Posts tagged learn to sew
What are sewing terms and what do they mean?

Don’t let not understanding a sewing term stop your dressmaking creativity.
We’ve an A-Z of guide to all terms you’ll find on a sewing pattern

Adjustment line: Indicates where a pattern can be lengthened or shortened.
Alter: Term used to change or revise a pattern or garment to fit an individual.
Anchoring stitches: These machine stitches are sewn with zero stitch length to keep from pulling out and also the term is used when you stitch backwards for a couple of stitches to anchor.
Armscye: The opening in a bodice to which the sleeve is attached (also more commonly known as an armhole).
Baste: Temporary long running stitches, made by either hand or machine, that holds the fabric together before permanent stitches are applied.
Bias: A direction of a piece of woven fabric, usually known as ‘the bias’. This is a 45-degree angle to the grainline or diagonal direction of the fabric.

Buttonhole placement: A cross marks the spot where a button needs to be placed. A solid line indicates the length of the buttonhole.
Cutting layout: These are like a map showing how to fold the fabric and position the pieces for the most economical use – this will vary with garment view, fabric width, pattern size and nap.
Cutting line: This is the outermost dark line marked with the size.
Dart: A tapered fold in a pattern to allow for fullness which helps shape garment to body contours. Mark and fold along the centre line, matching the dots and stitch to the point.
Dots, squares and triangles: These indicate areas of construction where precise matching, clipping, gathering or stitching is required.
Ease: There is often wearing ease and designer ease. This will affect how close or loose fitting a garment is. Wearing ease is calculated to allow garments to move with the body whilst Designer ease is the style element. Woven garments need wearing ease to allow for movement.
Easing line: This short broken line, with dots at either end has a directional arrow to mark the area to be eased.
Fold line: This indicates that a paper pattern piece needs to be placed on the fold of the fabric so that two identical halves are cut as one avoiding additional centre seams.
Grain line: This is the suggested direction in which to place the pattern piece on the fabric with arrow parallel to the selvedge.
Hem allowance: Amount of fabric allowed for the hemming.
Line drawings: These show the shape and outline of the design plus any details such as seams and zip location.
Notches: These diamond shapes appear along the cutting line for matching seams.
Pattern layout: Diagram found on instruction sheet, which indicate how to lay out pattern pieces on the fabric.
Seam allowance: The area between the fabric edge and the stitching (usually 15 mm (5/8”) for dressmaking).
Seam line: Denoted by a long broken line along. These must be matched when putting the garment together for stitching and not the raw edges.
Toile: This is a garment made from cheaper fabric like Calico and is used to ‘prove’ a pattern and make sure the pattern fits perfectly.
Views: Designs that appear on the paper patterns to show optional styles such as length, sleeve and hem variations
Yardage block: Indicates how much fabric, interfacing and lining you require to make a particular view on a pattern.

Sewing terms and what they mean

Back waist length: Measurement from middle of most prominent bone at the base of the neck down to waistline.
Bust line: The horizontal line running across the back and around the fullest part of the bust. It’s an important measurement for correct pattern sizing.
Full bust: Measurement taken around the fullest part of the bust and straight across the back.
High bust: Measurement taken above the full bust measurement under the arms and around the back and chest.
TIP: If this measurement is more than 5cm (2”) larger than the full bust measurement then pattern size should be selected by the high bust size and alterations made to fit the fuller cup.
Hip point: Measurement from around the fullest part o your hips.
TIP: If waist and hip measurements are not both included on the pattern – choose pattern for hip measurement.

In-seam: The inside leg seam that runs from crotch to hem.
Waistline: This is the thinnest part of your body – tie a piece of string around your middle and allowing it to settle at natural waist.

If there is a term that isn’t on our list drop us a comment below.

What type of sewing pattern should I choose?

Make choosing a sewing pattern easy - we discuss paper, digital, printed fabric sewing patterns, as well as drafting software and other pattern sources

It’s exciting times for sewers as new sewing pattern companies have sprung up making pattern choices much more interesting. But what type of pattern do you choose? Choosing the right pattern is important, it’s the first building block to a successful garment

Tracing a paper pattern


This has been the most longstanding way of making and sewing your own clothes. Printed patterns usually have 3 elements: the envelope, the tissue pattern and the instructions.


  • You’ve a tangible pattern that can be used time and time again

  • Comes in an envelope that can store everything together

  • Many have multi-sizes so you can cut out the size that best matches your measurements.

  • Making adjustments for a better fit can be marked on the pattern


  • Well-used patterns become tatty and torn. Although you can make a duplicate pattern from freezer paper or from special squared pattern paper as shown in the photo above.

wild ginger patternmaster.jpg


Pattern drafting software is a digital computer programme that allows you to input your own measurements and print out a personalised pattern block and eliminates some of the fitting issues. Here's a couple if you are considering buying software:

Lutterloh - The pattern system consists of written instruction an instruction DVD, sewing hints, fashion styles with its corresponding sewing patterns, a cardboard tailors curve and a tool-set.

Soft Byte - Fittingly Sew is a UK based company whose main products are built-in pattern and body blocks for woven fabrics. The software gives you full control of where to place darts, tucks, pleats, as well as  seam allowances.

Wild Ginger - PatternMaster V5 software has a host of software packages for pattern drafting and looks like pattern envelopes with each CD-ROM containing one garment with a variety of variations much like a regular. The come with tutorials to show you how to save the patterns with your won measurements, and there's no size limitations! You can get a demo to download before you buy which is really useful.

TIP: Do make sure that any software you buy is compatible with your PC before buying!


Most of the independent sewing brands now offer the digital choice and being able to download a pattern from the internet is becoming a very popular way to buy patterns.

  • There's no print production or postage charges so these can be a cheaper way to buy patterns
    (but not always).

  • Pattern is immediately downloadable

  • The pattern can be saved on your computer and printed out as many times as you need for making different sizes or alterations.

  • Many of the patterns are exclusive

  • There can be a much wider range to choose from

Some sewers don't like to join the printed A4 pages together to form the pattern pieces but this should take no longer than 20-30 minutes.

Waffle Patterns PDF sewing patterns are particularly good quality PDF's and have arrows on the pages to help line up the pattern.

Here's just a few of our favourites: Designer Stitch, Waffle Patterns, Go To Patterns, Lekala, Sewaholic, DG Patterns, Tilly and the Buttons, Sew Over It, Megan Nielsen, Liesl & Co, Burda Style, Tessuti, Victory Patterns, Jamie Christina.


Fabric or pattern first
This is the age old question. The pattern has been designed with specific fabrics, fabric weight, drape and stretch in mind. If you’ve a certain fabric in mind, make sure that you choose a pattern that includes it on the back of the envelope. Fabrics are usually listed from the easiest to the more difficult.

Easy, Intermediate and Advanced
Most patterns will have a sewing rating to show how difficult the pattern is to sew from beginner (easy), intermediate and advanced. The rating can be quite subjective and can vary between the pattern companies but it’s a good stating point. To understand more about the pattern, you should read the insturctions to see whether it has techniques that you’re happy to tackle buttonholes and adding a zip.

skirt printed pattern kit from clothkits.jpg


Some companies offer their patterns printed directly onto the fabric providing a kit that contains everything needed to make the garment. This makes the dressmaking process quick and easy, and it's ideal for beginners and experienced sewers.

Clothkits has a fab range of fabric kits. This skirt is designed exclusively by Minimodern and has a fun pet and sounds fabric design that's been printed with a special pattern  guide so that you just select the size you want and cut! Available in sizes 8-20 for £38 and along with many other skirt and dress designs from Clothkits.


  • Very simple to make and follow

  • the kit contains printed fabric ready to cut and sew, zip, thread, label and the step-by-step instructions


  • Can be more expensive but remember this does include fabric and everything you need

  • You are limited to the fabric chosen

Magazines that come with full sewing pattern pullout


Magazines with pattern pullouts
There are a wide selection of books and magazines that feature patterns including Burda style is a beautifully laid out magazine with over 40 patterns in each issue that offers a whole world of fashion for sewers. All patterns are rated by sewing expertise and there’s something for everyone, from the beginner to the more advanced. A great magazine bringing the craft of sewing to a new generation of fashion designers, fashion enthusiasts and DIY’ers. Priced at £9.99 per issue.

Others to look out for our La Maison Victor, My Image and Ottobre Design.

If you have just started to make your own clothes, choose a relatively simple pattern with a not too fitted style such as an A line skirt or tunic top. Many sewing patterns companies will have their own collection of patterns for beginners, trust us, you’ll make something you’ll love forever.

Other features you might find useful

How to take accurate body measurements - Simple tips to help you get the best fit possible!
Threads to get good results - How to choose quality threads that are right for the job
Dress for my body shape - Learn to balance your silhouette and choose styles that suit it!
Beginner's guide to sewing pattern - Get to grips with pattern lingo.

What threads should I use and why?

Threads have come a long way since the caveman was sewing hide and fur together with fine strips of animal hide. The first uses of thread were to create woven tapestries from wool yarn and then seamstresses began to use the same material to create garments


What threads should I use when sewing and why?

Cotton thread is the most popular, and made from cotton fibres. It’s soft and won’t stretch. This thread has a low in lustre but can fade and shrink. High quality cotton threads are made from the long cotton fibres, these tend to be stronger and less likely to fray in your machine. You can buy mercerized cotton-wrapped polyester threads (holds colour and lustre is better).

Use for: all-purpose sewing and dressmaking with medium fabrics

Polyester thread is man-made and tends to be extremely strong with a medium lustre. It’s also economical to buy and comes in a wide selection of colours, with the added benefit of not shrinking or fading.

Use for: quilting and light and medium weight fabrics, machine embroidery

Silk is made from the silk worms cocoons and is thinner and more elastic with a high lustre. It tends to sink into garments, when sewn which is good for hand embroidery and needlework.
Use for: seaming, topstitching, buttonholes and hand sewing

Rayon thread is also man-made and has a high-lustre. It’s soft, durable and available in a wide selection of colours. Rayon thread works well with high-speed sewing such as machine embroidery and doesn’t suffer from fraying or breaking. Disadvantage is, it’s not heat resistant or colourfast.

Nylon threads are synthetic, and although it is a very strong thread, the negatives of using can overweigh any positives. It's not colourfast nor heat resistant, and will deteriorate over time with washing.


Rule of thumb
A good thread should pass easily through the eye of a needle

You gets what you pay for!
Always choose a good quality thread over cheaper alternatives to ensure best results. If you look at cheaper threads under the microscope (if you have one handy…) you’ll find that they are not smooth and looked frayed and bumpy.
If in doubt, stick to brands that you know or that have been recommended.

Make sure you match the thread’s fibre content to the fabric that you are using. For example, use natural fibre thread with natural fibre fabric and synthetic thread with man-made fabrics. Always use the same thread type in both the
needle and bobbin.

Thread type can also affect the tension on your sewing machine. If you are using rayon thread, your tensions will have to be a little looser than for a polyester thread, which can stand a tighter tension to avoid looping.


Basting – Lightweight thread usually 100% cotton for temporary stitching
Invisible – Usually nylon, and used for mending and attaching trims where you don’t want to see stitching.
Machine embroidery – High gloss finer threads available in a wide selection of colours, textures and sizes. Often polyester or rayon and comes in plain, variegated and iridescent colours.
Metallic – These have a shimmer to them and are ideal for decorative stitching/machine embroidery.
Overlocker – Sold on cones especially for high speed overlocking.
Topstitching – Strong thread that produces a well defined stitch that is to be seen.
Bobbinfil – Designed for use with machine embroidery, it comes in black or white and forms the underside of heavily stitched embroidery preventing puckering.