Home / Sewing Beginners Advice / Introduction to Sewing Patterns
Sewing Machine Needles
Sewing Machine Needles

Introduction to Sewing Patterns

Learning about sewing patterns is another sewing essential if you want to develop past the most basic of craft stages.

For most of the items you make, you will need some sort of sewing pattern. In dressmaking, a wide range of tissue paper patterns is available, from fabric shops and department stores.

The patterns tell you how much fabric is required, what accessories you need for fastenings and decoration, how to lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric, and how to con-struct the garment.

You will often find more than one size is given on each paper pattern, which may appear confusing, but actually gives you some flexibility in cutting garments to fit exactly if you are not a standard size. You may also find graph patterns for clothes in books and magazines.

These patterns usually have to be cut out in paper so that you can cut out the garment in the same way as a ready-made pattern. You may also use an existing garment as a pattern: again, cut out your own pattern pieces following the garment as a guide, and use them like a ready-made pattern.

The pattern has markings, indicating special features like darts, positions of openings and fastenings, and where to match the edges of the fabric to stitch seams. These markings are transferred from the pattern to the fabric before removing the paper pattern.

For home sewing, you may find ready-made tissue paper patterns, graph patterns, or you may have to work without a pattern, making cushions, curtains and loose covers for example.

You cannot try on a pattern, as you can a ready-made garment, and you may not yet have the skills of an experienced dressmaker, so consider the following points when choosing a pattern.

How to Read a Sewing Pattern Video

Know Your Size

There are different types of pattern, cut to suit different figure types and sizes. Measure yourself carefully and consult the pattern manufacturer’s chart before buying a pattern. Sizing corresponds closely with ready-to-wear sizing, but manufacturers do vary in their interpretation of the sizes, and how clothes should fit.

Small adjustments to fit can be made during construction of a garment, but you may have to adjust the pattern before cutting out, to make major alterations, to allow for a high buntline or broad shoulders, for example.

Select patterns according to your bust measurement, and make adjustments where needed for other measurements. However, if your bust is larger in proportion to all other measurements, take your chest measure-ment and compare it to the bust size. If the difference is 10 cm (4 inches) or more, buy your pattern one size smaller than the bust measure-ment and enlarge it at the bust.

The smaller size will give a better fit around the shoulders and armholes. For skirts and trousers, select the pattern according to the hip measurement — it is easier to adjust the waist. All the patterns are based on actual body mea-surements, and include an allowance for ease. So a coat or jacket pattern will have more ease (and larger pattern pieces) than a close fitting garment.

Sewing Skills

When choosing a pattern, you must consider your own skills, and the features of the pattern. Start with simple shapes which do not rely on complicated fitting for their style. Avoid garments which de­mand difficult-to-handle fabrics and items with intricate openings if you do not have much experi­ence. If you progress from straightforward patterns to more complicated ones, you can practise your skills and build up confidence. If you choose a difficult pattern before you have mastered simple techniques you will not get good results.

Many manufacturers group their patterns according to ease of sewing, so look out for specially labelled patterns to start with.

Your Budget and Lifestyle

Some people take up sewing as an economy measure, enabling them to save money on ready-made garments. Others make their own clothes because they can’t get a good fit from ready-made ranges, and others sew because they want to add their own design touches to their wardrobe.

Be prepared to spend money on good fabrics if you are after professional results. It is worth checking to see how much fabric is needed, and what types of fabric are recommended before buying a pattern — you may find that the cost of making it up is more than you expected.

The style of pattern you choose should also suit your lifestyle. There is no point in spending time and money making up clothes that will hang at the back of your wardrobe for months on end. To make the most of your work, consider its suitability and purpose.  Can the garment be worn all the year round? Will it be fashionable for more than season? Will it mix with other clothes in wardrobe, and do you have suitable accessories?

Garment Style

Of course, your figure type also affects the style of garment you choose. Look at yourself, and your measurements objectively. Decide which points you want to emphasize and which you want to disguise. For example, you may want to emphasize a trim waistline or choose a garment which draw attention away from large hips. Choose the same style of garments in pattern form would choose if you were buying a ready-made garment. You probably know from your existing wardrobe which shapes suit you and which ones you feel most comfortable in.