The Basics of Using a Pattern-Part Two, Cutting or “What do all these marks mean?!”

  Last week I wrote a post for you detailing how to choose a pattern, determine your size and figure out which pattern pieces you needed to use.  This week I’m going to explain to you what those crazy lines and triangles all over your pieces mean.

  So if you’re following along from last time, you should have your pieces roughly cut out and ironed to get rid of the creases.  If you haven’t gotten that far, catch up before doing anything further, those creases can throw your sizing off if you don’t get rid of them.
  Once your pieces are ironed, it’s time to cut out for your size.*  Based on my bust measurement, I’m a size 12 for this dress.  On that note, please don’t freak out when you’re looking for patterns and your size is double (or more) your size in off-the-rack clothing.  Ready to wear clothing manufacturers figured out that people will pay more money to wear a smaller size and sizing went into free-fall, so what used to be a size 12 is now a size 2.  Pattern manufacturers haven’t caught up.  They’re still trapped in like, 1958.  Your number is likely to be breath-takingly high.  Don’t worry about it, one of the benefits of making your own clothing is that you don’t have to put a size tag in it.
  *For children’s clothing, unless the child is the highest size on the package, I don’t actually cut the pieces.  I trace them so I can go back and use the larger sizes when they grow again.  I store all the pieces like this.
  On most patterns, different sizes will use different styles of line for each size.  For my size, 12, on this pattern, I’ll be following the dashed line with alternating medium and short dashes.  That’s important because sometimes pieces don’t nest inside each other cleanly.  In the picture below for instance, you can see that the size 14 is the outside line on the left, but the inside line on the right.
  Once you feel confident you know which line is yours, you’re ready to cut your pattern piece down to the correct size.  When you’re done with that, it’s time to move on to the marks that tell us how to place the piece on the fabric.
  The two main indicators of how to position your pieces on your fabric will be your grain lines (the top picture) and how many copies of the piece you need to cut out (shown in the picture above. In this case, “cut 2”).
  Grain lines tell you a couple of things.  First off, the longest part of the line shows you what direction the piece should lay on the fabric.  Remember how I showed you how to create a lettuce leaf hem?  That effect is created completely by changing the orientation of a piece on the fabric.  Your grain line shows you how to align your pattern piece so the fabric will drape (hang) appropriately.  The long part of the grain line should be parallel to your selvage (finished, uncut edge).
  The second thing your grain line tells you is where to place your piece in regards to a fold in the fabric.  Because bodies are more or less symmetrical, lots of pattern pieces get cut twice or on a fold.  The grain line on the right is telling you that the piece of fabric you are cutting will be the exact same shape and size as the pattern piece.  The grain line on the left is telling you the pattern piece is only half of your final piece.  You will use the pattern a lot like kids in school folding paper in half to make a symmetrical heart.  Your grain line marked edge lines up with a fold on the fabric and so has no seam allowance.
  If you still aren’t entirely certain how to arrange your pieces, most patterns have an included cutting layout in the instructions.  This layout will only work if you have the indicated fabric width, and isn’t always the most efficient layout, but it is a good way to get a feel for how to fit your pieces onto your fabric.  (Shaded pieces mean you should flip them backwards, btw)
  Pin your pattern pieces and it’s time to talk about all those triangles.  Don’t worry about using too many pins.  I typically pin at all corners and once in between.  That’s it.  (You did wash your fabric first, right?)
  Alright…triangles!
  First off, both the markings in the pictures above mean the exact same thing.  These triangles are used to show you where two pieces line up.  The double triangle is used when a piece already has a single triangle marking and needs another marker.
  Triangle markings can be either cut outwards or in towards the center of your piece when you cut your fabric.  The markings on the pattern piece are within the seam allowance, so if you choose to cut inwards, it won’t automatically ruin your piece.  I personally cut outwards however, because I refuse to take the chance that I’ll accidentally hit paper with my fabric scissors.  Yes, I am that neurotic about my fabric scissors.  Also, depending on the fabric, notching into your pieces can create a weak point where the fabric could tear.  Your call.
  To create your piece without any modifications t
o your pattern, you’re ready to go.  Cut your pieces out of the fabric, creating your notches as you go.  Now hold on for a minute, you lucky duck, while I give a little more information for people like me, who have strangely long/short torsos/arms/legs.
  Not all of us are so lucky/unlucky as to be “average”.  I, for instance, have an abnormally long torso.  Like, 4-inches-longer-than-average long.  What that means is that when I try on a fitted dress in the store, my hips are typically about 4″ below where the hips on the dress are, leaving a baggy, empty pocket of fabric hanging above them.  It is not a good look.
  To fix differences between the pattern and your reality, look for these double lines marked “lengthen or shorten here”.  These markings show you where you will least effect the rest of the pattern while changing length.  To lengthen, cut between the lines and add extra tissue paper.  To shorten, fold the pattern together with the double line as the bottom of the “valley” in your fold and tape.  If there IS no “lengthen or shorten here” line, do the alteration at the bottom of the piece.
  Those are all the marks for getting your pieces cut out.  Next week we’ll cover the remaining marks that tell you how to go about sewing.
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