Thursday, September 11, 2008

How to sew: 7 tips on How to read a sewing pattern

Reading a Sewing pattern is easy if you know how. A pattern tells you the measurements for a particular size, where to cut, where to sew, fold, how to sew (zig zag or straight or slip stitch) additional embellishments and other instructions to make a beautiful project.

However, reading patterns are a task in itself. What I call them are Instructions written by experts for experts coz they presuppose you have sewing experience as much as they do and a language which they understand. Hence, it becomes imperative you understand the nuances of pattern reading and the below is aimed to help you get it started.

1) Find a project you like and based on your own experience. If you are new to the world of sewing go for patterns marked “Easy”. Next find the company that makes the pattern and the pattern number.

2) On the pattern envelop you will see the picture of the finished project. Observe the picture. This is how the project will look after you have finished sewing except of course the size which will depend on you. The size on patterns are different than ready-made garments hence you need to read the back of the pattern envelop to see the exact size you are looking for (which usually is given in different measurements for US and European sizes)

3) At the back of the pattern envelop you will see diagrams of the same project but in different styles or “views” as in if you are sewing a top then a picture of the top without sleeves would be one” view” or style, with half sleeves another “view” or full sleeves and so on forth to give you an idea as to the different projects you can sew with the same pattern. Also a little more detailed description of the back view of the project will be added.

The back of the pattern envelop will also mention the recommended fabric texture (heavy weight, sateen, organza), the minimum width of the fabric required for a particular size and the style or view you are sewing. It will also mention any extra fabric required in case if your fabric has “nap”.

Nap refers to the direction of the fabric and your fabric will have nap if it has one way print for example you are sewing a tea cozy and the print on the fabric is of tea pots then all the pattern pieces you cut should have the tea pots facing up and you may need extra fabric to ensure that. So is the case with stripes and plaids where you want them to fall symmetrical when you are finished with the project. In case of fabrics like velvet, corduroy and fleece you will notice if the fabric is brushed on one side it looks of a different color and brushed to another side there is a slight difference in the color this again may need you to buy extra fabric to avoid these differences.

Do not be afraid to reconfirm the width of the fabric with the store clerk to match the requirements of the pattern.

4) Inside the pattern envelop you will find Pattern pieces usually printed on large pieces of tissue paper for different views. Handle them carefully as they may easily tear. For some projects you may even find “master patterns” printed on sturdier white paper. Master patterns and other pattern pieces can be reused for different sizes by tracing the size you need on another tissue or pattern tracing material. This enables you to trace another style or cut the fabric according to a different size without losing the master pattern or the pattern pieces.

5) On the front page of the pattern, there will be an illustration or diagram of the front and back of the project. Directly under the front and back of the project diagram will be the diagram of each pattern piece marked with numbers. A List of the pieces according to the numbers will mention whether the pieces are for the front, back, loop or anything needed for the project.

Next you will notice the step by step sewing instructions to put the project together. Instructions with illustrations on how to layout the pattern pieces with fabric folds, batting if any, right sides together, lining, wrong side facing down, seam allowances etc will be described.

6) Cut the pattern pieces you need depending on the size you want. (If you want to reuse your pattern pieces you can trace the size you need on another tissue or pattern tracing material) Take care to cut along the proper lines for most the challenge in sewing is about cutting it right. Cut all the pattern pieces as illustrated and pin them to the fabric so it is similar to the diagram in the pattern. Transfer the circles, points, casing lines etc mentioned on the pattern onto the fabric with the help of a fabric marker. After you have cut the fabric according to the pieces, leave the pattern pieces pinned to the fabric until you need to sew them according to the instructions.

7) Glossary: Most patterns especially the easy ones have a glossary for new sewers to learn the sewing terminology and to make out the markings on the pattern pieces. In the beginning read and re-read a pattern for clarity. If in doubt you can look at the diagram or illustration to see if you are working in the right direction.

Reading a Sewing a pattern is like reading a map it seems difficult in the beginning but once you have done it few times over you will be able to follow the instructions. A little bit of practice and persistence and you will be a pro on sewing with the help of patterns. You can get more such information and tips to learn how to sew, free sewing patterns, instructions on how to sew a tea cozy, how to sew a sash, pageant sashes, headbands with ribbon bows, fabric jewelry pouch at

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