How to Read a Sewing Pattern Envelope

9:22 AM

Image from  Sweet Briar Sisters

Hi Everyone!  If your following this class, good to see you back again.  If your new welcome to the class! If you need to catch up you can see at the bottom of this post or click here to what our prior lessons were if you need to catch up  Today we are going to learn about how to read a sewing pattern.  Next lesson we will look at what's in the pattern envelope (reading the instructions, and understanding the patterns themselves).

Shopping for a Pattern
image credit: Stitch in my Side

You will want to start with an easy pattern of course.  My students in my last class (I teach in the non virtual world too), asked me a great question I never thought of, how do I know what an easy pattern is?  Look for patterns that have key words like easy, and quick. Terms like average or advanced would indicate that it is NOT a pattern for beginners.   Also try to select a pattern with few pieces and no more than one new technique for you.  Some good first projects are any clothes that are wraps (wrap skirt, wrap dress, etc.), or have elastic waist bands.  Other good first projects are pillows, stuffed animals, pillow cases, etc.
image credit: Stitch in my Side
To shop for a pattern you should first look for a table with the pattern books.  They will be huge fat heavy books with the styles of patterns in them.  After you find the style you like remember the style number of the pattern and go to the file cabinet of the pattern brand you chose.  Then look for the pattern number you chose.

Selecting a Size
Patterns tend to be smaller than ready to wear (clothes in the stores).  The reason is designers started to make clothes bigger with a smaller size labelled,  because everyone wants to say they are a smaller size!  This is also why no label sizes the same.

So do not go by your normal size, instead go by your measurements.  So you will need to take your measurements (bust, waist, and hips) before you go shopping for patterns.

Reading The Pattern Envelope
image credit: Rosie Wednesday
Pick a style on the front you want to make and then look at the back.  The picture above is of the back of a pattern (Simplicity pattern #3833).

1.  This is the pattern number
2.  The amount of pattern pieces for all styles.
3.  These computerized pictures of the styles are called flats.  I learned how to make them in fashion design school.  They show details that might not show in an illustration like darts, seams, buttons, and zippers.
4.  Fabrics are suggested types of fabrics for the pattern.  You don't have to use them, but your project is more likely to turn out if you do follow the pattern companies suggestion.
5.  Notions are what you need to complete your project besides fabric and or interfacing (we will cover what interfacing is later).  Some examples would be buttons, elastic, or a zipper.
6.  Body Measurements.  Select the size that's closest to your body measurements. You can follow the line down to match how much fabric you'll need for your size.  If you are a female and larger than a B cup you should use your high bust measurement instead of full bust.  See picture below.
7. Amount of Fabric look at the style you want to make and the size, and you will see the amount of fabric you will need depending on the width of fabric you chose comes in at the fabric store.  Typically bolts of fabric come in widths of 45" or 60".  If your fabric you chose is only 45" you would need more fabric than if it were 60" wide. 
8.  Interfacing quantity. Interfacing is a stiff material that you place on the wrong side of fabric to help give it stiffness and more body. It can be fused to your fabric with an iron (fusable) or sewn to the pattern piece.  It's usually used at necklines, in collars, waistbands, cuffs, etc. This tells you the amount to buy for the version of the style you choose.
9. Finished garment measurements.  This is the amount of extra ease added by some patterns in certain areas such as the bust to help make sure you have enough fabric to allow for mistakes such as having your measurements off. In the picture above the size chosen in the picture above has 36" for the bust for example and the finished garment measurement for the bust for that size is 38 1/2" this means they allowed in the pattern for an extra 2 1/2" only in the bust.
10. Fabric with or without nap. Nap means that the fabric will look different depending on how it's positioned. This usually comes in the form of texture (velvet cordorary) or design (stripes, novelty prints, etc.). So if you have flowers for example, you'll need more fabric to make sure all the flowers match up on your finished garment. This pattern has ** next to each fabric width, indicating that they've given you all fabric requirements with nap, this is the maximum amount of fabric you'd need.

Still have questions?  Then watch this video below from Professor Pincushion on how to read a commercial pattern.

How To Read A Commercial Pattern Envelope (17min)

 If you don't have a pattern at home to look at go to your local craft/sewing store (Walmart will do as well) and look at their patterns. Of course you can buy patterns online as well, but I would save that until you are more familiar with patterns. You can look for one for your first project, or just to familiarize yourself with patterns.

Next Lesson: Check back soon for our next lesson on how to understand what's in the pattern envelope. ©Oh You Crafty Gal! All rights reserved.

You Might Also Like


  1. These are really helpful and easy to understand .... Thank you!

  2. Thank you for all the easy to understand instructions. I feel ready to give sewing another try after finding this website. When can i expect the tutorial on patterns?


    1. Hi April. I'm glad you are ready to give sewing another try. As for when the part 2 to this lesson will be posted, I'm not sure. I try to post here when I have time. Hopefully that will be soon. :) Please follow us in RSS, by email, blogger, google plus, or facebook so you don't miss a new post!

  3. I'm looking forward to a new post as well!

  4. Good posting...
    Thanks for your sharing.

  5. Do you plan to finish this series?

    1. Clearly there is interest for this post, which of course motivates me to write it :)I'm currently renovating my attic which has never been finished into my craft/sewing space, so I plan to blog about that for a bit on here and then I will try to post on reading the inside of the pattern. Be sure to follow us in RSS, by email, blogger, google plus, or facebook so you don't miss a new post!

  6. Thank you so much for your tutorials and videos! I teach a Fashion Design class in a public high school and I have found them to be very useful to catch up my beginning students who have missed school! Great job!!

    1. I'm glad my lessons are helping your class Erin. I actually created this course as a way to catch up my students who miss class too. :)


Popular Posts

How to Tailor Clothes Series

Start Our Free Sewing Class