Today we are going to tackle how to read (and understand) patterns and pattern pieces.
Garment patterns that is…quilt patterns are an entirely different beast…an easier beast in my opinion but still different. So with that in mind, let’s get started!
And if we are going to get started it’s best to start at the beginning…with the outside packaging of your pattern.
Believe it or not but the exterior packaging of your pattern contains some of the most important information that you will need to both select the right pattern and to gather the supplies needed to make the garment. So let’s walk through what you will find on a typical pattern package…and let’s begin with the front:
*On the Front of a Pattern you will find:
-An illustration (or photograph) of the finished item (or items). Don’t judge the pattern only on this image! Look past corny artwork, dated fabric choices, or unbecoming photography at what the “bones” or structure of the garment is…many of my favorite patterns do not have the most flattering of cover photos.
-The Size. Vintage patterns are almost always only one size. However most recent and current patterns cover a range of sizes. *Just remember that pattern sizing is often very different than ready to wear sizing so check the measurements on the back of your pattern to make sure you select the correct size! (For example…my 5 year old needs either a size 2 or 3 in most patterns.)
-Special Information. Such as “Pants pattern not included”, “For Knits Only”, or my favorite vintage pattern warning, “Not Suitable for Chubbies”.
-Any variations of the basic pattern (usually labeled with small numbers that you can refer back to when reading the instructions).
Now let’s flip that pattern over and see what information can be found on the backside:
*On the Back of a Pattern you will find:
-Standard Body Measurements used for the sizing of the pattern. (Use these!!! Pattern sizing IS different than most ready to wear garment sizing.)
-Sketches of the back views of each piece and/or the pattern pieces along with any special construction details.
-A written summary that describes the garment.
-The fabric requirements needed to make each item. (Usually shown in both yards and meters.)
-A list of suggested fabrics to make each item (as well as advice such as the patterns suitability for plaids, stripes, etc.) and another list of required notions (buttons, zippers, elastic, etc.) *I use this list as my shopping list.
Now that we’ve examined the packet…let’s open it up and see what’s inside!
First of all you will want to look at the guide/instruction sheet.
(It’s always a good idea to read through all the information on the envelope and guide sheet of your pattern before you begin work. Trust me…just do it! Get a cookie, munch it down while you read through the info and then get started…I promise at some point this will save your sewing life!)
This guide/instruction sheet is golden. It is full of great information to guide you through how to construct your garment such as:
*Information about the skills and techniques that constructing the garment will require.
*Directions for laying your pattern pieces out correctly on your fabric. (Usually with several different sketches with various ways you can lay your pieces out on the fabric.)
*Sketches showing you what each pattern piece will look like and how many pattern pieces are included in the packet.
*Directions for cutting.
*Directions for marking your fabric.
*Step by step directions to construct/sew your garment.
*The width of your seam allowance.
*Other cool tips and tricks for the techniques you will be asked to complete while constructing the garment.
Ok…so we’ve gone over the package and the guide/instruction sheet…now let’s get to the actual pattern pieces!
First of all pattern pieces are printed on large sheets of tissue paper and need to be cut apart so that they can be placed correctly on your fabric. Once you have the pieces that you need cut out it’s time to place them on your fabric.
Each pattern piece will come with printed information and symbols on it…at first all the markings may seem confusing but they really aren’t. (I promise.) Let’s go through some of them along with what you will find on most standard pattern pieces:
*Each pattern piece will tell you exactly what it is. (Bodice front, bodice back, sleeve, yoke, etc.)
*Some pattern pieces require you to cut more than one of them in which case your piece will say something like “cut two” or “cut four”.
*Each pattern piece is edged with a solid line. It is along this solid line that you should cut.
*The solid lines will be shadowed inside the piece by a broken or dashed line that looks like a long running stitch. This indicates where your should sew. (Your seam line.) It may also indicate again (like on the top left corner of the piece shown above) the width of your seam allowance.
*The diamond shaped marks (sometimes triangles) along your solid cutting line are called notch marks. As you are cutting and you come to one cut around it. (Make that little point along the smooth line you are cutting). These notches will help you match of various pieces of the garment as you are sewing them together later.
*The piece may need to be placed on the fold of the fabric like in the photograph above. If so that information will be printed on the piece and arrows will direct you which part of the piece should be on the fold.
*Some pattern pieces need to specifically go on the straight of the grain and others will need to be on the bias. (Unsure about grain line or bias…find the explanation of both here: Sewing Terminology.) This information will also be indicated on each piece. Typically it will be shown with arrows like in the photograph below.
*Pieces may also include other markings indicating where to sew tucks, pockets etc. These will typically be shown with both markings (like dots) and written text as in the photograph below. (Note: Mark these dots, lines, etc. BEFORE removing the pattern piece from the fabric.)
Ok, sure there is more that we could talk about but I think that that is enough for one day. (And I think it’s enough to get you started!) But if you’d like to see a little more we have a short tutorial with tips on how to cut your pattern and fabric out that you can find here: Pattern cutting 101. (It’s one of our oldies but still a goodie.)
Now, as a treat for making to the end of this very long post we have some “what I wish I’d know when I started sewing” advice from one of blogland’s sweethearts: Kate, from See Kate Sew.
She says, “I wish I had known that some different materials and fabrics require different types of machine needles. I used to give up because my machine would eat up knits and destroy really thin fabrics. Learning that those fabrics just required different needles and settings has opened up a whole new world of materials that I am comfortable sewing. So don’t give up if something doesn’t work the first time, you might be unnecessarily intimidated!”
That’s good advice! Watch for Kate’s gift in the giveaway at the end of the month…and guess what she is giving away…sewing needles!!!