Some skills are used in nearly every clothes making project.

Here are some links on patterns. It’s amazing how much there is to know about this useful tool.
Develop your pattern using skills along with your sewing skills.

But if you’re not convinced that using patterns is right for you, don’t let that put you off sewing garments. There are plenty of ways of making clothes without patterns. These are some books :

DIY Couture by Rosie Martin (current styles)

The illustrated hassle-free make your own clothes book by Bordow and Rosenberg (boho styles)

Either way, build up your knowledge in the way that suits you, and enjoy your sewing 😀

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How to use sewing patterns

A general post from Sew Mama Sew

General video from Threads magazine – Patterns 101 (7 min.)
and from Liesl Gibson at Creative Bug (38 min.)

More detailed links below.

Understand the pattern envelope

Written, from Tilly and the Buttons.
Video, from Simplicity

Take body measurements

Basic measurements, post from Sew Mama Sew

Detailed measurements, videos from eSewingWorkshop :
bodice
sleeve
skirt
pants
(their drafting methods produce a ‘second skin’ fit)

Choose size

Post from Tilly and the Buttons

Understand markings on pattern pieces

On tissue patterns there are several types of marking :

Labels, which pattern pieces to use for a given style :
– labels for pattern company, name/number of style, name/number of pattern piece.
Size and fit :
– on multi-size patterns : cutting lines for different sizes.
– fit adjustments guides, such as lengthen-shorten lines.
– finished garment measures at bust and hip (not on all pattern makes).
Guides to cutting out :
– what direction to lay the piece in,
– how many pieces to cut,
– from which fabric.
Used in making : markings (dots, squares, notches, lines) which need to be transferred to the fabric, because they are reference points / lines which show such things as :
– how the fabric pieces are matched up or folded during construction.
– where a stitching line stops,
– where a style element, such as a pocket or buttonhole, is placed in the middle of the fabric.

On pdf patterns there’s also another type of marking :
– marks which show how to assemble the pages together.

Post from Tilly and the Buttons.

Video from FashionSewingBlogTV

I’ve found it a very useful habit to check I know what all the markings mean on a pattern piece before using it. And which ones to focus on at each stage of the process : assembling a pdf, choosing the pattern pieces to use, getting the right size and fit, cutting out fabric, sewing.

Understand pattern instructions

Here’s a general video from Professor Pincushion.

There are many different styles of instructions, and often many different methods for making an item.  So it’s good that these days pattern companies have different approaches.  Some assume you already know how to do the sewing processes needed, some like to teach.  Some are for people who like written instructions, some visual. Some written instructions are minimal, some detailed. Some photos and diagrams are clear, some sadly are not.  Some instructions are for people who like quick methods, some support slow sewing.  Some people don’t like any instructions, and like to work out for themselves what to do.  You may need to try several pattern companies before you find instructions that you’re comfortable with.

Most pattern instructions include cutting layout diagrams, showing how to place the pattern pieces on the fabric. And written construction instructions, usually with diagrams.

Check that you know how to choose the right cutting layout, according to fabric width, pattern view and size.  And how to follow the layout in putting pattern pieces on the fabric.

Check that you know the symbols used in the construction diagrams, there should be a guide.
Sadly companies differ in the quality of their diagrams. Some of them stop giving diagrams when things get difficult to show – the opposite of what you want.

I like detailed written instructions, so I’m not a good guide for people who don’t !  Some pattern companies are more supportive with their written instructions than others.
Some tell you what to do, but not how to do it. So you need a good sewing bible – or lots of googling, or one of the pattern sites which also has much guidance on general techniques.

Sadly I’ve found things I want to have help with are missing from some companies which claim to be good for beginners. And you can only find this from experience.

Also companies differ in the sewing style they support.  Some describe quick and easy methods, others describe methods which are slow and careful but high quality.  Find which you prefer !

If videos or photo tutorials work well for you, look for pattern companies which provide sew-alongs for their patterns.

You can tell from their garment illustrations whether a pattern company’s garment style is right for you.
You have to get one of their patterns to find if their instructions style is right for you.
Learning to sew is difficult enough, without also struggling with instructions that don’t suit you.  But keep a good heart. If you find one pattern that you can’t make any sense of, that doesn’t mean all patterns are like that !

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A pattern is a tool that’s full of useful information. Not always quick and easy to understand, but they’re good things to learn how to use.

If what you’d like to know is not how to use a pattern, but how they work to convert 2D fabric to 3D garments, there’s a book How patterns work.

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Originally posted 2013, revised links available March 2019

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