How To Read A Sewing Pattern

If you are new to sewing or are learning sewing on your own you might be wondering what exactly all those arrows, notches and symbols mean on the sewing pattern. Let’s walk through all the symbols and markings you might find on today’s sewing patterns.

How To Read A Sewing Pattern

The pattern instructions will take you step-by-step through the sewing process. The symbols and markings on the pattern will aid in layout, specify whether it’s the front or back side of the garment, where decorative elements like darts, pleats, etc go and more. Knowing what these symbols mean will aid your garment sewing and improve your final garment.

    1. Grainline – This is characterized by a long straight line with arrows at both ends or sometimes only at one end. This is a mark that you do not transfer on to the fashion fabric. Make sure your fabric follows the grainline for proper fit and look to the garment. Grainline is the way or direction in which the yarns run.  Having your fabric on the correct grainline is an absolute must for a great fitting garment!
      For a detailed definition of grainline please refer to this handy pdf from Threads.
    2. Cutting lines – Cutting lines are the lines on which you cut your pattern. For single sized patterns such as vintage patterns or one size indie patterns the line is usually solid. For multi-sized patterns each size is usually differentiated from the other by dotted lines, short dashes, long dashes and so forth. You will find some pattern companies will have all sizes the same dark line so cut carefully and highlight your size with a yellow highlighter or the like.

cutting lines

    1. Seam lines – where you join two pieces of fabric to each other with stitching, this line denotes the correct width for the seams to be sewn together (usually 5/8″ in from the fabric edge).
    2. Double lines – Double lines are the place where you can safely lengthen or shorten a garment and still maintain the integrity of the garment. These marks are especially important if you are petite or very tall.

double line

    1. Small and/or large dots – Depending on the patterns details some patterns may just have small dots, or just big or both. In either case dots are used to mark locations or points that need to match.
    2. Notches – Always make sure to make accurate notches, either by clipping inward about 1/4″ or by cutting a fabric triangle outward. Notches are seen in sleeves, armyscyes (armholes) and the back and fronts of skirts. Notches are either single, double or triple. Single notches mean the front. Double means the side, and triple means the back of the garment. Notches are used to match up one piece of fabric to another at the correct spot before sewing.


    1. Darts – Darts are usually a narrow triangle shape which are seen on bodices, skirt fronts and backs, pants and other areas. Darts allow  the flat fabric to fit the natural curves of our bodies. Some patterns will have a dart center which is a line that runs directly center through the dart. The dart legs are the outer lines of the dart. Often there will be dots at the point of the dart, the sides. These are marks that need to meet or match in order for a perfect dart to be formed. Careful marking is essential.


    1. Pleats/Tucks – Pleats and tucks are marked with solid lines with arrows to guide in how to tuck or fold the fabric.
    2. Circle with a cross – This mark is most often at the bust point/apex, waist  or at the hip. Sometimes patterns will have the finished ease measurements for this area. This number is how much ease the garment will have after it has been constructed.

bust dart apex
waist and ease

These guides are for most sewing patterns. Burda doesn’t always have the hip placement on their patterns.

If you are tempted to sew with vintage patterns be aware that most vintage patterns from the 1940’s and earlier come without the markings found on the printed patterns of today. Instead there are holes that are punched in the pattern tissue for reference. Once you become comfortable with sewing on printed patterns, sewing with these types of patterns is fairly straightforward.

If you are just learning how to sew, take the time to make careful and precise markings on your fabric. Doing so will make your finished garment look professional and help you to avoid the dreaded ‘home sewn’ look. If you have any questions on pattern markings please leave a comment!


  1. Wow Jill. And here I thought I *knew* everything about reading a pattern. I had no idea the double notches meant the side – although in retrospect it makes sense – and the triple notches meant the back. Actually, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a triple notch on a pattern.


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