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Selecting Large Prints For Sewing

If you want to make a great first impression, nothing says ”I’m confident” like  super-size or large prints. But many sewers shy away from using majestic florals or giant geometric shapes in garments because they anticipate trouble estimating yardage and matching motifs at seams. I’m here to contradict the old-fashioned sewing mandate that says you always have to match motifs—and free you to jazz up your wardrobe with bold patterns.

Question—or even forget—the usual design strategies

Don’t get me wrong, large-print garments do require some sort of plan because if you haphazardly arrange pattern pieces on the fabric, your garment is likely to look haphazard as well. But creating garments from large-print fabrics is far less complicated than sewing a big print into a home-décor item. Home-décor pattern pieces are usually large and rectilinear, so matching is necessary for a visually seamless pattern flow. Mismatches on these vast expanses of fabric almost always jar the eye. Garment pieces, on the other hand, are small and shaped to curve around the contours of the body, which makes it impossible to get a perfect match at all the seams. And that’s good news, because a dress or jacket should have very little resemblance to a duvet cover.

Today’s garment designers think outside the box, purposely ignoring traditional layout rules when they see fit to do so. I’ve taken my cue from these creative thinkers, and encourage you to do the same. Peppered throughout this article you’ll find design ideas for specific garments as well as general guidelines for positioning super-size motifs.

Do’s and Don’ts for Positioning Prints

Bold Print Skirt

Do's and Don'ts of Positioning Prints

Choose fabric because you love it

Unlike solid-color or subtly textured garments in which the design lines or fine details capture your attention, a large print is the uncontested star of any garment. I make sure I absolutely adore the print and can picture myself wearing it years from now. Once I’ve committed to the fabric, I find that other design considerations fall neatly into place. You can find super-size prints in many fashion fabrics, from pure silk to fine linen sheers; even featherweight taffeta is common. Of course, you can also track down lovely prints in the home-décor section of your fabric store. Just make sure  you choose a garment weight fabric that has some drape, otherwise you run the risk of looking upholstered.

Patterns repeat in different ways

Zigzag floral pattern on dress
Zigzag a dominant motif by placing it
at one shoulder, on the opposite hip, and hemline.

There is a measure to the seeming madness of any large print, and that is the repeat, or the interval at which a decorative motif or pattern is duplicated along the width (horizontal repeat) and length (vertical repeat) of the fabric. For a fabric pattern to be included in the extra-large category, the horizontal and vertical repeats must be at least 6 inches. The motifs needn’t be humongous, although they can be.

It’s always useful to identify the size, type, and direction of a fabric’s repeat, as this helps you strategically position pattern pieces and estimate yardage.

Large Prints

Try opting for a fitted style

When it’s time to choose a pattern, I encourage you to consider using a large-print garment as an accessory that adds flair to an otherwise simple, solid-color outfit. Select a key separate, such as a jacket, blouse, coat, pants, or flirty skirt. Some people caution against using a large print for an entire ensemble, but the all-important little dress looks terrific in a dramatic print.

Bold Print Dress
Sleeveless or strapless dresses made with large prints can make a bold statement, yet they aren’t overwhelming. (New Look 6348)

Also weigh silhouette options. Successful print garments are, on the whole, more tailored and form-fitting than you might expect. A big print and sleek silhouette make a great pair, whereas a boldly printed boxy style tends to overwhelm the wearer.

Experiment with the pattern

Because you’ll need to arrange motifs strategically in each pattern piece, you’ll need to spend a little extra time at the layout stage. When you’re ready to cut, roll out your fabric in a single layer, right side up, then reference the “with nap” layout on the pattern instruction sheet. If you are dealing with a nondirectional pattern, refer to the “without nap” layout.

Move the pattern pieces around until you’re satisfied with the motif arrangement. Once the pieces are cut out, the construction should proceed as usual for your garment and fabric type.

The curved hemlines of skirts and pants may cut through the print unattractively, so be creative with motif placement.

Cut on the bias to turn the printed pattern on the diagonal.

Add a lower edge detail such as a flounce, ruffle, or band.


Don’t worry about side seam
and inseam matches. The
lower body has plenty of curves,
so the print will never fully match.
However, if there is a dominant
horizontal rhythm in the print, do
align it across the side seams.

Choose a close-fitting or cropped
pant style and keep design details to
a minimum-no pleats, a simple waist,
and side-seam zippers.

Add a coordinating
or contrasting fabric
band to avoid busy
motifs at leg hems.

And when you first wear your bold garment, don’t forget to square your shoulders, smile, lift your chin, and enter the room with poise and aplomb.

Elizabeth B. Dubicki sews garments and home fashions in Peoria, Ill.


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