The Basics of Using a Pattern- Part One

  Today I’m going to backtrack a little.  I’ve already shown you guys how to create your own pattern, but what if you’re a beginning sewer and haven’t even used a commercially made pattern before?

  Several of my friends who quilt, or just fool around with sewing, have mentioned to me that they find patterns intimidating.  I can’t say I blame them, that little envelope holds a LOT of information!  So I thought I’d walk you through the basics.  I’m going to break this into more than one post, because there’s a lot of information to cover and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone.
  First, a few sewing basics:
  Always, always, always wash washable fabrics before sewing with them.  Dump some detergent in there and crank the heat.  You want any shrinking that’s going to happen to be completely done before you make your first snip with your scissors.  Obviously dry clean only fabrics shouldn’t go in the wash, but don’t worry about those, dry cleaning has never, in my experience, led to shrinkage.
  Buy yourself a pair of scissors that will only be used on fabric.  Zip tie them shut, deadbolt them to the wall…do whatever it takes to make certain that neither you, nor anyone in your household uses them on anything but fabric.  Paper especially severely, severely dulls the blades of your scissors and scissors that have been used to cut paper will eventually just tear your fabric, if they cut it at all.  I keep all of my sewing scissors in one place, near my sewing machine.  My poor Mr has, more than once, found himself on the receiving end of a vicious growl when I found him (or mistakenly suspected him of) using my fabric scissors to cut paper.
  Now on to those patterns we were talking about.
  The first thing you’ll need to look at on a pattern is the envelope.  The front, of course, has a big, pretty picture of what your garment is supposed to look like when you’re done.  Pictures are all well and good, but it’s the back of the envelope we’re concerned with.
  Find the correct size pattern.  Make sure you’re looking at the body measurement section (I’ve highlighted it in green), not the garment measurements (red).  Not all patterns include the garment measurements, but if you’re looking at them thinking it’s supposed to be your measurements, it can really screw you up! 
 Notice that a 34″ bust gets 43.5″ of fabric in the finished dress!  This nearly 10″ difference is called ease.  Ease is the difference between your actual size and the size of the garment that allows you to wear it comfortably without it chafing or pinching.  In this instance, a large amount of ease is also part of the styling of the dress.  The amount of ease you like in your clothing is a matter of personal taste, and the more you sew, the more you will be able to determine if you ought to scale down or up a size based on the finished garment measurements.  If you are just starting to work with patterns, stick to what’s written.
  If (like most women) your measurements don’t fit neatly into one column, pick the largest size.  That statement does come with the caveat that you pay attention to style though.  If your hips are your largest measurement for instance, a dress like this would still be fine in the smaller size to fit your bust and waist.  For a fitted sheath dress?  Not so much.  You can modify patterns to use multiple sizes in one garment, but that’s a little more advanced, so I’ll save it for another post.
  Once you’ve determined your size and made sure you’re buying an envelope that includes that size (what?  Not like I’m saying that from experience or anything…) it’s time to open that sucker up.
  There will most likely be two types of paper inside your envelope.  A thin tissue paper and a thicker, craft-like paper.  Ignore the tissue paper for right now and pull out the thicker paper.  These are your instructions.
  On page one of your instructions you should find something that looks vaguely like the picture above.  Decide which version of the garment you’d like to create (typically the different versions are shown both flat, like above, and on a model on the front of the envelope).  Look at your list of pattern pieces (on the right in the above picture).  This list will let you know all the pieces you need to complete your version of the garment*.  If a pattern piece does not have letters next to it (like the highlighted “C” above) it means it is required for all versions made with this pattern.  Above your list of pieces there will be a sketch of the general shape of piece you are looking for.
*Sometimes extra supplies, such as bias tape or embellishments are needed.  Check the materials list on the outside of the envelope to make certain you have everything you need.
  Once you’ve identified the pieces you will need, open your tissue paper.  Find the numbered pieces you’ll use to create your garment and roughly cut them out.  Don’t cut on the size lines yet, just get the pieces separated!  Place any unneeded pieces back into the envelope (the last thing you need is more stuff in your way!).
  Use your iron on its lowest setting (without steam) to iron your pattern pieces.  Being folded up in a tiny little envelope puts lots of creases and wrinkles into the paper and if you don’t remove them, it can cause fit issues in your final garment.
  Next time I’ll talk about all that writing and all those weird little symbols all over the pieces, and we’ll actually get to cut stuff out!  In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions so far, and please, drop by the Facebook page, say hi and let me know if there are any other sewing processes you’d like to have explained!

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