How to Read a Sewing Pattern Part 4: Reading the Instructions

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I'm back with part 4 of a series on how to read sewing patterns and today we're going to learn to decipher the instructions! If you haven't read the rest of the series yet, here are some links: 

Part 1: Choosing your pattern and reading the envelope

Part 2: Making sense of sizing

Part 3: Cutting out your pieces

How to sew with patterns

Did you ever take those quizzes in school, where the first instructions was to read all the instructions and the last instruction was to ignore every instruction after the first one? So you looked like a total idiot if you skipped reading the instructions? Yeah, well, when reading sewing patterns, I'm going to tell you NOT to read all the instructions before you start. If you're a beginner at using patterns, reading all that stuff with all those drawings is just going to overwhelm you. Thus, today's Pro Tip: Just take it one step at a time! 

We talked about the first page of instructions already when we learned to use the cutting diagrams in part 3, but there's some more important information on that sheet. In time, you won't need to refer to this page at all, but for starting out, if you're having a hard time knowing what the instructions mean by certain terms, go back to your "General Instructions" and chances are you'll find your answer. See below the glossary of terms on a pattern I cut out to make today. 

How to read sewing patterns 

I know, those are very short descriptions, but it's okay because we have the Internet, ha! I promise you'll find plenty of videos or more thorough explanations of any of these terms with a quick google search. 

Also on this page, you'll find your "seam allowance", which is how far from the raw edges you're going to be sewing unless otherwise instructed on certain steps. For garment sewing, seam allowances are almost always 5/8" (in the U.S., at least). If you have trouble knowing where that is on your machine, use your gauge to measure from the needle and stick a piece of washi tape there as a guide. I do this for my sewing students quite a bit to help them stay on their seam allowance! 

How to use a sewing pattern

You can also see in the above photo, along with the seam allowance, there's a fabric key. In the drawings throughout the instructions, you'll come across these textures to help you see which parts in the drawings are the right or wrong side of the fabric, for example. 

The last bit of good info on this sheet is about pattern markings. You may have noticed when you cut out your pieces, there are notches, circles, squares and/or triangles all over them. These markings are important! You'll find your own favorite methods of marking, but I'll share some of what I do after this next photo. 

How to sew with patterns

Most of your markings will be notches and these help you line up your pieces correctly when sewing them together. I cut a small snip (not too big, maybe 1/4" so it's well inside my seam allowance). For the circles, squares and triangles, different people have different preferred methods. A collection of marking pens and tailors chalk is a good thing to have on hand. I don't like marking with these things, so I almost always just mark with pins by picking up a couple threads with a pin in just the right spot. This works for me, but experiment with the tools available to you and decide what you like best. Megan Nielsen has written an excellent article on five ways to make your pattern markings. To make these markings, simply stick a pin through the circle on the pattern piece and then mark each fabric layer right on the pin. 

See that pin in my dart circle? 

See that pin in my dart circle? 

You're officially ready to start sewing! And remember, just take it one step at a time! 

Trying to write a post covering every new thing you'll encounter as you sew various patterns would be impossible, but here are my three pieces of advice as you work through the instructions: 

  1. Trust the process. Some steps may not make sense at first, but they're in there for a reason, so don't skip them. 
  2. Us the Internet! One of the best things about people who sew is that they love to help others learn to sew too and there is so much content online to help you with those steps you don't understand. 
  3. Press as you go. You can always tell when a handmade garment has not been properly pressed! Make friends with your iron, because it is an essential tool in sewing. When the instructions say press, you'd better press! I use Shark irons in my studio  and I love them. And remember, pressing is different that ironing

I hope this series has helped you feel prepared to tackle sewing with patterns! Part 5 will be about fitting garments as you go, so stay tuned for that next week. Cheers! 

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The things we made in May

This post contains affiliate links, which mean that while I am not paid to promote certain items, I will earn a small commission should you purchase items through these links.  For more info, see my disclosure policy. 

The best part of sewing blogs is seeing what people have made, right!? I compiled all the things we made at Pin, Cut, Sew studio in May and boy, it's a lot. 

Monthly Makes, www.pincutsewstudio.com

I'll start with what my sewing students made over the last month. 

We made colored pencil rolls using the tutorial at Create in the Chaos. These were a hit with my students and they were all able to do the sewing with little help since it's just a lot of straight lines.

Kids sewing class, www.pincutsewstudio.com

My other class made their own pajama shorts using Simplicity #8401. You can visit my post about teaching kids to sew clothing right here

Teaching kids to sew at www.pincutsewstudio.com

That same class also wanted to make pineapple plushies on the last day of classes for the school year, so I came up with these cute little guys! They got to practice some embroidery and got creative with the faces. 

Kids sewing classes at www.pincutsewstudio.com

My other class, for the last day, chose to have a free sewing day, where they could come up with their own ideas and I could help bring them to life! These two siblings came up with some super cool ideas! John made a golden snitch with a zipper case for it and Alex made a pillow to give her parents on their anniversary.

Kids can sew, www.pincutsewstudio.com

My third student in that class made a doll skirt and shirt and a doll tote bag, but I forgot to get a photo (bad sewing teacher!) I do have a tutorial for that doll tote bag right here, though and tips for sewing doll clothes right here. Stay tuned for a tutorial on making skirts for any size doll! 

I think that's it for my classes for May, so now let me show you some personal makes! I don't always sew this many garments in a month, but there were some holes in my Summer wardrobe so I got busy. I definitely sew more of my Summer Wardrobe than I do my Winter wardrobe. I guess I have no desire to make jeans or sweaters, ha! 

I'll start with the most recent make because it's a new favorite. I made yet another Blackwood Cardigan and it's my best one yet. Actually the next three photos include makes from this pattern, so you could say I'm obssessed. I don't buy a lot of indie sewing patterns, but it's safe to say I've gotten my money's worth from this one! 

Blackwood Cardigan made by Nikki at www.pincutsewstudio.com

This next one I made awhile back. I didn't have enough fabric to make sleeves, so I made it a vest instead. Both this fabric and the stripe above are from GirlCharlee.com, a great resource for knits of all kinds. I made this gray tank too, from a pattern I drafted from a ready-to-wear tank. Fabric is from Hobby Lobby. 

Blackwood Cardigan, www.pincutsewstudio.com

I liked that one so much, I pulled out another knit I didn't have a whole lot of (I actually bought it from a thrift store) and made another Blackwood vest. This knit is thicker and it turned out with kind of a utility vest vibe, which I dig! 

Blackwood cardigan vest by www.pincutsewstudio.com

Next up, this is my favorite top! This organic cotton double knit has been on the clearance table at Joann literally since I moved here a year ago, but it was still super pricey. It finally went down in price another notch and I bought a yard. I used a tried and true pattern, Very Easy Vogue 9109      and I love it so much. 

Vogue 9109 by Nikki of www.pincutsewstudio.com

My next outift includes two handmade pieces. I wanted a higher waisted crisp denim skirt. I grabbed the perfect denim at a Joann sale and used a Cynthia Rowley pattern, Simplicity 1783. I almost always Cynthia Rowley's designs and this one turned out great! The yellow lace tie top was made with a mustard lace I'd had in my stash for a couple years and I used the new pattern, Simplicity 8601, eliminating the sleeves and lowering the neckline. I like this look and my fashionista daughter said it's her favorite, so I think it's a good one! 

Simplicity 1783 & 8601 by Nikki of www.pincutsewstudio.com

I really needed some basic tanks, so I snatched one yard of this rayon jersey at Joann and used the free pattern by Hey June called the Durango Tank. I highly recommend, the cut is great and you can't beat free! Be sure and check out her other patterns too. 

Durango Tank pattern

This is another outfit with two handmade pieces. The skirt is a very basic pattern, New Look 6436, and I love the pockets! The top is McCall's 7603 and while this is not my first attempt at it, but it is the first version I've loved. It just took some time to get the fit right, because it runs large and I don't like the pleat in the back, so I'll now eliminate that altogether in the future. Now that I have it how I want it, I can see a few more versions! Both these fabrics are from Hobby Lobby's Spring Fashion fabric line. 

New Look 6436 and McCall's 7603 by Nikki of www.pincutsewstudio.com

Lastly, I made a couple pair of rayon shorts using Kwik Sew 4181, which is really an activewear pattern. The shorts are super cute and comfy, but they're a bit too short for me to be comfortable wearing out. But the pattern is great and I'll definitely give it another try and lengthen it! For now, these shorts were awesome for the two days we spent outside building a chicken run for the ladies (by ladies, I mean hens. It occurs to me you wouldn't know that if you don't follow me on Instagram). This pair is a rayon denim from Joann (such dreamy fabric!) and the pair I didn't get a photo of is out of a textured black rayon also from Joann. 

Shorts from Kiwik Sew 4181 by Nikki of www.pincutsewstudio.com

Whew! I feel accomplished! Please don't start thinking I have this kind of output from the sewing room every month! We finished our homeschool year in April, so that probably explains my productivity in May, ha! Come September, I'll probably have one or two things to share if I'm lucky ;) 

One last thing, I remembered, we did make these cute unicorn headbands in May! Find our easy tutorial here. 

Cheers and happy sewing!! 

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