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How to: Interpret sewing pattern markings

Sewing pattern markings can seem a little overwhelming at first. However, they are actually fairly straightforward and commonly follow a consistent format across the various pattern companies and brands.

Understanding the markings on pattern pieces might feel overwhelming initially. However, with a methodical approach of breaking down each section, and careful pinning and marking, you'll soon realise that they are actually straightforward and commonly follow a consistent format across various pattern companies.

In this post, I will guide you through what to expect on a pattern piece and offer insights on how to utilise this information effectively.


Key information

The pattern brand

The name of the brand who made the pattern will usually be positioned somewhere prominent on the pattern piece.

The style number or name

Pattern numbers serve as identifiers or references for specific pattern designs, aiding in locating them either in physical stores or online. Interestingly, I am noticing many company's adopt style names, such as the 'Collins Top', as opposed to numbers. Personally, I find this shift towards names makes the patterns feel more personable and adds a touch of character to the designs.


Many patterns will include multiple versions, for example a short sleeve (e.g. View A) and long sleeve (e.g. View B). Therefore, each pattern piece will clearly indicate the specific view it corresponds to.

The name of each pattern piece

Sewing patterns consist of several pattern pieces. A basic top, for example, will include a front, back and a sleeve (at the least). Therefore, each pattern piece will be labelled accordingly.

Cutting instructions

Certain pattern pieces may necessitate cutting only once (e.g. some waistbands), while others may be cut as a pair (e.g. pant legs), or require multiple (e.g. pocket bags). Furthermore, some pattern pieces may require interfacing or lining. These instructions will be included on each pattern piece (e.g. 'Cut 1 on Fold + Cut 1 Interfacing').

Centre front (CF) and centre back (CB)

The CF and CB position on the pattern indicate the middle of the front or back of the body. These markings become particularly important to mark if you garment extends beyond the centre, for example for a double breasted garment, or a button placket.


Common pattern markings

Cutting (or size) lines

The bordering dashed, dotted and solid lines that each represent a different size for cutting. The pattern will include a key to identify each size.

Tip: These lines can can be tricky to follow at times as they converge on each other. Therefore, it may be handy to trace or highlight the relevant size before cutting or tracing.

Fold lines

A boxed arrow indicating when you need a symmetrical garment panel to be cut. To achieve this, you simply position the arrow against the folded edge of the fabric. This edge of the pattern piece will not have seam allowance.

Grain line (straight and bias)

A line with double arrows that helps to position the pattern piece parallel to the fabrics selvedge (straight grain), or in some cases at a 45 degree angle to it's (bias grain). The grainline should be marked on every pattern piece.

Tip: To ensure the pattern piece is parallel to the selvedge, begin by measuring from one end of the grainline to the selvedge and pop a pin through the pattern piece and fabric (right near the arrow head of the grainline). Measure form the selvedge edge to the other end of the grainline ensuring it is equidistant and pin in place.

Lengthen or shorten (or adjustment) lines

A solid single or double lines that indicate where is best to add or remove length from a garment depending on your body shape. You can either cut and move the pattern pieces apart to create more length, or overlap to shorten.

Notches (single or double)

Triangular shapes or dashed lines positioned around the edges of pattern pieces. These are used to match and align pattern pieces, for example, the head of a sleeve with the shoulder point. When transferring notches onto your fabric you can either cut inwards (like a little snip), or cut an outward triangle.

Note: While I always mark my seam allowances on self drafted patterns with a notch, they may or may not be marked on commercial patterns pieces. Instead, they will be indicated in the instructions


A triangular section of fabric that is folded and stitched to remove excess fabric. They are usually positioned in areas where shaping and fitting are required, such as the bust, shoulders, waist, hips, even the elbows. For more on the different types, and how to mark and sew a dart, check out my post 'How to: Sew a dart'.

Pleats (or tucks)

The only real difference between a pleat and tuck is that a tuck is usually stitched in place. Pleats, and tucks, are marked by dotted lines to show where the fabric is folded, and an arrow to show the direction of the fold.


While gathers can be marked in a similar way to pleats and tucks, they can also be identified by dots or crosses indicating the start and finish of the gathering, with a wiggly line in-between.

Buttons (or press studs)

Usually marked by a cross to show the placement.


Usually indicated by a barred line to show both the placement and length.


There are a number of different styles of pockets, from patch, in-seam, to welt. Therefore, pockets may be marked on the pattern with a combination of notches, lines, and placement markings. For example, the placement of a patch pocket may be marked by small circles or squares. Whereas, the position of in-seam pockets are typically marked by notches.


Similar to pockets, there are several different methods for sewing zippers into garments from invisible, lapped, to fly-front. Therefore, zippers can also be marked on the pattern with a combination of notches, lines, and placement markings. An invisible zipper, for example, may simply be marked by a notch to indicate the stop point.

Please get in touch or leave me a comment. I would love to know if you found this article helpful, or if there is something you would like me to clarify.

Thanks for reading.

Emma xx

This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions contained on this site are my own. I am not affiliated with any brands, products, or organisations mentioned, and do not receive any sponsorship, payment, or other compensation for any of the content on this site.

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