What are sewing patterns and how do I use them? The beginners guide
Presented with a printed sewing pattern, it can be quite a challenge to understand it but once you’ve start to grasp the terms and learn what you are looking at – you’ll find working with sewing patterns becomes easy!
The choice of patterns is much more exciting today with lots of new contemporary independent designers and companies, but whatever pattern you choose, the pattern language
remains the same.
Getting to grips with the envelope front
Most pattern envelopes show a model wearing the garment styles so that the sewer can get a feel for how it will look when the garment is made up. Some pattern brands also include illustrations showing seams, pockets, sleeves and any other styling options – these are known as views.
Patterns are usually multi-sized. Many pattern companies will also provide a pattern in two different size ranges that have a crossover of sizes. For example Simplicity 1279 comes in H5 and R5 that covers sizes 6-14 and 14-22.
Named or Numbered
A sewing pattern has a number to identify the pattern design, which is usually a four-digit number. Smaller independent companies prefer to give their patterns a name, which helps sewers remember them easily.
The envelope may also have a description about the garment advising you on the sort of fit to expect or that the pattern belongs to a collection of patterns.
Most pattern envelopes will point out what sewing skills are required to make up the pattern ie beginners, intermediates or advanced level. Some patterns will also say how long it will take to sew – mainly found on more simple patterns.
Here, will be listed any items that you’ll require to make the garment such as items like threads, zips and buttons.
This section is important section to compare with your own measurements (height, chest, bust, waist and hips). It’s likely that you’ll be a combination of sizes so if you are making skirts, shorts and trousers – choose your hip measurement. And if you’re making dresses, tops and jackets – use your bust measurement.
“We recommend highlighting each of your measurements on the pattern across the pattern sizes to see which pattern size is the closest to your actual size.”
The two most common fabric widths will be quoted 115cm and 140cm (45″ and 60″). This will help you choose how much fabric you require for your size and pattern choice. The yardage block indicates how much fabric, interfacing and lining you require to make a particular pattern view. Always take the pattern with you when go shopping for fabric to check the width and so that you don’t forget any notions you may require.
The envelope back
If the illustrations or views weren’t shown on the envelope front, they’ll appear here on the back.
These explain about the design as well as particulars like zip location.
This information will assist in selecting the right pattern for your height (without shoes) and your shape. The options are typically as follows:
Misses – Designed for women of average proportions between the height between 5ft 5″ and 5ft 6″
Women – Designed for women who are between 5ft 5″ to 5ft 6″ tall with larger bust and hips than Misses
Petite – Designed for women with a shorter back-waist length, and a height of between 5ft 2″ and 5ft 4″ tall
The suggested fabrics will be listed here and the pattern has been specially designed to use with these fabric types. We recommend following these suggestions as they’ve been rigorously tested to obtain the most professional finish for the garment. The list is very comprehensive and may also carry a warning of fabrics that aren’t suitable.
Don’t be alarmed about whether you are a pattern size 10 or pattern size 20. Your aim is to make the garment fit you the best it can so always use your body measurements rather than a pattern size.
It’s a common misapprehension that you should select the same size that you buy readymade clothes on the High Street and the main reason why finished garments don’t fit as well as expected. It’s important to realise that very few of us will match a pattern company’s standard measurements. For more information of taking accurate body measurements.
“Keep a record of your measurements but always redo these every time you make a new garment, even if it’s a pattern that you’ve used before.”
Finished garment measurements
These measurements allow for garment ease, which essentially means how much room there is to move around when the garment is completed. It may also quote a wearing ease. This is the minimum amount of ease for comfortable. Within the sewing industry wearing ease is usually 6.4cm at the bust, 2.5cm at the waist and 7.6cm at the hip area. Design ease is the amount that the designer has added/subtracted to create a specific silhouette.
To determine ease, measure your pattern from seam to seam (excluding any seam allowances) and match these up to your body measurements to the total pattern circumference measurement – the difference is the amount of ease the pattern has.
“We suggest that you never cut corners here by skimping on fabric. Always use the correct seam allowance as these can affect the final fit of the garment.”
All the above information is provided in a neat table on the back of the envelope, so its easy to follow!
Inside the pattern envelope
Instruction pattern sheet
This is your guide to making the garment. It will provide step-by-step through the making process with relevant images to explain trickier steps. Instructions do vary from company to company but the basics will the same. Always read through instructions carefully before starting, as they will include advice on cutting layouts, how to arrange the pattern on the fabric and more useful information. On Burda patterns, cutting layouts are unusually on the tissue.
This fine tissue paper is your pattern template and you will need to cut out the pieces that relate to your size and view. Check that the pattern includes seam allowances, some patterns from overseas sometimes don’t.
Croquis is French for rough sketch and this is basically what it is. Some patterns contain a Croquis Kit that can help you gauge whether a garment will suit you. Be the designer and use these rough line drawings designs to shade in fabric colour, texture and mix up the pattern pieces in order to get the right style for you before you buy and cut out fabric.