Sewing Pattern Guide

Hello again avid seamstresses. We hope you enjoyed our first article on sewing (read here)..

The world of sewing is huge! There are so many sewing patterns out there and our instinct when browsing patterns is just to look at the photograph or illustration on the front of the envelope. We could spend all day browsing all the gorgeous sewing patterns that are on the market looking for the perfect one for our skill level. However, for someone new to sewing it can be incredibly hard – how do you know that the one you choose is the right one?  We’re here to help!

Usually the front cover of  a sewing pattern has a pretty illustration or an actual photograph of someone wearing the completed garment. Sometimes, this is enough to make you want to buy the garment but you may be missing some crucial information on how the garment is constructed as you can’t see it on the front photograph or illustration. Always turn over the sewing pattern as the back of the envelope is where you are going to find exactly what it is you are making, plus it will show the many ways in which a pattern could be constructed.

Firstly, does the pattern mention which skill level it is for? This will give you the best indication on which one to go for. Beginners are aimed at those that have just stepped their foot into the sewing world and perhaps have just learnt to use a sewing machine or are ready to start their first garment. Intermediate sewing patterns are aimed towards people that are confident on a sewing machine  – you know how to sew using the seam allowance guides on your machine so that you are sewing accurately or perhaps you have made a few things and are keen to try something new to improve your skill. Our advice; if this is one of your first projects and you try to sew something that is too complicated it can put you off (we really don’t want that!) – we advise trying a few beginners projects first.

So – what do you look at when choosing a sewing pattern?

The Industrial Drawing

The best representation is what is known as the “industrial drawing” on the back of the pattern. This will show you exactly what you’re making as it’s a true representation of the garment. The industrial drawing will also show you whether the item needs a zip, has yokes or darts, whether there is the option to have long sleeves or short sleeves, or any other modification possibilities. It really is a great source of information and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Here is the front photography of our Day Dress…


….. and here are the industrial drawings – you can see that the front bodice has three options:
website-drawings-day website-drawings-day2

The Description

As well as the industrial drawing, the pattern should have a description – this is so important as it will explain what you are going to be making in this project.

Here’s an example of our Day Dress description (we’ve underlined the important words):

With a fitted bodice, gathered skirt and inner pockets, The Day Dress will be one of the prettiest dresses in your wardrobe. With three ways of making the front bodice, your options are endless. All views have an invisible zip at the back. Have fun making this pattern out of a variety of fabrics. View A has a seam at the centre front. View B has buttons at the centre front.  View C has no seam at the centre front. Our comprehensive instruction booklet will guide you through every step of making this pretty dress.

It’s especially important to note (in this example) that the dress has an invisible zip – this means a) I need an zipper sewing foot for my sewing machine and b) I am going to be inserting a zip.

This is a great pattern for someone that is at an intermediate level as they can try invisible zips and, if they choose view C, a button close bodice.

Fabric requirements

If it is a pattern suitable for multiple fabric types the sewing company will suggest options for you; such as whether heavy weight or light weight works or whether the pattern is or isn’t suitable for stripes/plaids etc. You will also be advised whether the pattern is only suitable for knit fabrics; if this is the case and you aren’t comfortable working with those types of fabrics this might not be the pattern for you. A key thing to remember is that if the fabric suggestions are suggesting fabrics that are not stretch it’s important not to buy a stretch fabric – the pattern hasn’t been designed for stretch so it just won’t work. These are all very important bits of information you can’t get from simply looking at the pretty picture on the front.

Supplies needed

This is so important and you need to ensure that you have all the bits you need to make this garment. Something we see quite frequently is when a sewing pattern says “invisible zip” and you are advised (perhaps in a shop or by a friend) that you can “just buy a regular zip”…. be careful of this – invisible zips are completely different to regular zips and the way you insert them in to a garment is different too. Make sure you’ve got everything you need before leaving the fabric shop or finishing your online order.

Body measurements chart

This opens up a minefield! Every pattern company uses a different size chart so never assume your size. Some pattern companies change their body measurement size charts so even if you have made a size 8 in one garment you need to check again that you are a size 8 on another garment -even with the same pattern company.

We are going to go into full detail on measurements and how to take your measurements in our next article as there is a lot to cover! BUT for the moment check that the pattern covers your body measurements size range. Also note that some companies split their sizes over two products – smaller sizes on one / larger sizes on another. They do this so that you don’t have a huge pattern sheet to cut out.

All of the sizes are printed on top of each other which means that once you take your measurements and find your size you will then cut out the size on the pattern sheet.

Finished garment measurements

These are the garment measurements once sewn. If your body measurement bust size is 86cm and the finished garment measurement bust size is 96cm you can see that there is 10cm ease around the bust area. Some pattern companies don’t include this information so you need to look at how the garment is fitting in the picture.


In summary – As well as being informative, we think the industrial drawing also gives you  a blank canvas to let your imagination flow with the possibilities for the project. If you’re not looking at how someone else made it, you can really begin to see how you could make it and putting your own stamp on a project is why we sew right?

With all this in mind be sure to always take your time to read the front and the back of the envelope. Always follow the instructions given by the pattern; if it says buy an invisible zip don’t go and buy a regular one, that kind of thing.

Finally, remember you can always ask for help in the sewing shop. If you’re buying online, say from us at The Avid Seamstress, you can always send a quick email and we will happily answer any queries you might have.

Good luck with choosing a pattern and join us for our next post which will explain the difference between buying a printed sewing pattern and buying a digital sewing pattern – Printed VS Digital

Missed the first article? Head over to the top navigation on our blog and you can follow the series there…

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Founder of London based indie sewing pattern brand - The Avid Seamstress

2 thoughts on “Sewing Pattern Guide

  1. Looking forward to more blog entries – it’s great to see so many wonderful resources like your website for people who love to sew!

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