I’ve been sewing for years and have taken a lot of sewing courses. One thing I realized they never covered: How to read sewing patterns.
This feels backwards because the information on sewing patterns can be super useful. So, I think it’s a good idea to get familiar with everything on the envelope (or PDF).
So, that’s what I’m talking about today.
At first glance, figuring out how to read sewing patterns can seem intimidating. The envelopes have a lot of numbers and charts. But, as with most things, learning how to read sewing pattern is actually pretty simple once it’s explained.
(There’s a video explaining all this at the end of this post for those who prefer to watch rather than read. If that’s you, scroll to the bottom).
Reading the Front of the Pattern Envelope
The first thing to note is front of the envelope where it shows the pattern number (in this case, M8040). This is the number you give the cashier once you choose your patterns.
The pattern sizes that come in the envelope are also in this area. ** These are NOT the same as clothing store sizes- a size 6 at H&M does not necessarily equal a size 6 in sewing patterns**
Reading the Back of the Envelope
You will find more detailed sizing info on the back on the envelope. Most Mccalls and Simplicity patterns actually print them on the flap that gets folded to the inside of the envelope. So, if you can’t to find it, check the flap.
As you can see, the sizes are based on your measurements. Most people are between sizes (maybe a size 12 for the waist but 14 for the hips in the case of a dress for example). One thing you can do, in this case, is grade the pattern and adjust the sizing. Alternatively, you could chose the size that will fit best overall based on the finished garment measurements (which I’ll talk about below).
Once you have your size figured out, you’ll need to determine the type of fabric your pattern suggests. This will be in the sections called ‘Fabrics’. (pictured below)
While this section gives you a good idea of the types of fabrics you’ll need, you don’t HAVE to follow these recommendations. The only two things I’d recommend though is, if it says wovens- I’d stick to wovens. If it says knits, I’d stick to knits. And then I’d recommend that whatever fabric you pick, make sure that its weight and drape will work well with the pattern.
If you’re unsure, ask an employee at the fabric store for suggestions. (Just make sure you have your pattern envelope or a picture of it with you to show them). Here you will also see the required notions you’ll need.
Below, (under the notions section) you will see the area that shows how much fabric you need depending on the size and view you’re making.
For example. If I’m making view A and I’m using a size 12, and the fabric I’m buying is 60″, I will need 1 1/4 yards.
These numbers (where is says 45*** and 60***) are telling you how much fabric you need. This depends on how wide your fabric is- it tends to come in around 50-60 inch widths. So, for view A at a size 12, if I was buying fabric that is only 45″ wide, I would actually need 2 yards. Most fashion fabrics are 60″ though. If you’re not sure, the bolt will usually have a sticker on the side that has the measurements.
Another important thing to note is the ease of the garment. So, taking the example that I am making a size 12, the measurements chart shows that my garment would fit a 34″ bust.
Closer to the bottom of the envelope, you will see a section called ‘Finished garment measurements’. This section shows that a finished size 12 top, will measure 36 1/2″ at the bust. So, this tells me that this garment is not meant to be super fitted. It will has some ease to it (about 2.5 ” of ‘extra’ space between you and the garment when you are wearing it).
If it was a fitted garment, the finished measurement would be the same as the measurement in the size guide (34″). If you are making a garment and would like less ease, simply cut your pattern one size down. Or if you want more ease, make a size up.
** Many knit projects are actually made with a negative ease. An example is leggings. Their finished measurements are smaller than the measurements of your body because the fabric stretches out and we want them to be very fitted.
Sometimes being between sizes means you have to buy 2 envelopes. When this happens, you can also take a look at the finished measurements first. If a garment has enough ease built in, you may be able to get away with making a size or two smaller than what the size guide suggests. You would just end up with a more fitted garment than the pattern intended.
Another important thing to note: if you are using a pattern for knit fabrics, there will be a section on the envelop that helps you pick your knit fabric. This is simply to make sure the knit you choose has the proper amount of stretch for your garment.
First, hold the fabric with the selvage edge laying as so
Next, hold the fabric against the guide, pinching at the beginning of the box and at the end of the first arrow (or first section of the box).
Next, you gently pull the fabric to see if it can comfortably stretch the entire length of the box (to the end of the second arrow). If you are really having to force the fabric to stretch, you may need to choose a fabric with more stretch.
Another thing to note is this section that says 10 pieces. This means there are 10 pieces total in this envelope. So, the view you are making may not use all 10 pieces, but there are 10 total for all views.
This section shows the line art of the pattern. It can be useful to see more clearly exactly what you will be making.
That’s pretty much it for the outside of a pattern envelope. Indie patterns may be different. But, for the most part, patterns generally display all the information this way.
I hope this helped you figure out how to read sewing patterns!
Stay tuned because I’ll be doing a part 2 to this post: the inside of the envelope.
Thanks for reading and happy sewing!