A Beginners Guide To Dressmaking Patterns

Are you intimidated by sewing patterns?

Confused by the back of the envelope? Not sure what the symbols mean?

We’ve got you covered!

Grab a cuppa, read on & let us demystify how to read a sewing pattern!

How To Read A Sewing Pattern

To the uninitiated, a first glance at a sewing pattern can be daunting. Have a read through our top tips & feel more confident having a go!

How to read the back of a sewing pattern envelope

The back of the pattern envelope should be your first port of call.

It contains lots of essential information you will need to make your garment.

You’ll find fabric suggestions that will suit the pattern style, the amount of fabric you will need & all the required notions such as zips & buttons.

Boring Legal Bit: If you follow any tutorial or guidance found in this post, or on this blog, you agree to be bound by our disclaimer which can be viewed here

Inside the pattern envelope

Inside you’ll find various sheets of paper – these will you be your pattern pieces, your sewing instructions & also the pattern layout information to help you cut out your pattern pieces correctly.

Tips On Choosing Fabric

Choose a fabric that is mentioned in the “suggested fabrics” section on the outside of the pattern envelope.

If your chosen fabric has a pattern “direction” make sure you place your pattern pieces the correct way up or your fabric motif will appear upside down on your garment!

A Tip For Stripes – Make sure the stripes run the way you want them to in your finished garment when laying out your pattern pieces.

Motif Sizes – Ensure your fabric has appropriately sized motifs for your garment. For example, a child’s dress might look strange in a large statement floral fabric.

ALWAYS Pre-wash Your Fabric – Some fabrics will shrink. It is better to launder your fabrics first to save tears later! Wash your fabric how you intend to wash the finished garment.

Understand Sewing Pattern Symbols

Understanding Fabric Grain
Sewing patterns - The cutting line symbol
Sewing patterns - The fold line symbol

Understanding Sewing Pattern Symbols

Sewing patterns - The notches symbol
Sewing patterns - The Stitch line symbol
Sewing patterns - The Centre Front Line symbol
Sewing patterns - Darts symbol
Sewing patterns - Dots, squares, stars & triangle symbol

Understanding Sewing Pattern Symbols

Sewing patterns - Hip and Bust Point  symbol
Sewing patterns -  Adjustment Line symbol
Sewing patterns -  Button Hole Marking symbol
Sewing patterns -  Zip Marking symbol

Pattern Piece Layout

Your pattern will have a diagram similar to this which is showing you how to lay out your pattern pieces on your fabric.

Following this diagram will usually be the most economical layout when cutting your fabric.

There will usually be two layout guides – one for 44″ wide fabric & another for 60″ wide fabric.

Follow the appropriate layout for your chosen fabric’s width. There may also be a layout guide for your interfacing pieces.

Looking more closely at the diagram above you will see that pattern piece (2) needs to be cut twice as it appears twice on the cutting diagram. Once the pattern piece is cut with the right side facing up, the second time it is cut with the pattern piece facing down.

Can you see where this pattern piece is shaded by the dots? This indicates the pattern piece should be laid face down on your fabric. The unshaded pieces indicates your pattern piece is face up.

Pattern piece (1) is placed on the fabric fold – we will end up with 1 pattern piece double the size of the paper pattern piece.

Pattern piece (4) indicates only one thickness of fabric – can you see how the selvedges aren’t aligned? Again – pattern piece (4) is cut twice – once with the pattern piece is right side up and then once with the pattern piece right side down – remember the dots?


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10 thoughts on “A Beginners Guide To Dressmaking Patterns”

  1. It was very helpful, but my pattern has 4 sizes I want to make the smallest it is a child’s pattern and think I would like to make it when the child gets older so how do I cut without cutting the bigger sizes off. Thanks.

    1. you’re welcome! glad it’s made your dressmaking pattern reading a little easier

  2. This is a super guide, patterns can be a little intimidating at times (even for accomplished sewing folk).

    I often sew with vintage patterns and these can have very little in the way of standard markings, often they have a few lines, punched holes or on occasions nothing at all. It’s worth noting that some multisize patterns have pieces printed for each size – especially if the lines would be printed close together, like on baby clothes or children’s wear. Craft patterns may also have markings for eyelets, strap attachments or embellishments, e.g. applique.

    Where a pattern calls for interfacing (as a stiffener) I often cut out a bigger piece of the the main fabric than the pattern calls for and iron on the interfacing before cutting the shape out, paying attention to where the fabric pattern is placed (like on a collar, pocket flap or waistband). This means that the piece is cut to exactly the right size, some fabrics and interfacings can be difficult to match if they slip or stretch while you iron them.

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