Learning how to read a sewing pattern envelope is the first step in sewing a garment. Learn these tips for success!
My first experience with sewing involved picking out patterns and proper fabric at our local fabric store when I was 7 years old. The woman who ran the small store was very experienced and she could answer any questions that you might have and steer you on the right path. Today, things are are very different. So many people are learning to sew for the very first time and have no one to ask for help. Even the employees in the fabric store (if you can find one!) don’t always know how to answer your questions.
Learn to read the pattern envelope before you choose your pattern and you will feel much more comfortable with the process. This post will help you know how difficult the pattern is, what fabric and notions to buy, what size pattern you need and give you an idea of what the garment will cost to make.
Reading a Sewing Pattern Envelope
1) Choose your style in the pattern style book. Pull out the desired pattern from the storage drawer in the store and view the back of the envelope. Not sure how to do this? Watch this FB Live video.
2) Find the envelope flap. Most patterns have the body measurements listed here for each size. Compare your body measurements to find the size that is closest to your measurements. Ready to wear sizes are not the same as pattern sizes, so don’t buy a pattern based on your ready to wear size. It won’t work!
The Pattern Size Chart
3) Look at the description of the garment on the top of the rectangular chart on the envelope. This description tells you how many pattern pieces are included in this particular style. Easy patterns have fewer pieces, you can sew an entire dress with as little as 4 or 5 pattern pieces. More advanced patterns such as coats have lots of pieces, some coats have as many as 28! Different pattern companies have the sewing level clearly marked in the description as beginner, intermediate, advanced etc. Make note of what notions are required. Do you have the skill to sew them? Items like buttons and zippers require more skill to sew. If you are a beginner sewer, you may want to look for a pattern with draw string or elastic closures instead until you have more experience.
4) Recommended fabrics are included on the envelope for each style. Restrict your fabric purchases to only these fabric choices for that style. This is important for beginning sewers who often get misled when purchasing fabric for the first time. Woven fabrics and knits for example, require very different construction methods so they are not interchangeable. If you want your garment to turn out, you must choose the proper fabric for that style.
5) Knit styles sometimes have stretch measurements on the back of the pattern envelope. Place your fabric on the fold over the black rectangle marking on the top of the envelope. Stretch the fabric across the chart to see if it will work for that style.
5) Choose which style view you want to make from the front of the envelope. You may want to circle view A, B, C on the envelope so it’s easy to remember.
6) Look at the “size” column, calculate how much fabric you will need by reading down the chart. Fabric comes in widths of 45″ (cottons or specialty fabrics generally) or 60″ (knits, wool, lace, rayon, fleece, crepe, satin). You will need to purchase extra fabric if you plan to make alterations. I routinely purchase 1/4-1/2 yard extra fabric for each style to be sure I have enough yardage. When I forget to do this, I usually end up having to run back to the store and sometimes the fabric isn’t there any more, or it won’t be off the same bolt which can be a slightly different color. Be sure to buy enough fabric for your project all at once, you can always make something else from the scraps!
The Yardage Chart
7) Extra fabric will be required for matching one way prints or fabrics that have a nap. Buy at least 1 extra yard per style to match plaids. In the photo above, separate yardages are given for fabrics with nap. Fabrics with nap include corduroy or velvet, use these yardages if you are sewing with those items.
8) Don’t forget to purchase interfacing, and lining if your pattern requires it. These are listed separately, below the other fabric and notion requirements. Also, be sure you have a selection of fresh sharp sewing machine needles at home in case one breaks while you are sewing! (Hint, buy needles that are designed for the type of fabric you choose. Different fabrics such as knits, satin or denim require special sewing machine needles.)
What if I make a mistake buying my Pattern?
What happens if you do your best to read the pattern envelope and make a mistake in your purchase? If you get home and realize you purchased the wrong type of fabric for your pattern, most stores will return it. The fabric must be uncut and unwashed. You must have your receipt, including the cutting slip to get proper credit. Sewing patterns can be returned only if they are unopened. Usually, I keep patterns and fabric if I decide not to use them right away. I prefer to have a stash of things in my closet for reference even if I haven’t sewn them. You will quickly become a collector if you aren’t already!
I like to keep track of what I spend on each garment for my own enjoyment. My custom designs are akin to designer brands, they are good quality and custom made to fit me perfectly. Do not compare your custom sewn clothing to things you would buy at a discount or department store, those garments are poor quality and not custom made.
Every time you make a new project you learn something else. Think of this sewing journey as one that will be on going. The time to start is now!
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