about when wearing the dress.

So, I cut another piece.  But this time, I was very deliberate in placing the pattern piece on the fabric.  Notice the difference between the two pieces?

Original piece on the left, newly cut out piece on the right.

Original piece on the left, newly cut out piece on the right.

Even though I had to re-cut the piece, I’m feeling much better about how it looks.

There’s so much to think about when cutting out a pattern that it’s easy to forget about paying particular attention to consider how the prints will line up.  I have these three suggestions when working with prints:

  1. Take your time when laying out your pattern pieces.  Open your fabric up to a single layer with the right side facing up.  If you’re working with a directional print, make sure your pattern pieces are laid out in the same direction as the print. For other prints, particularly larger scale prints, be mindful of where you are placing the pattern piece over the print.  The print will naturally draw attention so if the print is larger and more spread out, you’ll want to take care where the print is placed on each piece.
  2. If you are working with a print that requires careful placement at the seams or otherwise (such as a plaid), you’ll want to purchase extra fabric than the pattern requires to allow for some wiggle room.  If you’re new to sewing, you may want to avoid working with plaids or other prints that require meticulous attention to pattern placement until you feel more confident.  But then again there’s nothing like overcoming a discomfort or fear by facing it straight on, so you may just want to dive right in and go for it.
  3. Triple check and make sure you’re satisfied with how you’ve laid out your pattern pieces before you cut them out.

That’s it!  I hope this was helpful.  I’m off to finish my Jamie Dress so be sure to check back next week – I’ll be posting about it!

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. thanks for the point out. In our country we use print fabrics a lot. It has to do with our culture and these directional thing u describe is a must have knowledge for every sewist. I’m a beginner so sometimes I get in a hurry to have the result thinking no one will find out but yeah I have been caught by the expert eye on my misdeed. Thanks once again at least I will definitely do it with knowledge now.

    August 17, 2013
    • Your welcome! Forgetting about the print when lining out fabric pieces can be so easy to do, even for the experienced, so it’s helpful to have a reminder every now and again. Happy sewing!

      August 19, 2013
  2. Some great tips here, thank you. I also find that you have to place pieces carefully considering what part of the body they will cover… I like to avoid a large floral bloom at the apex of each bust point!

    August 17, 2013
    • Yes, that’s such a great point! I have some garments that I made in my earlier days that I couldn’t wear for that exact reason.

      August 19, 2013
  3. This was so helpful, I love sewing with prints but I sometimes foreget to think about these things! xx

    http://www.jessthetics.wordpress.com

    August 18, 2013
    • I’m so glad you found this post helpful!

      August 19, 2013
  4. Cynthia #

    I am an experienced sewer, but I have a paisley print that is, indeed, directional. I don’t know whether I want the paisley “leaves” to droop or to reach. I am making an anti-cat slip cover for my newly upholstered antique chair and I expect to have to look at this cover for years. I guess that is wonderful, but I need to decide if one direction or the other will be more appealing. I think I’ll look on line to see whether there are chairs done up in this kind of fabric. It’s a little unlikely, but I’ll soon find out. If you have any suggestions, I will be happy to read them.

    May 6, 2016

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