How to read a sewing pattern – Part 2

There is a lot of instruction and guidelines for a commercial sewing pattern. Part 2 of ‘How to read a sewing pattern’ covers reading pattern instructions, fabric layout guides, and what pattern symbols actually mean.

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How to read a sewing pattern – Part 1

When you open a sewing pattern, you’ll see two different types of paper. One is the actual sewing instructions and the other is a printed light tissue that is the actual pattern.

sewing pattern paper

I highly suggest reading every part of the instructions BEFORE cutting into your fabric and sewing. Make sure you understand what each step is asking you to do and how to lay for pattern on the fabric.

Understanding sewing pattern instructions


Somewhere at the beginning of your pattern directions, you should see an illustration of the garment variations known as “views.” These show you what each variation looks like when it’s finished.

Pattern piece chart

Patterns with multiple pieces will have a chart that numbers each piece. The chart explains what each pattern piece is and which variation it’s associated with.

You can see here this peplum shirt has a lot of pieces. Variations A, B, C, and D all use pattern pieces 1-4 because there is no variation specified. However, piece 5 is only used for variations A and B.

sewing pattern piece charts

Fabric cutting layouts

Patterns show you exactly how to lay the pattern on the fabric. The right and wrong sides of the fabric and pattern pieces are denoted with an illustrated chart.

You may also see abbreviations that denote parts of your fabric such as size, selvage, fold, etc. These abbreviations will be seen on the layout illustrations so you can determine which way to fold your fabric and where the selvage edge is.

Each view will have a layout diagram for fabric widths. These diagrams will tell you which pattern pieces to use and how to lay the on the fabric.

This diagram also has the abbreviations mention earlier: S/L denotes the fabric selvage edge and F/P is where the fabric is folded.

You may also see AS which means this is how you would lay out your fabric for “all sizes”.

If your view has multiple fabrics (such as the main fabric, lining and interfacing), there will be a diagram each fabric. Be sure to review them carefully and DOUBLE CHECK placement, right/wrong sides, and fabric folds before cutting into your fabric.

Sewing information

Most patterns will begin with basic sewing information. It will outline what seam allowance to use throughout the whole pattern and also how to deal with seams.

These steps should be applied during the whole process. It may not be specifically stated on every step of the instructions, but it’s one of those unspoken things you should be doing.

Illustration Shading Key
This key refers to the illustrations in the directions so you can visually see what fabric they’re referring to and what side should be facing up or down. As you can see each ‘side’ of the fabrics have their own pattern.

Color code the shading key to easily decipher the fabric sides in the illustrations. This is an extra step, but can make a world of difference when you’re in the throes of sewing.


Next is usually a glossary for terms used in the directions. Most of the time its definitions for different stitching, but you may encounter explanations for techniques custom to a pattern’s construction.

It’s important to thoroughly read these terms and understand what they mean. They’re usually bare bones so I find it easier to google the terms and get more detailed explanations.

glossary terms in sewing patterns

Step by Step instructions

Each step will have written instructions and an illustration. Some will be labeled for specific views. This label should be clearly defined before each step.

In the picture below you can see steps 7 and 8 are referring to views A and B.

sewing pattern steps

Pattern pieces and their symbols

The pattern pieces come with their own set of instructions. Thankfully, they’re much easier to read and are mostly symbols.

Labels on pattern pieces

Each pattern piece will have a label so you know exactly what it is. The number corresponds with the number chart we discussed earlier.

It will also list the views the piece is associated with and how many times you need to cut it out.

Cutting lines

Patterns will have multiple cutting lines. These correspond to the pattern sizes. Each size will have its own outline designated with a dashed pattern. You’ll want to make sure you’re following the correct size’s outline on each pattern piece.

dash pattern size lines


Instead of cutting off size 14 and 12 to get to size 10, try tracing the size you need onto another piece of paper.

I like to tape copy paper together and trace the size I need with a serrated tracing wheel.

Pattern symbols

Patterns will come with symbols to take into consideration when laying out the pieces and marks for later reference. Generally, there is an industry standard for these symbols, but they can differ slightly from pattern to pattern. Especially independent pattern makers.

Sometimes, a pattern will include a legend of symbols. This Butterick pattern has one so let’s go over each symbol and others you might encounter on different patterns.

dotted lines for cut lines

These are lines you follow when cutting out the pattern pieces. They can come as a solid line or a variety of dash patterns so you can easily discern between the pattern sizes.

grainline double arrow

The double sided arrow shows you which direction the fabric’s grainline should be when you’re cutting. Place the pattern pieces on the fabric so this arrow runs parallel to the selvage edge.

cut on the fold arrows

These arrows mean you should cut the pattern piece on the fold of the fabric. Fold the fabric over and align the marked edge of the fabric with the fold. This creates a symmetrical cut of fabric. This symbol does not need to be transferred to your fabric.

geometric shapes

Geometric shapes most often denote markings for matching seams but can be completely custom to the pattern. Be sure to look over the instructions and pattern pieces carefully. You will most likely need to transfer these marks to your fabric.

Darts are tucks in fabric to create contours and natural shaping in a garment. The triangle and diamond shapes show you where to fold the fabric to sew a dart. They can be placed at any angle on the pattern depending on the location and shaping affect desired. You will most likely see them around the bust, waist, and hip areas. Transfer your dart markings to your fabric so you can easily press and sew the darts.

button hole markings

X marks the spot where you place a button. The long shape denotes where to cut and sew a button hole and how tall it should be. These marks should be transferred to your fabric.

double lines

Double lines indicate where to add or remove length in a pattern piece. These lines are usually seen on garments that need more personal customization such as pants or leotards, but can also be found on more universal garments such as loose fitting shirts and costumes.

bust apex symbol

This circle is placed on the highest point of the bust to denote what is called the “bust point” or “bust apex”. Use the bust point to calculate whether or not you need a bust adjustment but comparing it to your own bust apex measurement.

gathering symbols

The circles and wavy arrows show you where to gather fabric. You would gather the fabric in the direction of the arrows beginning and ending at the circles. Gathering can allow two different length seams to be sewn together or create fullness.

lines for pleats and tucks

Pleats and tucks are marked with a series of solid and dotted lines. You would fold the fabric on the dotted lines matching the solid lines and shapes. If there are no dotted lines, fold the fabric evenly between the solid lines. The arrows show you which direction to fold the fabric. It is usually wise to transfer these markings to your fabric for easy tucking and pleating.

garment marking abbreviations

These abbreviations mark seams in a garment. They are most often seen around the edge of pattern pieces and “cut on the fold” markings. These can be useful in labeling fabric if your pattern pieces look similar or for a blunt reminder when sewing.
CF = Center Front
CB = Center Back
SS = Side Seam

How to read a sewing pattern – Part 1

You may have found that sewing pattern directions are complete and utter horse dung. Yes, sewing pattern instructions can seem damn near worthless. 

Where do you begin? Why are the instructions so cryptic? WHERE ARE THE PICTURES? Why does it look like a treasure map to a sewing hell hole? Here are tips on how to read them.

I don’t have a lot of commercial sewing patterns. I typically make my own patterns for costumes and find that process faster and less stressful than scouring the interwebs for a similar commercial pattern, spending money on it, waiting for it to arrive, and then siphoning the forces of nature to alter it AND make it fit.

Let’s start with the instructions on the outside. I have a Butterick sewing pattern B6097 — a button down peplum shirt. 

butterick pattern b6097

Skill Level

Looking at the front I’m thinking, “Yes. Very nice. It’s cute. I can totally do it!” Flip it over to the back and what do we see? SO MANY WORDS! But in nice large letters we see “EASY.” Is it really easy? I personally would not classify a shirt with buttons, a collar, and princess seams ‘EASY’. At least not novice easy. Easy is a t-shirt or a dolman style shirt or a maxi dress. In my sewing opinion, I would place this shirt between beginner and intermediate. 

butterick pattern back


Somewhere on the back is usually a size chart. This one happens to be on the flap. Don’t get discouraged if you qualify for a size that is 2 times larger then your normal size. These commercial patterns are based on standard fashion measurements that run small for the average human who enjoys food. Each company has their own standard sizing. Always check to see whether the measurements are imperial or metric. Basically, everything in the US is imperial because ‘MERICA and international is metric. 

butterick pattern size chart

These size charts are not measurements of the final garment, they are measurements of body sizes. You might fall between sizes or your measurements are a blend of sizes. That’s okay. Choose by your largest measurement. On a pants or skirt pattern, you’ll want to match your hip size. On a top, choose by your bust size. Not bra band size, but full bust size.

Some patterns have a finished garment size chart. These are measurements of the garment when its complete. You’ll see the numbers are usually larger than the body size measurements. Sewing patterns are built with what we call ‘ease.’ This is extra room in the garment so we can do basic things like move around, sit, and bend over without revealing places where the sun don’t shine. If there was no ease in patterns, we’d literally be making second skins.

finished garment measurement chart


Moving on we see a description for the different variations labeled A, B, C, and D. Easy enough. There will be very brief descriptions outlining the differences in variations. Or you can look the illustrations to get a clearer picture.

shirt variation description
shirt variation illustrations


This pattern describes it’s designed for lightweight woven fabrics. Ok, thanks for the muddy clarification. Almost all fabrics are woven. At least they gave us a crumb and classified it as ‘lightweight.’

Then they go on to actually list the best type of fabric for the pattern: Shirting, Poplin, Linen, Chambray, Broadcloth. Notice there is no knit fabric listed. Knit fabrics tend to have stretch, are thinner, and usually have less structure (like a t-shirt). Think about the button down shirts you have. How many of them are light and stretchy? They’re typically not and knits are better suited for more casual wear. Because this shirt has a collar, buttons, and flared waist, you’ll want some structure. 

fabric description

But what’s this? “Unsuitable for obvious diagonals.” Let’s clarify. 

This means you’ll want to buy fabric that is solid colored or has a random pattern direction. You could even use a subtle horizontal or vertical patterned fabric. It would be a headache to line up a diagonal pattern so it matches at the seams. You’d also be buying a larger quantity of fabric because of the direction in which you have to situate the pattern pieces. 

Another thing to consider is the direction of the weave in the fabric. If a fabric has a strong weave pattern, the directions of the threads will be highly visible. Sometimes the threads will be the same color and other times the thread is multiple colors, like tweed fabric.

Take a look a bit further down where it lists the fabric yardage for the pattern variations. You might see a lining fabric, underlining, or interfacing fabric that wasn’t listed before. Sometimes the interfacing is not necessary and that is up to your discretion. In this Butterick pattern, the interfacing is most likely used to stabilize the collar, cuffs, and buttons. 

fabric amount chart


The amount of fabric you need for your sewing pattern is listed for each variation. Patterns will list the fabric yardage according to it’s width, hence you see 45″ and 60″ listed on the left.

These are standard fabric widths. You’ll need to check the bolt of fabric for it’s width. It should be listed on one of the ends! If you’re a size 16 and your fabric is 45″ wide, you would need 1 5/8 yard of fabric. For 60″ wide fabric, you would need 1 1/4″

Fusible interfacing is usually much less wide. On the chart below, we see the interfacing is listed in 18″ and 20″ widths.

fabric amount chart

*With nap or **Without nap

Nap refers to the texture of a piece of fabric. Think about velvet. At different angles it will seem lighter or darker. Running your hand across it, you might feel the fibers all want to lay a certain direction. This is the nap. Let’s say you sewed two pieces of velvet together, but their naps were going in opposite directions. You might see that one pieces looks darker than the other or it just doesn’t ‘look right.’ 

This Butterick pattern shows the widths with the nap instructions: 45″*/**. Those asterisks mean you can use a 45″ width fabric with or without a defined nap. If it was listed as 45″* then you would need fabric WITH a defined nap. The types of fabrics suggested by this pattern typically don’t have a defined nap so the selection should be easy and fun!


Sewing patterns will list notions for the garment. Notions are just the extra supplies you need to finish the garments…buttons, snaps, ties, clasps, and other added embellishments. It will list the notions for each variation.

notion list

How to make a face mask with a filter pocket

Make your own face mask with a filter pocket from your scrap fabric and a little bit of elastic or ribbon.

These masks are 100% cotton and function similar to surgical masks. There are 2 layers of cotton and an opening in the back to insert a filter, such as a micron filter for more protection.

Let me state these masks are not 100% preventative! I am in no way claiming that these will save you from contracting an illness. 100% cotton, though tightly woven, is still a large enough weave for viruses to move freely through the fabric. Plus, these masks are not sealed around the face like a properly fitting N95 mask.

They can help you from transmitting an illness by lowering the amount of droplets you release in the air. They can also be an extra layer of protection for someone already wearing a medical mask or help stretch the longevity of an N95 mask.


100% cotton fabric
1/4 inch (6mm) elastic or ribbon
Sewing machine

Seam Allowance: 1/4 inch (6mm)

Sewing the face mask

I’ll be sewing an adult size in this tutorial, but the steps are exactly the same for the child size. Download the sewing pattern from the sign-up form above! It is free and you can print it at home instantly.

Step 1: Cut a mask using the pattern. Make sure to cut on the fold! You should have a rectangle that is 13.5″ by 9″ (34 cm x 23 cm).

face mask rectangle

I was able to get 2 of these out of one fat quarter. Presumably you should be able to get 8 masks from one yard of fabric.

Step 2: Give the 9″ ends a 1/4″ (6mm) double hem, which means you will fold the ends over twice 1/4″. Press the hem and sew to secure it.

face mask double hem
face mask sew hem

Step 3: Fold the ends in towards the center so the hemmed edges meet in the middle, right sides together. Over lap the hemmed edges about 1/2″ (1.3 cm) and pin in place.

fold over face mask edges to meet in center
face mask edges folded over

Step 4: Cut 2 elastic strips 7 inches (18 cm) long each. If you’re using ribbon, cut 4 pieces at 14″ (35.5 cm) each.

Elastic and ribbon for the children’s masks may need to be slightly shorter. Use your own discretion on this.

cut 2 pieces of elastic

Step 5: Insert all of the elastic inside the mask and line up the ends in the corner. Leave a tiny bit poking out. Make sure your elastic is not twisted inside the mask. The elastic should be in a U shape.

Ribbon will be inserted into each corner with one end loose inside the mask (no U shape).

Repeat on the other side.

pin elastic in corners in U shape

Step 6: Sew both sides closed with a straight stitch. Be sure to back stitch over the elastic/ribbon for extra security.

straight stitch to close edges

Trim the excess around each corner. Turn the mask right side out and press flat.

flat ironed face mask

Step 7: Lay the pattern over the mask and mark the pleat lines on both ends. If you have a dark fabric, use pins for this. Lighter fabrics can also use pins or disappearing ink.

marking pleats with pins

Step 8: Pin 3 pleats in place with a Z shaped fold. Repeat on the other side. Be sure the pleats are folded in the same direction on both sides.

z shaped pleat fold
one pleat folded
3 pleats pinned in place

Step 9: Sew a straight stitch down the side to secure the pleats in place. Repeat on the other side.

You should now have a completed mask!

complete face mask
face mask with filter pocket

How to easily make a sewing pattern from your clothes

Creating a sewing pattern from scratch can be tricky and it’s time-consuming. I am going to show you how to make a pattern from the clothes you already own without taking apart the garment or doing any mind-boggling meausring and math. 

This tutorial is focusing on a sleeve pattern, but the process would be the same for any part of the garment. I find this method particularly useful when trying to mimic the shape of a neckline.


  • Garment to trace
  • Pencil
  • Paper to trace your pattern
  • Pattern weights
  • French curve ruler
  • Straight ruler
  • Awl, serrated tracing wheel or something sharp and pokey

Step 1: Turn the garment inside out. Lay it flat on your pattern paper with the top of the sleeve on the edge of the paper. Place pattern weights on the sleeve to secure it in place. Make sure the seams are aligned so you can accurately transfer the shape. You can also iron the sleeve flat for easier handling and tracing.

sleeve laying flat on paper

Step 2: With a pencil, trace around the outside edges as accurately as you can. It doesn’t have to be perfectly straight because we’ll be correcting these lines later.

trace edges with pencil

Step 3: Then, using the awl or a sharp instrument of your choice, poke through the garment along the shoulder seam. Before I had an awl, I used a push pin for this. You’ll want to apply enough pressure to puncture the paper under the shirt. Do this every inch or so.

shoulder seam tracing with awl

You should have something that looks like the image below with your traced edges and a punctured seam line.

traced edges and puncture dots

Step 4: Draw along the punctured seam line to connect the “dots”. True up the seam line and any other lines you traced. At the top of the shoulder seam, try to round off the line instead of having it come to a point at the edge of the paper. This will come into play when you are cutting the pattern on the fold. Your shoulder seam will be rounded instead of coming to a point at the top.

pattern with trued lines

Step 5: Now, we can add the seam allowance and the sleeve hem. I typically add a 3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance and 1/2″ (1.3 cm) hem on my patterns, but its all personal preference.

traced sleeve with seam allowance

The hem on this sleeve is double folded so you would need to add 1″ hem to the bottom of the sleeve.

Pattern with 1 inch hem

Step 6: Because this pattern is only half the sleeve, you’ll need to cut the top edge on the fold of your fabric. Let’s add the pattern markings for this.

cut on the fold pattern marking
sewing pattern with cut on fold

It is also suggested to write the pattern name and seam allowance on the pattern for later reference.

Step 7: The last step is to cut out the pattern!

sewing pattern cut out

There you have it! A sewing pattern from clothes you already have in your closet!