How to Read a Sewing Pattern

Sewing beginners, and even advanced sewing enthusiasts, depend on sewing patterns when they create home-sewn apparel, fashion accessories, decorating items and  holiday gifts. Although patterns are designed to simplify sewing, the formatting and contents may confuse sewing novices. Following a few simple tips will help to teach you how to read a sewing pattern and have you mending and creating decorative items before you know it.

How to Choose a Sewing Pattern
Sewing patterns can be found in fabric shops, sewing departments of major department stores, sewing publications and online.

Sewing supply retailers generally present an array of major sewing pattern catalogs for customer browsing.

Catalogs display patterns as fashion separates, suits, dresses, sleepwear, costumes, crafts, home decor and more. Items are sorted into sections for women, men, children and juniors.

Some patterns are specifically labeled for sewing beginners. These can be excellent choices for a first timer.
Once you select a sewing pattern, identify the pattern number and find it in the appropriate file cabinet drawer in the store. (Most sewing stores are self-service, although some do offer assistance).

If you plan to produce a piece of fashion apparel, you will want to select a pattern in the appropriate size range. Most modern sewing patterns offer multi-size patterns. However, if you wish to make an entire outfit, you may need to select one pattern for the top and another for the pants, shorts, skirt or other bottom portion. Be sure to read the size measurements on the pattern envelope to be sure.

Sewing pattern envelopes are generally unsealed, so customers can peek inside at instructions before purchasing. As a sewing beginner, it is wise to scan pattern instructions and evaluate whether you feel confident that you can complete the project.

How to Read a Sewing Pattern Envelope
Regardless of brand, sewing pattern envelopes carry a basic format, with photos or drawings of the product on the front and measurement instructions on the back.

Several options may be offered, particularly for fashion apparel. For example, a shirt might be produced with long sleeves, short sleeves or no sleeves at all. A dress might be constructed in a variety of hem lengths, or even with a flouncy ruffle. Such features affect the amount of fabric that may be required for the project.

Read the sewing pattern envelope carefully to identify which view (option) you wish to make. Then look at the back of the package. Find your chosen view. Follow that listing row across to the column under your clothing size. Where these items meet, you will find the required fabric yardages.

Most sewing patterns list suggested fabrics. For example, some apparel patterns are designed for knit (stretchy) fabrics, while others are not. Calicos, denims, poplins, shirtings and other fashion fabrics usually come in a 44 to 45 inch width, while knits, wools and decorator fabrics are most often 58 to 60 inches wide. Sewing patterns may offer yardages for both formats.

The envelope will also list notions needed for the project. These might include buttons, elastic, interfacing, ribbons, snaps, trims, zippers and other items. It's important to buy all required items at once so you can match colors and designs.

You will find a large folded sheet of instructions and several tissue pattern pieces inside a sewing pattern envelope. You will begin your sewing project by looking at the printed layout guide on the instruction sheet.

How to Read a Sewing Pattern Layout Guide
A sewing pattern instruction sheet will offer several layout guide diagrams. These correspond to the various views (options) the pattern can produce. Additional drawings may accommodate different clothing sizes and fabric widths as well.

Choose the appropriate diagram before you begin your sewing project. The diagram will indicate the optimum positioning of the sewing pattern pieces for cutting out the components of the project you are making.

Occasionally, a pattern piece may appear shaded on the layout diagram, showing it should be placed face-down for cutting.

It is important to follow the diagram closely, as this will help you to match design and texture directions, as well as fabric drape. For example, if you are working with corduroy or another napped fabric, you will want all of your pattern pieces to line up in the same direction.

Of course, plaid, striped or other patterned fabrics must be carefully matched before cutting. These can be a bit complicated for sewing beginners.

How to Read Sewing Pattern Pieces
Sewing pattern pieces always feature numbers that correspond to the pattern instructions. Usually, the first numbers are the main components. A garment bodice might be constructed of pattern pieces 1, 2 and 3, or pant legs might be 1 and 2.

An arrow on each pattern piece indicates how it should be placed on the grain of the fabric. Additional markings may reveal that a pattern piece should be placed on the fold of the fabric before cutting.

Several small notches may appear on pattern pieces to show where they line up with those on other pieces. For example, these might indicate how to line up shoulder or side seams on a blouse, dress, jacket or vest.

Additional pattern markings may be made for tailoring darts and possible length or waistline alterations.

Multi-size patterns will feature several cutting lines, each boasting a different line pattern. Size 6 may be a dotted line, while sizes 8 and 10 may be dashes and a broken solid line. Size 12 may be dots and dashes, and so on. Once you have identified your size, you will want to cut carefully along the appropriate line.

How to Read Sewing Pattern Instructions
Most sewing patterns offer step-by-step instructions, often in English and Spanish, for assembling the project. Usually, schematic drawings are included for clarification.

As a sewing beginner, you will want to follow the directions exactly and in order. Fight the temptation to take sewing shortcuts, which you may regret later.

As you proceed through the instructions, you will gain valuable pointers and learn to sew at the same time. Before long, you will have completed your sewing pattern and will be enjoying your finished product.

Of course, as any sewing enthusiast can attest, you will want to pack all pattern pieces neatly into the envelope, along with the sewing pattern instructions. That way, when you wish to repeat the project with new materials, you will be ready to go.

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