A Guide to Pattern Markings

| 4 min read

Dressmaking patterns have several markings on them which are all there to help you get the perfect cut, sew and fit. Not all markings will be found on every pattern, as some are only used for specific detail. Some markings such as cutting lines, grainlines and fold lines are used for positioning and cutting out the pattern. Bust and hip indicators and lengthen and shorten lines are for checking measurements so you can adjust it if needs be for a perfect fit. Notches, dots, darts and buttonholes need to be transferred to the fabric so you can use them when stitching. The instructions which come with your pattern will give you more details about these but this guide will help you to understand what’s what.


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These are the outer lines of the pattern and multi size patterns have different style lines for each size such as dots and dashes or a combination of the two. Cut round the line that matches your size – it may help to draw along this in a coloured pen first, pin it to the fabric then cut round the edge.


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You should match up the direction the arrow is pointing with the grain on the fabric. This runs parallel to the selvedge which are the woven finished edges of the fabric. It’s important to do this so the fabric pattern, pile or nap all run in the same direction and hang correctly when you sew the pieces together.


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When you need to cut a pattern piece on the fold, line up and pin this symbol with the fold on the fabric then pin the rest of the pattern in place. The cutting layout will show you where and how to fold your fabric so you cut a perfectly symmetrical piece twice as large as the pattern piece.


These are used to show the bustline, waistline, hipline or bicep points on the pattern. They are a good way of checking if the pattern will work with your own measurements as they usually detail the full circumference of the pattern at these points. It’s worth checking these before you cut to be sure you’ve chosen the correct size.


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These triangles or lines are marked on the edges of a pattern to indicate where you need to match up two pattern pieces and fit them together. This is a really important step, particularly when matching curved shapes, to get accurate results as you can ease the two fabrics together so they sit evenly. You may find a single and double notch on one pattern piece for matching different parts.


These are used to mark specific parts of the pattern such as pocket placement, dart points, clipping, gathering and stay stitching. They indicate points that need to be matched or starting and finishing points for sewing. They can be dots, squares, stars or triangles and the pattern instructions will tell you when to use them.


These are two horizontal, parallel lines together which show the point on the pattern where you can lengthen or shorten it to suit your size. To shorten, cut along the lines then overlap and stick them back together to the correct length. To lengthen, cut along the line and pin the two halves the same distance apart to fit your size.


Buttonholes are usually represented by a horizontal or vertical line shaped like a capital I. Sometimes the button positioning is marked within this line with an X. Mark the buttonholes on one piece and then mark buttons on the opposite one so they match exactly.


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Dart lines on a pattern (used for shaping) are usually shown as a diamond shape or as two lines coming from one point. They often have dots on them to help line up the stitching. Mark them on the wrong side of the fabric then fold the fabric, match them up and stitch along them. A tacking stitch is really useful for darts, it’s a temporary stitch that will stay in place often until the make is complete it will just make sure that the dart will stay in place and is safer than pins.

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