Spend £25 for FREE UK shipping

The UK’s Biggest Pattern House

Part 3: How to read a sewing pattern

In part 2, we discussed the information that is contained on the back of the pattern envelope, but what about what you’ll find inside?

Watch our video guide that explains how to read the pattern envelope, understand the instruction guide sheet and learn more about the tissue paper pattern pieces:


The Pattern Tissue
The pattern pieces are printed on large sheets of tissue paper. These large sheets are then folded so that they fit neatly into the envelope. There can be up to four pieces of tissue in a single pattern envelope, depending on how many items are in the design and how many pattern pieces are included.

When you unfold the tissue paper, you’ll find several different shapes, which are the pattern pieces. You will need to cut these pieces apart, which also makes them easier to work with. Cut around each piece, just outside the solid line; you will not need the excess tissue that is left over.

After the pattern pieces are separated, you’ll be able to use them to cut the fabric for the item you are sewing. For example, if you are making a pair of pull-on drawstring pants to lounge around in, you’ll have a pattern piece for the legs and another for a drawstring. If you are making a collared shirt, you’ll have separate pieces for the front, the back, the sleeves, the cuffs, the collar, etc. – you get the idea. Every item in design will have the necessary pattern pieces included in the envelope.

Each item in a design is assigned its own view letter such as A, B, C, etc. These letters are printed on the pattern pieces, so you can easily see which ones you will need to make a particular item. For example, if you are making item view A, you will only need the pattern pieces that are marked view “A”. These view letters correspond to the instructions on the guide sheet.

Printed along with view letters on pattern pieces are piece names such as Front, Back, Sleeve, etc., further identifying them. There will also be various markings such as dots and notches, which are explained and referred to on the guide sheet in the instructions. All of this cross-referencing makes it easy to match pattern pieces to instructions while you are sewing.

The Guide Sheet

Stare at the seemingly endless choice of sewing gadgets, accessories and sewing machine choices.

This is exactly what its name implies – a how-to guide for a particular pattern. When you open up the guide sheet, you’ll see a wealth of information that can seem intimidating at first glance. Let’s break it down, step by step:

  1. Front and Back Views: these line drawings show the front and back of each item in the design, in precise detail. Each item is assigned a view letter such as A, B, C, etc. This makes it easy to refer to each view throughout the guide sheet and corresponds with the view letters printed on the pattern pieces as explained above.
  2. Piece List: this section of the guide sheet shows you in miniature all pattern pieces that have been included. In addition to the pattern pieces, there is also a list of the pieces, in numerical order. The list gives the piece name (as explained above) and number of each piece, as well as which views need that piece to make the finished item. This makes it easier to find the pieces you are looking for.
  3. General Directions: this section is standard on all Simplicity patterns. This gives some basic guidance as to the markings or symbols you will find on pattern pieces, as well as standard sewing basics. We will get into more detail on markings and sewing instructions in Part 4.
  4. Cutting Layouts: these show how to place your pattern pieces on your fabric. Each view gets its own unique cutting layout, since each view is unique. Like the pattern pieces themselves, look for the cutting layout that corresponds with the view you are making.
  5. Sewing Directions: when you are ready to sew, follow these directions, which show you in greater detail how to actually sew and construct the item you are making. The sewing instructions, like everything else in the pattern, are arranged by view letter – this helps you to find the instructions that will matter to you. Included in the sewing directions are illustrations to the left of the steps, giving you a picture that helps to clarify and correspond with each step in the instructions. The instructions and illustrations are both numbered; this not only helps you sew the pieces together in the right order, but it also matches up the right picture its corresponding step. For example, if you are working on step 6, the illustration that goes with it will be marked with a 6 as well. The sewing directions are designed to take you all the way from start to finish in a specific order, until you have a completed project in your hands!

Are you sure you’d like to cancel your membership?

Your Sew Today VIP Membership 40% discount on all products on sewdirect will no longer apply.