This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of sewing patterns, looking at how to decide upon your correct pattern size, a walkthrough of the information on every section of the pattern envelope, and what each marking and symbol actually means!
To help with the confusion, we've put together a little glossary of the most common sewing pattern symbols and markings that you may encounter. It's important to note, however, that each pattern company may feature slightly different symbols – but they should follow similarly to the ones below.
Woven fabric is constructed from lengthwise threads (warp) and crosswise threads (weft) – the 'grain' is the direction they're running in. The warp thread is generally the strongest thread so with that in mind, the Grain Line symbol should run in the same direction. This double-pointed arrow indicates where to align pattern pieces on fabric – you should place the Grain Line in the same direction as the lengthwise grain and parallel to the selvage (non-frayed, 'finished' edge of the fabric), unless otherwise stated. You don't need to mark this line on your fabric.
This symbol looks similar to the Grain Line, however you'll notice that there is a bold line running parallel to the length of the arrow, plus bends in either side. The Fold Line indicates which edge of the pattern piece is aligned with the fabric fold – you should place the solid line running underneath the arrow onto the fold. Your pattern piece only embodies half of the fabric piece, so this line is very important as it ensures the creation of a whole, proportioned piece.
This marking is a straight, broken line with tiny dots between each break, and is there purely to aid your alignment. The Centre Front line should run vertically down the front of your garment, whilst the Centre Back runs vertically down the back.
This line can differentiate depending on the pattern company, however the two most popular forms are either a broken, dotted line or a solid line accompanied by an image of scissors. As the name suggests, the Cutting Line marks the exact place where you should cut the pattern piece – directly along the line.
Usually seen as a thin, broken line, the Stitching Line indicates where you should sew. Sometimes accompanied by an image of a sewing foot and arrows along the line, you should stitch exactly where it sits and in the direction in which it's pointing.
Indicating the distance between the Cutting Line and the Stitching Line, the Seam Allowance Marking is often represented by a squiggly bracket with a fraction – usually 5/8 inches. Ultimately, it's there as a guide to clarify how far from the edge of the pattern the Stitching Line should be sewn, however it's not always featured on patterns.
This marking features two heavy, bold lines running parallel. The Adjustment Line indicates the best place on the pattern piece where the garment can be shortened or lengthened – it's important that you only adjust between these lines, or else you could change the overall pattern shape.
These triangular or diamond-shaped symbols are usually featured individually or in groups of two or three, and indicate joining points on seams. Marking individual seamlines, Notches aim to help you when matching different pattern pieces that need to be sewn together – simply line up the bases of the triangles.
Guiding construction, these solid circles signify points on a pattern that need to match. Examples of the use of Dots include pocket placements, collar joining or dart points. Instead of Dots, you may find Squares or other shapes.
These narrow, elongated triangles aid in fitting garments, illustrating where to fold and stitch. Darts show you the exact point on the pattern where your body curves, ensuring that your final garment isn't unshapely or ill-fitting.
For those all-important finishing touches, Button and Buttonhole Markings indicate exactly as the names suggest – where to add your buttons. Buttonhole Markings are short lines with an adjoining line on either end, showing you where to mark and cut the buttonhole – the length is the appropriate length of a buttonhole. Button Markings are generally signified by a cross on top of the Buttonhole Marking – you'll construct them on opposing sides of the garment.
If you're sewing a garment that requires a zip, you may find a Zipper Marking on your pattern. This marking is a solid line with an arrow pointing inwards on either side – one at the top of the line (beginning of the zipper) and one at the bottom (bottom of the zipper). The size of the symbol is the exact 'opening' length on your garment.