Top Tips for understanding Sewing Patterns (Part 1)

When you are new to the wonderful world of sewing, reading and understanding sewing patterns can be a little overwhelming.

The Haby Goddess recently held an in house workshop going over the basics. Over the next few weeks, I'll publish some helpful blog posts to make the job of reading sewing patterns a little less daunting.

Choosing the right pattern.

Most patterns come with a rating from beginners to advanced but don't just accept that this will be suitable to your skill level.

Here's some handy questions to ask yourself:
  • Are you confident with all the techniques the pattern requires? Have you added a fly zip or slash pockets before?
  • Does your machine have all the attachments for the techniques needed? A walking foot, zip & buttonhole attachment are the most common.
  • What fabric is recommended? Is it a knit or silky fabric that can be harder for beginners to sew with? Is the fabric they suggest readily available.
  • Is it multi sized or do you need to buy a specific size?
  • Do you need additional supplies to trace the pattern? Some independent pattern makers print back to back so you can't cut them out.
  • Does this pattern suit your shape. Go through your wardrobe, you know what is comfortable.  Try to start with styles that are safe and you will know will work.
Deciphering the back of a pattern envelope.
  • This will tell you what and how much fabric you will need and any additional notions such as zips, linings, interfacing etc.
  • Body measurements are given so that you can determine which size to make.  Do not assume that the sizing of the commercially purchased clothing you wear will be the same as sewing patterns. US, UK & Australian sizing all vary and are not standard. It's a good idea to already have measured at home so you have all this info ready at the fabric store. Download this handy Body Measurements Reference card exclusive to Haby Goddess readers.

  • In many cases you will fall in between sizes.  Bone structure, garment design and fabric selection can all play a part.  Does fabric have any give (fabric cut on bias have more stretch), can buttonhole be moved over, are you shorter/petite with a smaller bone structure? Cup size is also something to consider.  Most commercial patterns are only B cup.  Colette Patterns are a C so again, nothing is standard - no wonder sewing patterns scare the life out of beginners!
  • Commercial patterns have two versions, one English (imperial - inches/yards) and the other in either French/Spanish (metric - cm/metres).  So to determine the amount of fabric I need I refer to the metric side of the pattern.
  • Fabrics come in different widths so you also need to allow for this.
Before I cut into my pattern and fabric, I often Google the details.  It is very likely you will find reviews from sewers like you and me on forums and blogs.  Many will mention if the pattern sizing runs small/big, if something didn't work and many will offer suggestions on making the job easier and variations to try.

Some independent pattern makers will have additional instructions by way of blog posts etc on their websites explaining techniques - Colette Patterns are well known for this.  Some even  have sew-alongs.  You could also shoot through a quick email if you were really stuck or had a question before purchasing their pattern.

Next time: You have selected a size and bought your fabric - what to do next?

Do you to learn all the basic to machine sewing but don't have the time for conventional classes? Check out Sew School Online with The Haby Goddess.  A six week online course with 30 lessons, projects & bonus charts.


pigsmightfly said...

Thanks Jodie. Even though I am an experienced (non professional) dressmaker I find these hints and tips very useful indeed.

reflective tape said...

I'm not going to lie. I'm terrible, but you tips help me out so much! Thank you for posting this and keep up the good work!