But I still start with a basic pattern, and I really believe once I mastered a halter dress pattern when I was 16, my sewing skills and passion really took off! There are pros and cons to both ways of making things, but I'd love for you all to learn to use patterns and not be intimidated... let me see if I can help!
Here's a question I got from a reader, Taylor:
Q: I am very new to sewing (all I can make are pillows) and I am interested in making my own clothing. My problem is, I cannot figure out how to read a pattern! How do you recommend getting started? Also, how do I cut out the pattern onto the fabric? I feel like I would get that all wrong. I apologize in advance if this is already on your blog - I didn't see anything about this topic.
It's a great question, Taylor. I don't already have anything on my blog but I should!! Hence this post! Here's my answer:
A: You’re definitely not alone in wondering about this. I learned to sew using patterns, so I’m afraid to sew without them for most things, but I know a lot of people are intimidated by all the pieces and instructions.
But, I can give you a few pieces of advice, I hope… patterns do include instructions, and they are typically pretty good for the bigger companies. There are a lot of “one-hour!” or “super easy!” patterns for simpler styles that would be good to start with. Although once you understand the basics of dress construction, for example, you’ll know how to make almost any dress pattern.
The pattern will also tell you how to cut it out, although you don’t have to follow it exactly. The first part of the instructions tells you which pieces you need for which style you’re making, and there will be a cutting layout guide that shows you where to put the pieces on the lining and fashion fabric (typically it’ll show for 45” wide fabric and for 60” wide fabric, so depending on what yours is you can use either). The first thing you do when you open the pattern and read the beginning will be to cut out the paper pieces of the pattern that it says you need for the style you want to make—no need to worry about being exact on the lines, just cut a little bit larger around them. Use paper scissors for this part!!! You have to unfold it all and find the right pieces (usually pretty random where they are), and then you can get your fabrics out and pin the pieces to the fabric. The cutting guides often waste fabric, so I cut things out just grouping the pieces as close together as possible while following the grain and fold markers. Then you’ll use your sharper scissors to cut out on the lines of the pattern pieces, or approximately, through all the layers including the fabric. I fold my pattern pieces to the right size rather than cutting off the larger sizes, just in case I want to use the pattern again later for a larger size.
On each pattern piece it will say “cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining” or “cut 1 on fold” or something. That tells you how many and of which fabric you need. For complicated things those and the descriptive labels ("midriff back" or whatever) are really important, but for a simple dress style you’ll probably be able to see what part it is you’re cutting out! Like the front of a dress bodice is a pretty obvious shape. Also pay attention to the double-pointed arrows on each piece that tell you the grain line; align these with the grain of the fabric so your garment lays properly (parallel to the selvage edge and the center fold). Those lines are very important, also--that's why the cutting guide will help you lay your pattern out. Also note the other lines on the pattern that you aren't supposed to cut, like the darts and gather guides--I recommend keeping the pattern pinned to the fabric until you're ready to assemble, so you can refer to those guides. And cut the little triangle notches so you align your sleeve to bodice in the right place, e.g.
In my opinion, it would be easiest to start with a lined dress or garment because then you don’t have to worry about making facings at the neck and sleeve edges. So don’t be scared by the lining! I recommend cutting out the lining first and making any modifications you want to the pattern--cut the bodice a little longer if you're tall, or fold the pieces (below) if you're shorter or whatever--and then, ideally, try it on pinned together or at least measure very carefully. Then you can use the cut-out lining pieces as your pattern on the fashion fabric and that way you know you'll make the same modifications to both.
|Making Butterick B4915 (out of print) shorter for one of my bridesmaids' dresses--cutting the lining!|
I don’t use patterns for most of the skirts that I make; I just tear the fabric to the length I want and sew the selvages together, hem, and pleat or gather into the waist of my dresses. But that’s just because of the style of dress I typically make. Either way, most skirts are very simple and are basically rectangles or sort of triangular shapes.
Once you have everything cut out, the pattern will explain step-by-step what to do first. Follow each instruction and if you don’t understand one, I’d say try looking at PatternReview.com or Googling the name of the pattern and description of the step. Maybe someone else has had the same problem!
There are tons of great beginner patterns out there, and it just depends what look you want! Here are a few I’d recommend, just off the top of my head: