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The Art of Pattern Matching

I just loved reading this piece by Melissa Wolck of Greenhouse Fabrics, and want to share it with you!


I recently began taking upholstery classes from a local community college, because I wanted to learn to reupholster my own furniture and put the gorgeous fabrics I work with every day to use. My very first piece was a great find at a local consignment shop for a whopping $15 bucks! I have always loved plaids and checks, so without hesitation, I selected a beautiful teal and white houndstooth.

Well. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into with such a busy little pattern. Although I have looked at patterned chairs, sofas, ottomans, etc. for my whole entire life, I guess I never truly appreciated the skill and precision that it takes to match up the pattern repeat so that it flows nicely across the furniture. Let’s just say that for my second project I chose a beautiful SOLID blue chenille.

PATTERN MATCHING The skill that I am referring to, is called pattern matching, and it is an important one. Pattern matching is required when a fabric has a repeated design that must be matched up at corners, curves, and edges, in order for visual alignment and flow. For example, stripes, plaids, paisleys, floral bouquets, geometrics, and medallions will all require pattern matching. Take a look at the examples below.

All of these patterns have definite repeats and will require precise measuring, cutting and sewing to make sure that the pattern aligns. Below are a couple of examples where the upholsterer did not match up the pattern. The visual flow is interrupted, because the patterns do not line up. In the example on the left, the bird’s head is not attached to its body on the front boxing of the cushion. On the right, the medallion design is awkwardly chopped off.

If your customer selects a patterned fabric, it is imperative that they have a basic understanding of what pattern matching is and how it will affect the total cost for their project. They need to understand that more matching = more planning = more skill = more fabric = more money. Your customer may not be willing to incur the additional costs for your pattern matching skills, labor, and extra fabric. If this is the case, you could suggest a fabric that will not require pattern matching, such as a solid, a pattern with no definite repeat or an irregular design. Check out the examples below.

But, a piece of furniture upholstered in a large scale pattern can really make a statement, and when the pattern matching is done right, WOW! The cost is really worth it. Take a look at this exquisite chair by Mission Avenue Studio in Florida. They used a beautiful large scale medallion printed on a soft cotton ground. The alignment and flow of the pattern is impeccable.

With all that being said, no matter the skill level or expertise of the upholsterer, every pattern cannot be matched exactly. After all, you are putting a two dimensional fabric over a three dimensional object. There are sometimes physical limits, and your customer will need to compromise.

To learn more about various obstacles that may arise and how to solve them read, Pattern Matching: The Art of Compromise, by our customer, seriously talented upholsterer and blogger, Cynthia Bleskachek, owner of The Funky Little Chair.

The moral of the story is to make sure that your customer knows what pattern matching is before they select a fabric with a complicated repeat, that they understand the additional costs and fabric requirements, and that they may need to compromise.

- written by Melissa Wolck of Greenhouse Fabrics

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