Sewing 101: Understanding Your Pattern

Posted in: Sewing 101 — By on October 26, 2010 7:11 AM

By now, you’ve gathered your pattern and all of the things you need to make your project.  Now it’s time to actually use this stuff!

Step #1:  Read through instructions

When you open your pattern, the first thing you should do is read the pattern instructions from beginning to end before diving in.  Make sure that you’re reading the directions for the design that you will be making (“A”, “B”, etc.) because there will instructions for each of the different designs. Yeah, this seems boring, but do it! You’ll avoid any surprises.

Step #2: Lay out your pattern pieces

You will first cut out all of your pattern pieces for the appropriate size and pin them to your fabric — pattern pieces are typically printed on tissue paper. It’s a good idea to lightly press your pattern pieces before cutting them out to get rid of any bunching or wrinkles.  The pattern instructions will show you how to fold your fabric and position the pattern pieces on it to minimize the amount of fabric you need to use, and to make sure all of the pattern pieces are in the right direction.

A couple of things to keep in mind:


Fabrics have a right side and a wrong side, and your pattern will refer to these.  If you’re using a printed fabric, the right side will be easy to see.  It’s a bit harder to tell with solid knit and woven fabrics.  Generally, the right side of a fabric is slightly raised compared to the wrong side, and just looks ‘nicer’.  When in doubt, you can ask which is the right side when buying your fabric.  If you want, you can mark X’s on the back of your fabric pieces in tailor’s chalk so you don’t get confused while you’re sewing.


To put it simply, the grain of a fabric is the direction that the weave runs in.  The easiest way to find this is to look at the finished or selvage edge. The lengthwise grain will be parallel to the selvage edge. Bias is cut at a 45° and crosswise grain is at a 90° angle. Your pattern pieces will each have a large arrow on them — this indicates that the arrow on the pattern piece should line up with the grain of the fabric.  By lining up the pattern with the grain of your fabric, your pieces will drape nicer and look sharper.


When you buy fabric from a fabric store, it will have finished edges on the top and bottom — this finished edge is called the selvage.  The instructions for laying out your pattern pieces will require that you fold your fabric in a certain way — it is important to remember where your selvages are and where the folded edge is, because sometimes you will cut out symmetrical pieces using the folded edge.

Step #3: Transfer markings and cut out pattern pieces

Sewing Tools: Marking Tools

Once you have pinned your paper pieces to the fabric, trace and cut out your fabric pieces.  You’ll also need to transfer markings for any notches and darts.  Different pattern makers use different symbols and lines to indicate these, so double check with the legend on your pattern instructions.  You can mark notches with a scissor clip, but make sure you cut smaller than your seam allowance.  Darts can be marked with a tracing wheel and carbon paper or tailor’s chalk.

Keep in mind that the seam allowances (the extra fabric that will be outside of your seams) are already included in the pattern pieces — you don’t need to add this in.  A standard seam allowance is 5/8 of an inch, but your pattern will tell you if you need to use smaller seam allowances.

Step #4: Start sewing!

At this point, you should be good to go!

Stay tuned for our next series, MEET YOUR MACHINE

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  1. Charity Ejeh says:

    I love what I read, thanks very much. Would like to hear and learn more frm u. Thanx

  2. pam price says:

    It’s been a long time since I have sewn a pattern, need a refresher lesson. and this page is easy to read and understand. thanks

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