Today is Day 15 of 31 Days of Sewing School.
If you’re relatively new to sewing, or at least to sewing with patterns, reading the pattern guide or the back of a pattern can be like trying to read a foreign language.
Well, you’re in luck, dear readers, because not only is my degree in foreign languages (that’s not really applicable here, of course, but it is in fact, true!), but I also have some insight on patterns from years of learning by doing, and from the age-old tactic of asking mom.
Today I’ll talk you through some of the terms you’ll need to understand.
Reading the back of the pattern
Before you start sewing, you need to see what you need. That is what the back of the pattern is for. The table on the flip side of the envelope shoes you the various sizes that pattern comes in and the yardage and notions required for each size, along with a sketch of each style or piece you can make with the pattern.
Confused yet? Let me explain a bit more of the vocabulary. Keep in mind this could vary slightly depending on pattern brand.
Yardage– This is the term used to refer to how much fabric you need for the pattern– the amounts are given in yards. Some fabrics are 45″ wide and some are 60″ wide. Depending on which type of fabric you choose (it will say on the bolt, or the cardboard that the fabric is wrapped around in the store, whether its 45″ or 60″ wide), you’ll need to use the appropriate yardage for the size you’re making.
Suggested fabrics– Patterns will usually list a variety of fabrics that would be acceptable to use with the particular pattern. I’ll discuss various fabric types tomorrow.
Nap– Fabric with a nap is not fabric that needs to catch up on its sleep, but rather refers to fabric that needs to go a certain direction because of its print or design. Sometimes if you have a one-directional print you will need to buy more fabric so you can cut it out and keep the design all going the right way.
Combinations– If there is category for this on the pattern it will tell you how the pattern is divided by size. It might group together sizes 6-8-10-12-14 all into one pattern and 14-and up in another, for example.
Body measurements– Some patterns will show you how sizing relates to body measurements (such as weight and height for a baby pattern for example) in the main table of information, some will have it on the envelope flap (going sideways) where the style number and price is listed.
Notions– These are the extra add-on items needed to make the project such as zippers, hook-and-eyes, buttons, snaps, etc.
Finished garment measurements– This is pretty self-explanatory, but you’ll want to make sure these line up with the measurements of the person who the garment is for, or the size you want the finished project to be.
At the bottom of the table you’ll see a sketch of each style (most patterns offer several variations or views, which are labeled with a letter) and then the front and the back of each. That way you can decide which style to make. Maybe style/view A will be a short skirt, B will be a longer one, and C will be a short one with pockets.
Understanding the pattern guide
The pattern guide is the newsprint foldout set of instructions that is inside the pattern. It has several sections to guide you through making your project or garment.
Sketches– Again you will find a drawing of the styles included and the pattern pieces. The pattern pieces section will show you which pieces you need for each specific style. Because the patterns include various styles, you will not automatically need to use all the pieces if you’re only making one style.
General Directions– Be sure to read the section that includes Pattern Markings, Cutting and Marking and more as it will give details on the specific symbols used on the pattern pieces and specific information for cutting out your fabric (I’ll talk more about this in a few days though, too).
It should give you the seam allowance which is how wide of a seam you are sewing (5/8″ is standard for garments; that means the edge of your fabric is 5/8″ from where the needle is sewing your seam. You’ll also find a fabric key so you know how the pictures refer to the fabric or interfacing (which is a lining that stabilizes fabric).
Cutting Layouts– This is a helpful section that shows you how the pieces for each style should be laid out on the fabric to be cut so that you have enough fabric for it all. Pay special attention to where the fabric is folded and which pieces go on/lined up with the fold.
Sewing Directions– This is where the actual directions for the project begin. Find the directions that refer to the style you are doing and follow along step-by-step, with pictures (!). A few important words/ideas you might come across are:
- Right (the side of the fabric you want to show) vs. Wrong (the underside of the fabric)
- The notches (little triangles) that you cut are useful guides for matching pieces of fabric together
- Basting (or machine-basting) is where you sew a long stitch meant to just temporarily hold the fabrics together, you’ll be sewing over it later with a real seam
- Clipping edges or curves is when you cut little snips or triangles out on a curved seam to help it lay flat
- Pressing is another term for ironing
- Topstitching is the type of stitching that shows on the top of your project, so you’ll want to pay attention to color and how it coordinates (or contrasts) with your fabric
Have you tried your hand at a traditional pattern yet? Any other questions about something you don’t understand on your pattern? Tomorrow we’ll talk about different fabric types, which will go hand in hand with choosing your pattern.