How to Read a Sewing Pattern Layout

Sewing patterns are usually complex and challenging to follow. Normally, understanding sewing patterns and learning how to read and work with them can be a daunting prospect. However, once you familiarize yourself with the terms and understand exactly what you're looking at, you'll have an easy time working with them.
Note that the choice of sewing patterns has significantly increased with many new and exciting sewing pattern companies now mushrooming out there. Luckily, understanding how to read a sewing pattern is pretty standard.
In this quick guide, we'll help you understand the pattern technology and start your sewing project on the right foot. Whether you're at intermediate or sewing beginner level, pay attention to these sewing tips to get to grips with each pattern as you advance in skills.

Choosing a Sewing Pattern

Sewing patterns come in four parts, each of which must be studied and analyzed thoroughly. Before opening the pattern, spare some time to go through the back and front of the sewing pattern envelope.
Examine the sewing pattern instructions booklet and assess each pattern carefully. After getting accustomed to the pattern itself and the construction of your garment, start your project.

Now let's talk about choosing a sewing pattern. If you're a beginner, it's wise to choose designs that are easy to sew. Here, you want to choose a pattern design labeled "easy" as this kind of pattern will guide you throughout the entire process (like which tools to use for a specific task or how to press seams while you sew).
Go for patterns with little details. A good rule of thumb is to check the number of pattern pieces at the back of the packet. Generally, fewer pattern pieces mean your garment is relatively easier to sew.

Plus, the line drawings on the packet can give you a clue. For instance, if you see many lines drawn on the body of a specific garment, it always means more detail and fuss and more bits to sew.
It'd help if you also considered how your garment fastens. A zip is much easier for an amateur than a dress, top, or skirt full of buttons and buttonholes. Meanwhile, more advanced sewers might get bored of simple sewing patterns and prefer opting for a pattern that needs more experience.
As you progress on your sewing journey and you feel like venturing into more advanced patterns, you'll be better off investing in sewing classes and construction books. By learning new skills, you'll have more self-esteem to face the various challenges of sewing projects.

Types of Sewing Patterns

 It's also worth noting there are two primary types of sewing pattern;

  • Commercial patterns
  • Independent or 'indie' patterns

Commercial sewing patterns, such as Vogue, New Look, and McCalls, are produced large. On the other hand, independent patterns are usually produced on a smaller scale. Some well-known brands with indie patterns include Tilly and the Buttons, Grainline Studios, and Closet Core patterns.

Most beginners prefer independent patterns because they provide detailed instructions and sewalongs on blogs to support their learning. However, they usually come at a much higher price tag than the commercial patterns.

The good thing about commercial patterns is that they feature a wide range of designs. And once you understand the basics of sewing and as long as your project isn't too complex, they're easy enough to follow.

Choosing Your Sewing Pattern Size

Choosing Your Sewing Pattern Size

Once you settle for a specific sewing pattern, you'll need to choose a pattern size. Keep in mind that this might be significantly different from the sizes you find in shop-bought clothes.
That said, don't select a specific sewing pattern based on the size of clothes you wear from shops. If you decide to go with your standard dress size without your body measurements, your final garment will likely be too small.
The beauty of designing your clothes is that you won't have to try so hard to fit your body measurements into the standardized sizes. Yes, these sizes are produced in large numbers, but they don't fit many people particularly well.
The vital measurements to consider for most sewing patterns are waist, bust, and hip measurement. You can use a size chart to work out the correct size for a particular sewing pattern.

Size Chart

Somewhere on the sewing pattern sheet, you'll get a size chart that can help you select the appropriate line for your size. If you find out that you're straddling two sizes, consider grading between them.

For instance, if you're a 14 at the hips and waist and a 12 at the bust, start by cutting out a 12 at the top, then proceed to taper out to the 14 pattern line at your hips and waist. Remember, each designer comes with a size chart. So ensure you choose the lines based on your own measurements.
If you notice that your body measurements are all over the size chart, don't panic. Charts are simply average, and most sewers will be like you. So when this happens, determine the sewing size using different measurements for different clothing;

  • Pants - use the hips girth
  • Skirts - use natural waist
  • Top/dresses - use chest circumference

Don't take these measurements only once then using them continuously to make your garments. Instead, re-measure yourself at least once every month to ensure that the garment fit will be spot on.

Fabric Suggestions

Next, one of the fascinating parts is choosing which fabric type you'll use on your project. Sewing patterns often provide a few types of suggested fabrics that are well suited for your needs. This also comes with a guide on how much fabric to purchase based on your size.

Choosing one of the fabric recommendations means that your finished project will be similar to the picture that caught your eye initially. Before you decide, consider the properties that your fabric should possess for your preferred garment type. For instance, should it be stiffer and more structured, or does it need to drape?

After finding your preferred size on the pattern packet, use the chart to determine the amount of fabric you need to buy. You'll always find notes on pattern matching stripes and purchasing a bit extra fabric, but if you're a beginner, it's a good idea to go for a print or a plain that doesn't need matching

As you grow from one sewing level to the other, you'll want to explore more with fabrics not listed. Sometimes, even if you’re sewing pattern requests a woven fabric, you might be surprised by the fantastic results you get when using a knit fabric.
But that's not always the case: fitted patterns asking for knit fabric can't work in woven, stable fabric.

Fabric Yardages

Designers often provide fabric yardages to help you develop a rough estimate of the amount of fabric your project will need. Although yardages account for pre-wash shrinkages, you need to ensure you stay on the safe side.
Buy at least 10% more fabric as a backup plan for shrinking fabrics, such as cotton. The same applies to fabrics with a pattern or print and patterns with a nap.

Pay close attention to the fabric width. While it's often 60" or 44", sometimes you might find narrower fabrics like silk. Therefore, you'll have to purchase extra length suitable for all the pattern pieces.

Thread and Notions

A helpful section next to the fabric yardages contains all the vital notions for a specific sewing pattern. By using it, you'll know whether you need zippers, elastic, interfacing, bias tape, etc. Use this opportunity to purchase everything you'll need for your project before you start sewing.

Sewing Pattern Instruction Booklet

The packet also contains a sewing pattern instruction booklet. You might find this booklet quite overwhelming, and some of the phrases in it might sound a bit scary, but it's pretty simple. The packet has a list that features all the pattern pieces that your packet should contain, so you can check it to confirm if everything's there.
A useful tip is to circle the selected pattern pieces based on your preferred view so that you can confirm whether you've cut out all the needed pieces. The sewing instruction booklet has a glossary containing explained sewing terminologies, meaning you'll have an easy time understanding the instructions.

In addition to referring back to the glossary, you can google these terminologies and find videos and tutorials explaining them in more detail if you want extra help.

Cutting Layouts

Aside from the sewing pattern instructions, there are suggested cutting layouts on the booklet on positioning your pattern pieces on the fabric. But you don't have to follow all these layouts so long as you stick to the rules of cutting out each of your pattern pieces.
Sewing Pattern Symbols/Notches
Sewing patterns usually come with various symbols that help you indicate notches for darts, shirring, zip placement for bottoms, and much more.
Some of the common symbols include:

  • Buttonholes and Buttons: A long bar with vertical ends showing the position of the buttonhole
  • Darts: Dotted lines that have circles to indicate the start of the stitch
  • Grain lines: A double-ended arrow that shows the position of the sewing pattern parallel to the selvedge
  • Stitching lines: Dotted lines for single-size patterns

Seam Allowances

Some sewing patterns include seam allowances to help you achieve the correct size when sewing. These are edges (about 1 or 1.5 cm) added to the garment pieces. When sewing your pieces together, you simply have to follow the instructions on your sewing machine.

Machine seam allowance guides are often located on the right of your needle. If your pattern doesn't come with allowances, you'll have to trace the pieces on paper and then add them yourself or trace them directly on the fabric.

Sewing Pattern Pieces

Let's now talk about the pattern pieces themselves. Although these can seem daunting, there are some vital elements you need to focus on. For starters, the market is currently flooded with multiple pattern pieces, meaning you'll find all the sizes on the same piece on a paper pattern or tissue. You'll have to cut the selected size and grade it if necessary.

Vital information on how you should cut out each piece of the fabric is also available. We first fold the fabric's right sides together then cut them to produce a double layer. By following the instructions on the pieces, you'll know whether to cut on the fold or cut a specific number.

If you don't cut the piece on the fold, you need to follow the guide on placing the straight of grain printed out on the pattern piece. It runs through your fabric parallel with the selvedge (the finished edge of the fabric). So, you must ensure your pattern pieces contain a straight of grain line that runs parallel before pinning.

With the help of the notches, you can position two pieces of fabric accurately before sewing. You can put these marks by either using a tailor's chalk or snipping the fabric. You'll also find markings on the sleeve for dart positions that show you where to place the fastenings.
Plus, there will be markings for the bust point and the waistline so you can confirm if they're in the correct position for your body. You don't have to mark them on your fabric; just use them as a guide.

If you measure the garment and find it too short or long for you, you can use the shorten or lengthen lines on the pattern pieces to change the pattern to fit. Do this by either spreading the pattern pieces or cutting along the line to increase or decrease the garment length.
Lastly, there's information about the measurements of the finished garment on the pattern pieces. This helps you know the actual size of your finished garment at the hips, waist, and bust. It gives you an idea of how tight or lose the garment will fit your body if you compare them to your body measurements.

 Final Thought

As you can see, reading sewing patterns isn't as challenging as you might have thought. These tried and tested tips will help you get your project done professionally and on time. Always remember to purchase extra fabric to avoid any shortages.

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