Reading a Pattern
by Nicole Follow

When you first begin sewing, following a pattern can seem like a daunting undertaking. However, all of the information you need to create each design can be found on or in the pattern's enevelope. If you've never had someone point out where all of these bits are located, it's very easy to get confused and then get home without the right supplies, or even the wrong sized pattern. The very first pattern I ever purchased was literally 10 sizes too big for me, which I only discovered after assistance from my mom (thank goodness most retail places let you exchange them).

With some pointers, you can read patterns like a pro, and be able to see exactly what you need and exactly what each design is capable of with a simple glance. Here, I point out all of the bits you should be aware of to help you navigate your patterns with ease. I promise, they're not as scary as they look.

  • a. Pattern Number - Each pattern design is given a pattern number by the pattern company. While you're at the fabric store deciding on a pattern design, these numbers can be found in pattern books next to each design. They're usually a four-digit number and change over time. If you have a vintage 50-year-old pattern, that number most likely does not correspond with that design anymore. Make sure you grab the right number and brand from the drawer before you move on.
  • b. Included Sizes - Not all patterns are created equally here. Some patterns include every size available, while some only include a few. Make sure your size is included in the envelope before you purchase. See "Body Measurements and Pattern Sizes" below to determine your size.
  • c. Design Photos or Drawings - Take a close look at these for a glimpse into what your finished garment will look like. I find these sometimes aren't the greatest at revealing all of the garment's details, so I always double check the techincal drawings on the envelope back and pattern insert.
  • d. Pattern Views -  Many pattern envelopes include several different options. They are referred to as "Views," and can include different versions of the same garment, or different garments completely (such as an ensemble). For the envelope shown, there are 3 views included--one full-skirt silhouette (c), one narrow-skirt silhouette (b), and the same narrow-skirt silhouette with a bow detail at the shoulder (a). Typically you can mix and match some of these details, and as you get more experienced with patterns, you'll discover more and more ways to change these designs up.
  • e. Body Measurements and Pattern Sizes - Don't be fooled by these numbers. They do not correspond with the size numbers of garments you'd find in your closet. Typically your size number will be much bigger than you're used to, so don't fret too much over the number. Just go by what your body's true dimensions are.
  • f. Technical Drawings - These sketches of the included designs show every detail of each view. Here you can see the darts, buttons, pockets, pleats, and more without any distractions. 
  • g. Garment Descriptions - Here you can find a description of the garment views included. In the description here you can see that it includes additional information such as the belt in the front drawing was purchased and not included in the pattern.
  • h. Notions - Here you'll discover all of the notions you'll need for each pattern view, including zippers and buttons along with their sizes, trims and more. Make sure you look at the view you're creating, especially if you are combining anything. 
  • i. Fabrics - This list of fabrics was created with the garment's original design, drape, and stretch in mind. If you want to recreate the look on the envelope, it's best to stick with this recommended list, or with fabrics that behave in the same way until you get more sewing experience and feel comfortable with understanding how different fabrics behave.
  • j. Yardage - Each pattern view is listed separately on this list by size. Here you can find how much fabric, lining, and interfacing you'll need for each design. Make sure you're looking at your size's yardage requirements to get the right amount. There are also separate yardages listed for different fabric widths, or fabrics with stripes or naps. 
  • k. Finished Garment Measurements - Here you'll find the measurements of each view once it's been sewn up following the pattern's instructions. This is a great place to discover how the garment will fit by comparing these dimensions to those from a well-fitting garment in your closet. 
  • l. Technical Drawings - Just like those found on the pattern envelope, these sketches of the included designs show every detail of each view. 
  • m. Pattern Pieces - Here you can find each pattern piece included in the envelope with their grainlines. Each pattern piece has a number, which you can find on the drawings and usually in a list below.
  • n. General Directions - These instructions can include information on how to cut out the pattern and how to sew it together. Here you can find the meanings of many of the pattern's symbols and abbreviations. 
  • o. Pattern Names and Coordinating Pieces - Each pattern view usually has its own cutting instructions. Make sure you are reading the correct cutting instuctions that correspond with the view you want to create. Near each view's name, you'll find a list of the pattern pieces you need to create it.
  • p. Fabric and Pattern Sizes - Before you start pinning and cutting, make sure you are following the correct diagram that corresponds with both your body's size and your fabric's width.
  • q. Cutting Layout - This cutting layout corresponds with the recommended fabric yardage. If you didn't get the same amount of fabric, you may need to improvise from this diagram to make sure all of your pieces fit. Pay close attention to cutting pieces on folds, and whether or not certain pieces should be right-side-up or not. I like to pin out every piece first before I cut, just to make sure I have enough fabric. You can also find suggested layouts here for lining and interfacing.

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