Chinese brocade · Sewing technique · Zig-zag stitch

Impossible pattern matching

It’s quite impossible not only because it’s an intricate pattern, but also because it’s Chinese brocade – the world’s most slinky and stubborn fabric. Plus, it’s a mitred corner. And yet, here it is:

And here is another one, on the grain:

Can you see how it’s done?

Zig-zag.

What? 😲 Yes, humble zig-zag.

Put the right pane flat on the table. Fold the left pane on the seam line, wrong side inside. Now carefully place the folded left pane onto the right pane and match the pattern. Pin, pin, pin – the more pins the better.

Set your machine to zig-zag, 1.2mm wide with 1.5mm stitch length – the stitches need to be a little elongated, but not too much.

Zig-zag over the seam so that on the right the needle only goes into the single layer.

Now, that’s pretty good, but the miracle is yet to come: you can now open the seam. Lay it flat with the single layer seam allowance at each side. Iron it. 😏

But it’s zig-zag?! Yes, but tiny. On some fabrics it might create a small ridge, on others it falls flat completely – just like flatlock seam sewn with a capable overlocker.

Ok, so you’ve just zig-zagged right over the face of your fabric. How come you struggle to see the stitches? If you were to sew the same thing with straight stitch, it would immediately stand out.

It’s magic. On a busy background zig-zag blends in – what’s a few more little lines where there are already so many? Your eye is overwhelmed by the amount of detail, it looks for a larger picture and finds it in the pattern of the fabric that you’ve just so skillfully matched. It completely ignores those little lines of your zig-zag. But if you’d used straight stitch, well, that would have created a new pattern – a straight line – and your eye would have immediately picked that up.

Illusion by confusion. 😁

18 thoughts on “Impossible pattern matching

  1. Wow! That is amazing. I would never sew that kind of fabric, much less have the patience to match it along a seam, but I sure admire you for this. Me, I just sew for fun and am rather slack about details . . . simple is good for me.

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  2. Smart. The fabric is beautiful. I don’t know where someone would even get fabric like that – silk at the most. It looks like a costuming project.

    About the zigzagging; I was thinking you’re on a vintage machine. I have not ever come across a very vintage machine with zig zag capability.

    Is this a trick you’ve learned to do; an adapter of some kind? – for old machines?

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    1. No, this is just a zig-zag machine. This one is from 1958. Zig-zag was invented back in the 19th century but was only used on professional machines. It was introduced for domestics in 1947.

      Chinese brocade comes in many designs and is actually abundant in fabric shops, at least in Europe. It is synthetic. It can be used for clothing and is very pleasant to wear. Ok, it won’t make your uniform T-shirt but I don’t wear that anyway. The best Chinese brocade comes directly from China though, made for their domestic market. This particular project is for home decor – it’s a border for a wall hanging.

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      1. It’s beautiful. My gosh, your work on it is so well done. Beautifully done. There is no visible pattern disengenuity at all.

        Wow, American fabric shops are dull and listless compared to Europe.

        I’ve always wondered about when the first zig zag showed up … 1947. Hmm. I wonder how the ladies finished their seam way back – in Victorian.

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      2. The same way as they’ve done it for tens of thousands of years before that – by hand. 🙂 People have been sewing for a while already. 😉 But since mid-19th century you could use a machine to zig-zag or overlock the edges. Yes, overlock was also invented right at the beginning, but didn’t make it into our homes until 1967 – thank you Juki for being so brave with your Babylock that was surely doomed to failure according to the experts of the day. People at home didn’t need overlock! Ha!

        But there are also ways to finish a seam on a straight stitch machine. On fine fabrics you can do a tiny rolled hem on seam allowances or use French seams. On heavy fabrics you can use Hong Kong finish (with bias tape). Or you can make flat seams, thus hiding raw edges inside them.

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      1. Well, I didn’t mean ate. That would make you someone with a stomach full of talent. Heh, heh. But you are – such beautiful focus on detail! Your welcome. I always like getting your post. You always have something interesting to share.

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      2. I didn’t even notice the typo until you pointed it out. 🙂 It seems my brain has learned to auto-correct auto-corrections. 😀

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