Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope

You've heard me moan on and on before about my early fitting issues with commercial patterns.  Some All of those early issues were my own fault – in many cases, I simply didn't know how to pick my correct size from the pattern or I used the wrong fabrics.  If you suffer from the same issues, you might welcome my beginner's guide to Understanding A Sewing Pattern Envelope.

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

The Front of the Envelope

This is where the company ‘sells' the design to you.  You will usually see several designs that can all be made from the same pattern.  Sometimes in a multi-pattern, you might be able to make a skirt, shirt, and pants all from the same pattern.  But usually, you will be able to make several variations of the same item such as a dress.  It might come with no sleeves, short sleeves or long sleeve options.  The skirt may be different lengths, or slim-fitting, or gathered.  There may be different necklines.  And all of these variations are usually mix and match.

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

There will also be a pattern number to identify the design and a size.  Smaller pattern companies might use a name instead.  Most patterns do not cover all sizes so you will need to buy the correct pattern range for the size you need.  More on sizing when we look at the back of the envelope.

Tip – the pattern companies spend a lot of time and effort to make these designs look their best so take note of the fabrics used and the type of print.  Is it in a solid color, or a small or bold print, or even stripes?  Try to imagine which of the design variations would suit your body shape the most.

The Back of the Envelope

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.


Type of Fabric

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

Let's start at the top.  Firstly, what TYPE of fabric do you need.  Some designs will suit one fabric and not another.  The most obvious example is whether the fabric stretches or not, and how much it stretches.  You might also need a fabric with a soft drape, so a quilting cotton wouldn't work.  Find the correct fabric for your project here and if in any doubt, take your pattern to your local sewing shop when buying your fabric – always a good idea anyway.

Which ‘View' Will You Pick?

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

Here you will usually find line drawings that show the variations available and give you more design details showing darts, seam lines, sleeve options, lengths, etc.  These are usually referred to as ‘views'.  So in this example, you might sew View C with the long sleeves.  You may need different amounts of fabric depending on which view you are going to sew.


What Notions?

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

What other bits and pieces will you need?  Will you need a zipper?  How long should it be?  Will you need buttons, elastic?  Check those out here and buy them to match your fabric.


What Size Do I Need?

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

Take your personal measurements at bust, waist, and hip and compare them to the measurements on the pattern envelope.  You might find you fall between sizes or you fall over 2 or even three sizes like I often do.  In that case, for a dress or blouse you should usually use your bust size (or high bust if you have a large cup size), and for a skirt or pants, use your hip size.  You can usually adjust the waist easily.  You can also ‘Grade'  between sizes by cutting one size at the bust, and then gradually arching out to a different size line at the waist and again at the hips if you need to.

Use the measurements to see what pattern size you are so you can follow the correct line on the pattern.

Tip – the pattern size is not intended to correspond to your ready-to-wear clothing size.  So do check the size chart before you buy your pattern, just in case.  Pattern sizes may also vary depending on the manufacturer.

How Much Fabric Do I Need?

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

Now that you have determined the pattern option you want to sew and you have noted the pattern size that you will need to cut, you can use the table to work out how much fabric you will need.   Follow your pattern size down from the top and the view option over from the left to see how many yards of fabric you need.  You may need to look across several rows to find your main fabric, lining, any contrasting fabric or interfacing needed.

Note that different fabric lengths will be given for different widths. A narrower 45-inch fabric may need a greater length than a wider 60-inch fabric.  Fabric with stripes, a large pattern repeat or a ‘nap' (directional print or grain in the fabric such as velvet) may need extra fabric for matching.

Tip – the fabric requirements are usually quite generous.  So if a pattern envelope calls for 2.25 yards and you only have 2, you still might make it work.  Lie out all of your pattern pieces before cutting anything, to make doubly sure.

Finished Garment Measurements

Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope. Easy when you know how. Good useful explanations, lots of good info.

Our last box on the envelope is for Garment Measurements.  Assuming you pick an individual pattern size and sew it with the correct seam allowances, this is the finished measurement you should expect at the bust.  They only give the bust measurement as the blouse is not fitted at waist and hip so these measurements are less important in the finished garment. They also tell us that the bust and hip finished measurements are also printed on the paper pattern to help too.

Tip – Garment measurements are larger than body measurements and include ‘ease'.  There may be wearing ease for movement and comfort, and design ease for styling.  Read more about ease.

You can use this information if you are between sizes to decide if you should cut the smaller or larger size.  You can also use this to help decide on size if you prefer a closer fitting or looser fitting than shown on the model.

Finally – Going Overseas

So far we have only looked at the left-hand side of the envelope back because this is in English.  In this example, the right-hand side is in French and Spanish.  However, this side of the envelope will be useful to you if you prefer to measure in centimeters or you buy your fabric in meters instead of yards.

And that's really all there is to it.  In a future post, I'll write some more about the markings you can expect to find on the pattern pieces themselves.

If you want to try a Simplicity Pattern like the one I use here in this tutorial, you'll find a great selection below on Amazon.

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44 Responses to Understanding a Sewing Pattern Envelope

  1. Natalina C Bailey says:

    Thank you for the information about reading a pattern, I just love how you break ir down into easy to read steps. Very appreciated.

  2. La'Cher Nicholson says:

    Love this!!! I wish I could know a kind of degree of difficulty for the patterns to consider before I buy.

  3. Mrs. Cross says:

    Great piece. Thanks for writing it.

  4. Linda says:

    Very helpful, thank you.

  5. Evelin Eller says:

    Great job explaining the pattern envelope.

  6. Ann says:

    Hi I’m new to sewing I bought a vogue pattern V9072 but just learning what everything means can you help me, what is underlining then lining then contrast, then marks on the images I cant take it in I’m doing dress b then it says robe b??????? tried to send few pics but only allowing me to send 2 if you email me I can send the others many thanks.x.

  7. Olive Winstanley says:

    I was doing a dummie run on a simplcity dress for my daughters wedding for bridesmaids ,only to find when finished came out to small was size 18 didnt even fit the smaller bridesmaid this was pattern 1420 us5 thease letters on patterns are so confusing dont realy understand them have had them with R5 plus A could any one help got a feeling this dress pattern could be petite hoping you can help thank you

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      HI, Olive, I do not have this pattern, but one thing I can tell you is that always look at the finished garment measurements, this is a better indication than sizes. As a rule, it is easier to enlarge a pattern than making it smaller and the finished garment measurement will give you some room to play with.

  8. kay says:

    Thank you so much for this! I was at a total loss and you have made it crystal clear, thank you! 🙂

  9. Athena Ziolkowski says:

    Hi I was wondering if you could tell me what OS means on the back of a veil pattern?

  10. Melissa Clark says:

    What does the astricks mean beside the bolt size? I have a pattern that has 45** and 45***. Below that it has 60** and 60***. I can’t find anywhere on the pattern or packaging what ** or *** means. Please help.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      It means the width of the fabric, some fabrics are 60″ wide and others are 45″ only, 45 inches wide is more common.

      • Melissa says:

        Thank you. I understand the bolt size I’m just not understanding the astric part. Same pattern has 45** and 45*** which is calling for different yardage. So what does the astric (**) (***) mean on same pattern?

        • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

          Ok normally means there is for information about this particular point. In this case weather is 45 or 60 the fabric requirements depend on the width of the fabric you have bought. The placements of the pattern also changes. so you need to know what you have to know not only how much fabric to purchase, but also how to place the pattern so you do not waste any fabric. Hope this helps.

    • Rhonda Moore says:

      The asterisk means *with nap ** without nap *** with or without nap

    • Rhonda Moore says:

      ** means without nap *** means with or without nap, this info is at the very bottom of the package under finished garment measurements, nap is any material that has to be turned in the same direction such as velvet.

    • sls says:

      Hi Melissa,
      the asterisks mean that there is additional corresponding information on that point. SO somewhere else on the package there should be a matching asterisk with the extra info. This applies to other situations besides patterns. In these cases though, it often refers to whether the measurements include a nap or not. This can affect how much fabric you need

    • Carmen says:

      The designation 45/60** and 45/60*** generally refer to fabric 45 or 60 inches wide, “with or without nap”, which is designated as ” **/ *** “. With/without nap becomes important when purchasing fabric for your garment and for cutting layout.

      Fabrics that have one-way designs, cut on the bias, plaids, fabrics that have nap such as velvet, suede, etc, fabrics that have prominent designs that repeat and must be matched will dictate that you use the with nap or *** yardage and pattern layout.

      Example: You want to use velvet to make a dress; velvet has nap. With nap means that the dress front and back and all other pattern pieces must be placed on the fabric with all of the upper edges of the pattern pieces facing in the same direction. Let’s say you placed the pieces on the fabric with the front of the dress up and the back of the dress down. When you have finished, you would discover that the front of the dress would appear dark/light and the back the opposite. Your dress would be ruined! Placing pattern pieces for “with nap” layout generally mean that you will have to buy more fabric because the with nap layout does not make the most efficient use of the fabric.

      Without nap means there is no such requirement — the pattern pieces can be placed in either direction. This layout makes the most efficient use of the fabric.

      The fabric you choose will dictate whether to use the “with or without nap” for purchasing enough fabric and for the cutting layout of your garment.

      The with or without nap statement can be found in the FABRICS: section on the pattern envelope. It is also listed in the cutting layout section by the view and size of the garment. The can be a cutting layout for with nap, a layout of without nap and sometimes the two are combined, which means the pattenr layout will work for both.

      Long….but I hope this helps!

  11. Angela says:

    Thank you for taking the time to explain all of this.

  12. Lisa says:

    I’ve learned over the years that when a pattern says “very easy” it’s not so. It frustrates me that pattern companies assume you already have sewing knowledge when you purchase the pattern. If that were true then YES the pattern would be very simple. If you have no sewing knowledge at all those patterns marked “very easy” become VERY HARD!!! Thanks for all your advice.

    • sls says:

      Hi Lisa,
      I know what you mean, it can be very frustrating, but if you think about it, they have to make some kind of assumption in order to have a reference point. If you have little or no sewing experience at least you know that the “easy” patterns are still going to be simpler than the others. It may not be easy for you but with practice, it’ll get better. There’s no way for them to make a scale based on no sewing experience at all. You know what I mean?

  13. Bobbie says:

    What if the patter has a. 2 patters and u want 1 if says a&b. on it and u need b ?? And there are a few that says a&b and u just want b?? I need help please

  14. sewingshop says:

    Thanks for explaining this so clearly. It can be a bit overwhelming the first time you see a pattern envelope, so this is definitely a useful guide for beginners!
    I put a link to your post on my blog, you can see it here.

    • Thanks very much for the share and link back. I particularly enjoyed your article about how to start teaching sewing classes. I’d love to do that one day.

      • sewingshop says:

        I think a lot of people would like to do that, but are just scared to get started. You should definitely do it if it’s a dream of you 🙂

  15. Deb says:

    Deby, I’m sharing this post to my blog. This is something that I think intimidates a lot of new sewers, and I know when I was first starting to sew, I messed up a lot of garments in the sense I didn’t know how to read the envelope and they didn’t fit! I know better now, but back then? Not so much.

    • Deby Coles says:

      I know what you mean – it’s like algebra or a foreign language. Thanks for sharing my article. I still avoid commercial patterns just because I find they always have SO much fitting ease, once its sewn, you have to alter every part of it to get anything resembling a fit.

  16. mimi says:


    • Deby Coles says:

      I’ve found this too on occasion. So much so that I then went on to do this routinely and got caught out when I made a dress far too small because I assumed I had to cut 2 sizes smaller. That’s when I went on the take the Sew the Perfect Fit Course, and it really taught me how to evaluate the pattern and the sizing and make sure I cut the right size to avoid too many difficult or impossible changes later. I really recommend this course, and you can get a special price of 20% off, through the review code at https://so-sew-easy.com/sew-the-perfect-fit-review/

  17. Carrie says:

    Wonderful post! I’m always overwhelmed when I look at a pattern. This is a great breakdown. Thanks for sharing it at Think Tank Thursday. I have featured you today at saving4six.com

  18. Susan @TheBoredZombie.com says:

    Nice! I dont do apparel much, but when I do I usually make it in muslin and then try to fit it. Would probably be smarter to just learn to read the pattern. 🙂

  19. lydiaf1963 says:

    This is a great explanation that will help so many people. Thanks for posting!

  20. Hai Deby. Thank you for linking it up. This is a well thought-out post. Useful! ~ Rose

  21. Awilda says:

    Thank you Deby, I’ve been reading so many books trying to find out the best way to determined my pattern size as I fall within three sizes. While the books are good I was still a bit confused so gracias for the explanation.

  22. Abby says:

    This is so super helpful! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Renee says:

    Saw your link over at Think Pink Sunday. Love it! I love to sew and I am always looking for great sewing blogs. Love your explanation of how to read the pattern envelope, they can be very intimidating. I plan to spend a lot of time here. Thanks for sharing.

  24. litcoachDonna says:

    A very comprehensive review of the information on a pattern. I will be bookmarking this, for sure! Thanks, Deby!

  25. Thank you for this, Deby! I am getting ready to make 2 princess dresses for my 2 little ones. I have never used a pattern to make anything before. I appreciate your thoughts on the measurements. 🙂

  26. amazing detail. thank you for this. i appreciate knowing i am not alone in thinking patterns are scary! HA thanks for linking up to the all things pretty party

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