Opening a new sewing pattern envelope is exciting but overwhelming at the same time. If you are a newbie in sewing who has just opened your first sewing pattern for your first garment project, reading it may seem daunting. The question above may be one of the questions boggling your mind.
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Do sewing patterns include seam allowance?
Some sewing patterns include the seam allowances on the pattern, while some don’t. It’s because seam allowances are very important to join different parts of clothing together.
Seam allowances are the area that you find between the pattern edge and the stitching line. When reading your sewing pattern for the first time, look for the seam allowances. They are either written on the pattern or indicated on the sewing instructions.
According to some experienced sewists, the big four sewing pattern makers include the 5/8-inch seam allowances. They are the McCalls, Vogue, Butterick, and Simplicity. However, other pattern companies do not include the seam allowances, so you need to add them before you cut. So, be critical of the details written on your sewing pattern pieces and directions.
What are seam allowances?
Seam allowances are the areas between the rough edge of your fabric and the stitching lines. Seam allowances vary depending on the project you are sewing. They usually range from ¼ inch to 5/8 inch.
Some pattern companies, especially the big ones, include seam allowances on their sewing patterns, while others do not. You will be the one to measure them and write on the pattern pieces before cutting them.
Looking at sewing patterns, you might get intimidated by the assortment of information and details that you may find written on them. In addition, you will find many other information and writings other than the seam allowances that may be unfamiliar. So, here are some basic rules of thumb that may help you sort out the information you find on your sewing patterns. Note that they may vary depending on the company, so always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Symbol Key
- Grain Lines
- Fold Line
- Cutting Lines
- Stitching Lines
- Seam Allowance Marking
- Adjustment Lines
- Button and Buttonhole Markings
- Zipper Marking
You will find a key that can serve as your guide to understand the symbols on your pattern pieces. The symbol key may vary by company, but most symbols are universal. Refer to the symbol key when you are not sure about what is written on your pattern pieces.
A double-pointed arrow usually represents the Grain Line in a sewing pattern. It indicates where to align pattern pieces on the fabric.
The fold line indicates that you must place the edge of the pattern piece on the fabric fold. Usually, the edge of the pattern piece is shown as broken lines as a reminder not to cut on the edge.
If you cut on the edge, there will be no seam allowance to join the pieces together. As a result, you will change the way the pattern fits.
Different pattern companies vary in representing the cutting lines in sewing patterns. The two most popular methods are either a solid line with an image of a pair of scissors or a broken dotted line. The cutting line is the only area where you should cut the pattern piece. Cut your pattern piece directly along the line.
Thin, broken lines commonly indicate stitching lines. The stitching line shows the area where you should sew. Sometimes, the symbol of stitching lines includes an image of a sewing foot and arrows along the line. Sew exactly where the stitching line sits and follow the direction where the arrow is pointing.
The seam allowance is the distance between the Cutting Line and the Stitching Line. A squiggly bracket usually indicates the marking for seam allowance with a fraction. For commercial patterns, it is usually 5/8 inches. The seam allowance marking can guide you as to the distance from the edge you should be stitching. But not all patterns include these seam allowance markings.
The adjustment line shows the best place on the pattern piece where you can shorten or lengthen your clothing. You can identify the Adjustment Lines as two heavy, bold parallel lines. It would help if you took note that you can only adjust between these lines or change the shape of your pattern.
Notches are symbols used to line up two or more pieces of fabric that you will be joining together. The matching symbols indicate the joining point on seams. They are usually drawn as triangular or diamond-shaped symbols. It would be best to line up the bases of the triangles.
The dots on your sewing patterns signify points that need to match. The dots show the placement of pockets, areas to join the collar or dart points. Some patterns use squares or other shapes instead of dots.
The Button and Buttonhole Markings indicate the area of your fabric where to place the buttons and buttonholes. The length of the markings on the pattern piece is the exact length of the buttonhole. It is usually signified as a short line with adjoining lines at the end. The button marking is shown as an X on top of the Buttonhole Marking.
A zipper marking on the pattern is indicated by a solid line with an arrow pointing inwards on either side for clothing that needs a zipper. The arrow marks are located at the beginning and end of the zipper. The size of the symbol is the exact length of the zipper.
How do you add seam allowance to a pattern?
When your pattern does not show the seam allowance, you need to draw it on the pattern yourself. Some commercial patterns use the same seam allowance on every seam. It would be best to change the allowance depending on the particular area where you will put the seam. You will create better seams that will not look bulky on your garment.
The seam allowance you will measure should depend on the type of fabric you are using and the manner of attaching the seams.
Here is a list of the common types of seams and their standard seam allowances.
- Shoulder Seam (½ in – 5/8 in) – The seam allowance is big enough to give added strength for an area that needs stability.
- Side Seam (1/2 in – 5/8 in) – Big seam allowance for adjustments should you decide to loosen your garment in the future and to add strength to the seam.
- Arm Hole (3/8 in – 5/8 in) – The armhole has strong curves, so it would be best to make a narrow seam allowance to get a nice fit.
- Sleeve Cap (3/8 in – 5/8 in) – The seam allowance for the sleeve cap must be similar to that of the armhole since they will be sewn together.
- Neckline (1/4 in – ½ in) – The size of the collar seam depends on the neckline of the garment. The seam allowance is dependent on the shape, design, or presence of a collar. Usually, a narrow seam is made because it can get difficult to make a nice shape on a circular neckline. Large seam allowances are also prone to become bulky when joined together in this area of the garment.
- Hem (3/8in – 6 in) – The seam allowance for hems has a huge range. It depends on various factors, such as the fabric, the shape of the garment, and the final look you want to achieve. For example, a sheer blouse will need only a small hem, while a heavy wool skirt will need a wider seam allowance to add stability to the hemline.
- Waistband (3/8 in – 5/8 in) – Since a waistband is hidden, you are free to make it wider. A big seam allowance also makes a strong seam.
- Crotch Seam (1/2 in – 7/8 in) – The crotch seam is the best example of an area of a garment where tension is placed on the seams. A big seam allowance is needed to make the seam strong.
It will help if the pattern you buy includes the seam allowance markings on the pattern pieces. Then, you will be ready to sew in a few minutes after cutting the pattern. But for your patterns that do not have the luxury of the seam allowance markings, you can base your measurements on the suggestions above. As a result, you might find your finished projects better-looking and professionally made.
How do you cut a sewing pattern out?
Sewists have their ways of cutting out the sewing pattern. What works for one may not work for the other. Pattern companies also differ in how they write pattern pieces. So, one method of cutting the pattern may not be applicable for all patterns made by various manufacturers.
For beginners in the craft of sewing, here are a few tips and guides to help you cut your sewing pattern confidently.
- You can use your pattern as it is and cut it directly when your pattern indicates that the seam allowances are included. Just make sure you read the instructions thoroughly and carefully before doing so. Once you cut your pattern, there is no turning back.
- There are cases when it is not possible to cut your pattern directly from the original sewing pattern. The instances when you need to trace your pattern on another paper first are as follows:
- When the seam allowances are not included
- You want to preserve your pattern
- When the pattern pieces overlap or when they are printed on both sides of the paper
- When your pattern includes different sizes of the garment
You will have to trace your pattern on a separate paper and add the seam allowances yourself. You can also trace the pattern directly on the fabric and draw your seam allowances around the pattern.
If you want to keep your original pattern for future use, you need to trace your pattern on a separate paper and cut your pattern from there.
Sometimes, the marking on the patterns overlap. It would be difficult to cut the original pattern in this case as it is prone to errors. Patterns you can find in books or magazines are usually printed on either side of a page, so you cannot cut one pattern without ruining the other. You need to trace the pattern on a different paper first before cutting.
When you need the different garment sizes on a single pattern, you cannot cut the original sewing pattern for only a single size. Therefore, it would be best to trace the patterns of the garment sizes that you need before cutting. This way, you also get to keep your pattern if you need it for future sewing projects.