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.
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.
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
Type of Fabric
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?
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 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?
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?
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
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.