What Is a Sewing Pattern

A sewing pattern is a set of instructions and diagrams used to create a specific garment or other item using fabric and thread. The pattern usually includes a range of sizes and variations for different styles and options, as well as detailed instructions on how to cut and sew the fabric pieces together.

Types of Sewing Patterns

There are many different types of sewing patterns available, including:

  • Commercial Patterns: These are the most common type of sewing patterns and are available for purchase from pattern companies such as Simplicity, Vogue, and McCalls. They come in a wide range of styles and sizes and often include instructions for various skill levels.
  • Independent Patterns: These patterns are designed and sold by independent pattern designers and companies. They often feature unique designs and styles not found in commercial patterns and are often geared toward intermediate or advanced sewers.
  • Vintage Patterns: These patterns are older patterns that are no longer in print, but can be purchased from vintage pattern retailers. They offer a unique and retro style that can be hard to find in modern patterns.
  • PDF Patterns: These patterns are digital files that can be purchased and downloaded from online pattern retailers. They are often more affordable than printed patterns and can be printed at home on a standard printer.
  • Free Patterns: These patterns are available for free from various sources, including sewing blogs and websites. They can be a great option for those on a budget or for those who want to try a new pattern without committing to purchasing one.
  • Costume Patterns: These patterns are specifically designed for creating costumes and cosplay outfits. They often feature more elaborate designs and detailed instructions for creating intricate costumes.

Overall, there are many different types of sewing patterns available to suit a wide range of styles, skill levels, and budgets.

Anatomy of a Sewing Pattern

A sewing pattern typically includes several key components, including:

  • Envelope: The pattern is usually enclosed in an envelope that includes a picture of the finished garment, as well as information about the pattern, such as the name, number, and size range.
  • Instructions: The pattern instructions provide step-by-step guidance on how to create the garment. This may include information on how to cut the fabric, how to assemble the garment, and how to finish the seams and edges.
  • Pattern pieces: The pattern pieces are printed on tissue paper or other thin paper, and are used to create the garment. Each piece is labeled with the pattern name, number, and size or sizes that it corresponds to.
  • Notches and markings: These are small symbols or lines printed on the pattern pieces that indicate where to match up the pieces when sewing. They may also include other markings, such as darts, buttonhole placement, and grain lines.
  • Size chart: The pattern typically includes a size chart that indicates which size or sizes to use based on the person’s measurements. It is important to measure accurately and choose the correct size to ensure a proper fit.

How to Choose the Right Sewing Pattern

Choosing the right sewing pattern can be overwhelming, but here are some tips to help you make the right choice:

  • Consider your skill level: Sewing patterns are often labeled with a level of difficulty, such as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Be honest with yourself about your sewing skills and choose a pattern that matches your level.
  • Choose a style that suits you: Look for patterns that match your personal style and the occasion you will be wearing the garment for. Consider the silhouette, neckline, sleeves, and other design elements.
  • Check the sizing: Always check the sizing chart and compare your measurements to ensure that the pattern will fit you properly. If you are between sizes, it’s usually best to choose the larger size and adjust as needed.
  • Consider the fabric requirements: The pattern instructions will include information about the type and amount of fabric needed for the garment. Make sure to choose a fabric that works well with the pattern and that you can find easily.
  • Look at reviews: Before purchasing a pattern, look for reviews online from other sewers who have used the same pattern. This can give you valuable insights into any potential issues with the pattern or instructions.
  • Practice with a muslin: If you are unsure about the fit or style of the pattern, consider making a practice garment with inexpensive muslin fabric before cutting into your more expensive fashion fabric.

Understanding Sewing Pattern Terminology

Understanding sewing pattern terminology can be helpful when working with patterns. Here are some common terms:

  • Grain line: The grain line is a straight line printed on the pattern piece that indicates the direction of the fabric grain. It is important to follow the grain line when cutting out the fabric to ensure that the garment hangs properly.
  • Seam allowance: The seam allowance is the amount of fabric between the cut edge of the fabric and the stitching line. Most patterns have a standard seam allowance of 5/8 inch, but some may have a different allowance.
  • Notches: Notches are small marks or symbols on the pattern pieces that help match up the pieces when sewing them together. They may also indicate where to place darts, pockets, or other design elements.
  • Darts: Darts are folds in the fabric that are sewn together to create shape and contour in the garment. They are often found in bodices, skirts, and pants.
  • Fold line: The fold line is a solid line on the pattern that indicates where the fabric should be folded. This is often used for cutting out pattern pieces that are symmetrical.
  • Selvage: The selvage is the finished edge of the fabric that runs parallel to the grain line. It is often used as a guide when cutting out pattern pieces.
  • Ease: Ease is the amount of extra fabric added to a garment to allow for movement and comfort. It can be added at various points in the garment, such as the hips or waist, depending on the style.
  • Hem: The hem is the finished edge of a garment that is folded over and sewn to prevent fraying. It is often the final step in finishing a garment.

By understanding these sewing pattern terms, you can more easily follow the instructions and create a beautiful garment.

How to Read a Sewing Pattern

Reading a sewing pattern can be overwhelming at first, but once you understand the different components, it becomes easier. Here are some steps to help you read a sewing pattern:

  • Start with the envelope: Look at the picture on the envelope to get an idea of what the finished garment will look like. Make note of the name, number, and size range of the pattern.
  • Review the instructions: Read through the pattern instructions to get an idea of the steps involved in making the garment. Look for any special techniques or tools that may be required.
  • Check the sizing chart: Look at the sizing chart to determine which size or sizes you will need to use based on your measurements.
  • Examine the pattern pieces: Remove the pattern pieces from the envelope and examine them. Each piece will have a name, number, and size indicated on it


In conclusion, sewing patterns are an essential tool for anyone interested in creating their own clothing or accessories. By understanding the different types of patterns, their anatomy, terminology, and how to read them, you can successfully create a beautiful garment that fits and flatters your body. Remember to choose a pattern that matches your skill level and personal style, and always take your time to follow the instructions carefully. With practice and patience, you can master the art of sewing and create a wardrobe that reflects your unique personality and taste.




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