The Language of Sewing – Reading Patterns and Stitches

What's in a sewing pattern

So, you’ve decided you want to sew. Congratulations! Now it’s time to learn the language of sewing. You may have already found that sewing patterns are full of “foreign” terms and references to stitches that mean nothing to you. So, let’s take a walk through patterns and stitches together and you’ll be all ready to start!

What's in a sewing pattern
Image Source: The Sewing Directory

Reading a Sewing Pattern

Whether you’re working from a purchased pattern or a free online project tutorial, you’ll need to learn the terms involved in the language of sewing. If you’ve purchased a pattern, start with the back of the pattern for sizing, supplies needed and line drawings of the design.

What’s Your Size?

Pattern sizing is not the same as the size of the clothing you purchase in a store. When you sew, you have the luxury of choosing a size that matches up as closely as possible to your body measurements. Check the bust, waist and hip sizes shown on the pattern back (or flap) and choose the size that is closest to your measurements so you’ll know how much fabric to buy.

How Much Fabric?

Choose the style version you want to make and look for that letter (A, B, C, etc) on the ‘Yardage Needed’ chart on the back of the pattern envelope. In most cases, you can choose between 45” and 60” wide fabric to make your project.

The back of the pattern will also tell you what kind or weight of fabric the designer had in mind. Look for the type listed (Cotton Blends, Lawn, Challis, etc.) and don’t be afraid to ask a clerk for help. The yardage chart will tell you how many yards you need to buy for the version, size and fabric width you’re using. It’s listed in yards (2-1/2, 3, 3-5/8, etc) and that’s what you’ll ask for at the cutting counter.

Threads and zippers

What’s a Notion?

Notions are the required little helpers that pull your chosen project together. Zippers, Thread (Coats and Clark, of course!), Lace, Bias Tape, etc, etc, may all be listed on your pattern back. It may also call for interfacing. This is a special fabric that gives a little more weight to parts of your project (collars, cuffs, etc) and helps them to look the way they should. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Inside the Pattern

So, you’ve bought your pattern, fabric and notions and taken it home. Now what? Inside the pattern there will be an instruction sheet that will be your BFF while you are sewing. It shows a diagram of how to lay the pattern pieces on your fabric before you cut around them. This is super important to making sure you can cut out your project from the amount of fabric you purchased. The instruction sheet will also tell you step-by-step how to assemble your new and fabulous piece of clothing!

Reading a Sewing Pattern
Image Source: Craftsy

And, this is where the language of sewing really begins. There are all kinds of terms (grain, facing, seam allowance, etc) on that sheet that could have you in tears and we don’t want that. So, I’ve found a few online friends to help you out!

Click here to read The Sewing Directory’s guide to Understanding Sewing Patterns. It’s quick, concise and a great place to start learning the language of sewing.

Click here to read Craftsy’s post, Learn to Read Any Sewing Pattern. It’s full of all kinds of helpful tips and term definitions.

Inside Sewing Patterns
Image Source: Liesl Gibson on YouTube

And finally, plan half an hour, get a snack and a notepad and click here to watch Liesl Gibson’s (Olive + S patterns) thorough and awesome YouTube on How to Read a Sewing Pattern. So. Much. Info. You will love it!

Sewing Machine Stitches
Image Source: Crazy Little Projects blog

The Language of Sewing Machine Stitches

Straight, Zigzag, Decorative, Buttonhole – oh, my! What are all those stitches on your sewing machine?! For most projects, you’ll use the straight stitch exclusively, but you may need a zigzag, too. At the very least you’ll want to know how to adjust the length and, in the case of zigzags, the width of your stitches. The manual that came with your sewing machine is the best way for you to learn these stitches and how your particular machine works. But, again, I have a few online friends you can consult, too. Be sure to keep your manual by your side while you check out these posts.

Click here to learn What Are All Those Stitches?! from Amber of the Crazy Little Projects blog. She covers the basics and beyond and helps you figure out what’s on your own sewing machine.

Click here for a Basic Sewing Stitches post by Maile on the Take Lessons blog. It includes an excellent section on seam finishes (yes, you’ll need those) and an info-graphic for you to download.

Decorative Sewing Machine Stitches
Image Source: The Spruce blog

Click here for a good basic discussion of general and decorative Sewing Machine Stitches and their uses on The Spruce Crafts blog.

And, now . . . you’ve got this! Ready. Set. Sew. And, most of all . . . have FUN!!

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