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Garment Patterns for Beginners

What to Know Before You Start

by Beth Cooper
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Are you intimidated by sewing patterns? Do all of those lines and symbols confuse you? Maybe you’re just not sure where to start? Let’s break it down a bit and you’ll be on your way to understanding patterns in no time!

First off, read your entire pattern from front to back.  There will be an instruction packet and usually more information found on the packaging as well.  There will be a legend or key explaining many of the symbols on that particular pattern.  If you are a beginner, be sure to buy a beginner or easy pattern.  There will be less pieces involved and should not overwhelm you as a more advanced pattern might. 

Your first question may be, “Why are there so many dotted lines on a pattern?”  Look closely and you will see that each line has a different repeating pattern of dots or dashes.  Maybe one line is dash, dash, dot, while another is dot, dot, dot, dash.  Each of these variations represent a cutting line for a particular size.  Once you have established what size you are making, you need to only worry about the line for that size.  So, if you are cutting a pattern for size 12 and size 12 is a dashed line, you cut on the dashed line every time, while completely ignoring the other dashed and dotted lines representing other sizes. 

Be sure to read the size guide on the pattern.  Each pattern is different.  What may be a size 8 on one pattern is a size 12 on another pattern.  Don’t worry about the size they call it, just go by your body measurements.  That is the beautiful thing about sewing your own garments, you can sew it to fit your body and then call it whatever size you want!  Want to wear a size 2?  Sew it according to your measurements and then sew a tag into it that says, “Size 2.”  You can make it whatever you want it to be!

Measurement and fabric information for the Verdun Woven t-shirt (pictured at top of the page). This is a fun and easy starter pattern.

Next up, what are the little triangle things pointing to the cutting lines?  Those are notches.  Notches are there to help you match up your pieces and sew them together.  A single triangle, or notch point, will mean that it is the front of the garment, while a double triangle, will indicate that it is the back of the garment.  You should cut a notch into your pattern paper and fabric at exactly where it appears on the pattern.  You will then match the notch up to the notch on the connecting piece, pin it well, and then sew.  This will ensure that the alignment is correct.

Your pattern may have a short line with an arrow at each end and the word “grainline” underneath it.  All fabrics have a grainline, or direction of the weave in the fabric.  You will want to keep this arrow parallel to the grainline in your fabric while cutting your pattern.  If your pattern says to cut on the bias, this means to cut at a 45 degree angle across the fabric.  A bias cut allows the fabric to have more stretch and give. 

Other symbols you may see on your pattern are for gathering, darts, buttonholes, and more.  For a more complete understanding of patterns and what you need to know before beginning, check out this ultimate guide on How to Read Sewing Patterns by Eve Tokens of The Creative Curator.  This girl is a very experienced designer with so much knowledge! 

VintageThirsty has put together an excellent tutorial on understanding patterns. This gal and her adorable Scottish accent will have you reading patterns like a boss in no time at all.

Now that you have a basic understanding of garment patterns under your belt (pun totally intended), what will you make first? Whatever you choose, you are sure to do great. Happy Sewing!!

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