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How to Read a Sewing Pattern: Symbols, Sizes, Finished Garment Measurements & More (2024)

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how to read sewConfused by sewing patterns? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This guide will teach you everything you need to know to read and understand sewing patterns, from symbols to sizes to finished garment measurements.


Sewing patterns are full of symbols that can be confusing to beginners. But don’t worry, we’ll break them down for you.

  • Notches are small triangles that indicate where to match up pieces of fabric.
  • Dots indicate where to place pins or basting stitches.
  • Lines show the direction of stitching.
  • Arrows indicate where to fold or cut fabric.
  • Letters and numbers identify different parts of the pattern.


Sewing patterns are available in a variety of sizes, so you can find one that fits your body perfectly. When choosing a size, it’s important to measure yourself carefully and compare your measurements to the size chart provided with the pattern.

Finished garment measurements

The finished garment measurements are the measurements of the garment once it’s been sewn together. These measurements are important to check before you start sewing, to make sure that the finished garment will be the right size for you.

Key Takeaways

Sewing Pattern Symbols

Sewing Pattern Symbols
When reading a sewing pattern, it’s important to understand the symbols used.

  • Cutting lines indicate where to cut your fabric.
  • Notches help match up pieces when sewing.
  • The grainline shows the direction of the fabric’s threads and should be aligned properly.
  • Fold lines indicate where to fold your fabric for certain design elements.
  • Lengthen/shorten lines allow you to adjust the pattern for a better fit.

Cutting Lines

To understand a sewing pattern, you need to familiarize yourself with the cutting lines.

These lines on the pattern pieces indicate where you should cut your fabric. They outline the shape of each piece and ensure that they fit together correctly when sewn.

Cutting lines are essential for accurate and successful garment construction.

Pay close attention to notches, grainlines, fold lines, and lengthen/shorten lines as well—they provide additional guidance for positioning pattern pieces and making adjustments during sewing.


Now let’s move on to the next important sewing pattern symbol: notches.

  • Notches are used to align pattern pieces when sewing them together.
  • They’re usually placed at the intersection of pattern lines, such as the fold line, grainline, and lengthen / shorten lines.
  • Notch types vary depending on the function of the notch.


The grainline ( /ɡrɑːnlɑɪn/ ) is a dotted line on a sewing pattern that represents the direction of the fabric grain.

Symbol Description
Grainline Dotted line that represents the direction of the fabric grain.
Cross grain Perpendicular to the grainline.
Bias grain 45 degrees to the grainline.

Fold Line

After the grainline, the fold line is the next important sewing pattern symbol to understand.

It’s a solid line that shows where to fold the fabric in half before cutting.

Fold lines are used for darts, pockets, tucks, buttons and buttonholes.

Lengthen / Shorten Lines

Lengthening or shortening a pattern piece requires using lengthen / shorten lines.

These lines are found on the grainline, cutting lines, and notches.

The fold line is used to match up the pattern pieces when sewing.

Sewing Pattern Size Guide

Sewing Pattern Size Guide
To choose the right size sewing pattern, you need to know your body measurements.

Loose fit bodice patterns are based on your bust measurement.

Tight fit bodice patterns are based on your under bust, high bust and waist measurements.

Lower body garments are based on the widest part (hip/bum area).

Loose Fit Bodice

Loose fit bodice patterns have ease, which means they’ve more stretch and comfort. This type of pattern is perfect for garments that you want to move around in, such as dresses, skirts, and tops.

Tight Fit Bodice

While a loose fit bodice pattern focuses on your bust measurement, a tight fit bodice pattern focuses on your:

  • Under bust measurement
  • High bust measurement
  • Waist measurement
  • Full bust measurement

Lower Body Garments

For lower body garments, you’ll need to focus on the widest part of your body (hip/bum area) when choosing a size.

This includes skirts, gathers, darts, princess seams, pockets, inseams, waistbands, and facings.

Close Fitting Garment

Close fitting garments have little difference between the size chart and finished garment measurements.

When sewing a close fitting garment, it’s important to make a muslin first to check the fit and make any necessary adjustments.

You can also add wearing ease to the pattern to give you more room to move around.

Outwear Garment

To ensure a proper fit for your outwear garment, refer to the sewing pattern size guide which provides guidance on selecting the right size based on your body measurements.

Keep in mind that outwear garments are designed to be worn over other layers, so there will be more ease and bulk than a close-fitting garment.

Sewing Pattern Finished Garment Measurements

Sewing Pattern Finished Garment Measurements
The finished garment measurements on a sewing pattern are based on the design of the garment and the width of the fabric.

The difference between the size chart and the finished garment measurements will vary depending on the type of garment and the pattern size.

Designed Garment

For a designed garment, there’s an excessive difference between the size chart and finished garment measurements. This is because the design ease percentage, or ease amount, is added to the pattern pieces to create a more relaxed fit.

  • Design ease percentage is based on the design line, design elements, and design inspiration.
  • The ease amount is added to the pattern pieces to create a more relaxed fit.
  • The finished garment measurements will be larger than the size chart measurements.
  • The amount of design ease will vary depending on the garment design.

Fabric Width

Fabric width determines how many pattern pieces you can fit across the width of your fabric.

Here’s a table showing the average finished garment widths for different fabric types:

Fabric Type Finished Garment Width
Cotton 45 in
Wool 54 in
Linen 58 in
Silk 60 in
Denim 72 in

Pattern Size

Close fitting garments have little difference between the size chart and finished garment measurements, while outwear garments have a bigger difference.

3 things to consider when choosing a pattern size:

  1. Your body measurements
  2. The design ease of the garment
  3. The fit of the garment

Sewing Pattern Fabric Lay Plan

Sewing Pattern Fabric Lay Plan
The sewing pattern fabric lay plan is designed to help you get the most from your fabric.

It shows you how to lay out the pattern pieces so that there’s minimal waste.

You may need to buy more fabric than the sewing pattern suggests, but the layplan will help you make the most of it.


Layplanning is designed to help you get the most from your fabric. It shows you how to lay out the pattern pieces on your fabric so that you waste as little as possible.

The grainline, cutting lines, fold lines, length/shorten lines, and notches are all marked on the layplan to help you align the pattern pieces correctly.

Fabric Waste

Depending on fabric width and pattern size chosen, you may need to buy more fabric than sewing pattern suggests.

To avoid fabric waste:

  1. Cut fabric scraps into smaller pieces.
  2. Use scraps to make other projects.
  3. Donate scraps to a local fabric store or charity.
  4. Compost scraps.

Sewing Pattern Suggests

You may need to buy more fabric than the sewing pattern suggests.

The layplan provided in the pattern may not always make the most efficient use of your fabric.

Consider factors such as ease, grainline, marking placement, and notch placement when determining how much fabric you’ll need for your project.

It’s also a good idea to have extra fabric on hand in case of mistakes or alterations during the sewing process.

Remember that tissue paper can be used as a guide when laying out and cutting your pattern pieces on the fabric.

Sewing Instructions

Sewing Instructions
Follow the sewing instructions provided with your pattern for a step-by-step guide on how to complete your project.

Start by printing out the instructions and make sure you have all the necessary materials and tools.

Next, mark your pattern pieces according to the symbols and lines indicated in the instructions. Use these markings as a guide when cutting out your fabric, making sure to follow along with any suggested layouts or cutting diagrams provided.

Once you have all of your fabric pieces cut out, begin sewing them together following each step outlined in the instructions. Take it one step at a time until you’ve completed all necessary seams, finishes, closures, and hems required for your garment.

By carefully following these detailed sewing instructions, you’ll be able to confidently sew up a beautiful finished garment that fits perfectly!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a woven and a knit fabric?

Woven fabrics are made by weaving together two or more pieces of yarn.

Knit fabrics are made by looping yarn around itself.

What is the difference between a pattern size and a finished garment measurement?

The difference between a pattern size and a finished garment measurement is called design ease. It’s the amount of extra room built into a pattern to allow for movement and comfort.

How do I know how much fabric I need for a project?

To know how much fabric you need for a project, consult the fabric requirements on the pattern envelope.

You may need to buy more fabric than required to accommodate for either shrinkage or cutting mistakes.

How do I lay out my fabric to minimize waste?

Lay out your fabric according to the cutting layout, which is designed to help you minimize fabric waste.

What are the different types of notions I might need for a project?

Notions are the small, miscellaneous items you need to complete a sewing project.

These include:

  • Thread
  • Needles
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Seam rippers
  • Other tools


Sewing patterns can be like a foreign language, but with this guide, you’ll be reading them like a pro in no time.

So what’re you waiting for? Get started on your next sewing project today!

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.