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Understanding Sewing Patterns

Front Cover of the Pattern Envelope

Front Cover of the Pattern Envelope

There are four key bits of information on the front of the pattern envelope: the pattern number, the pattern size, the pattern description and the design variations.

Pattern Number

The pattern number is the code that the pattern company uses to identify which pattern it is – it is, in essence, the name of the pattern.

Pattern Size

The pattern size lets you know the range of 'ready to wear' clothing sizes that it can be made to fit.

Pattern Description

The pattern description tells you the name of the collection that it's from, or the figure type it's best suited to. This could be the name of the designer, the style of the pattern, its difficulty rating, or its figure type, such as Misses' or Women's fit.

Pattern Variations

Most patterns come with multiple design variations, so on the front cover you'll find images of the different styles of the garment that you have the option to create – this could be different hemlines or necklines, different types of sleeves, or even a different type of clothing entirely.

Back Cover of the Pattern Envelope

Back Cover of the Pattern Envelope

Choosing a sensible fabric is the priority after choosing your pattern – and conveniently, most patterns list which types of material work best with each project! It's important to note, however, that once you've chosen your fabric, it's recommended to pre-wash it before cutting or sewing – this is called 'pre-shrinking'. If you fail to do this, your finished garment may shrink in the wash or the colours could run and run the look of the material – it's best to allow the inevitable to happen before you put in all the hard work!

After washing, iron your fabric to make sure there are no wrinkles to potentially affect the size of your finished garment. Not only do patterns offer you fabric advice, but they also list the notions required to complete each project, such as buttons and zippers. Lists for several designs may be included on the envelope, so ensure you're reading the list displaying the letter that corresponds with your chosen image.

Another important thing to consider is how much fabric you'll actually require for your chosen project – the pattern helps you decipher this with size charts. Simply match up your body measurements with a pattern size, then use that information to identify how much fabric you should purchase.

Sometimes you'll come across patterns with different measurements for fabric with nap, or alternatively with asterisks confirming that the amount specified works for fabrics with nap. Fabrics with nap have raised fibres (or pile) that all lie in a certain direction, such as velvet, fleece, suede or corduroy. This fabric type generally requires more material to complete a project as you'll need to ensure the fibres are all laying in the same direction, so it's important to take note of that sizing information if you decide to use fabric with nap.

Inside the Pattern Envelope

Inside the Pattern Envelope

You'll find several items inside your pattern envelope: pattern pieces, a pattern layout and instructions.

Pattern Pieces

Your pattern pieces display all the shapes, symbols and markings you require to complete your project (continue to the next page for more information). If you'd like to reuse your pattern pieces, it's suggested that you trace the pattern through onto a large piece of tracing paper before creating the garment.

Pattern Layout

The pattern layout illustrates how you should lay out the pattern pieces onto your fabric, usually displaying several views.

Pattern Instructions

The instruction sheet is a step-by-step walkthrough, explaining how to create your garment. This useful reference supplies you with the important information you may need throughout the process, such as cutting directions, marking guidance, or advice regarding seam allowances for that specific project.