How to Read a Pattern

learn how to translate all teh markings on a sewing pattern!

I have to admit, I did not know how to read a pattern when I started sewing. I didn’t know what all the notches were or how to match them. Surprisingly, the garments were wearable, but not necessarily smooth and pretty. I was only 15, but I’m hoping that you won’t have to go through that same pain 🙂


TAKE SOME MEASUREMENTS! the sizing on a sewing pattern is completely different from the sizing at Old Navy. Don’t go crazy if you buy a size 4, but when you sew it’s a size 8 or 10. Just know it will fit you.

If none of the sizes match you exactly, go with the larger size. You can always take in later, but you don’t want to squeeze into something that you custom made for yourself! It should fit you perfectly!

On the paper pattern, they will make each size a different style of line, and you just need to cut out that line.

The Plantain Shirt I made recently was a French pattern, so the sizing was very different. But I just matched my measurements (in inches or centimeters), and cut out the correct line.

How to Read a Pattern: Sizing Guide

“On the Fold” Arrows

These always go on the fold 🙂 so, you’ll have a piece that’s half of the front: you place it on the fold, and now you don’t have a seam down the middle of the front.

Sometimes the back piece will not be on the fold, because you’ll be adding a center zipper. Sometimes the front does have a seam, because of the design. But make sure you don’t miss these. And it’s important if you’re sewing stripes that it’s perfectly folded on the grain so you’re stripes don’t go diagonal.

How to Read a Pattern: On the fold arrows

On the Grain Arrows

These are for pieces that aren’t on the fold. You should pin on these arrows so that the pieces don’t move while cutting.

For directional prints, you can easily line up the arrow with that direction or stripe. For solids, take your tape measure, and measure from the fold up to one point of the arrow and pin. Measure from the fold to the other point of the arrow, and make sure it’s the same distance. Adjust as necessary and pin!

If you the print on a bias, you would move the arrow. Just remember that how you change the grain will directly affect the drape of the fabric. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

How to Read a Pattern: on the grain


Um, so I originally notched into the fabric. Because thats the direction of the arrow (or I didn’t notch at all and just guessed about the front and back). Which is generally incorrect… I guess it’s fine as long as it doesn’t mess with your seam allowance, but it’s easier just to make the point pointing out. And double points are just cut flat across the top.

These are kind of important because they help you match up all the pieces. On sleeves, it shows the front and back of the sleeve, etc. So don’t just skip them 🙂

How to Read a Pattern: Notches


Since fabric is flat and your body is curved, you need darts to give a garment dimension.

  1. Use chalk or transfer paper/ roller to mark the darts on your fabric
  2. Sew along the lines with right-sides pinched together: work from the edge of the fabric to the point on the dart.
  3. Once sewn, many people will trim the triangle off the inside to remove any bulkiness. Finish edgesHow to read a pattern: Darts

I think these are the most common markings on patterns. Let me know if I missed anything!