Pattern Symbols

 (and other useful stuff)

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There are a number of symbols and standard terms that appear on printed patterns that it is very useful to know. Without an understanding of these terms and symbols, using a commercial pattern is much more difficult. There is usually a brief explanation of these on the pattern notes, but it is worth looking at them before starting to look at patterns to buy.

Some marks should be transferred to the fabric before removing the pattern. These will be mentioned as we look at each one in turn.

Cutting Line: A solid line round the outside of the pattern. Cut the pattern out on this line first, and then follow it to cut out the fabric.

Sewing line: This is usually 5/8" inside the cutting line, but some patterns come with narrower allowances, and so do some parts of patterns! Modern multi sized patterns do not usually have the seam line marked. Read the notes carefully to see how much seam allowance is included on the pattern.

Remember, it is the seam line that has to be matched with the seam line on the other piece of fabric, NOT the cut edges!

Arrows: These are used for several things, like telling you the direction in which to make a pleat, tuck or fold, and for the grain line (see below). Read any instructions with or on the pattern to see which type you have.

Bust point/Hip point: These help you to determine the fit of the pattern. They mark where the bust or hip point of the pattern is. They help to indicate alterations when they do not match your personal bust and hip points.

Cut on Fold Line: This symbol points to the fold in a piece of fabric, and means that that edge of the pattern needs to be placed on the fold. The fold may not always be down the length of the fabric, so look carefully at the layout diagrams first! Also, they may not mean you to fold the fabric down the centre. Again, look at the diagram to see where the fold should be.

Darts: These help to turn a flat bit of cloth into a three-dimensional garment. They add shape to the garment to make it fit better. They can be from a seam line into the garment piece, or wholly inside the garment piece. Either way, they have the same job. Dart positions need to be transferred to the fabric before removing the pattern. They need to be sewn very carefully.

Dots, both round and square: These are also used to help you position things in the garment. They can be used to match up particular points, mark the end of an opening, or the position of a feature. Dots that need to be matched usually come in the same size and shape, but there are exceptions. Dots for pleats are sometimes different sizes to help you fold a pleat in the right direction. Read the pattern notes carefully before you start, so that you know what they are for in the pattern you are using. Dot positions need to be transferred to the fabric before removing the pattern.

Grain Line: this long arrow has to run parallel to the selvage edge of the fabric. It helps to make the garment hang properly. If you donít lay out the pattern to follow this line, the finished garment may not hang as the designer intended. It may also affect the fit. On some patterns the grain line may have only one point. On most commercial patterns it has two.

Lengthen or Shorten Here Lines: These mark a place where you may safely alter the length of the pattern. Sometimes they are a simple pair of lines close together: cut between them and spread the pieces apart by the correct amount to lengthen them, or overlap them to shorten them. If overlapping, glue the two pieces together when they are the right length. If spreading them, glue them down to a piece of tissue when they are the right distance apart to add the length you need. *Remember to do the relevant alteration to all the relevant pieces of the pattern!

Notches: These come in pairs, which need to be matched up as you put the garment together. They come in groups of one to four. You need to match the single notches to single notches, double notches to double notches, and so forth. Sometimes they are numbered, which helps too. At first you will be advised to cut the notches out as they are marked, so that they are easy to match up. Later, I will show you quick methods that can be used to speed things up.

Placement Lines: These are used to mark the placement of things like pockets and buttonholes. They need to be transferred to the cloth very accurately, so that, for example, both pockets on a skirt are at the same level. Sometimes the position of something needs to be altered if the pattern pieces have been altered, or the garment will look unbalanced. This alteration needs to be marked on the pattern before cutting.

Selvage: This is the woven side edge of the fabric. It is sometimes used in dressmaking to save on a finishing process on the finished garment. It does not unravel, so can be useful in this way. It will also help you to determine the grain of the fabric.


The most important thing you can do with a pattern and a garment is cut them out accurately! If you cut the pattern out carefully, and then do your alterations properly, you can then cut out the garment accurately. It will fit you a lot better than being careless or trying to hurry too much!

Kateís words of wisdom: it takes less time to cut out a garment accurately than to get it wrong and have to re-do it! 90% of sewing is preparation.

*Now you know what the paper scissors, ruler and Pritt stick are for, and why you need a bit of pattern tissue to hand! For small alterations, you can use the bits trimmed off when cutting the pattern out.



Transferring Pattern Markings.


This can be done in several ways. Some are better on some fabrics than others. Transferring pattern markings to the cloth must be done accurately or the finished garment will look peculiar.


Tailorís Tacks: These are sewn marks that you put in with brightly coloured thread so that you can see it easily to take out. They are used for transferring dots and other points to the cloth. They are good on thick fabrics, but can come out easily on loosely woven ones.

Tailorís Chalk: This comes in several colours. Use the one best for the colour of fabric. It is used to transfer things like pocket placement lines to the fabric. It comes in triangles and rectangles.

Chalk Pencil: These are usually white, but can come in other colours. You can use them in the same place as tailorís chalk. A chalk pencil can be more accurate for fine details.

Tracing Paper & Wheel: This can be used in the same places as chalk. You place the tracing paper coloured side towards the fabric, under the pattern, and use the wheel to draw the mark you wish to transfer. The advantage is that for transferring darts etc. you can do both sides of the garment at once! The disadvantage is that it can damage the pattern, making it difficult to re-use. On some fabrics it can leave a permanent mark.

Disappearing Marking Pens: You can now get pens for marking your fabric. They come in soluble form, which needs to be washed out, and time fading form, which doesnít! These have the advantage of being accurate, but you need to be careful. The time fading type can disappear before you are finished with the marks, and the wash out type need to be washed out before you wear the garment, as the marks may be in a place that shows. Also, you must test the pens on a spare piece of the cloth to see that:

  1. They show up: they may not on dark fabric.
  2. They can be removed: they sometimes leave a permanent mark. They may be affected by dry-cleaning or washing, reappearing where you least need them!
  3. The time fade type doesnít disappear too quickly. On some fabrics they vanish almost as you draw them.
  4. Dyes are chemicals, and so are the pigments and carriers in these pens. They may have un-looked-for effects on each other. I had one that made a hole in the test fabric when it was ironed!


You will each develop your own preferences for transferring markings from pattern to fabric. My most favoured are the chalk pencil and tailorís tacks. When you get on to using vinyl and coated fabrics, for marks that wonít show once the garment is complete, nothing beats a biro!

Kateís words of wisdom: never mark fabric with something that wonít come out in a place where it can be seen!

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