Sewing School // What is a Pattern?

Even if you are just learning to sew you have probably heard of the phrase 'sewing pattern.' Before I learnt to sew clothes I certainly had, but I was pretty nervous about buying a pattern because I didn't know what they would be like or even what a pattern was. Well today I am going to explain all so that you don't have to feel nervous too.

What is a Sewing Pattern?
 A Sewing Pattern, called a pattern for short, is simply the shapes that you will need to cut out of your fabric. Drawn on these shapes are some markings that will help match the right parts up together, cut out pieces out in the right place on your fabric and all the information you need to sew it up. Often with the pattern you will also get some instructions for what you need to do and in which order. Sometimes though, especially with older patterns, the pattern maker will assume that you know how to sew it together already.

Sometimes the pattern will be instructions for the shapes that you need to cut out, for example you might need a rectangle that is 5cm by 25cm. Other times you will actually have the shape that you need to cut drawn onto some paper. You can then cut out the paper shape and draw around it onto your fabric.

What Kind of Patterns are Available?
You will be able to find a sewing pattern for just about anything that can be sewn together. Modern dressmaking patterns, such as this pattern for the Elisalex dress from By Hand London, will have the pattern printed on a very large piece of thin paper. Each size will be drawn on with a different line:

You need to measure yourself to work out which line is the best one to fit you. You can then trace this shape off, and cut it out before marking it on your fabric. The patterns also have markings like the little bold squares, you match these up to the markings on another pattern piece to make sure you are sewing it in the right place. I will write a post another day about all the different kind of patterns markings, let's just stick to the basics for now.

Some older patterns will only include one size rather than a range of sizes. Be careful if you buy one of these to check the measurements for the size. If you fit a size 10 now, that probably wasn't the same as a size 10 from 20 years ago.

There are also many printable pdf patterns around now too. These are e-mailed to you for you to print at home and stick together before you cut out the right shape. These can be an excellent way to get your pattern straight away if you just can't wait any longer, but the sticking them together part can be quite time consuming so it isn't always better. Some great free patterns are available like this now too.

What Do I Need To Know Before I Start Cutting and Sewing?
If you have found a pattern you are interested in buying and sewing then there are a few things you should know before you start.

First of all sewing patterns usually include their seam allowance. They will state how wide the seam allowance should be, but the actual line you sew on won't be shown on the pattern. Therefore the line on the pattern is the line you need to cut along. You will need to sew the distance of the seam allowance away from this line for your pattern to fit together properly. Find out more about seam allowances here.

Secondly don't forget to have a look at the recommended fabrics for that pattern. Try to buy something as close as possible to the right weight of fabric or you'll find it doesn't turn out the way you would like.

Finally have a think about the things you know how to do before you buy a pattern. If you have seen a dress pattern that has a lapped zip, a rolled hem and is made from a very fine and lightweight fabric its probably not the best thing to try for your very first one. Wait a while and when you have sewn up a few other things then go back to that one later.

So this is a very brief introduction to what sewing patterns are. I will go into more detail about the different markings and instructions soon. On Tuesday next week I will be suggesting a few beginner sewing projects so don't forget to come back then. Zoe x

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