How to Follow a Sewing Pattern: Step-by-Step Guide
Sewing patterns can be overwhelming for a beginner. They’re stuffed full of information that to someone who’s never used one before seems to be written in code!
This guide will walk you step-by-step through the different components of a sewing pattern to help you gain the confidence to pick up and use a pattern for your next project.
Reading the Sewing Pattern Envelope
First, let’s start with the information you’ll find on the outside of the pattern envelope.
On the front of the pattern envelope, you’ll usually see photos of some or all of the different “views” or versions of the pattern. The different views should be labelled with a letter, such as “A”, “B”, “C”, and so on. If you flip the pattern envelope over, you’ll often find sketch diagrams of the different views as well.
The sizing chart is one of the most important components of a pattern. Before purchasing your fabric, you’ll need to figure out what size of the pattern to sew. The sizing chart will include bust, waist, and hip measurements for each size of the pattern. You will need to take your own measurements and compare them to the sizing chart to determine which size to sew.
Yardage Requirements and Additional Materials
The yardage requirements chart will be on the back of the pattern envelope. This chart indicates how many yards of fabric you will need to sew each size of each view of the pattern. Below this chart, you’ll also find the notions section, which will let you know what other materials you will need, such as buttons, zippers, or elastic.
How to Read Sewing Pattern Instructions
Now that you understand all the information on the outside of the pattern envelope, let’s move on to the instructions that will be included with the pattern.
Likely one of the first things you’ll see on the opening page of the pattern instructions is a copy of the view diagrams that show what each version of the pattern looks like.
List of Pattern Pieces
Next, somewhere on the first or second page of the pattern instructions will be a list of all the pattern pieces included. The list will indicate which pattern pieces are needed for each view of the pattern. This section is a very helpful resource because you can easily see all in one place which pieces you will need to cut for the version of the pattern you plan to sew.
The pattern instruction sheets will also include a variety of suggested cutting layouts for each view of the pattern. If you’re a beginner to sewing, I highly recommend following one of the cutting layouts printed in the pattern. However, once you get more confident in your skills, you’ll probably find that you rarely even look at this section of the pattern instructions.
Definitions of Terms
Most sewing pattern instructions also include a glossary of sewing terms that are used throughout the pattern. This section can be very useful for a beginner who isn’t familiar with the many sewing terms you might come across in a pattern!
Finally, the remaining pages of the pattern instruction sheets will be the step-by-step instructions to sew each version of the pattern. This will be the longest section and will make up the majority of the pattern instructions.
Understanding Sewing Pattern Markings and Symbols
While knowing how to interpret the information found on a sewing pattern envelope and in the instruction sheets is super important – it’s also important to know what the markings and symbols on the actual pattern pieces mean.
Pattern Piece Numbers
Each pattern piece will usually have a number and name printed somewhere near the center of the piece. This number and name will correspond with the numbers in the list of pattern pieces found in the instruction sheets. This helps you quickly reference the list and find the appropriate pattern pieces to cut out.
Most garment sewing patterns include several different sizes. The cutting lines for each size are usually nested together, with the line for each size looking slightly different from the other lines. There should be a chart printed somewhere on the pattern that indicates which cutting line corresponds to each size.
Straight Grain Lines
Each pattern piece should have a straight, double-sided arrow printed on it. This arrow indicates the direction of the straight grain and should be lined up with the straight grain of the fabric before cutting. This will ensure that all the pieces are cut on the correct grain so that the finished garment will lay straight, rather than twist around the body.
In many patterns, the main pattern pieces will have parallel double solid lines printed across them, somewhere near the center. These lines indicate the lengthen/shorten location, where you should cut and add or subtract material if you need to lengthen or shorten the pattern.
Some pattern pieces will have a double-sided arrow with the arrows both pointing in the same direction - towards one edge of the pattern piece. This type of marking indicates that the edge of the pattern that the arrows are pointing at should be aligned with the folded edge of the fabric before cutting.
Many pattern pieces will have notches – either single or double notches – marked somewhere along the sides of the pattern piece. These notches will look like tiny triangles along the edge of the pattern piece. After cutting out your pattern pieces, you should clip into the fabric by about ¼ inch at each of the marked notch locations. Then, while sewing the pieces together, the notches will line up, helping you to ensure that the fabric pieces are stitched together accurately.
Circles, Squares, and Triangles
Some pattern pieces will also have either circles, squares, or triangles marked somewhere in the interior of the piece. These markings should be transferred to the fabric after cutting by marking their locations with a fabric pen or tailor’s chalk. Similar to notches, these markings will line up with each other during the sewing process, helping you to keep everything aligned perfectly!
Hopefully this step-by-step guide to understanding a sewing pattern has you feeling more confident and ready to take on your next (or first!) sewing project!