Reading a Sewing Pattern

February 11, 2013

Sewers of all levels take advantage of sewing patterns to create clothing, accessories, quilts, pillows, costumes and many many other sewing projects.  Patterns can be a big help when it comes to creating things that you haven’t had an opportunity to make in the past, Sewing Patternsbut the pattern templates can be confusing to someone new to sewing.    Hopefully, I can help you understand how to read a sewing pattern so that you feel comfortable creating new and exciting projects.

Choosing a sewing pattern

That are literally a limitless number of sewing patterns available.  You can find them at sewing stores, fabric shops and online.  Down the road, you may even want to make your own sewing patterns.

Sewing patterns are usually categorized by type so it is easier to find the pattern you are looking to purchase.  For example, a catalog may have patterns listed by type, such as dresses, tops, pants, men, women, children, etc.   Something similar to a library card catalog.   The pattern you choose will have a pattern number, you will need to take this number and find it in the appropriate store display which can be a large filing cabinet or display table.

Once you find your pattern, you need to locate the appropriate size, which is usually in a range of sizes.  Some patterns are entire outfits and others are separate pieces; blazer, skirt, etc.   If you are new to pattern sewing, you will want to find patterns that are marked for beginners.

Reading a sewing pattern envelope

Sewing envelopes always have a common format.  There are pictures or drawings on the front of the pattern envelope displaying the finished product usually on a model.  On the back of the envelope you will find instructions and measurements for the pattern.

Usually the pattern will come with a few fashion options, let’s say you are planning to make a shirt, there might be options for long sleeves, short sleeves or no sleeves, or pants might have options for pleats or no pleats.  You will need to know this information so you can purchase the correct amount of material for your project.  Once you have decided on the pattern options, which will be displayed in a column on the back of the pattern envelope, match it up with your clothing size and you will find the appropriate amount  of fabric you will need to buy for your project.

Many patterns will suggest the type of fabrics that will work best for your sewing project.  The width of the fabric varies depending on the material chosen.   For example, some fabrics are 44 to 45 inches in width and some 58 to 60 inches.  Usually the pattern will provide the yardages you will need to purchase based on the fabric choice, but if not, you can find help at a fabric store or on a sewing forum online.

The pattern envelope will also list other items you will need to purchase for your project such as buttons, zippers, snaps or trim.  You will want to try to match the accessories with fabrics, but you can also be creative.sewing pattern

Inside the envelope you will find the instructions and many sheets of tissue like paper which is the pattern itself.

How to read the layout guide

The pattern sewing instructions will show you different diagrams corresponding to any options the pattern may have. It also takes into consideration different sizes and various widths of fabric.

You will want to pick the appropriate diagram based on the size of the garment you are creating.  The diagram will also show you the correct position of the different pieces of the pattern so you can cut out the various sections of fabric that will eventually make your finished sewing project.

It is best to follow the diagram and instructions as precisely as possible.  If you fabric has a pattern or stripe you also need to take this into consideration as you layout and cut your fabric because these will need to be lined up so the pattern or stripes match.

Reading the sewing pattern pieces

As you might assume, the pattern pieces match up to the pattern instructions and are numbered.  There will be additional markings on the pattern that will indicate where the pattern should be place for a fold or a grain.  You will also notice notches, these are used to line up different pieces of the pattern.  There will also be different type of lines that indicate size, for example, a dotted line might be a size 6, dashed a size 8, etc.

How to read instructions for sewing patterns

The first time you use a pattern for your project might be a little daunting, but take it slow and follow the directions and you should be fine.  You can also enlist someone that has experience with sewing patterns to show you the ropes.  The good thing about patterns is that they can be used over and over as long as you pack them away carefully.

I hope this article helped you learn something about reading sewing patterns.  Be sure to read our other sewing articles and sewing machine reviews.  Happy Sewing!

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