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Understanding Home Sewing Patterns

Guest Author - Cheryl Ellex

A home sewer’s printed paper sewing pattern is like a road map; the directions for getting from one place to another are all tantalizing provided, but it’s up to the reader to interpret and make sense of how to get from map point A (You Are Here) to map point B (Unfamiliar There). A sewing pattern is similar with all the inviting information a home sewer needs to get from sewing point A (Pattern In Hand) to sewing point B (Finished Sewn Item).

The sewing pattern, usually printed on tissue-like paper – Butterick, Simplicity, McCall’s, and Vogue, are just a few of the major pattern company names - instructs on how to assemble, in a step-by-step process, a completed garment or item from a myriad of lines, abstract symbols, cryptic legends, and instructions on fabric cutting layouts, minimally stated sewing information, glossary, numbered and named pattern pieces, body and pattern measurements stated in US/English units and metric units, several different pattern view options and so much more. Sewing patterns can be daunting to decipher for the beginning sewer.

Home sewing patterns are graded, meaning redrawn, to fit a stepped succession of industry standardized sizes. It was Ebenezer Butterick who first devised the concept of selling a graded home sewing pattern in 1863 by promoting hand-drawn patterns for men’s and boys’ clothing; women’s’ clothing patterns came a few years later. The graded size systems came from the Victorian tailors of the time. Today’s patterns are graded for sizes by computer using apparel industry specifics.

Today’s patterns state a suggested sewing skill level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) or degree of presumed difficulty (supper easy, easy, moderate, complex) for the sewer somewhere on the pattern envelope. Beginning sewing projects are usually quick and easy, intermediate sewing projects require an increased understanding of basic sewing skills, and advanced requires sewing experience and familiarly with sewing machines and tools. Each increasing level of difficulty provides more challenges and complexity than the level before. A pattern labeled Designer Original may be the most challenging of all to sew.

The front of the pattern envelope or packet contains a color photo or artistically drawn illustration of the finished item, presented in several views or pattern alternatives. The pattern company name and pattern or design style number is prominently visible at top of the pattern or along the side of the pattern. The included printed patterns are usually offered in a range of multi-sizes. Some garment patterns include all graded patterns within one pattern envelope. The multi-sized patterns have the pattern’s cutting lines for each pattern piece nestled largest to smallest. Multi-sized patterns can be somewhat confusing but offer the greatest options for the sewer.

The back of the pattern envelope contains the measurement chart showing the amount of fabric you’ll need according to your body measurements. Yardage information for fabric, lining, interfacing, and notions (thread, buttons, zippers, etc.) as well as suggested fabric types are also included. Other information that may be found on the back includes back views – showing details of the back when finished, number of pattern pieces, a repeat of the style number and finished garment measurements; Alert notes are noted on the pattern back, for example essential fabric type warnings such as "unsuitable for stripes or obvious diagonals."

Inside the pattern envelope are the printed tissue patterns, essentially your printed road map as well as the step-by-step written pattern instructions (like driving directions). The instructions always include a basic sketch of the particular sewing technique to be performed at each step. It is important to read through all the written instructions before beginning to layout your pattern onto your fabric to minimize any errors in cutting the fabric and to anticipate the necessary sewing tasks. Only those numbered pattern pieces for your particular pattern view chosen will be needed. General sewing instructions, with helpful tips, are often printed on the tissue pattern.

Careful attention to the cutting layouts for each garment view is important. There will be a key or legend in the fabric cutting layout section of the instructions to indicate the right and ‘wrong’ side of each pattern section (right side of the pattern section has the printed words on the pattern piece facing up and wrong side meaning place the pattern section face down), and the right and ‘wrong’ side of the fabric (right side of the fabric will face outside and wrong side of the fabric is the fabric side to face into the body.

Additional symbols on the pattern will indicate adjustment lines where you can lengthen or shorten the pattern (drawn on appropriate pattern pieces) as well as button placement, sometimes stitching lines, line-up marks, dart placement, and grainline direction (line drawn to indicate pattern section to be placed parallel to the selvage edge). It is very important to follow the written instructions in order.

Lastly, consider that all commercially sold patterns have a copyright statement usually indicating: All Rights Reserved. Sold For Individual Home Use Only And Not For Commercial Or Manufacturing Purposes.

Sew happy, sew well.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Cheryl Ellex. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Tamara Bostwick for details.

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