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. Susan Davis (@JoSeBe_onEtsy) says:

    Very handy, indeed! I am in the US and would like women’s clothes in yards. Thanks for the opportunity!

  2. Jan Didwell says:

    Great idea. Now just need to match pattern to fabric instead of buying fabric “just in case”. I am in Australia and would like the women’s Clothes

  3. Diana Kirkpatrick says:

    I’m so glad there are ‘number crunchers’ out there to keep my NON-MATH brain from exploding in those “how do I calculate THAT?!?” moments! 😉 THANK YOU!!
    I am in the US and would love the Womens cards in yards if I were lucky enough to win!

  4. coyotewoman says:

    Thanks for the great prize Gwen and Deby!

    I’m entering the Gwen Hug card giveaway.
    You can count me a citizen of the old USA.
    Sewing for me, so I choose “Women’s Clothes” cards.
    My fabric I measure in units of yards.
    Hooray! “How much fabric?” I won’t need to say.

  5. A says:

    U.S.A., Women’s Clothes, yards. Now, believing I have answered your questions, thank you for the offer. I think I want to get back to sewing.

  6. Becky M says:

    Wow! Great information. I’m in the US & would love to have the women’s clothes in yards please. This sounds like a wonderful shopping resource.

  7. Marlene says:

    Fantastic article. what a treasure to have, I live in Northern Ireland and i would love a set in Women’s Clothes in metres. I have just joined this site and am loving it.

  8. Kathy R says:

    Being disabled I ca’t carry a lot of patters around to the store to get fabric, these would be a Godsend. Perfect for me, I am in the US, and would like the Women’s cards in inches if I should be the lucky winner of your giveaway. Thanks for the giveaway, regardless of who the Lucky Chosen is! You are amazing, this will solve soooo many worries.

  9. Lee says:

    What a great post! thank you! I would choose Women’s Clothes and I live in the USA – in yards. thank you!!

  10. Mary P says:

    I am in the US. I would like to have the Children’s Clothes Cards in yards, please.

  11. Judith Martinez says:

    That sounds amazing!! I would love to have the plus size set in yards. I live in the U.S.

  12. Heather says:

    Wow so happy she is ocd! A great resource for us US sewists making women’s clothes. I am a random buyer for sure and new to fix that!

  13. Cathy Stoddart says:

    This is brilliant! I am always overbuying. I am in the UK and would love a set of women’s clothes in metres.

  14. Kimmy says:

    Clever indeed, this is good stuff to know. I am in Canada and would make good use of the children’s clothes in metres

  15. Billye says:

    I live in the United States and I would LOVE to have the Women’s Plus cards in yards. This is going to be a great help to me because I simply talk myself out of the fabric until I have the pattern with me; and when I go back, the fabric is gone. 🙁

  16. Patricia Coderre says:

    I live in Canada. Would like the fabric meter card for women clothes card.

  17. kathy says:

    So helpful. We all love extra fabric in our stash, But when buying the more expensive fabric I rather make sure to buy the right amount. (Save the money for another project! ).I would be interested in the plus sized, us yard version

  18. Cindy S says:

    I would love the Women’s Clothes reference. It’s great advice for the printed materials. I’m in the US.

  19. Karen J says:

    Such a helpful guide. I am in the US and would like the woman’s set in yards.

  20. cweetgal says:

    This is such a demystifying idea wowo..I would love the women’s clothing in mts 🙂 I am from India.Thanks

  21. Terri Randall says:

    In the US and delighted to be able to enter. Womens Sizes please in yards. thanks so much

  22. Trisha says:

    I am in the US, and would love to have the Women’s Clothes set of cards!! We use yards here, of course, so that would be my choice. Thanks so much for the chance to win this. Thanks also for the information of how to figure this out. I have always had trouble with this question, and have overbought fabric all of my life because of this issue. Thank you!!

  23. Liz Byers says:

    Great article!! I love in the US and would love the plus size cards!! Thank you both for sharing all of your talent with us!

  24. Dee says:

    What a brilliant idea! Gwyn is a clever woman. Thanks for the offer and an even bigger thanks for making it open to those of us outside the USA.
    I am from Australia and would love to win the women’s plus size cards in metric – metres.

  25. Sally says:

    These sound great. I’d love the women’s set in metres please. I’m in the UK.

  26. Diane Cullum says:

    That was very interesting and not quite as confusing as I thought it would be. I would love to win since I never know how much fabric to buy when I see one calling my name. I’m in the US and would like the women’s chart in yards. Thank you for the chance to win! 🙂

  27. Julia Ford says:

    This is great information to put to use. I would be interested in Card Set #4: Babies and Toddlers.

  28. nique et says:

    Thanks for the opportunity. This is so helpful. Im in the us and would like men’s or women’s in yardsn.

  29. Nancy says:

    Awesome ! Would love to win the women’s in yards .live in the USA. Many thanks.

  30. cweetgal says:

    This sounds so de-mystifying. If I win I would love to have the cards for womens clothing in meters. I am from India. Thanks for hosting such a lovely giveaway!

  31. Dea says:

    This is such a great idea! I’m in the U.S. and would LOVE to have a set for women’s clothes, measured in yards. Thanks for the great give-away contest!

  32. Karin says:

    This is great. I would love a women’s clothes card set in meters. I live in Brunei.


    Great article! Would love to win the cards. I live in the US, women’s clothing, Yards. Thanks!

  34. Rhonda Miller says:

    Hello and thank you Deby and Gwen! Your system is a winner to make things easier on us to figure out the right yardage! I’m in the US and would love to win the Women’s and in Yards.
    Thanks again!

  35. Karen says:

    What a great article. I would like women’s sizes in yards.

  36. Cindy says:

    I would love to have the Women’s Clothes version. This would be really helpful. I have also always wondered how to figure the extra fabric for matching. I usually overbuy as a result. I am from the U.S.

  37. Sandra G. says:

    This is actually a great idea I saw a $20 a yard piece of lovely dark green fabric and wanted to figure just this detail out for a jacket I wish to make and here is the solution maybe you should also turn it into an application too with both format yards and metric. I might get a cell phone just for that application a geniuses work should not be ignored. Then the problem to pick just one I’m losing weight from women’s plus to smaller and then our families first Grandbaby is on the way so many hours of happy sewing to come so how to choose couldn’t we have a two instead, please. Smiles and stitches as all of our needles fly though a course or two of flannel for this fall and winter here in the US.

  38. Brooke S says:

    I’m excited to learn this trick and would love to win a set of cards!
    I’m in the United States, would prefer the women’s clothing set and use yards not meters.
    Thank you!

  39. MS Barb says:

    US, Plus sizes, and yards… THANKS for a nice Giveaway!

  40. L Kawakami says:

    Wow. this is a great article. Thank you, Debby! 🙂 I’m from the US and would like a set for Women’s Clothes in metres.

What do you think?