If you're new to sewing, you’ve probably noticed that patterns marked
“Easy” aren’t really that
easy. This is because pattern directions are written for a very small
audience: those who already know how to sew. Pattern makers usually
expect the reader to understand certain words and terminology that
most beginners aren’t familiar with. This article will go over basic
terminology that pattern directions expect you to know, basic sewing
techniques that pattern directions often skip, and the parts of a
What is a
thin paper templates which are used to mark the different pieces of
fabric that will be cut and put together to make a garment. A pattern
has markings and words on it to show where and how the piece will
connect to the other pieces of fabric, as well as how that piece of
fabric will be altered to create a three-dimensional garment.
is the basic information found on a pattern piece?
piece will always tell you this: the name brand of the pattern company
(whether Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue, etc.) next to the
number of the pattern (ex. Simplicity 2315, which a Misses Skirt and
Pant pattern). A pattern piece will also tell you the name of the
pattern piece, which
lets you know what piece of the project you are cutting out. For
example: Skirt Front. All of the names of pattern pieces correspond
with arbitrary numbers, so your pattern may say, for example: Piece 4,
Skirt Front. Finally, a pattern piece will tell you how many pieces
should be cut.
are some common markings on a pattern?
triangular notches that point into a pattern are used to help sewers
fit pattern pieces together. The notches are pointed into the pattern
to save paper space. You want to cut them out. If you cut the
triangles in, you may be cutting into your seam allowance, and there
will be holes in your seams.
common marking on a pattern is a long line with an arrow at each end.
This line usually has the words
straight of grain or align
with selvage edge
next to it. The selvage edge of fabric is the edge which is finished,
or the edge which you can tell is woven together by a machine. (Hint:
this edge is not the
edge cut by the helper at the fabric store.) If you pull the fabric in
this direction, it will not stretch (or “give”) very much. The
straight of grain simply means that the line is parallel to the
selvage edge. What these directions mean on a pattern is not that you
have to line the edge of your pattern piece with the selvage edge. It
means that you should make sure that the arrowed lined is angled
parallel to the selvage edge. This ensures that your garment drapes
well, and if you have stripes, that they will fall in the same
will see an arrowed line pointing to the edge of the pattern piece
with the words cut
This means that your fabric should be folded in half with your selvage
edges touching. The edge of the pattern piece marked should be pinned
on the fold of the fabric. When you cut your piece out, do not cut the
fold line! Later, when you unpin, the piece will be even on both
sides. Cut on fold
is often used for bodice fronts.
4. What other
markings can be found on a pattern?
printed on a pattern can tell a seamstress where darts and pleats are
to be made, which area is to be gathered, where the fabric should be
folded, where pockets will fall, where to alter the pattern for
petites, and much more.
size am I?
sizing is very different from retail sizing. Do not be offended or
discouraged if you are three (or more!) sizes larger in patterns.
your size, each pattern has measurements listed on either the back of
the pattern envelope or the flap of the pattern envelope. You will
want to measure your bust, waist, and hips. Keep those measurements
and bring them with you to the fabric store. You may be a different
size in your hips than you are in your waist or bust. No biggie! You
can cut different sizes for your skirts and tops. And if you are
making a dress, cut out the larger size. The smaller area (whether
bust, waist, or skirt) of the dress can be taken in and altered for a
On to Pattern
certain techniques that pattern directions do not explain because the
reader is expected to already know what they are. These include (but
are not limited to): gathering, putting in a zipper, making
buttonholes, and attaching interfacing. Oftentimes the directions will
say: “See manufacturer’s instructions” which are not always available.
To learn these techniques, LovetoSew.com has a whole area of it’s
Fashion Design site dedicated to explaining techniques with
step-by-step photographed (and sometimes video!) instructions. If you
are confused about any of the above and other techniques, see our
page: Techniques in Fashion Design.