How To Read A Sewing Pattern-Beginner’s Guide 101

If you have issues with how to read a sewing pattern you don’t need to bother any longer because there’s an easy way out! It’s true that the use of a sewing pattern is inevitable when sewing a cloth so its knowledge is indispensable. The use of either the traditional or digital sewing pattern does not however need to overwhelm you.  

Even though most writers on sewing pattern instruction might refer to the instruction as easy, it requires a level of attention to grasp. For people already in the sewing vocation, learning new patterns may not pose much difficulty. This cannot be the case for a beginner.

All that is however required for a learner is to get acquainted with every detailed information regarding how to read a sewing pattern . This article therefore presents a great opportunity to clear every ambiguity about reading a sewing pattern.

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How to Read Sewing Pattern Symbols

The symbols for sewing pattern can change to a large extent on account of the pattern trade name or sewing pattern designer. However, most of the symbols have the same meanings and appearances. It is important to read through the pattern chart very well so as to understand the pattern symbols before starting.

Also do your utmost to acquire the knowledge of sewing pattern symbols and their meanings to assist you understand the patterns better. The following are some of the most widely known symbols in sewing patterns:

Adjustment Line

This is commonly shown as a double thick parallel lines which indicate the best place to shorten or lengthen the pattern piece of the sewing.

Cutting Line

This line is displayed as a strong, solid line that always comes with scissors sign shown at the boundary line of the template of the pattern.

This line shows you what place to cut on the pattern piece with the aid of the symbol of the scissors.

Fold Line

The fold line is equally known as the strong and solid line. The symbol and name of the fold line are slightly different. It however always looks like bracketed line with double arrows at one end pointing downwards.

This symbol is represented by the piece of sewing material at the edge straightened near its fold. This line shows the fold which is not supposed to be cut in order not to cause problems when trying to join the piece of material being sewn alongside the second half.

Grain Line

The grain line symbol looks like a strong and solid line which displays an arrow at both ends. There is a list on the pattern chart which indicates the direction to cut your fabric.  This line is always lying in correspondence to the edge of the fabric that is woven so that it will not ravel or fray unless it is indicated otherwise.

Seam Line

The seam line is also called a stitching line.  It is also shown as an easy dashed line that indicates where two fabric pieces are sewn together. Also displayed in some instances are arrows which show the direction the seam line is to take.

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The Front and Back Center

The center front as well as the center back lines serve mainly for alignment of the sewing pattern. This symbol appears in the form of a horizontal line with a combination of dashes with small dots. They run upwards behind the sewing pattern.


This line is connected with both the squares, dots and triangles as symbol in reading sewing patterns. The dart is usually represented in the shape of letter V with dotted straight line proceeding from the middle of the point shaped in V form and out. The dart line determines the spots where the pattern pieces are to be folded and stitched. This line clearly demarcates the location of relevant curves in the sewing pattern.

The Hip and Bust Line

This hip and bust circle has two vertical lines that resembles the sign of a plus and depict the location of the, bustline, hipline and the waistline. It also marks the location of biceps when proper for garments.


Gather symbol comes in the form of a curly uneven line accompanied with arrows as well as other distinguishing marks informing you of the next step to take.


The tuck pattern symbol is formed when two points of a pattern are brought and sewn jointly along the same line of the fold line that is created. This line could also look similar to the image of a pleating line symbol.


The pleat sewing pattern is basically different from the tucks sewing pattern in that it clearly indicates the direction of the sewing. They are not stitched completely to the down part of the sewn pattern.  A sewing pattern will usually have an arrow that indicates the pleat’s direction together with a marked line. This dotted line shows at what point the pleat’s folded edge of the pleat is to line up.


Where it is necessary to clip the fabric to enable it lay flat, this clipping symbol is the used to indicate the place to clip on the pattern being sewn

how to read a sewing pattern
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The need to place pockets correctly as you sew your fabric cannot be overemphasized. The pocket location is usually indicated with circle signs or drill holes in your pattern pieces. These circles are supposes to accurately match the pocket pattern of similar symbols.


Notches are usually depicted in diamond and triangular shapes put together with lines. The notches symbol represents identical seamlines. If the notch symbol is single, it relates to sewing piece frontside. When it is double, it’s for the backside while three notches is for any other location on the fabric.

The Buttonhole and Button Marking

These two symbols are different but are related. The marking for the button is rounded while that of the buttonhole comes in the form of a line with vertical indention. An X symbol is sometimes indicated on the spot the button is to be sewn.  The buttonhole is usually made on your sewing patterns’ opposite side.

Seam Allowance

The seam allowance symbol is also shown in the form of a ruler that has part markings.  This symbol also comes with single or double line together with fractions that show by the sides of the pattern.

Zipper Marking

The zipper marking is usually depicted with arrowed straight lines on the two sides of the zipper. This pattern symbol is only meant for garments that have zippers.

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How to read a sewing pattern

To read a sewing pattern you begin by taking a look at the information contained in the section of the booklet that gives a guide. It is there that you will get a lot of information, ideas and tips you will find useful before you commence with cutting of the fabric and the final sewing of the clothing. The information you will find in the sewing pattern include those regarding the following

Line Drawings

Pictures that show cloth pattern may not be giving you the actual thing you need to know about that particular sewing pattern. A look at the plane sketch of the design without colors is a better way to confirm if you really like the style in issue.

The bare plane sewing pattern clearly brings out every line in the sketch more distinctly.  This is because all the colors and sewing aesthetics that embellished the pattern in picture form are removed. What you are looking at is the bare structure or design of the sewing pattern you are reading.  If the pattern you are looking at is showing different angles or variations, it is in the pattern’s line drawing that you will notice the difference.

Sewing Level

Patterns that are described as “easy” will in most cases come with elaborate instructions. Such instructions will include how you are to iron places that are jointly sewn properly. The instruction could also recommend which tool you are to employ for a particular task. Information such as these will prove to be invaluable to a beginner in the sewing business.

 It is advisable that you opt for patterns with less pattern pieces as a beginner. Choosing patterns with cuffs, facings and collars, cuffs at the start of your learning sewing patterns can be a handful. 

Starting with fewer pieces of sewing patterns would make your learning and joining the pattern easier and a lot faster. You will find out that making a success of this initial stage will give you a lot of satisfaction and will boost your confidence! If you have difficulties with a pattern you discovered online and need some assistance, your designer should be able to help ou

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Fabric Suggestions

In the course of reading sewing patterns, you will discover that suggestions are usually made regarding a number of fabrics suitable for a particular project. It will be good you use one of the fabrics they have recommended.

This is so you can be sure to get a final product that is similar to the one that caught your fancy the first time you viewed the pattern pictures. Any tip at this point is welcome. At least you are still learning!

The more you get acquainted with reading and cutting sewing patterns, the more adventurous you can afford to be. You might as well start trying out fabrics that are not listed. In your experimentation however remember there are standard rules. Fitted patterns for example will work with knit fabric but not with stable fabric that is woven. With experience acquired over time it will be easy to make informed choice of the right fabrics to employ at every point.

Fabric Yardages

The purpose for providing fabric yardages by fashion designers is to give the sewer an idea of the quantity of fabric required for any clothing. The quantity of fabric required is obviously based on the size of clothing to be sewn as well as the cloth pattern employed. The pattern chart has the pattern, size and even fabric measurement specification and from it you can choose what suits your purpose.

In considering the yardage of the fabric you intend sewing, allowance should be made for shrinkages that result from any quick rinse given to the material before actual wash. It is recommended you buy about 10% fabric more than you require for fabrics that shrink.

You will also need this extra materials if your pattern involves doing folds like print and pattern. Fabrics that have soft or fuzzy surface texture equally need extra yardage for sewing. This extra provision will give your pattern a direction and focus which you want to achieve.

Thread and Notions

The next information you need to have after the issue of yardage has to do with a compilation of sewing accessories otherwise known as notions you will need. The notions you require will always depend on the particular sewing pattern you are doing. 

By going through this chart, you will discover if there is need for the elastic, bias tape, zippers or interfacing for your chosen sewing pattern. It’s important to conclude this aspect before proceeding to buy your accessories.

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Size Chart

The chart will outline pattern pieces several times though every piece is for a particular size. The chart’s pattern sheet has a key that is to assist you in choosing the appropriate line for the size of clothe you are sewing.

Pattern Layouts or Measurements Chart

Before proceeding with the cutting of your pattern, it’s important to confirm the pieces of sewing pattern you will really need as you finalize.  You can do this by taking a critical look at the chart for pattern piece or the layout diagram.

If the pattern you are making consists of uncomplicated angular shapes, your designer should be able to provide the appropriate measurements. Many a times however, the pattern you want to do will be accompanied with a model or standard you need to sort of ‘cut and paste’ on your fabric.  

In the pattern design, you are made to see every information you require to make your pattern.  Such information include how you can spread out your material and what side of the fabric is the inside or outside. With this you are certain you are not doing your sewing on the wrong side of your fabric. 

The layout also shows you how you can arrange pattern pieces, including the design grainline, to suit your fabric. This becomes more important when the work you are doing involves several pattern pieces.  The chart equally has a key that explains the meaning of the lines on the pattern design. It also shows you which is the right and the wrong side of your fabric.


Symbols are basically an integral part of many modes of communication used in reading sewing patterns. With this sewing language, you will learn how you should place your sewing pattern on the material you are to sew.

It is with symbols that you equally learn where your pattern grainline is and whether the fabric pieces should be made to align with its fold. It is with a symbol that you get to know where you should gather you fabric, where you need a button in the cloth pattern and many more.

These symbols come in various forms like, dots, dashes, as well as bold lines which stand for stitch or fold lines etc. Symbols are a bit different from one pattern to another, so it’s important you take a proper look at the pattern legend you are understudying.

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Final Thoughts

Whether the sewing pattern you are reading is the printed paper or the digital one, the basic working guidelines are the same. Thorough and painstaking study of the sewing pattern envelop as well as its instruction booklet is very much necessary to have a good grasp of the subject.

Here are some final points to bear in mind on the subject of reading a sewing pattern:-

Most Common Symbols Used in Sewing Patterns

This is an important step in the reading of sewing patterns hence the need to digest it thoroughly. These symbols are quite important even for the very experienced in the field. A good grasp of the entire sewing pattern instruction will enable you have a proper understanding of the whole workflow.

Printing the Sewing Pattern

For a person using sewing pattern that is PDF formatted, the pattern sheet need to be printed out, trimmed and bound together. If these directions are fully followed by using the proper tools, this process will be easy and without stress.

Tracing the pattern when desirable

Tracing is inevitable where you are using the traditional paper for your sewing pattern. Tracing is not required where the sewing pattern is PDF formatted. The PDF sewing pattern device has made the traditional pattern tracing less attractive and out of fashion.

Follow the right lines

The lines for the pattern you are sewing must be very bold and prominent. You can use a brightly colored marker to indicate the size of fabric you want to sew. If the tracing is not clear and bold, you might make a mistake when cutting your pattern.

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Finally, we believe the information we have provided here would give you a head start in your sewing adventures. Additionally, the resources in this pots are treasure troves for the budding tailor. You can also check out a previous post on how to use a sewing machine; It would give you more useful information.