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If you want to use a sewing pattern, you must learn the meaning of all the pattern symbols. Fortunately, sewing pattern symbols are universal (for the most part). So once you learn them, you can choose any sewing pattern and start cutting and sewing with confidence!
Below I have detailed each of the most common sewing pattern symbols and marks that you are likely to come across. Photos included!
Read also: How to read a sewing pattern for beginners
Each design has cut lines. These are the lines that delineate each pattern piece, indicating where the piece should be cut. If the design you are working with has multiple sizes, there may be multiple nested cutting lines. Each size will have its own cut line, usually indicated by a specific line style. Many independent sewing patterns also differentiate sizes with different colored cut lines. There should be a legend printed on the pattern itself, or in the pattern instructions, indicating which row corresponds to each size.
Most pattern pieces have a double-ended arrow printed somewhere on them. This is the grain line symbol. It indicates which direction the grain of your fabric should face when the pattern piece is cut. Place the pattern piece on the fabric with the arrow parallel to the edge of the selvedge.
It is very important to pay attention to thread marks during the cutting process, especially when working with knits, because when the fabric is cut along the grain, the resulting garment will not drape properly and may bunch up. twist instead of hanging straight.
If a pattern piece has a double-sided arrow with both arrows pointing in the same direction, usually accompanied by the word “FOLD”, then that pattern piece should be placed along the folded edge of the fabric. Fold your fabric in half along the grain and place the pattern piece over the fold. Next, cut out all sides of the pattern piece, except the side of the fold. This will result in a piece of fabric with two symmetrical sides that is twice the size of the paper pattern piece.
Position of the bust and hips
Many sewing patterns feature a circular symbol with a cross in the center printed on some pattern pieces. This symbol indicates the position of the widest point of the bust or hip on the pattern piece. Having this information can be helpful when fitting a pattern, as you can visually see if your bust or hips line up with the markings on the pattern pieces.
Lengthened and shortened lines are indicated by parallel solid double lines across a pattern piece. This sewing pattern symbol is useful if you need to adjust a pattern to make it longer or shorter. Rather than guessing where to add or remove length from a pattern piece, the pattern maker has already told you the specific location where making these adjustments will yield good results. Most of the time, it's not a good idea to simply add length to the bottom of a pattern piece.
For more information, read: How to lengthen and shorten a pattern piece.
Most pattern companies use notches on their sewing patterns. These are usually printed as small triangles or dashes along the very edge of a pattern piece. The locations of these notches should be marked on the fabric. This can be done either by marking the notch locations with a fabric marking tool or by cutting the center of the notch about 1/2 inch. During the sewing process, the notches of the different pieces of fabric will match as you sew them together. This helps you achieve more precise sewing results.
Dots, squares or triangles
Some pattern pieces may have different shapes printed in different places on the edge. These are usually small or large dots, squares or triangles (or a combination of these). Similar to notches, these shapes help you match pieces of fabric together while sewing. They can also be used as visual indicators of where to place items such as patch pockets, or where to start and stop sewing if a seam does not go all the way to the edge of the fabric. The locations of these shapes should be marked on the fabric after cutting. This can usually be done with a fabric marking tool. Be sure to mark the shape on both pieces of fabric if it was cut double!
Button and buttonhole placement markings
If you are sewing a pattern that requires buttons and buttonholes, the location of each button and buttonhole will be marked on the pattern pieces. The appearance of these symbols may vary a little depending on the specific model company, but in many cases buttonholes are symbolized by a straight line with a dash at each end and buttons are indicated by an X. The symbols button and buttonhole will need to be transferred to the fabric after cutting with a fabric marking tool.
A solid dotted line on a pattern piece indicates a seam line. The marked seam lines usually show the areas where you will need to topstitch. For example, when attaching a pocket or topstitching a trouser fly. These lines can be transferred to the fabric right after cutting or before topstitching, depending on your preference.
A large, elongated diamond shape or triangle shape printed on a pattern indicates the location of a dart. Dart marks will sometimes be dotted lines and sometimes solid lines. The lines mark each side of the dart where the fabric should be matched and sewn from the dart. The dart lines should be transferred to the fabric after cutting with a fabric marking tool to make sewing the dart easier later.
Sewing pattern symbols may sound like a different language if you've never used them before. I hope this guide has given you the confidence to read pattern markings in your next sewing project!
Read also: Beginner's guide to pattern piece layout
If you have any questions about sewing pattern symbols, ask them in the comments below!
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