How to Read a Sewing Pattern: The Ultimate Guide

When you are looking for a specific type of outfit and can’t find it in any of the stores, you get frustrated and wonder if you can sew it at home. 

Making your own dress at home is one of the best crafts that allows anyone to get creative and create stylish, perfect-fitted garments at home. With sewing dresses at home, one can avoid turning up into the same outfit as someone else. 

One of the biggest inventions in the world of dressmaking at home is a paper pattern. Paper pattern comes with some kind of instructions that you can follow and make your own dress. With so many sewing symbols available in the sewing pattern, it becomes challenging to understand the pattern to make your desired clothes. 

Knowing how to read a sewing pattern can help you make your outfit with ease. This guide on reading sewing patterns for beginners will help you clear your confusion about different pattern symbols, fabric lay plans, and, most important, the sewing instruction booklet.

Continue reading to know “how to read a sewing pattern for beginners” and spend less time struggling and more time sewing!

How to Read a Sewing Pattern: The Essential Elements

If you’re a beginner and just trying your hands-on sewing, you must choose a simple and easy design to sew. Choose a simple day dress, skirt, top, or pajamas instead of jumping to a princess ball gown trousers. 

How to read a sewing pattern
Image Source: Lulus

Look for a pattern with fewer elements and hassle. For a beginner, sewing a zip can be easy than sewing lots of buttons and buttonholes. 

It is worth mentioning here that there are two main types of sewing patterns available in the market, such as physical paper patterns or digital sewing PDF patterns.

Whether you are purchasing a physical pattern or digital PDF sewing pattern, there are several sewing elements that you need to understand in order to sew your outfit. Here are five primary elements of any sewing pattern:

    • Size guide
    • Sewing pattern lines and symbols
    • Finished garment measurements/Charts
    • Fabric layout plan
    • Sewing instruction

We will explore each of these five elements in detail so that you can get more confident while reading sewing patterns.

Choosing Your Sewing Pattern Size Guide

Once you have chosen your ideal sewing pattern, it is important to select the correct size. Be prepared as this will be a different size than what you wear from store-bought dresses. 

You must not choose your sewing pattern by selecting the size of the clothes you wear from the shop; instead, make sure you get the right body measurement. 

How to follow a sewing pattern
Image Source: Pepper Place Design

Sewing patterns are based on your body measurements. The beauty of “how to learn” making your own clothes at home is that you don’t need to fit your body into the ready-made available size clothes. 

Tips for Choosing the Right Pattern Size

Based on the garment’s sewing pattern, you can consider three or more measurements. The major measurements for most sewing patterns for beginners are waist, bust, and hips. 

Here are some general rules you must follow while looking for the right pattern size:

    • For a loose-fit bodice, consider the “roundest” part of your upper body, like the bust. This will help you make a comfortable garment and won’t drag across the bust. 
    • Focus on high bust, underbust, and waist measurement for a body-fitted bodice. A full bust adjustment can be made to increase the bust size whenever required. 
    • Make sure the lower body garment should have a broader area since fabric suppression can fix the narrower areas of free sewing patterns.

Finding your ideal size on the body measurement chart provided in the sewing pattern will help you understand how much fabric will be needed to sew garments at home. 

Size chart for women
Image Source: Ministry of Patterns

Sometimes, it may happen that you are straddling two sizes. In that case, you can grade between them. For example, if you have a 12-size bust and 14-size waist and hips, then you need to cut a 12 at the top and taper on the 14 lines at the waist and hips. 

It is suggested that you try cutting the sizes on the rough or cheap fabric first before you start sewing the real thing. 

Understanding Sewing Pattern Lines and Symbols

Next – the most exciting and confusing part of – How to read a sewing pattern is layout and symbols.

Sewing pattern symbols
Image Source: Pinterest

Each symbol that comes in sewing patterns has its own meaning. Before diving into understanding different marks and lines for sewing patterns, it is essential to know what a pattern piece is.

What is a Pattern Piece?

A pattern piece is a part of the whole sewing pattern. For example, when you learn to sew a shirt, you will have the following sections to sew:

    • Front
    • Back
    • Sleeve
    • Cuff
    • Collar
    • Collar Stand
    • Placket
    • Patch Pocket
    • Back yoke

Each of these sections is known as the pattern piece. If it is a complicated sewing pattern, the front or back sections can be made up of various pattern pieces. 

Each pattern piece comes with various symbols and lines as a visual guide to help you understand what needs to be done on the pattern.

What Are the Lines and Symbols on Sewing Pattern Pieces?

The pattern lines and symbols on each pattern piece differ based on the sewing pattern you choose. 

Here is the list that will help you understand how to read sewing pattern instructions:

    • Notches
    • Folding
    • Cutting lines
    • Darts
    • Lengthen/Shorter lines
    • Tucks
    • Pockets
    • Gathers
    • Bust point
    • Pleats
    • Buttons and Buttonholes

Let’s understand more about each of them in detail.

Cutting Line

Scissors with cutlines sewing patterns
Image Source: Freepik

These are the solid lines that are represented with scissors to cut the piece. This symbol is placed on the edge of the pattern template and helps you understand where to cut. The cutting lines can be identified by:

    • Dotted
    • Dash then several dots
    • Different dash lengths


Notches are used to ensure that pattern pieces are matched in the right way. These are the triangular symbols along with matching points. For example, sleeve notch matching the armscye notch.

Notches are important pattern pieces, so make sure you can identify them. If notches are not lined up, then you can know that something is not right. 

Some older pattern companies give notches pointing outwards, while indie patterns come with notches pointing inward. You can cut out notches on all the pattern pieces to prevent mistakes. 

Fold Line

Reading a sewing pattern
Image Source: Girls Angle

Some pattern pieces come with a fold line instead of a grainline as it is symmetrical and needs to have one piece cut out. The fold line indicates a section where it needs to be folded. Collar, collar stand, and skirt fronts and backs come with fold lines.

Buttons and Buttonholes

These elements on the pattern pieces ensure the right placement of buttons. There is no worse thing than a button placed in the wrong place. It also affects how the fabric will look while buttoned up.

The Grain

How to read a sewing pattern layout
Image Source: Made to Sew

Even though you know “how to understand sewing pattern instructions,” you must follow directional lines on each piece. 

The grainline on a pattern piece is a long, solid line with an arrow at the end and marks how to line up the fabric and pattern piece. Some pieces will be placed straight on the material, crosswise, and diagonal to the grain. 

    • Straight Grain
      • The grainline will have just one arrow at the end. This can be placed on the parallel to straight grain on the fabric. 
    • Cross Grain
      • The cross-grain is placed at a 90-degree angle. Most of the pattern pieces don’t have cross grain as the grain line is placed in such a way that the pattern pieces are always parallel.
    • Bias Cut
      • When you cut the fabric at a 45-degree angle, it is known as a bias cut. There is more stretch and drape achieved at the angle, and that is why tops and dresses come with bias-cut symbols.


It is made by bringing two end points together and sewing a line parallel to the foldline. 

Lengthen and Shorten Lines

Several sewing patterns are designed with a certain height measurement in mind. If you are taller or shorter than the given height, you need to lengthen and shorten lines to make changes.

Changing a sewing pattern can sometimes impact the length and width of the outfit, and that is why it is essential to use lengthen and shorten lines marked by the pattern designer. 

Gathering Lines

When the sewing fabric needs to be gathered, it is indicated by gathering lines. These can be a straight or wavy line between two endpoints. 

You can know what measurement to take to gather the fabric from the sewing instruction, but it can be understood from the notches on the pattern piece. 


How to understand sewing patterns
Image Source: Pinterest

Pleats are different than the tucks. They are directional and can be identified by a dotted line and an arrow showing the direction on the folded edge.

Bust Point

The bust point is shown on the nipple of the body. Darts are designed in a way that ends before the bust point to avoid sharp points at the bust. 


Darts can be challenging for a beginner. It requires the right measure to sew without tracing them on the sewing material. If you are reading sewing patterns for beginners, then you need to choose a pattern that doesn’t include darts. 

Choose your first sewing project without a Dart and use super easy custom woven labels and hang tags from Superlabel store to personalize your outfit. 


Sewing pattern guide for beginners
Image Source: Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

If you are sewing something that needs to be clipped, then clipping can help you lay it flat. 


Pockets are indicated by a circle or drill holes on a sewing pattern, and they should be placed in the right way. Pockets are one of the best ways to add unique elements to your sewing project. 

Finished Garment Measurements

The next essential thing, “how to read a sewing pattern,” is to consider finished garment measurement. 

When you are finished making a garment, then check the measurement. If it’s a fitted garment, then there is less chance of difference between the waist measurement on the size chart and the actual garment chart. 

If you choose a pattern for designed clothes, there will be some differences in the measurement as there will be some additional design elements. Wondering patterns for designer clothes? Check our guide on how to make sewing patterns today!

The Fabric Lay Plan

When it comes to knowing how to understand sewing patterns, knowing the fabric lay plan is essential.

Reading sewing patterns for beginners
Image Source: Amber Rose

The sewing pattern company often provides the fabric lay plan in a sewing booklet to help you get the most out of the fabric. The plan can show different ways to layout the fabric based on:

    • Chosen pattern size
    • Fabric width

If you are using natural fabric such as linen, cotton, or wool, which is prone to sink, then you will need to ensure the fabric layout plan is accurate. 

Sewing Instruction

Many sewing patterns come with step-by-step instructions for assembling your entire sewing project. Make sure you follow the instruction guide “how to sew” beautiful outfits at home. These sewing instructions comes with

    • Text instructions
    • Photos
    • Illustrations

Logical sequences are added to “how to read a sewing pattern instructions.” Once you use the sequences, you can know how to put together a basic garment in a beautiful way. 

The sewing instruction also comes with the types of fabrics you should use, such as cotton, stretch knits, or broadcloth. It also includes the amount of material required for fabric width like 44-45 inches to 60 inches. Check the care labels of the fabric while purchasing.

Bonus Tip: Buy twice fabric if the width of the fabric is less. 

Tips on How to Follow a Sewing Pattern

Knowing how to follow a sewing pattern can help you learn an outfit at home with ease. Here are some essentials tips you can keep in mind while reading patterns for beginners:

Take Accurate Measurement

Tips on how to follow a sewing pattern
Image Source: Pinterest

Sewing patterns come in different sizes, so you must get the right body measurements. You can use flexible tape measures to get the right measurements. Then, compare it with the measurement given on the chart to determine the right size.

Read the Direction First

Reading the entire sewing pattern can be a tedious task for many people, but it is one of the essential things when it comes to understanding sewing patterns for beginners. 

Make sure you do not skip this crucial step. If you’re experienced and know everything about sewing patterns, then also don’t forget to skip this step. To understand the entire workflow, one should read all the essential instructions from the beginning. 

Reading sewing patterns in detail can also help you organize your task and finish the sewing project on time.

Print the Pattern

How to print sewing patterns
Image Source: Sew 4 Cons

If you’re using a PDF sewing pattern, you need to print the pattern and tape the sheets together. Follow the instructions step-by-step and use the right sewing tools. 

Trace the Pattern

Tracing is a must if you are using the traditional paper pattern. Tracing the pattern requires a lot of time. Those who don’t trace take less time to re-trim, re-print, and re-tape. 

Follow the Right Lines

Make sure you follow the correct lines to get the ideal size and shape for your sewing project. Highlighting the required lines with a colorful pen helps you trace the right size. 

What Can You Make by Reading Sewing Patterns?

By reading sewing patterns and following the step-by-step instructions, you can make the following things at home:

    • Different types of wedding dresses
    • Cushions
    • Aprons
    • Kids clothes
    • Formal wear
    • Shirts
    • Skirts
    • Fabric bags
    • Table clothes
    • Soft toys

Frequently asked questions

What are line drawings, and why are they important in a sewing pattern?

Line drawings are illustrations found on the sewing pattern envelope or instruction sheet that depict the finished garment. They provide a visual representation of the design, including its shape, style lines, and key features.

Line drawings help you to understand the construction steps and visualize how the garment will look before you start sewing on the sewing machine.

How do I take accurate measurements for a sewing pattern?

To take accurate measurements for a sewing pattern, use a flexible measuring tape, follow the pattern’s measurement guide, and record precise measurements for the bust/chest, waist, hips, and any other required measurements.

Can I modify a sewing pattern to fit my measurements?

Yes, you can modify a sewing pattern to fit your measurements. Sewing patterns are typically designed based on standard size charts, but everyone’s body is unique.

Modifying a pattern allows you to customize it to suit your specific measurements and achieve a better fit.

Why is seam allowance important in sewing?

A seam allowance refers to the extra fabric that extends beyond the stitching line on a sewing pattern. It is the space between the edge of the fabric and the stitching line where two fabric pieces are sewn together.

Seam allowances are typically measured in inches or centimeters and can vary depending on the pattern or personal preference.

It serves several purposes:

  • The seam allowance provides space for sewing fabric pieces together along the designated stitching line.
  • It allows for modifications to achieve a better fit without altering the final measurements of the garment.
  • A wider seam allowance can contribute to stronger, more durable seams.
  • Seam allowances accommodate various finishing techniques to prevent fraying and create a polished look.
  • A larger seam allowance allows for future alterations, such as letting out or taking in seams.


Once you understand your chosen sewing pattern and have gathered the right fabric, you can start sewing your own outfit at home. 

Mark each pattern piece on the fabric and use sewing machines to sew your garment. Follow the step-by-step sewing pattern instructions so that you can sew the garment in the correct way. 

Once you have your outfit ready, you can use super easy and super custom hang tags from Super label stores to personalize your own clothes.