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Topic: Using a Commercial Sewing Pattern  (Read 51333 times)
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« on: August 06, 2010 10:45:07 PM »

I first started sewing because my body (like most!) doesn't fit regular old dress sizes.  Shopping is a nightmare if I want a dress!  It used to be separates all the way.  So three summers ago, my husband got me a machine, and I picked up a bunch of patterns on sale, got some fabric, and proceeded to get frustrated to tears by the pattern instructions!  Since then, I've learned by trial and error, through the wonderful folks here at Craftster, and a couple other online resources, how to sew, and how to read and use patterns.  Since summer is the best time to sew up a couple of sundresses, I thought others could use a tutorial on using patterns.  I used a Simplicity pattern for a fairly modest sundress.

How to use a Commercial Sewing Pattern

This tutorial assumes you know how to use your sewing machine, and understand basic sewing terms.  If you need help with this, check out this thread, right here!   https://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=246210.0
This tutorial, though it uses a dress pattern as an example, can be used with any commercial sewing pattern.  

Step 1.  (For clothing only)  Take your measurements (or those of the person the garment is intended for).  Measure over your undergarments.  Measure at the fullest part of the bust, the smallest part of the waist, and the fullest part of the hips.  Write these down and keep them with you while pattern shopping.

Lets take a minute to talk about sizing.  Ready to wear sizing, or RTW, is the standard sizing that commercial clothing manufacturers use.  Your RTW size is probably going to be very different from your pattern size.  There is, as far as I can tell, no real relationship between those two sizes.  Typically, your pattern size will be anywhere from one to three sizes higher than your RTW size.  If youre a size 2, and you go to the fabric store and see that the smallest pattern size is a 6, dont worry!  A RTW size 2 is about a pattern size 6.  If youre a RTW size 0, you may need to take in your garment a little bit, but a commercial pattern should still be perfectly usable.

However, and this is a big however, pattern sizes have ease built in.  EASE includes both wearing ease, that is, the extra space you need inside your clothes in order to move around comfortably, and design ease, which is the extra room needed to make a garment drape the way the designer intended.  A corset may have no ease, or negative ease, which is to say, the finished garment will be smaller than your body, because you get laced into it.  On the other hand, a sweatshirt will probably have a bit of ease to it, as they tend to be a bit baggy.  A fitted garment should have 1-2 of ease, total.  So say your bust measurement is 36.  Your finished garment should measure 37-38 at the bust.

The cruel trick of pattern companies is that your pattern size will probably have more ease than you really need to get the right fit, so you need to go down a size or so.  But theres a solution!  Most patterns have the finished garment measurements printed somewhere at the bottom of the envelope, or on the pattern pieces themselves.  Youll want to compare these with the pattern sizing, as well as your measurements, to pick a size to cut.  It sounds really intimidating, and convoluted.  It is convoluted.  But after you try it once or twice, it becomes second nature.

Step 2.  The fun stuff!  Lets go shopping.  Pick a fabric store.  Make sure its a fabric store, or at least, a store which sells fabric and sewing materials.  Somewhere in the store should be a long table or desk with pattern books and a bunch of filing cabinets.  The books are most likely to be for McCalls, Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue, and Burda.  There may be a few others as well.  The books organize the patterns by type (formalwear, casual dresses, pants/skirts, tops, costumes, and crafts/accessories, or something similar).  If you know what you want to sew, find that section in each of the companys books, and see what your options are.  If you just want something basic to learn on, look for a skirt or pajama pants or an apron.  Most of the books will rate their patterns from Easy to Advanced.  If youre new to all this, pick something rated at the beginning end of the scale.  Once you pick a pattern, write down the pattern number.

Step 3.  Check out those filing cabinets.  The patterns are stored in them, in numerical order.  (The numbers correspond to when the pattern was released, not to what order they appear in the book.)  For each clothing pattern, there are most usually at least two different envelope options, each one with a different size range.  Now is when we look at that pattern sizing nonsense.  Find your pattern envelope and flip it over.  On the back (if its McCalls, itll be on the flap) theres a sizing chart.  Find your measurements on the chart, and see what pattern size you are.  If your measurements arent the same proportion as the pattern, pick the largest, to make sure you have enough fabric.  Make sure the envelope youve got has the right size range for you.

Step 4.  More fun stuff!  Also on the back of the pattern, there should be a section labeled Recommended Fabrics.  This will tell you what type of fabric will suit your project best.  Fabric stores arrange their fabric by type, so look for the section(s) that apply to you.  Dont be afraid to ask for help!  Pick one you like and check out the end of your roll of fabric (called a bolt).  You should see a sticker with lots of information.  It will tell you the fabric content, the fabric name, possibly the manufacturer or designer, as well as washing instructions.  Itll also tell you the width.  It should be in the neighborhood of either 45 or 60 (usually 43-48 and 54-62) and may be written in the following manner:  043in.  This is important!

Step 5.  Look at the back of your pattern again.  Near the sizing scale you ought to see another grid, one that lists the different pattern views along with two lines for each, one labeled 45 and one labeled 60.  There may also be a line for interfacing or lining.  Pick your pattern view and look at the amount of fabric required for your size (or the largest size your measurements fall into).  The fabric is given in yards and fractions of yards.  When you purchase fabric, you purchase the length, by whatever the given width is.  Make sure youre looking at the right width.  If you need lining, follow the same procedure.  Interfacing is sold either by the yard, or pre-packaged.  If you need heavy weight, craft weight, or sew-in interfacing, itll most likely be on a bolt.  Light and medium weight fusible can be purchased pre-packaged, or by the yard.

A note on muslins, toiles, and mock-ups:  99% of seamstresses will recommend doing whats called a muslin, toile, or a mock-up of your clothing pattern, before cutting into your good fabric.  This process involves using a cheap, scrap, or re-purposed (why, hello, old sheets!) fabric to make up the pattern, with no finishing, to check the fit.  If its a basic pattern, you may be able to just pin everything together at the seam allowances, to see how its going to fit.  If youre unsure, though, just use a simple straight stitch and do a dry-run through your construction.  At the very least, mock-up any areas that are fitted, or which have an important shape to them.  A gathered skirt doesnt need to be mocked up.  A fitted tulip skirt does.  Most important, this will help you figure out exactly which size you really need.  So always try to make sure you have enough trash fabric at home to do your mock-ups (it doesnt have to be pretty!) or watch the sales.  You can always try to make a usable mock-up, and turn the pieces into your lining, or a second garment.  This step isnt absolutely critical, but it can save a whole lot of frustrations.

Step 6.  Notions.  Look at the back of that pattern envelope once more.  In the neighborhood of the fabric recommendations, youll see another section labeled Notions.  This is all the rest of the stuff you need to make your project complete.  Thread, elastic, zippers, buttons, snaps, all of that will be listed here, and organized by pattern view.  Get everything all at once, if you can, so you dont forget anything, and it all matches.

Step 7.  Go home!  Or to the Laundromat.  You need to wash your fabric before you cut into it.  This is very important.  Most fabrics shrink when washed, and you want to make sure that happens before you sew it up.  Wash the fabric per the instructions, or as you intend to wash the finished garment.  Wash the lining, too!  If its dry clean only fabric, its your call.  It should be washed beforehand, thats all Im saying.  Your cut ends will fray a little bit when you wash, thats normal, and its okay.  You can trim the threads off later, if it bothers you.  If you think its going to shrink and/or fray a lot, you can always purchase 1/8-1/4 of a yard more than the pattern calls for, when you buy your fabric.

Step 8.  While your fabrics washing, take out your pattern.  Before you cut, read through all the instructions, thoroughly.  See what it wants you to do with each piece, and in what order.  Make sure it makes sense.  It may not the first time around, especially if youre new to sewing.  Look up any terms or techniques youre unfamiliar with.  For my pattern, this was my first time doing pockets, so I read that section over three or four times, to make sure I really understood all the steps.

Step 9.  Check out the first page of instructions.  You should see a line drawing of all of the pattern views, and all of the pattern pieces, which are numbered and labeled.  The labels will tell you which pieces are for which view.  

You only have to cut those out, unless you want to make multiple views.  Open up your pattern paper, and find the pieces you need.  The paper is thin and flimsy, but as long as you go carefully, itll stand up to a bit of abuse.  

Make sure you use scissors meant for paper, and not fabric.  Fabric scissors will dull if used on paper, and wont cut fabric as well.  Cut out the pieces you need, then re-fold the paper (you can iron, and make your own folds, or follow the original folds.  It can be tricky!) and put it back in the envelope.  You may want to iron your cut pieces if theyre badly wrinkled.

Step 10.  Retrieve your washed and dried fabric.  Iron it if its really wrinkly.  Trust me, this helps a ton, especially if youre using cotton!

Step 11.  Look at the pattern instructions.  There are more line drawings which show how to lay the pattern pieces out on the fabric.  You should see a big rectangle, representing the fabric, and notes saying selvages (or sels) and fold.  The selvages are the factory finished edges of your fabric that run widthwise to the bolt.  

Fold your fabric as shown, so that the fold and the selvages are in the right orientation.  Most commonly youll fold it in half length-wise, with the selvages touching.  Sometimes youll fold it width-wise, and sometimes youll have two folds, so that the selvages touch in the middle.  Lay out your pattern pieces as shown.  

Theyll have arrows on them showing how to line them up with the grain of the fabric.  Once theyre all on there, and theyre pointing in the right directions, pin them down.  You may have to fold, cut a few pieces, and then re-fold to cut others.  Some pattern pieces are cut two at a time, where the fabric is folded over, and some are meant to be cut on the fold itself.  If you have a piece that has a line running parallel to one edge, with two arrows pointing to that edge, and the word FOLD, place that edge directly on the fold of your fabric.  Cut around the rest of the edges, leaving the fold intact.  When youre done, youll have one big piece.  This often happens on skirt fronts, bodice fronts, and some stuffies.

Pattern markings:  Youll notice notches, circles, and lines drawn onto your pattern pieces.  When youre cutting, notch your fabric where shown, but instead of cutting a V into the seam allowance, cut it out, away from the pattern piece.  

These are used to line up seams.  Use pins or chalk or a quilting pen to copy other marks like pleat lines, circles, and squares.

Step 12.  Time to sew!  When you pin edges together, pin close to the edge, and so that the pins are perpendicular to the edge.  This keeps the fabric from slipping around.  Follow all of your directions, and dont skip any!  The little details like understitching, interfacing, and pressing make all the difference in the completed look of your project.

Step 13.  Photograph your project and post it on Craftster, so everyone can see how much you rock!

« Last Edit: August 08, 2010 12:52:30 PM by Aislynn » THIS ROCKS   Logged

Sewers are for ninja turtles--seamstresses are for sewing Wink

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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2010 10:46:49 PM »

A basic sewing glossary:

Baste A long, straight stitch done either by hand or machine.  These stitches are usually temporary, and are meant to be easily removed.

Backstitch When sewing by machine, to start and end a line of stitching, you sew a few stitches, put the machine in reverse, sew back over those first few stitches, then go forward again.  This locks the line of stitching in place, so it wont pull loose.  Do not backstitch when basting or gathering.

Hem This is finished edge of a garment.  You have hems at the bottoms of skirts and pants, most sleeves, and sometimes necklines.  There are a couple of different types of hems, and they can be done by hand or machine.  Your commercial pattern will often tell you which type of hem to use, but its not set in stone.  Research hem types, and see what you like, and what works best with your material.

Seam This is the line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together.  The most basic seam involves putting your two edges together, right sides facing each other, and sewing with a straight stitch 5/8 away from the raw edges.  5/8 is the standard seam allowance included in most commercial patterns.  Youll usually see a note somewhere on the pattern or in the instructions indicating if this is not the case.

Seam finishing Most commercial patterns include a small section of seam finishing techniques.  Basically, if you just sew the seam once, and do nothing else, your fabric may fray.  Depending on the fabric, it may fray to a point where it damages the garment.  Again, research different types of seam finishes, and see which ones are right for you and your fabric and garment.  It wont always be the same.  The simplest finish is to trim the seam allowance with pinking shears.  Serging is a common seam finish, which requires a separate machine.  Most commercial clothing is finished with a serger.

Understitching  This one may sound a little complicated if youve never done it.  But when you line or face a garment, youre often asked to understitch, which is to say, after sewing your facing or lining piece, you then sew the resulting seam allowance to the lining or facing.  Youll have an exposed line of stitching at the facing or lining, and itll help keep both of those things in place.

Shaping Shaping isnt a term that youll see in most patterns, but its what makes a pattern conform, or stand away from, the body.  Its the means by which two dimensional fabric becomes a three dimensional form.  Seams, pleats, gathering, darts, tucks, and princess seams are all forms of shaping.  Your pattern should give you instructions on how to finish all types of shaping in your project.

Staystitching Stitch away from the edge of curved lines, when instructed.  This stitching stays in, and helps keep the curve from stretching out.  Like this:

« Last Edit: August 06, 2010 10:48:07 PM by Aislynn » THIS ROCKS   Logged

Sewers are for ninja turtles--seamstresses are for sewing Wink

My wist!  http://www.wists.com/aislynn
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2010 11:14:38 PM »

I kiss you on the cheeks....Thank you for posting this...it helps soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much!!!!!!!!!


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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2010 06:19:38 AM »

This is an awesome, awesom, awesome tutorial!   Thank you for taking the time to create it, it will be so helpful in the future when I start making clothes!

Did I mention that this is AWESOME!!!   Grin
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2010 06:31:58 AM »

Aislynn I love you this is amazing! I still have a really hard time with patterns, this will be so helpful!
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2010 06:40:25 AM »

Great How-to!

Just a little note: For some brands of patterns (like most Burda patters) you have to add your own seams and need to draw a line about an inch around the patterns edge before you cut the fabric.
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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2010 07:59:52 AM »

You mentioned that you wouldn't cut the pattern if you wanted multiple "views." What does that mean??

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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2010 08:08:17 AM »


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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2010 02:16:43 PM »

You mentioned that you wouldn't cut the pattern if you wanted multiple "views." What does that mean??

Hi, there!  you can trace out the size you want by using a tracing wheel and special paper.  I cheat, and cut out the largest size, and then just fold down to the size I need.  That doesn't work on super curvy pieces, though.

And thanks everyone!  I'm glad it's helpful!  And I have never used a Burda pattern, so I didn't know about the seam allowance thing, I'm glad you said that!

Sewers are for ninja turtles--seamstresses are for sewing Wink

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« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2010 02:10:28 AM »

Tutes like these are a real asset to Craftster. Thanks for sharing!
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