Interior design and decorating is about problem solving and it’s all about getting the details just right. Some details are relatively small and others are large, but they all play a part in achieving the best look and/or functionality for the budget. Here I am talking about the importance of pattern matching in window treatments and upholstery. What a good pattern match looks like, what you should expect and how to avoid a bad pattern match. (Please note that there are affiliate products listed in this post. Any purchases will result in a small commission to me, which goes to help support this blog. Thank you!)
So, here we have a lovely Ikat fabric print.
Here, I have “married” the images to create a large piece of fabric – wouldn’t these make amazing window treatments or bed spread? Now, this is a busy pattern, can you spot the mismatch? Click on the image for a larger view.
Okay, so, as you can see, the patterns aren’t matching either horizontally or vertically.
And this image shows the “pieces” of the images as they are laid out next to each other.
And below, you can see that in order to match the fabric, we’re losing quite a lot of fabric. Instead of three equal pieces, we have one full piece and not quite half of the other two.
This is obviously a very basic example of how a pattern match works. It also shows that a good pattern match takes more fabric (or wallpaper for that matter) than not matching the patterns does. Now, most quality fabrics are printed so that they can be matched fairly easily without a lot of loss when used in large swaths – such as window treatments and bedding, etc. But when it comes to upholstery, a good upholster will match the patterns across “breaks” or seams in the design. This gets a little dicey when it comes to store bought pieces. Even those which say they are custom made-to-order can arrive with poorly matched patterns.
Take for example these two chairs from Pottery Barn. Ranging between $1,000.00 and $2,000.00, these chairs are not inexpensive. What you should expect is that the pattern is centered across the back cushions and run down the seat, the box and down the skirt or upholstered front of the piece. It should look as if the fabric was pulled off the roll and laid down the front. The tops and fronts of the arms should match each other as best as possible, as should the sides and the back. These are really not good and not worth the cost. Now, imagine you order a pair of these? They will likely not match each other and you will end up with a cacophony of pattern that is anything but pleasing to the eye. The pattern is ruined by how it’s used. Not really how we should be spending upwards of $4,000.00.
Now take these simple drapery panels. Nothing could be easier. These are a single width of fabric, hemmed with grommets added. But look at the pattern placement across the two panels. They should exactly match. The pattern on the left panel is a good inch higher than the pattern on the right. Unfortunately, for inexpensive panels with a pattern, this is probably the best you can expect. The reason the pattern aren’t matched is that it takes more material and skill to do it. And the larger the pattern is (also known as the repeat), the more potential fabric will be lost in getting the match right.
And now, here are some examples of some beautifully matched patterns in wallpaper, window treatments and upholstery.
Below is from one of my projects on Cape Cod where my client had an existing chair she wanted to update. My upholsterer is a wizard with pattern matching. This fabric is tough because it has an overall pattern that is slightly irregular – there’s no strong central medallion for instance. But note the front of the two arms where the patterns sort of mirror each other.
The pattern is perfectly matched from the bottom of the seat across the blue welting and down the skirting.
After the chair was done, my client liked it so much she asked for an ottoman be made to match. And so it was done, with the same precise pattern matching. This is first class work – something you will almost never get with a mass produced item.
Below is another project where pattern matching played a huge role.
The wallpaper and drapery fabrics are the classic Les Touches from Brunshwig and Fils. We were doing the walls, cafe curtains and floor to ceiling drapery panels to hide a washer and dryer in the first floor bathroom. While very “busy”, this is also a very regular pattern. It was very important to me that the pattern matched horizontally around the room. Otherwise, the waviness could be entirely overwhelming. I had the wallpaper installed and then my drapery workroom came out and measured to determine the pattern match placement. Since we were mixing flat paper with gathered fabric, a vertical match wasn’t possible.
Of course, most of these images above are showing top of the line designer workmanship – which costs a lot of money because of the skill it takes to lay out and cut the fabric and of the waste factor involved. So, what can you do if you’re on a budget?
- Pay close attention to the photos or floor samples of any furniture or window treatments which feature a clear pattern. Marketing photography and floor samples are the best iterations of these items – they are there to sell the pieces to you. If they don’t look as you would like them to, they certainly won’t when delivered.
- At better retailers like Crate and Barrel and Mitchell Gold, make a point of speaking with the sales people about your desire for a quality pattern match. If they aren’t willing or able to work with you and you are concerned about how it will come out, perhaps select a different fabric. You can always do a solid upholstered fabric with the pattern you like on a pillow.
- You can mitigate any potential matching issues by splitting up the pattern.
- Window Treatments from retail stores are tricky because they are usually sold in single units and are almost never matched. But if this is where your budget is (which is totally okay), then buy several more panels than you need and try to pick out the one’s that match the closest, then pack up and return the rest. If you can sew (or have a local dry cleaners who does alterations) and you are ordering rod pocket panels, you can also order longer panels than you need and alter them so that the pattern matches better.
Pin for future reference.
You might also enjoy:
Matching Furniture – Avoid the Matchy-Matchy Look
Six Upholstery Terms You NEED to know
Sofa Reupholstery – when you know you know
15 thoughts on “Design Details: Pattern Matching – Getting it right”
Great article Linda
Thanks so much Mary Jo!
I am struggling with a pattern match on a vervain fabric (Doucette). Doing a box pleat valence is not working with the pattern as well as I had hoped, so I realize sometimes you have to change the design after you are into it and start over. I can’t say how important pattern match is and how few people address it. Thanks for the article.
Hi Ingrid – thats a lovely fabric! I’m sure we’ve all fell in love with a fabric and struggle to get it to work within a particular design. As I said in my post – design is all about problem solving, and the details! Good luck!
You’ve made some very good points on a topic all designers should understand. Pleating a drapery heading to pattern takes extra fabric, planning and skill but looks beautiful when done correctly. One thing to keep in mind with upholstery is the seat cushion can only match one way; once the cushion is flipped, the pattern will be interrupted. Stylists should be mindful of this when doing a photoshoot. Designers need to attach a cutting to their work orders specifying right side of fabric, direction of design, and pattern repeat (both vertical and horizontal) and motif placement, so that workrooms don’t have to second guess. Communication is key to get the results your clients will appreciate.
Hi Merlyn! Excellent points all, thanks! I would say regarding the seat cushion, if flipping potential is important, than a band of solid or multi-direction coordinating fabric (like a stripe) for the box banding might be considered. And you are so right about photoshoots!
I love reading your posts about decorating and design details, Linda. Yes, the devil is certainly in the details! You point out so many intricacies that non- professionals might normally miss or be unaware of. I didn’t notice that the patterns on the drapery panels did not match until you pointed it out. One really has to have a discerning eye.
Thanks Lisa! I’m so happy you find my posts helpful!
Excellent post, Linda! This is probably my biggest pet peeve in design work, besides furniture being out of scale. I am going to post a link to this on my IG today. Thanks so much.
Thank you Ellen! I appreciate the support!
Great post Linda and I love the examples you shared, it certainly brings your point home! Very well done!
I love revisiting this topic. The skill it takes to match patterns well is no small thing and the results as you point out can be spectacular.
Linda, You KNOW I love this post. Pattern matching is near and dear to my heart and at times it seems like a lost art. Can you imagine if those elephants had been facing the wrong direction, or not lined up at all? I have seen some very badly done jobs in my day. Thanks for writing this!