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

  1. Trisha Finch says:

    What a great giveaway, I am in England and would choose Womans in yards please.
    Will we be able to buy these if we are not lucky winners ? .

    • Deby Coles says:

      Yes you can buy them. They are available from Gwen directly on her website. Click on Order at the top and you’ll see all the options and be able to order from her directly.

  2. Carla says:

    Thank you for the information on how much extra to buy to match patterns! I would love to win a set of the cards. I’m in the US and would like women’s clothes in yards if I win!

  3. Ruth L says:

    What a fabulous tool! There are so many times I just stop by a fabric store to browse without a specific project in mind and come across that perfect fabric that I just need! How much is always the question and now you have the answer! Love it! I sew women’s clothing in the US (women’s’/yards).
    Warm regards,
    Ruth Lutz

  4. Ginnie Wilcox says:

    I loved the video. It all makes sense now. I would like the ladies plus size . I’m in Long Beach, CA.

  5. Diana Salmon says:

    Seems like an excellent tool to have! I think I don’t sew as much as I would like too because I have no confidence in buying the right amount of fabric.

    I’m in the U.S. and would like to win the plus size cards in yards.

  6. nancy in IN says:

    USA. I would like the women’s card in in/yards.

  7. Anna says:

    I always buy way too much fabric, what a great idea! I live in the UK and would like metric and woman’s size. Thank you

  8. Donna Pitts says:

    What a fabulous tool! I’d love the set #1, Women’s clothes, in yards/inches.

  9. Esther says:

    What a great article, and a very handy formula for working out the extra fabric needed. Going to pin this. Thanks! (Mind you, I’m guilty of overbuying even without a fabric pattern to match!)
    If I were lucky enough to win a set of the cards, I’m in the UK and would love a set for women’s clothes in metres.

  10. Joanne MacQuarrie says:

    This would be a very useful tool. I am from Canada and I would like Women’s Clothes in metric. Thank You.

  11. Joy says:

    What an excellent tool – thank you for a brilliant article Gwen.I’d love to receive the Women’s Clothes and Children’s Clothes cards please.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Finally a way for me to no longer be afraid of buying plaids, strips or larger patterned fabric!

    Women’s Clothes

  13. Victoria Greenhalgh says:

    What a godsend, I’d love the plus size, the money have I spent over ordering fabric across the years could probably feed a small nation!

  14. Kimber says:

    I would love to win the women’s card, in yards. Living in Los Angeles, and would be happy with a download.

  15. Doreen Bulleman says:

    How handy! I’m an impulse fabric buyer—fall in love with a fabric. This would help me know how much to buy. I would like the US, women’s in yards. Thanks!

  16. Me Pendleton says:

    Wow what a great tool !!! I always overbuy then have 1/2-1 yd left over, then what do you do with that. It’s a cycle 🙂
    I would like the women’s guide in yards .
    Thanks !!!

  17. jane d says:

    I’d love to win the Plus Size card!

  18. Sheila says:

    Glad someone has put some thought into this process. If I’m the winner, I would like the women’s in yards for a US resident.

  19. Veronica says:

    This is a much needed information, I am always afraid of matching stripes and squares patterned fabric because I can’t get the right amount of fabric. I would love to have the women and plus size cards in yards, thanks. (edit – I am in the US I changed my mind I would love the children’s clothes.)

  20. amcclure2014 says:

    This is a great idea. I always end up buying way too much fabric, especially as I always add on too much allowance for lengthening the pattern – even with plain fabric! I work in either imperial or metric but would like Women’s Clothes in metric as here in UK as in rest of Europe, we buy fabric in metres. Thank you (BTW I’m happy with a download)

  21. Ginger says:

    This is so informative. I always buy waaaaay toooo much. I’m in the US and I would love the Women’s Clothes in yards. Thanks so much for the giveaway!

  22. Cindy Mizer says:

    I am in the US, I would like women’s patterns’ cards and I would like it in yards.
    Thank you for doing this.

  23. Lesley Kenny says:

    What a great idea! if I win, and September 16th is my birthday hint hint! i would like the womens clothes card in yards please, I am in. Atlanta GA, thank you.

  24. duchick says:

    What an awesome chance to win something useful! I’m in the US (Iowa) and would choose the toddlers/children’s set in yard measurements. I am anxiously awaiting the period of my life to be a grandma and am itching to sew clothes for him/her/them!

  25. Merging Williams says:

    I’m in rural Australia & have to buy most fabric online due to a lack of options locally. I would love the Women’s clothing cards (metric) to help me work out how much to order!

  26. Ginger Bennett says:

    I have to say your cards are great. I work at my local fabric store, in Virginia (good old USA), and I’m always asked how much fabric do I need. I would be grateful for any one of them. Thanks!

  27. Jolien says:

    I’m in Hungary and I’d love to win a set for women, the metric version. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  28. Marthese says:

    I think it’s a very good tool especially now that there are similar tools for knitting and crochet, why not for sewers.
    I’m from Malta and would appreciate the set for women’s clothing, no matter if in yards or not.
    Thanks for such a chance.

  29. Blythe says:

    I’m in the USA and would be interested in women’s sizes

  30. Sarah says:

    I am in the USA, and I would like one in plus sizes for women’s clothing. Thank you!

  31. Natasha Tung says:

    I am in the US. I’d love one in yards for children’s clothes.

  32. Susan brown says:

    What a great tool. Women’s size. I would prefer the PDF version since I always have my phone with me.

  33. Maria says:

    Oh, that’s nice! I follow your blog for a while and normally I don’t participate in these kind of giveaways, but today I’ll give it a try.
    I contact from Scotland (UK), and I’d love to have the woman set for plus sizes in metres 🙂
    Thank you for your wonderful ideas and patterns.

  34. ermelinda says:

    So cool!
    I’m in Italy, plus size in metres,

  35. superstitches says:

    I like the idea of cards with amounts needed for different projects. Women’s clothes in yards would be most helpful to me.

  36. helene says:

    What a great tool! Women’s & plus size.

  37. These cards sound such a great idea. Thanks for the chance to win. I’m from Australian and would love the women’s clothes set in metric.

  38. alanaKNITS says:

    I’d love to win. I’m in the US. I’d like the women’s clothing in yards. Thank you!

  39. Becky H says:

    Very cool! I guestimate a lot!
    I’m in the US, yards, and plus size (unfortunately).

  40. Kathy Sews says:

    I could have used these yesterday at the fabric shop when I forgot my pattern to reference when I was buying material! I would be so happy to have a set for women in yards (I’m in the US). Thanks for sharing!!!

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