How to Make A Dress, Part Two: Pattern Markings

I think this series is going to go on for longer than I thought. : )

Last week we looked a sewing pattern envelope; this week we're going inside and will decipher the symbols on a pattern.
We'll start with the grainline. Fabric has what is called a grain. This is the threads that run the long way down the fabric. The grainline has to match this or else the fabrics won't hang right. If you cut off grain your garment can twist when you wear it and become quite uncomfortable.

On the pictures, the ordinary grainline is illustrated on the one on the left. It's the long blue line with arrows on the ends. You just put the pattern piece on your fabric and make sure that the arrows are the same distance as each other from the selvedge or the fold of the fabric.

The other pattern piece has a grainline on which the arrows turn 90 degrees and point to the straight edge of the pattern piece. This is called a foldline and it means that the piece is cut on the fold of the fabric like when you try and cut a symmetrical heart shape out of paper.

Sometimes the grainline is not parallel with the edge of the fabric, but is at a 45 degree, or "bias", angle. You still have to follow the rules as for an ordinary grainline, so the pattern piece will be at a bias angle. Garments are sometimes cut on the bias to take advantage of the draping qualities of bias cut. It takes more care to sew garments this way. Madame Vionnet was the queen of bias cut.

Now we'll look at notches. Look again at the picture. Do you see on the armhole and the shoulder those little triangles? They are called notches, because you cut a notch out of the seam allowance. They help you to sew every thing together in the right place. Not all patterns have them on the shoulder. This one does because there the back shoulder has to be eased to match the front shoulder. You just gather ever so slightly the back shoulder so that it is the same length as the front one. It is easier to do this if you match up the notches (front to back) and pin them. Then you can draw up the easing thread so that the fabric meets with no gaps and no puckers. Then you pin it, baste it, and stitch it. (That wiggly line on the back shoulder tells you that you have to ease there - it is called an ease line).

Anyway, back to notches. Look at the ones on the armhole. There are two on the back and one on the front. This is to help you put the sleeve in the right way around. They match up with the corresponding notches on the sleeve (see the picture to the right). The notch on the top of the sleeve matches up with the shoulder seam on the garment.

(Note: the picture of a sleeve pattern looks weird because it is a rough idea of how a sleeve pattern ought to look. Here is a link with more information:

Another time darts might be used is to mark fold lines:

I have coloured them bright blue on this picture. They are at the top and bottom of the foldline. This pattern piece not be cut on the fold and only one would be cut. It has what is called a cut-on facing - a facing that cut as part of the pattern piece and then simply folded back. Facing the edge this way is especially good for sheer fabrics and for very thick fabrics because it avoids visible seam allowances in sheer fabrics and avoids bulk in thick fabrics.

Also in this picture are buttonhole marks. You just mark these on the fabric with carbon paper and an inkless pen or something. If you have made the pattern longer or shorter where there are buttons you will have to change the position of the buttonholes or it will look like rest of the garment shrank or stretched - kind of like a grown-up wearing their primary school uniform. Just count the spaces between the buttonholes (we'll call that number x), divide the length from the top one to the bottom one by x and mark the buttonholes every x distance. I.e. if the length is 12" and there are 6 spaces between the buttonholes, you have 2" gaps. Measure every 2" inches down from the top buttonhole until you get to the bottom one (which would be the 6th 2" gap). The number of gaps is one fewer than the number of buttons. If you have dramatically changed the length, you may have to add or subtract buttons and use your own judgement as to how many. (I got the formula from Power Sewing by Sandra Betzina which you can find in my Amazon store on this blog.)

Moving on. Looking back at fig. 1 on the bodice front and back you can see two long, narrow triangles. These are darts. Because fabric is flat it would not automatically shrink to fit your waist or grow to fit your bust. So you have to pinch some of the fabric in at the narrow part (waist) and whittle that pinch to nothing near your bust. Hence the triangle you have to stitch (called a dart). Usually on a pattern, there are either notches or circles at the wide end of the dart and a dot at the point. It is a good idea (if your fabric will take marking) to use carbon paper and a tracing wheel to copy the dart onto you fabric. If not, never mind. You will just have to eyeball it when you sew it. (I know "eyeball" is a horrible expression, but what else can I call it? : ))

Anyway, to stay with that topic and move onto the next at the same time, we come to dots and circles. I'll include another picture here to save your constantly scrolling.
Here you can see that the front of the pattern has been copied and traced off to make what is called a facing pattern. A facing is a way of neatening a raw edge that will and keeping it out of sight. At the top and bottom of each centre front there is a small circle. These are not buttons. They are meant to be cut out of the pattern but not the fabric (on unprinted patterns they would be pre-punched). When you have the pattern on the fabric and have cut it out, you make a tailor's tack through the hole. (A tailor's tack is a big, loose backstitch used for marking when chalk won't do. It's removed when you have finished.)

Circles are often used to mark where a pocket goes or where to start and stop stitching on something that is not quite an ordinary seam, like placing appliqué. On a seam, a notch will sometimes show you were to stop stitching, e.g. where a zip goes on a skirt or dress. The dots at the neckline in this drawing might match up with dots on the collar so that the collar is in the right place. (They wouldn't be necessary for putting the facing in place on a simple front like this.)

Now we come to levels. I don't know what they are really called, but they are the little horizontal lines on a sewing pattern that show you where the bust level, waist level, and hip level are.

(Oh, my! I just noticed that the side seams on my quick "sketch" are no where near the same length like as they should be!)

Now we'll look at pleats, and stitching lines.

The grey lines in this picture are the fold lines, and the red lines are the stitching lines. It is best to mark them with different colours on your fabric so as not to get them mixed up. You can mark them with carbon paper or with long running stitches (that is called thread tracing. by the way). You take the fold line, pinching it if you wish, fold it, move it in the direction of the arrow, and place it so that it meets the stitching line. Then you pin it and baste it. It is best to use large cross stitches to baste pleats so as to avoid their moving when you sew. If you are using drapey fabrics you cannot baste pleats in place using your sewing machine, because the presser foot will move the pleats out of position and ruin the look.

Stitching lines, by the way are shown with dashed lines; and cutting lines are marked with solid lines.

That covers most pattern markings. If there are any I have missed or that you are curious about, please ask below.

I hope that helps! Until next time, happy sewing!

(By the way, I thought I was the only one to end my posts that way but have since found out I am not. And they're not copying my either - their posts are older than mine! It's just like when we were looking for a corner sofa. It took us ages to find one. As soon as we got it they were everywhere. You couldn't look at a sofa advert without seeing one!)

Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, Hornsea, United Kingdom.


Popular Posts