So you bought a pattern for your new sewing project, and you found multiple strange symbols and markings on the pattern pieces? What are those symbols? Why pattern markings and symbols can be found on all patterns? Why are they important? And why do they vary from designer to designer?
I know at the beginning it can all seem overwhelming - we all have been there. It is quite a lot to take in at first, but don't you worry, because here are the pattern symbols and markings explained.
What are pattern symbols and markings and what are they used for?
Essentially pattern markings are signs that help you understand, assemble and align the garment pieces when sewing. In some cases they also help you to alter the pattern piece (like lengthening or shortening). In other words pattern markings is a sign language that helps you navigate through the assembly of the garment. A sewing pattern without pattern markings almost doesn’t exist.
Why are pattern symbols important?
Sewing pattern symbols are like traffic signs - you can drive without them if you know how to drive, but it is way much easier to navigate when sewing if you have them indicated and also some of them transferred to your fabric. They help you with multiple steps when assembling the garment. For example, having a grainline indicated helps you cut the fabric in the right direction. Also they can help you with precision, like marking the notches that help you to match the fabric pieces. And lastly they can't be avoided on some garments, because the construction elements like darts, pleats, tucks or pockets have to be marked.
Why are pattern symbols and markings different on some patterns?
Pattern symbols do vary slightly from one pattern designer to another. Commercial patterns will always have more or less the same pattern symbols. Even when buying vintage patterns you probably still find the same markings as on the new ones. On the other hand some indie pattern designers might add different looking signs to their patterns. However, in most cases they vary only visually. For example, a notch can be indicated either as a tiny stripe or a triangle. That means - you should be able to identify what is what if you know how the symbols are called and what they are supposed to mean. From time to time you might find a symbol that is completely new, or is only used by a certain pattern designer, but in that case the symbol will be explained on the pattern instruction.
What are the types of pattern markings and symbols?
These are the main types of sewing pattern symbols.
Center front / Center Back
Center front is a vertical line running through the center of the pattern front piece. It is marked with two capital letters - CF.
Center back is a vertical line running through the center of the pattern back piece. It is marked with two capital letters - CB.
In some cases these lines can be indicated in words ,,Center Front’’ and ,,Center Back’’ next to the line.
These two lines can be extended from the middle point of the neck width measurement down the bottom of the garment.
Grainline is the weave of the fabric or in other words the direction in which the threads are running. Straight grain, lengthwise grain, or the Warp are the treads that are running parallel to the selvage.
Grainline symbol in pattern marking is always an indication of Straight grain, or lengthwise grain. You must place your patter piece on the fabric in the way that the grainline symbol would match the straight grain or the selvedge.
Why is the grainline symbol useful?
First of all, the direction you cut your panels out of the fabric has a big impact on how the fabric will look once the garment is finished. If placed incorrectly it can impact the shape, drape, stretch and overall visual outcome of the garment piece.
You will notice that sometimes this symbol matches the center front or center back and sometimes intentionally placed diagonally to give the garment a certain shape or look.
Another type of symbol used for grainline is fold line/or cut on fold. Yes, it is a bit confusing because the cut on fold sign is a bit different. But just use this rule - If there is no grainline indicated but you have cut on the fold sign - straight grain line is parallel to the fold of the fabric.
Fold line / Cut on fold
What does cut on fold mean? The pattern piece will have this symbol when you need a symmetrical garment panel to be cut. The fabric needs to be folded and the cut on fold line aligned with the folded edge. The sign serves two purposes. First one being, you always get a symmetrical garment panel. Second one being, you save more paper when printing out or drafting the pattern piece. Important thing to know is that the grainline always matches with the fold line.
Notch / Double Notch
Essentially notches are tiny cuts on the edges of your garment panels. They help you to align two garment panels together. For example, you can have notches that you need to match up on the side of your bodice panel indicating the waistline. Another example is notches on the sleeve armscye. In some cases sleeves have two sets of notches, single notch and double notch that you need to match with the armhole notch on the bodice front or back. Sleeves can also have a shoulder point notch that needs to be matched with the shoulder seam.
Notches are very useful when sewing needy fabrics or large panels.
Notches can be indicated by tiny stripes meeting the pattern edge or tiny triangles.
Seam line / Stitching line
Stitching line is the line where the fabric pieces will be stitched together. In patterns without seam allowance added stitching line is usually the edge of the pattern. Or, in some cases it can also indicate pocket placement where the pocket needs to be stitched to the garment. In patterns with seam allowance added this is either indicated with the dashed line that runs parallel to the edge of the pattern or isn’t indicated at all.
Multi sized patterns have as many different stitching lines as they have sizes. In other words each size is marked with a different type of stitching line. For example, some designers use slightly different dashed lines for patterns that have multiple sizes. Some designers draw different color lines, some even draw the line from random symbols (like hearts, stars or squares) for each size. Others draw the regular line and write the size next to it. Usually you will have a chart that explains which stitching line represents which size.
Cut line / Cutting line
It is a line where the pattern needs to be cut. In some cases it is the same as seam line or stitching line, in other cases it is an additional cut on the garment panel. Symbol usually is a line with a scissor icon. Cutting line can be found where the cuts for welt pockets are indicated. Sometimes it can also be found where one panel of the garment has to be sewed into another therefore it needs a cut. For example, you can find cut lines on hood panels for animal ears to be sewed in.
Alteration / Adjustment line
Alteration lines are usually indicated by two parallel lines that run horizontally through your pattern. These are used for the pattern to be altered easily. In most cases if you follow these lines, you will be able to know where to make the panel shorter or longer.
To alter the length of a paper pattern piece follow and cut it on the alteration line. Place the pieces of the pattern apart at your preferred distance. For example, if you have a sleeve pattern piece and want it to be 2 cm longer - place the pattern piece 2 cm apart. Align the pieces, add extra paper, tape everything together, draw a new line for the inseam, and cut out the new longer piece.
Button / Buttonhole
In most cases the position of the button on the pattern looks like capital ,,X’’ letter and the buttonhole is indicated by a sign that looks like capital, ,,I’’. In some cases these symbols are merged together. Other times these symbols are marked by a circle or an icon of a button or buttonhole.
This symbol indicates the zipper placement. Usually it is indicated by tiny black triangles indicating the end, a line out of triangles resembling the zipper itself or just a line with words ,,Zipper placement’’ next to it.
Darts are tucks that come together at one point and are used to give a garment a shape. Usually you can find them around the chest or waist area. Dart lines are indicated by diamond shape or two lines spreading out from one point.
Darts are essential construction elements when shaping a garment piece, therefore they must be transferred. You can transfer dart symbols to a fabric piece by using tailor’s tacks, tailor’s chalk or tracing wheel with tracing paper. Another way to transfer them is to use a single stitch to mark a dart point, and scissors to make tiny cuts on the seam allowance for the dart lines.
Bust point indicates the highest point of the bust, also sometimes called ,,apex’’. The bust point is a pivot point for moving the dart. However, the bust point is not the same as the dart point.
Bust pint is mostly indicated by a small circle or a circle with crossed lines in the center.
Pleats / Tucks / Gathers
All of these elements are usually indicated by two lines that need to be matched together.
Between those lines you will find an arrow. The arrow in between the two lines represents the motion of the fabric:
If the line has one arrow head then in most cases it's a pleat. Then the fabric from one line to another needs to move and come together in that direction.
If it is a tuck or a gather - the line in between has two arrowheads representing that the lines either have to come together, or the fabric in between the lines needs to be gathered.
Other element position
Other garment element positions can be represented by any kind of line indicated where additional parts of garment (pockets, apliques, etc.) need to be placed. If you have a strange shape on a pattern piece that resembles another pattern piece, most likely this is an indication of a location where to put it and stitch it on.
Depending on the pattern designer the pattern can have any kind of signs represented by various shapes for special cases, like where to place rivets, or apliques, or embellishments. Usually pattern designers include explanations for their pattern markings. Make sure to go through the pattern sewing instructions and figure them out before starting your sewing project.