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Learning to read patterns

MattieMal | Posted in Patterns on

Hi!  I am a new sewer and extrememly excited about learning!  I have loved every minute of beginning to sew!  I usually don’t spend a lot of time on the computer as I have a one-year-old boy that keeps me very busy and I also am not very computer literate!

My main question is does anyone know of a great book that I could purchase about how to read patterns?  I’ve learned my sewing machine and different techniques, but I am terrified of patterns because I don’t really know the “lingo” nor the techniques and abbreviations.  Thanks for your input and I look forward to leaning more from this website!



  1. carolfresia | | #1

    Hi, and welcome.

    I'd recommend a general sewing book, like the Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing or similar, as a reference. This book has a short section on how to purchase and read a pattern, and also has lots of other sewing information.

    Start with a relatively simple pattern: drawstring or elastic-waist pajama pants are a great project for beginners. Most of the pattern companies have patterns for this kind of garment. For a first garment, you'll probably want to use a woven, cotton fabric.

    And stay tuned for the next issue of Threads. There's going to be something in it that should be just what you're looking for!


    1. MattieMal | | #2

      Thank-you so much!   I will definitely purchase that.  I took a class and learned the drawstring pants, but I didn't learn elastic.  I can't wait to get the book!  Have a good day!



  2. suesew | | #3

    The very first time I made something from a pattern I was 11 years old. I was at home from school sick in bed with nothing else to do and I took the pattern apart and read every word. I credit this experience with being able to understand patterns pretty well. I think most people simply don't take the time to really read, look at the pictures and understand what they are seeing. I had to ask a few questions along the way and I agree a good basic sewing book will help for years to come.

    1. MattieMal | | #4

      Many thanks to all who have taken the time to answer my pattern reading question!  I really appreciate it!  This is SUCH a WONDERFUL web site!


      1. Teaf5 | | #6

        I agree with suesew that you can learn a tremendous amount by reading the instructions included in the pattern.  Some of the major companies are now including additional suggestions with the patterns (the Threads Magazine instructions for Simplicity are especially good).

        Even as a very experienced sewer who has designed and sewn garments without patterns, I read the commercial pattern instruction pages from start to finish, highlighting the areas I will need for the view I'm making, and making penciled notes to remind myself of important steps.  I also check the various cutting layouts to see if they make sense with respect to the fabric and pattern pieces that I have. 

        In this way, I can take advantage of all the professional knowledge that went into creating the pattern, so my techniques and my results are much better overall.  If you choose a pattern for a garment that is similar to something you own, you can check fit and look at the construction details on the finished garment and then end up with two pieces that you love.  Good luck!

      2. mimi | | #7

        MattieMal:  The best way to learn is to start simply.  Each technique you master will boost your confidence!

        Start with a simple pattern (such as a pullover top or dress).  Read your pattern from start to finish before you even buy your material, and highlight anything you think will be hard to do.  Next, buy some muslin (we recommend it because it is cheap!) and try the "hard to do" parts.  This may take up some time you would rather be spending on real sewing, but it beats having to rip out stitches on good material.

        Come back here if you have any questions.  People at gatherings are very friendly and knowledgable!


        1. MattieMal | | #8

          THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!  I appreciate everone's time in helping me and I will follow all of your advice!  Y'all are awesome!

  3. mainestitcher | | #5

    If you go to ebay, you can purchase Edna Bishop's book, "The Bishop Method," which has a few neat tip and tricks in it.

  4. mem | | #9

    I recommend the Vogue book of sewing . When I was starting out I used it as bedtime reading. I learnt so much.

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