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Reading a Sewing Pattern

Even though a sewing pattern might be labeled "easy" or "quick," the pattern instruction writers sometimes assume that you have a certain amount of general sewing knowledge. Nothing can be more intimidating than trying to figure out what all the hieroglyphics are on the various parts of a pattern. Don't have a pattern panic attack! Take a look at each of the standard pattern parts one at a time, and you'll be shopping for patterns like a pro in no time.

Reading the front of the pattern envelope

On the front of the pattern envelope, you often see several style variations of the same project. In the world of sewing, these style variations are called views. One view may have a collar, long sleeves, and cuffs. Another view may have a V-neck and short sleeves.

In home decor patterns, you may have several views in one pattern for a basic window treatment. Another pattern may have several pillow views. A third has several options for slipcovers. Views simply give you style options on creating the same basic project.

Reading the back of the pattern envelope

The back of a pattern envelope contains the following information about your project:

  • The back of the project in detail: The front of the pattern usually just shows the front of your project.
  • A description of the project by view: Always read the description of a project on the back of the pattern envelope. Drawings and photographs can be deceiving, but this written description tells you exactly what you're getting.
  • How much fabric to buy: This information is based on the width of the fabric you choose, the view you're making, your size, and whether your fabric has nap or not.
    If your fabric has nap, the pattern requires you to buy a little more fabric. Your fabric has nap if it falls contains any of these qualities:

One-way design: For example, your fabric shows dancing elephants printed in the same direction. If you cut out some of the pattern pieces in one direction and other pattern pieces in the opposite direction, you'll find elephants dancing right side up on part of the project and upside down on another part of the same project. You need extra fabric so that you can get all your elephants going in the right direction.

Fuzzy texture:Such as velvet, corduroy, Polarfleece, and some sweatshirt fleeces. When brushed in one direction, the fabric is smooth; when brushed in the other direction, it's rough. This texture difference translates into a color difference. You need more fabric to cut out the pattern pieces in the same direction.

Uneven stripe: For example, the fabric has three colored stripes — red, blue, and yellow. To match the stripes at the seams, you need extra fabric because the pattern must be laid out in the same direction. If the front and back pattern pieces are laid out in opposite directions, the stripes are cut on the front, going from red, to blue, to yellow. The stripes on the back would be cut so that they go from yellow, to blue, to red. When you sew the seam together, the stripes won't match at the side seams.

Even or uneven plaid: The color bars in a plaid must match both vertically and horizontally. If the plaid is not symmetrical in one or both directions, you need to lay out the pattern pieces all going in the same direction. This technique requires more fabric — for making the plaid match.

  • List of notions needed for specific views: These notions include items such as the number and size of buttons, the zipper length and type, elastic width and length, shoulder pad style and size, hooks and eyes, and so on.

It's what's inside that counts

Inside your pattern envelope, you find the following items necessary for your project:

  • Pattern pieces: Some pattern pieces are printed on large pieces of tissue paper. Others are printed on sturdy pieces of white paper called master patterns.
    To preserve the master pattern for reuse, simply trace the size you need onto a piece of pattern tracing material. (This material is available through sewing mail-order catalogs and specialty fabric stores. Look for Trace-A-Pattern and Do-Sew brands.)
    This way, you can trace off another view or cut out a project for someone else who is a different size without destroying the master pattern.
  • Key and glossary: These references help you decipher the markings on the pattern pieces.
  • Pattern layout: The layout shows you how to lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric yardage for each view.
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to put the project together: Instructions are written in various degrees of clarity depending on your knowledge of sewing.

The project instructions may run more than one page. If they do, staple the pages together in the upper-left corner and post them in front of you as you sew. Then you can easily check off each step as you finish it. If you don't have a place to post the sheet, set it next to your sewing machine, folded to the section you're working on, for a handy reference.

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