West African textiles are famous for their stunning and often elaborate print designs. This makes them well-suited to creating beautiful fashion pieces, but to get the most out of your fabric, take a look at these tips for working with wax prints.

Directional prints

A directional print is a design that only looks correct when the fabric is held the right way up. A non-directional print is one that will look right at any angle – for example, polka dots. When you know what kind of print your fabric has, you can look at how it will work on your intended garment. Some sewing patterns are not suitable for directional prints; if this is the case, it will often be mentioned on the pattern instructions or envelope, so do read those carefully.

Pattern matching

Pattern matching is ensuring that the print on the fabric looks continuous when pieces are sewn together; design elements aren’t cut off at the seam or out of alignment on different sections. When done well, it adds a very clean and professional look to the piece.

If the print is quite complex, you could cut one piece, then trace the seam lines and the positioning of the surrounding print onto your pattern piece or some tracing paper. You can then use this to work out where to cut the adjacent piece. To avoid the fabric shifting too much as you cut, which will lead to an asymmetric print placement, cut on a single layer rather than on the fold.

Sometimes, it is impossible due to the nature of the garment for all the seams to match everywhere; in this case, decide which seams will be the most visible and focus on matching those.

Trims and linings

West African fabrics frequently use a vivid colour palette, so if you are adding other elements to your garments such as a lining or a trim like piping or French Lace, make sure the colour is well-chosen. It doesn’t have to match the fabric exactly, but it should harmonise and be unobtrusive enough to let the main fabric shine.

Happy sewing!