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Chic Weekly an on-line Fashion & Sewing Magazine.


a new article every Monday about Sewing & Fashion

Article 46 - June 6, 2011
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Reading a Pattern & Pattern Directions

Learn how to read a sewing pattern and directions

By Jessica Lynn Harris


     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 pattern. 


FAQ about Patterns: 


  1. What is a pattern?

Patterns are 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.




2. What is the basic information found on a pattern piece?


A pattern 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.




3. What are some common markings on a pattern?


Little 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. 

Another 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 direction. 

Sometimes you will see an arrowed line pointing to the edge of the pattern piece with the words cut on fold. 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?


Information 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.




5. What size am I?


Pattern sizing is very different from retail sizing. Do not be offended or discouraged if you are three (or more!) sizes larger in patterns. 

To determine 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 perfect fit. 



On to Pattern Directions:


There are 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, 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.



Chic Weekly: on-line Fashion & Sewing Magazine
Founder & Publisher: Judi Harris
Editor in Chief: Jessica Lynn Harris
Art & Photo Editor: Andrew DiMaio
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copyright 2010 - 2011 Love To Sew Studio
Article 46 June 6, 2011




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