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How to: Read a sewing pattern envelope

Understanding a sewing pattern envelope will go a long way in ensuring you buy the right pattern, but also all the required materials and notions.

I remember spending a lot of time trawling though the encyclopaedic like pattern books with my mum when I was a kid at our local sewing store looking for that next make. We would jot down the pattern company and style number on little cards ready to take to the counter, where they were collected from giant filing drawers.

It wasn't long until I became that person filing through those deep drawers looking for peoples patterns. You see, I worked in our local sewing and haberdashery store for over 8 years while at school and studying and during this time I learnt pretty quickly the ins and outs of reading and interpreting sewing pattern envelopes.

These envelopes can seem a little overwhelming at first. However, if you break them down, they are actually pretty logical, and typically follow the same format across pattern companies. Getting to grips with reading and understanding these envelopes will go a long way in ensuring you not only buy the right pattern (size, skill and style), but also all the required materials and notions.

This post will use the Megan Nielsen Hovea Jacket pattern to walk you through what you can expect to find on the front and back of a sewing pattern envelope, and how best to utilise the information.


The front

Name of the company: This is usually positioned somewhere prominent on both the front and back of the envelope, and essentially indicates who makes the pattern. For example, independent brand 'Megan Nielsen Patterns' created the Hovea Jacket pattern.

Style name or number: These names (like Hovea jacket) or numbers are used as an identifier, or reference, for the pattern design. These are used when searching for the pattern either in-store or online. They will also be found on each of the pattern pieces. Interestingly, I am noticing many company's adopt style names as opposed to numbers, or a mixture of both. In my opinion, this is making the patterns that little more personal.

Size: Patterns often include a range of sizes within the envelope, for example XS to L and XL to 3XL. The sizing identified on the envelope is indicative of the actual sizes included inside that particular pattern envelope, so be sure to check!

Fashion sketches and/or photographs: These images are meant to be appealing and grab your attention. They are a selling point. However, sometimes they don’t do themselves any favours. For example, a more detailed design may be represented in darker fabrics or a busy print, so you can’t actually pick up on the details. Therefore, I tend to always look at the tech drawings. The front may also include sketches or photographs of the different views included with the pattern, for example "View A" may have short sleeves, while "View B" may have long sleeves.

Skill level: This indicates whether the pattern is suitable for beginners, intermediate or the more advanced sewer. If this scale isn't available, just take a look at the technical drawings or read the pattern description, and you can use your own judgement as to where your skill level is at.


The reverse

Description: Just like it sounds, this is a breakdown of the different elements of the pattern and its different views or options. This could include everything from fit, sleeve type, waist finishes, closures, suitable fabrics, to styling ideas.

Fabric suggestions: This section will identify the most appropriate fabrics for the pattern in terms of weight and composition, and how different fabrics may impact the silhouette.

Notions: Here will be a listing of all the other bits and bobs you will need to complete the pattern, from thread, buttons, zips, to interfacing. Just like a shopping list!

Technical drawings: These drawings will often be of the different views or options that are included in the pattern. These drawings are more accurate than the fashion sketches or photographs that may appear on the front of the envelope, as they will also illustrate the less visible elements, such as seams, zippers or shoulder pads.

Sizing and meterage: This part of the envelope usually comprises of three key tables - body measurements, finished garment measurements and fabric requirements. It is also common for these measurement tables to be presented in both imperial (i.e. inches) and metric (i.e. centimetres) measurements.

  • Body measurements or sizing: This table (usually the first of three), usually includes rows of body measurements with corresponding columns indicating the appropriate pattern size. To interpret this table, and identify which size pattern to make you will need your bust, waist and hip measurements.

    • Bust: Taken from around your bust at the fullest part. Be sure to check that as you are measuring your tape doesn't dip at the back (this is where the mirror can be helpful).

    • Waist: Taken from around your torso at the narrowest part. To check you are measuring your waist, try leaning to one side, and the point where your body bends is typically the waist.

    • Hip: Taken at the fullest part of your hips/bottom. It is important to note that there is a difference between sewing pattern sizing and that of off the rack clothing.

  • Finished garment measurements: The infomration included in this table can be used to compare the patterns expected finished measurments to something you may already own, and know fits well. This may become a good guide.

  • Fabric requirements (or yardage): This information is usually presented in the third table. Once you have identified the view (or style) and the fabric width (e.g. 115 and 150cm) to the left of the table, you simple match it with your size listed at the top. The point at which these two columns meet will tell you the amount of fabric required. If you are using a print, or a fabric with a nap (think velvet which looks different at different angles, and when brushed up or down), you will need to take this into account, as you may need additional fabric to match.

For a beginners guide to measuring yourself, and accurately, I recommend checking out The Sewing Pattern Tutorials 9: Measuring yourself from The Fold line. This tutorial details everything from required equipment, what to wear when taking your measurements and where particular measurements are taken on the body, complete with diagrams.


What you will find inside the pattern envelope

There are essentially two things inside a pattern envelope:

  • The instruction booklet or sheets: The instructions will include everything from an overview of the garment, size and garment measurements (similar to what is on the back of the envelope, however maybe in more detail), cutting plans for the different views and fabrics widths, and of course the sewing instructions.

  • The pattern pieces: These are usually printed on large A0 sheets of tissue like paper, or heavier copier type paper, ready for you to cut out to size.

Please get in touch or leave me a comment, I would love to know your thoughts on this 'How to' guide. Did you find it useful?

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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