McCalls Sewing Pattern

Understanding Sewing Patterns

Today, I wanted to demystify sewing patterns for those who are new to using commercial sewing patterns. Reason being- I’ve taken a lot of sewing courses and I noticed that none of them actually explained sewing pattern envelopes well (or at all). At first glance, sewing pattern envelopes can seem intimidating with all the numbers and charts. But it’s actually pretty simple once it’s explained.

The first thing to note is the area on the front of the envelope that displays the pattern number (in this case, M8040). You’ll need to ask the cashier to purchase this pattern number. Also on the front, are the pattern sizes that come in the envelope. ** These are NOT the same as clothing store sizes- a size 6 at H&M does not necessarily equal a size 6 in sewing patterns**

You will find more detailed sizing info on the back on the envelope. Some patterns actually print them on the flap that gets folded to the inside of the envelope. So, if you can’t seem to find it, check the flap. As you can see, the sizes are based on your measurements. Most people are between sizes (maybe a size 12 for the waist but 14 for the hips in the case of a dress for example). One thing you can do, in this case, is grade the pattern and adjust the sizing. Alternatively, you could take a look at the finished garment measurements (which I’ll talk about below).

Once you have your size figured out, you will need to determine which type of fabric your pattern suggests. This will be in the sections called ‘Fabrics’. While this section gives you a good idea of the types of fabrics you will need, you may also purchase a fabric that is similar to what is listed as opposed to buying the exact fabric recommended. If you’re unsure, it might be best to ask someone who works at the fabric store for suggestions (just make sure you have your pattern envelope or a picture of it with you to show them). Here you will also see the required notions you’ll need.

Below, (under the notions section) you will see the section that shows how much fabric you will need depending on the size and view you’re making.

For example. If I’m making view A and I’m using a size 12, I will most likely need 1 1/4yards of fabric.

These numbers (where is says 45*** and 60***) are there because different fabrics often come in different widths. So, for view A at a size 12, if I was buying fabric that is only 45″ wide, I would actually need 2 yards. Most fashion fabrics are 60″ though. If you’re not sure, the bolt will display the width for you.

Another important thing to note when considering which size to make, is the ease of the garment. So, taking the example that I am making a size 12, the measurements chart shows that my garment would fit a 34″ bust. Closer to the bottom of the envelope, you will see a section called ‘Finished garment measurements’. This section shows that a finished size 12 top, will measure 36 1/2″ at the bust. So, this tells me that this garment is not meant to be super fitted- it will has some ease to it (about 2.5 ” of ‘extra’ space between you and the garment when you are wearing it). If it was a fitted garment, the finished measurement would be the same as the measurement in the size guide (34″). If you are making a garment and would like less ease, simply cut your pattern one size down. Or if you want more ease, make a size up.

Also, if you are between sizes that would require you to buy 2 envelopes of the same pattern (in the case of patterns with a top and separate bottom), you can also take a look at the finished measurements first. If a garment has enough ease built in, you may be able to get away with making a size or two smaller than what the size guide suggests. You would just end up with a more fitted garment than intended (and you can simply add some extra ease into the pattern if you prefer).

Another important thing to note is that, if you are using a pattern for knit fabrics, there will be a section on the envelop that helps you pick your knit fabric. This is simply to make sure the knit you choose has enough stretch for your garment.

First, hold the fabric with the selvage edge laying as so

Next, hold the fabric against the guide, pinching at the beginning of the box and at the end of the first arrow (or first section of the box).

Next, you gently pull the fabric to see if it can comfortably stretch the entire length of the box (to the end of the second arrow). If you are really having to force the fabric to stretch, you may need to choose a fabric with more stretch.

Another thing to note is this section that says 10 pieces. This means there are 10 pieces total in this envelope. So, the view you are making may not use all 10 pieces, but there are 10 total for all views.

This section shows the line art of the pattern. It can be useful to see more clearly exactly what you will be making.

That’s pretty much it for the outside of a pattern envelope. Indie patterns may be different, but, for the most part, patterns generally display their info this way.

I hope that was helpful for any beginners out there!

Thanks for reading and happy long weekend!

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