How To Read A Sewing Pattern
I know that it may seem like a pretty daunting task to figure out how to read a sewing pattern when starting your very first sewing project. Most people don't even know that you NEED a sewing pattern in order to sew up a garment.
This is 100% true--Almost all of the people that I have helped sew up a project had no IDEA what a sewing pattern was before we started.
It's completely normal, so please don't get discouraged.
Think of a sewing pattern as the foundation for any garment. It is the outline, the template. Sewing patterns are drawn by pattern drafters, according to whatever design or measurements the fashion designers have requested.
Wherever there are seams in your garment, that is where two individual pieces were sewn together. Before these pieces are sewn together, they are individual pieces.
These pieces are first drawn on paper, pinned on to fabric, and then cut accordingly. After being cut, the different pieces can be sewn together.
(Love sewing, but have no idea where to start? Building your own sewing kit is an excellent first step! Grab your free, printable worksheet below and start learning how to sew today.) Make sense? This post is going to be ALL about how to read a sewing pattern: From the packaging, to the instructions, to the sewing pattern itself.
All sewing patterns are different, but I feel like they all have pretty much the same basic template.
I picked out one of my vintage sewing patterns (Did you read the post last week? It's all about my lovely box of vintage sewing patterns that I inherited!) to use as a demonstration. My hope is that once you've finished with this post, you will feel completely ready to work with your first sewing pattern.
How to read a sewing pattern: The envelope (front)
The envelope packaging for a sewing pattern is what keeps all of the different pattern pieces in one place. It also shows what the pattern design options are, as well as all of the measurement details.
The most prominent detail on the front of a pattern envelope is obvi the different illustrations showing the design options that are available with this pattern.
As you can see, with this particular pattern, there are five different ways in which you could sew up this single pattern. All five of the design options are different, but they have the same basic shape.
The main differences are the length and the option of a gathered waistline.
This is important to note when you pick which design you would like to make.
The pattern company's name is always on the pattern as well, along with the style #. Each pattern has a different style #, which is typically easier to remember (and easier to archive) than using a style name.
It's also important to note the sizing of the pattern. This particular pattern is for sizes XS-S-M, so if you are a larger size, then you would need to get a separate pattern for L-XL. All pattern companies work differently in this respect, so it's always important to pay attention to the sizing of a particular pattern.
How to read a sewing pattern: The envelope (back)
The back of the pattern envelope is where all of the style and measurement details are.
Towards the top of the pattern, there are technical illustrations that show the different design options. These are the same design options as the illustrations on the front of the envelope, with easy to see details.
Every company has a different sizing method, so it's important to note when purchasing a pattern.
As we move down the envelope, there is a description of the different designs options available with this pattern. The next section lists the notions that are needed for this pattern.
Notions are basically just trims that are needed for the garment: Buttons, zippers, etc. In the case of this pattern, bias tape and buttons are needed. Following the notions, there is a small section suggesting what fabric to use for this pattern.
The final section breaks down all of the different design options (A, B, C, D, & E) and how much fabric is needed for each, per size.
The numbers on the left (i.e. 45/60) are the width options of fabric that can be bought at a shop. The numbers on the right are how much fabric is needed, depending on the width of the fabric and your dress size.
The very bottom of the pattern includes the finished widths and lengths of the design, depending on dress size. Not too bad, right?
How to read a sewing pattern: The instructions
Every sewing pattern you purchase will have a set of instructions on how to put the garment together. This can be incredibly helpful, especially for the seamstress that is just starting out.
Again, the layout for instructions is different with every pattern company. But for the most part, they all follow a similar template. This particular set of instructions shows the different design options, as listed on the outside of the envelope. (Styles A, B, C, D, & E)
(Love sewing, but have no idea where to start? Building your own sewing kit is an excellent first step! Grab your free, printable worksheet below and start learning how to sew today.)All of the different pattern pieces are laid out, showing how each should be pinned and cut on the fabric. Each pattern piece is labeled as well, so that the reader can easily tell what each shape will ultimately be used for.
This particular pattern has a section that shows how to pin and cut the sewing pattern. The guidelines can be especially helpful for someone just starting out, and isn't familiar with how to cut a pattern out.
The instructions also show the direction in which to pin the individual pattern pieces, in order to use as little fabric as possible.
This is also known as a marker. There is a marker for each design, making it nice and easy to cut!
The back of the instructions show how to sew the actual design together, once the pieces are all cut out. There is also a small glossary that explains what different terms mean, which can be super helpful!
Follow the instructions step by step, and you will have a new garment in no time.
How to read a sewing pattern: The sewing pattern
And now, for the sewing pattern! For this demonstration, I picked out a pattern piece that had a lot going on, to show everything involved with this particular pattern.
Every pattern piece will be labeled with a number, to help you match it to the shape of the different pattern pieces in the instruction manual.
This particular piece is labeled #8. Below is listed out what the pattern piece is: "Skirt Side Front & Side Back". You can also see that this particular pattern piece works for the D & E styles.
Below this information you are told how many pieces to cut. In this case, you would need to cut 4 different pieces of this particular pattern piece to make the garment. Beneath the cut #, the style # (4440) and size range for the pattern are listed. The bold vertical line is the direction (the grain line) in which the pattern piece should be cut on the fabric.
As you can see, there are three different seam allowances with this pattern. This accounts for the different sizing: XS, Small, & Medium. Depending on what size you need, you would cut the pattern and fabric along that line.
The little triangle marks along the seams should be snipped with scissors when being cut out. This helps to match seams, so everything is even.
This particular piece also gives the option of shortening or lengthening the hem, which is what the bold horizontal line represents.
Again, every pattern and pattern piece is different. But this should give you a pretty good idea of how to read a basic sewing pattern.
How to read a sewing pattern: Are you ready?!
And that's pretty much all there is to it! When first starting out with learning how to read a sewing pattern, I would highly recommend reading the envelope and instructions carefully.
As time passes, you won't even really need to follow either the envelope or instructions.. But it's always good to follow them when beginning to work with sewing patterns.
Learning how to read sewing patterns is also an excellent introduction to pattern drafting, if that happens to suit your fancy. Have any questions on a reading a sewing pattern that you may be working with? I'd love to help, ask away.