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  • Victoria Palmer

And for your next project...

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

If you’re looking for a sewing project to help fill the time and maintain some sanity perhaps now is the time to get to grips with a sewing pattern. I know lots of people have bought patterns with good intentions and fallen at the first hurdle; all that information on the back of the envelope! It’s all there to help you choose the right size, fabric and quantities so here’s what it all means....

Deciphering A Sewing Pattern Envelope

Unlike in the olden days, patterns now come in multi sizes ie. more than one size printed on the same tissue pattern paper. So once you’ve decided what you would like to make, you need to establish what size to buy. I thought I would make this shirt dress while I’m not busy, so I bought a pattern which covers sizes 6-14. Larger sizes are available in another envelope.

With the right pattern in hand take a look on the reverse and let’s see what you need to know next.

On the left hand side are diagrams of the style options available to you. These may include different lengths, sleeves or collars. My pattern has a choice of A-D, I’ve decided to make D as I like the collar but I like the length of C so I will buy a little extra fabric. More on that later.

The most important consideration is size, which is where most people come unstuck, making it the main culprit for home dressmaking disasters. The box entitled ‘Body Measurements’ is a guideline, so grab a tape measure and measure your bust, waist and hips and compare your measurements to those in the box.

A word of warning: dress patterns haven’t changed their sizing since women could regularly boast a 22” waist so you will probably need a much larger size than you would buy off the rail. Don’t be put off or depressed by this, it’s just a number and if you cheat and decide to make a size just because you think it should fit, you’ll be disappointed and will have wasted your time.

So that said, compare your measurements and follow the column down to where it states what size to make in terms of 6,8,10 etc. The dress sizes are given in European sizes too.

You’ll notice too that the English instructions on the left hand side of the envelope use inches and yards. Which is fine until you realise nobody sells fabric in yards anymore! If you want the information in metric you'll have to brush up your O’level french and look on the right hand side of the pattern, all quite easy to find as it’s laid out identically.

Having identified your size and which style you would like to make, follow the column down to see how much fabric to buy. It’s worth taking a pencil to the chart and circling the relevant figures especially if you’re taking the pattern with you to the fabric shop. You can then easily spot the information you need straight away.

Fabric quantities are given in two widths. That’s because fabrics come in various widths but generally they are either 115cm (45”) or 150cm (60”) wide. So check the width of your chosen fabric and buy the amount stated in your column. I’ve chosen a needlecord which is 150cm (60”) wide.

As previously mentioned, most shops will sell in metres so track across to the corresponding column on the right hand side of the envelope and convert to metres.

My picture shows that I will make dress D in a size 10 and I will need 2 yards (1.8 metres) of fabric. However, remember I wanted to make it a bit longer? I will buy 2.25 yards (2 metres) of fabric as that’s how much I would need to make C but I will make it with the collar of D.

Elsewhere on the pattern envelope you will find a box with ‘Fabrics’ and ‘Notions’.

‘Fabrics’ is a list of suggested fabrics for the style you’ve chosen. These are the recommended fabrics, which is not to say you can’t use others but be aware of how the weight and drape of your fabric will affect design and large patterns, stripes or checks will need to be matched and therefore you may need to buy extra fabric. If some of the terms are new to you it might be worth googling the term but often fabric labels in shops and online include these terms so you can identify them easily.

‘Notions’ are all the other things you will need to complete the project, typically thread, zips, buttons, elastic etc. Often they differ between the different styles, for example A on my pattern needs 17 buttons (think of all those buttonholes!) whereas D only needs 10.

Further to these requirements you may also need interfacing which is a stiffener used in collars, facings etc and the requirements for this are listed under the fabric quantities on my pattern.

Finally, at the bottom of the chart are the FINISHED GARMENT MEASUREMENTS.

These include ‘design and wearing ease‘. This is a useful measurement to know as it gives you the actual measurement of the garment once it’s made up. Ease is the amount of extra room allowed in a garment to let you move your arms, breathe, sit down and other essential activities. Worth checking these out when you’re deciding which size to make.

That folks, is all you need to know! Now what’s stopping you? Get yourself to the fabric shops while you still can! Stock up, get stuck in and start pinning, cutting and stitching.

Don’t forget to share your makes!

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Sarah Colledge
Sarah Colledge
26 Mar 2020

I have a pattern for making shorts. I think it might be my next project.


Erin Thornton
Erin Thornton
22 Mar 2020

Thank you Vicky, this is really useful! Xx

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