Busting pattern jargon!

There are loads of different, terms, expressions and jargon used in sewing patterns to day, which if you are new to sewing or haven’t used a shop bought pattern before can be really confusing.

Today I’m going to talk about the most common that I come across in my day-to-day sewing. But if you guys find any others you don’t know, feel free to comment and I’ll see if I can help!

I am going to discuss these generally and show the usual smybols for the markings however they may differ slightly from pattern brand to brand.

Fabric Jargon

Firstly I am going to talk about the general jargon about fabric, as this will help to understanding markings on the actual patterns.

Bias – This is the diagonal grain across the fabric and it is very stretchy/ more give.

Selvage/Selvedge – this is the edge of the fabric where the piece of fabric was finished in the factory NOT the edge where it was cut from the roll etc. This edge is designed to stop the fabric unravelling. This generally has almost no give in woven fabrics. This is also referred to as the lengthwise grain/grain line or warp of a fabric.

Cross grain (weft) – this is the grain that runs across the selvage and has more give than the selvage grain.


Nap – This refers to ‘3D’ fabrics like velvet, velour and corduroy that have a hairs of fabric on the surface of the material creating a pile. On a pattern there are options for cutting to accommodate fabrics with a nap as these have to be cut with the ‘hairs’ all going in the same direction otherwise the garment won’t look right. A prime example is with velvet, because if the nap is going in different directions part of the fabric will look shiny and the rest will look shadowed.

Pattern Marking

Next I’m going to cover the marking that are found on all patterns no matter the brand including how they are shown on the pattern pieces, in the instructions and what they actually mean.

Notches – These are small triangles that are either cut into or proud of the seam allowance to allow seams, sleeves, facings etc to joined correctly.


Fold lines – These show when a pattern piece needs to be placed on a fold in the fabric to create a whole piece normally the back part of a dress bodice for example.


Grain lines – These show you where to lie the fabric in relation to the grain of the fabric. If the pattern has a diagonal grain line this means it has to be cut on the bias of the fabric, If the pattern has a straight grain line it needs to be placed along the selvage grain line. If it has a ‘cross’ shape grain line this means is has to be cut lying straight across the selvage grain and the cross grain (usually in stretch patterns).


Dots – These are another way of matching seams etc but they are also used as a indication of where to stop/start stitching for example when inserting a zip into the back of a dress.


Cutting Line  – This is the line you need to cut along to cut out the pattern piece. On a multi size pattern, the cutting line you want will have a different pattern depending on the size you want. It is really important you cut the same size out the whole way round otherwise your garment will be naff. I speak from experience!!


Lengthen/shorten lines – These indicate areas of a pattern piece that can be adjusted to fit you more precisely. To shorten the pattern, you fold the pattern into a pleat that is half the size you want to shorten it by i.e 1/2in pleat to shorten by 1in. To lengthen the pattern piece, you cut the in between the two lines and place a piece of pattern paper behind the gap you have created. The pin the pattern to the paper when the gap is the desired length i.e 1in.



Button hole placement – As it says on the tin, where you need to place a buttonhole


Button placement – Another nice easy one, shows where to place your buttons.


Seam allowance – This is the space between the edge of the fabric and the stitching line that becomes the seam. Most patterns include the seam allowance in the actual pattern piece. HOWEVER Burda do not so you need to add this on yourself. There is usually a general seam allowance stated in the instructions i.e Simplicity and New look patterns always use 5/8in. But on the pattern itself if the seam allowance is different, hem allowance is different it will state this on the pattern piece its self.

Darts – These are triangles on the pattern, which get transferred onto the fabric and the straight edges bought together to make a fold on the inside of a garment. These are used to shape the garment usually in female garments like dresses, tops, trousers but also in men’s shirts.


Pattern Instructions

Under stitching – This is where an extra line of stitches is added after a facing has been attached to a neckline for example. The line of stitches is added very close to the seam and is on the facing side so it cant be seen from the right side of the garment. This is used to stop the facing rolling out to the right side of the garment.

Clipping curves – This is important so necklines etc lie flat against the body. If the curve is an outer curve (right picture) then notches need to be clipped out of the curve at regular intervals. If the curve is an inner curve (left picture), clips need to be added at regular intervals.


Trimming seams – This layers the material along a seam/casing to reduce bulk. Usually the instruction will tell you which piece to clip. For example if you have attached a skirt  and bodice piece together and the instructions says to trim the skirt edge, then trim the edge of the skirt piece along the seam to the amount given usually 1/4inch.


Layering seams – This is necessary if there are several pieces of fabric sown together to reduce bulk. Normally one fabric edge is left alone, another is trimmed slightly smaller, the next smaller still etc. This means that the seam becomes ‘layered’ so when a seam is folded over it lies flat.


Trimming corners – If you have made a tube/square/rectangle of fabric i.e belt, any corners will need to be clipped off just above the stitches to reduce bulk. So that when the tube is turned the right way out, the piece lays correctly.


Basting – This is a temporary stitch which is put in by hand usually unless your machine has a basting stitch to keep your fabric together so you can sew it properly. I t means pins don’t need to be used when sewing the final seams etc.

Stay stitching – This is a permanent row of stitches which are left in the garment upon completion. They are used to prevent stretching out of necklines for example, so the garment lies flat against the body.


Pressing – This is where you iron a seam, hem etc to set it in place and in shape. The instructions will always tell you where to press and how to dress the particular area. This is an very important step as it is critical in making a garment look crisp and professional.

Edge finish – This basically means to finish an edge neatly. There are three was to do this:

  1. Zig zag stitch the edge
  2. Turning under 1/4in pressing and stitching in place
  3. Over locking the edge

Ease stitch – This means to gather a section of the garment fabric.  So either a gathering stitch can be used or 2 lines of parallel loose straight stitches are added (no reverse stitch) and the ends are pulled allowing the fabric to ‘bunch’ up.

Hope this was helpful 🙂 If you are enjoying my blog,  follow me!!

Love Heather x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s