Common Types of Fabric Patterns

Common Types of Fabric Patterns

The orientation or direction of a fabric pattern will often determine the ease of your project and how professional looking it turns out. Below I have described the three main types of fabric patterns styles. There are variations of these, but generally this is a good starting place in understanding pattern orientations.

Regular Fabric Pattern

The regular fabric pattern, sometimes referred to as the normal fabric pattern, is the most common. The material is woven so the upright images are parallel to the bolt of cloth and perpendicular to the edge of the cloth. These patterns are best for making longer more narrow objects such as curtains and clothes.

The images are oriented in an upright position along the length of the material:
If this was being used for curtains or clothing, you could make them as long as you wish – a good application.If you were covering a couch, this regular fabric pattern would leave you with unwanted seams along the “front of the back” and “back of the back” of the couch – not the best choice.

Railroaded Fabric Pattern

This fabric is woven with the upright images oriented perpendicular to the bolt and parallel to the edge of the cloth. The Railroaded Fabric Pattern is designed for material that will be covering large horizontal areas. It can often times be found in extra wide widths allowing for coverage of furniture or for making sheets for beds. The Railroaded Pattern eliminates or minimizes seams in the finished product. It also makes for a more professional look and will generally take less material than the regular pattern covering the same large area.

In this fabric pattern the images are now oriented in an upright position along the width of the material:
If this was being used for curtains or clothing, depending on the width of the bolt, the material may be too short – leading to wasted material and difficult seam matching.If you were covering the couch in the previous example, this pattern allows you to cover the entire “front of the back” or “back of the back” with no seams – a good choice.If the width of the material is sufficient, (extra-wide), you could use this railroad fabric pattern to make seamless bed sheets.

Tossed Repeat Fabric Pattern

The Tossed Repeat Fabric Pattern is more versatile than the regular fabric pattern or the railroad fabric pattern. This is one the types of fabric patterns which has images or shapes, (often times geometrical), in a repeating pattern that is multidirectional and not necessarily oriented to how the material comes off of the bolt. Generally, this is one of the types of fabric patterns which can be arranged in a horizontal or vertical direction with little regard to direction. Some exceptions are if the material has a woven nap or lay of fabric direction. One of the more obvious fabrics with a nap is velvet. In those cases you will still need to consider the direction of the “grain” for a good match and professional look.

In the case of tossed repeat the images or shapes are oriented in various directions with no specific “top-to-bottom” orientation. Pretty much whichever direction you turn the fabric some of the images will be upright, some will be upside-down, and others will be facing left, right and in some cases diagonally across the fabric face:

The primary considerations for the tossed repeat fabric pattern are whether the width is sufficient to support the intended use and, if there are to be seams, how easy will it be to match them up with the fabric pattern.

Other considerations when selecting the direction of fabric patterns:

In virtually all cases the fabric width is fixed regardless of pattern direction or arrangement. This width is the dimension of the fabric as it was woven at the factory and wrapped onto the bolt. It is important to ensure you are purchasing a width suitable for your project.Another factor to consider is how often a pattern repeats itself. The different types of fabric patterns typically repeat themselves in increments of three inches, i.e. 3, 6, 9, 12, up to a maximum repeat rate of 27 inches.

A very small pattern might repeat itself every three inches, a medium may repeat every 15 inches, and a larger pattern may repeat every 24 inches. A “pattern-size-to-repeat-rate” is not a hard and fast rule. Many smaller patterns have separation between repeats much greater than three or six inches. Of course, by design larger patterns will require a greater separation between repeats.


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