Estimating extra fabric for pattern matching (and giveaway)

So you've got the perfect pattern and you've seen the perfect fabric.  Except the envelope says that you need 3.5 yards to make this dress.  THEN its says ‘extra will be needed for pattern matching'.  Your fabric has a print you'll want to match.  So exactly how much extra fabric will you need.  Half a yard, a yard, 2 yards?  I know exactly the lady who knows – introducing Gwen who knows everything there is to know about matching fabric to patterns.

How Much Do You Want?

Estimating extra fabric for pattern matching

We all know that feeling…  Maybe you’re shopping for a particular project or maybe you are just window shopping – but all of a sudden, out of the blue, a piece of fabric catches your eye and you just can’t look away…

The color, the texture, the design – it connects with something inside of you, proclaims that it belongs to you and you MUST HAVE IT. There is no doubt about that.

The doubt comes a few moments later though, when you are trying to decide how much to buy.  You aren’t holding the right pattern in your hand, so you have to guess – will 2 yards be enough?  Or should you get 2.5 yards?  It would be horrible to not have quite enough, so, maybe 3?

I used to struggle with this problem a lot.  And I was always so afraid of not having enough, that I usually overbought.  I could talk myself into buying 4 yards of fabric in the blink of an eye – you know, ”just to be safe”…  😉

medium_3808902790photo credit: sean_hickin via photopin cc

After one particularly expensive overbuying episode, I decided to ask for help on my blog.  I asked my readers how they handle the situation and I discovered that most people were just as stumped as I was.

Oh, a few folks had systems – but even that wasn’t a lot of help, because everyone’s system was different.  Of course, that makes sense, because “the skirt” in the phrase, “Ooooh, that would make a beautiful skirt!” was different for each woman.  For one woman, “the skirt” was usually some kind of fitted, knee-length business skirt in a size 6 and for another woman, “the skirt” was almost always a mid-calf-length circle skirt in a size 14.  Obviously, they would routinely buy different amounts of fabric.

So, I was still stuck…  I spent a few days mulling it over, when it finally occurred to me that I didn’t have to guess.  I owned lots of sewing patterns!  I could actually CALCULATE the average amount of fabric that I would need for different types of clothes.  I could go from wild-eyed guessing to estimating based on tables built from the fabric requirements of lots and lots of actual patterns!

My day job involves a lot of number crunching, so I was right at home setting up an Excel spreadsheet.  And I may have slight OCD tendencies, so it wasn’t long before I had exhausted my own supply of sewing patterns and was downloading images of the backs of sewing pattern envelopes off the internet and entering those numbers too.

Fast forward two years and about 10,000 sewing patterns – throw in the help of some good friends and lots of encouragement and constructive criticism from my blog readers – and the end result is a series of reference cards that will help anyone estimate how much fabric to buy – taking into consideration the width of the fabric and the size and style of the garment that you want to make.

If this sounds like the kind of thing that you would like to have with you when you are fabric shopping, you can learn more about the cards in this video:

The cards are designed to help you estimate as accurately as possible when you don’t have the right sewing pattern envelope in your hand.  Obviously, having the pattern envelope on hand would be best  – but even the backs of sewing pattern envelopes sometimes leave you guessing – like when they tell you to “Allow extra fabric to match plaids or stripes.”  Have you ever felt frustrated by that vague advice?

Well, here’s a quick way to estimate how much extra fabric to buy.  You need to know 2 things:

1)      The size of the repeat on the fabric, and

2)      The number of major pattern pieces that don’t fit side-by-side and that you want to be able to align.

Basically, you multiply those 2 numbers together and the answer is how much additional fabric you should add to your order.  Why?  This gives you one extra complete repeat of the design on the fabric for each of those pieces, so that you can shift them left and right until they line up at the same spot on the design.

Actually, an illustration really helps make this clear.  Let’s do a couple of examples.  Here is a shirt pattern layout:

Estimating extra fabric for pattern matching

Let’s temporarily ignore the fact that the yoke is aligned sideways.

Which pieces (not side-by-side) would you want to be able to align such that the plaid matches?  My answer would be these three pieces: the back (#3), the front (#2) and the sleeves (#5).   (You want to match up the button band too, but it fits beside the front piece, and so we don’t count it.)

Now, here are two possible flannel fabrics:

1 2

The blue plaid has a repeat every 2 inches and is symmetrical in both directions.  Two extra inches for each of those three major pieces means you should request six extra inches of fabric, over and above what the pattern envelope calls for.

Given that the plaid is small and symmetrical, you can probably get away with leaving the yoke pattern piece sideways and still get it to align with the back.

The brown plaid, on the other hand, has a much larger, asymmetrical repeat of 5.5 inches in one direction.  Assuming you are going to place the pieces along this dimension, you want to order 16.5 extra inches of fabric (5.5 x 3) over what the pattern envelope calls for.

Also, the sideways yoke piece is going to be a problem now.  If you are really OCD (like me!) you’ll probably want to add enough extra fabric to place the yoke piece beneath the sleeves (in the same orientation as the sleeves) and add one more repeat of 5.5 inches for that yoke piece.

The bottom line is that there’s not one simple answer to the question “how much extra fabric do I need to add to match stripes or plaids?” – but, it’s not too difficult to figure out, based on your pattern layout and the size of the fabric print.

And that’s what I’ve got for you today on fabric buying.  I want to thank Deby for allowing me to provide this guest post.  And best wishes to all of you for many happy hours of fabric shopping!

* * * * * * * * * *


Gwen has kindly offered to make two sets of her great fabric buying reference cards available to So Sew Easy readers in a worldwide giveaway.

The prize – one winner from the US and one from the rest of the world.  Each will win their choice of the How Much Fabric Reference Cards.


How to enter:


Good luck every one!  If you can't wait to see if you are a winner, or simply HAVE to have these cards now, then you can order them directly from Gwen here.  These would make a great Christmas present for someone who sews.

Follow up message from Gwen – “I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Deby for allowing me to reach out to you – her readers.  As I read through your comments, I was struck by what an awesome group of people you are!  And thank you to everyone for your interest in The Original “How Much Fabric?” Reference Cards – especially for all your kind and encouraging comments!  I wish I could send card sets to all of you, but, until my back-up plan of winning the lottery comes through (ha!), I can only give away a few sets here and there.  Congratulations to the randomly drawn winners of this give-away: Ginger Bennett and Jolien!  If you didn't win, remember that you can always pick up your own set at  To everyone, my best wishes for many happy hours of fabric shopping!
All the best,
Bookmark the permalink.

101 Responses to Estimating extra fabric for pattern matching (and giveaway)

  1. Caroline says:

    Thank you for the chance to win. I would love the Plus Sizes set in metres and I live in Australia 🙂

  2. Helene Wong says:

    Love your site! Thank you very much for sharing your talent ! Im from Singapore and would like to hsve the women’s set in metres. THANKS!

  3. Tina Giaramita. says:

    As a “newbie” to sewing these would be awesome to have! I’ve been afraid to try and make any clothes in fear of not calculating the correct amount of fabric!

    I would like to have the US yardage ones for either Women’s or Women’s Plus-sizes, please!

    Love your site – I have learned so much! Thanks for all your hard work!!

  4. KLujan says:

    I have seen these cards before and I think they are a fabulous idea. I live in the U.S. and I would love to win the children’s cards in yards please. Thanks for this giveaway!

  5. Heather Munckton says:

    I would find this really helpful. If I won I would like the women’s cards in metres please and I live in the UK

  6. Jacqui Tan says:

    I would like childrens clothing in meters. I live in Holland, Europe

  7. Louise Tonks says:

    Hi, I’m in the UK and I would love the cards for ladies clothes in metres please.

  8. Ann Eckert says:

    Sorry I forgot to say I live in the US and would love the women’s cards. I think your cards are a fabulous idea!

  9. Ann Eckert says:

    These sound like a great idea! I would love to have the women’s cards

  10. happysewer says:

    Ooh, I’d like a womens set in metric. If I’m lucky enought to win

  11. Patsy Martinez Deaver says:

    US 🙂 Women’s clothe’s in yards would be lovely!

  12. Rosalind says:

    I am from UK and would like women’s cards in metres please

  13. Ellen says:

    I would love to win the US yards, women’s cards. Thanks

  14. Carmen N says:

    US, I think I’d use the Children’s Clothes the most, yards please

  15. Bethany Thompson says:

    Since I retired as an elementary school librarian a year ago, I’ve promised myself to get back to sewing–something I took up when I was seven making clothes for my Barbie and later myself and my daughter. I’m so happy to find your blog because my sewing mentor, my precious mama, passed away in January and I’ve had a hard time getting back to a task I love. Being attached to clothes made of plaids and stripes, this looking at patterns in terms of allowing for matches is always a problem. I would love to be able to have a handy set of cards taking that excuse away. One less barrier between me and the sewing machine. Thank you for sharing your new found talent with all of us.

  16. Veronika says:

    US, yards, childrens please!

  17. isabel black says:

    This is really great! I live in the US and i would love to have the women’s clothes set in yards. Thank you!!

  18. Dee Raymond says:

    Such a great solution to an age old problem! Please count me in. I live in the US and I’d love to have the women’s clothes set in yards please. Thanks so much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *