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How To: Read Measurements on Commercial Patterns

Commerical sewing patterns are available from many different companies, and they are designed to make putting a garment together easier for those who aren't sure how to construct something entirely from scratch. In our Calico Laine stores, we sell patterns created by Vogue, McCalls, Butterick and Kwik Sew for all sewing enthusiasts, no matter how much experience they have with dressmaking. There are hundreds and hundreds of patterns available for all kinds of outfits from bridal wear to fancy dress and many more in-between, but if you have never used one before, trying to work out how to read the back of the envelope can be daunting, to say the least. In today's blog, however, I'll be walking you through how to read the back of a sewing pattern envelope in the hope that you'll find it a bit easier to work out what you need to create your next project.

An example of the reverse side of a sewing pattern's envelope. An example of the reverse side of a sewing pattern's envelope.

Perhaps the best piece of advice that I can give is to never go by the dress size you purchase your clothes in from high street stores. Personally speaking, I have been everything from a size 12 to a size 22 depending on the brand of sewing pattern, and I know that my weight does not fluctuate so dramatically! Instead, you should always measure yourself around your bust, waist and hips, then match these to the size measurements provided on the back of the envelope, under the section labelled "BODY MEASUREMENTS". Underneath this section is one labelled "PATTERN SIZE", so simply slide your finger down from the best match to your body measurements to find what size you should cut your pattern at.

You will notice that one side of the block of text is written in English with measurements in yards and inches whereas the other is written in French with measurements in metres and centimetres. This is because most sewing patterns commercially available are produced in the USA, where yards are more commonly used (and in Europe, metres are used instead). I personally like to use metres myself but I do not speak French - however, if you are the same as me, you will still be able to work out what you need. Numbers are, fortunately, universal, and enough abbreviations for metres and centimetres should be provided on your sewing pattern.

After you have decided which garment in your sewing pattern you would like to create (a lot of sewing patterns come with multiple options for sleeves, skirt length, etc., and denotes these by letters), it is time to work out how much fabric you will need. For example, let's say that I want to create View A from the example above, which is the longest skirt length and has no sleeves, in a size 14. I would start at the "PATTERN SIZE" section, and slide my finger down to the section labelled "A DRESS" (or  "A ROBE" depending on which size of the pattern I was using). In this section, it gives me the option for two commonly found fabric widths - these are 45" and 60", or 115cm and 150cm. After working out how wide my chosen fabric is (please ask us in store or check out our website for fabric widths if you are not sure!), I can see that if my fabric is 45"/115cm wide, I will need 3&1/2 yds/3.2 metres, or if my fabric is 60"/150cm, I will need 2&7/8 yds/2.7 metres.

Sewing patterns also provide information for what notions you will need to create your garment, such as zips, hooks and eyes, etc. This is especially useful as you can use it as a sort of checklist when you are purchasing everything you need - I know that personally I have walked out of our store many times only to get home and curse myself for forgetting to purchase a zip. Fortunately, this information makes it much easier to remember everything that you will require.

It really is that simple! The block of information provided on the back of a sewing pattern can look quite intimidating, but after studying it carefully, it is a lot easier to decipher than you might first imagine. Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little help, so if you are still stuck then please don't hesitate to ask one of our friendly sales team members in store, who will always be happy to help you figure out what you need.