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Basics of Home Sewing Patterns


A printed paper sewing pattern has all the tantalizing information a home sewer needs to get from sewing point A - Pattern In Hand, to sewing point B - Finished Sewn Item. Sewing patterns can be daunting to decipher for the beginning sewer.

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.

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 a 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 a variety of techniques and sewing 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 is a color photo or artistically drawn illustration of what the finished item should look like 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 garment back when finished, number of pattern pieces, and the finished garment measurements. Alert notes are noted on the pattern back with essential fabric type warnings such as "unsuitable for stripes or obvious diagonals."

Inside the pattern envelope are the printed tissue pattern pieces as well as the step-by-step written pattern instructions, essentially your printed "road map," including basic sketches of the particular technique to be followed and in what order. 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 as well.

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 where the right side of the pattern section has the printed words on the pattern piece to be placed facing up on the fabric and when indicated to place wrong side down to place the pattern section face down on the fabric.

Additional symbols on the pattern will indicate adjustment lines where you can lengthen or shorten the pattern (drawn on appropriate pattern piece) 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).

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 inspired.


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Content copyright © 2015 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 Cheryl Ellex for details.

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