How To Read A Sewing Pattern Envelope

Many would-be great seamstresses get cold feet right after looking at the back of a sewing pattern. There is a lot going on on such a small piece of paper. A foreign language, metric, diagrams, and good grief body measurements most women would rather not think about! Let’s have a look at the back of a sewing pattern envelope. In the end, not such a big deal and there’s no metric, calculus or foreign language learning involved.


The Front

On the front of the envelope you will see the design in its completed version, usually on a pretty model. You will also see various other version that are offered, usually in a drawing of some sorts. The pattern below has four different styles. This is a nice view of four of the versions on a live model plus the artistic renderings of each. The different version show what can be done with the pattern following the directions. As you become more adept at sewing you can go ‘off book’ so to speak and create something all together different.

pattern evnelope 2
The front also has the pattern number as well as the sizes that the pattern will accommodate.

pattern envelope description
Now, as we all know photos can be deceiving. If you see a model’s arm weirdly behind her back, you can bet she’s probably nipping it in at the back etc. Or if her arms are hanging strangely close to her sides, there’s something going on with the garment either not being sewn correctly or maybe that model didn’t fit it quite right. So, seamstress beware.

The Back

The back is where things can get a little tricky. And, as you can see there is a lot going on here.
back of pattern envelope


There front of the pattern shows the garment or project in its completed version and usually just the front view, unless there is a unique back version. On the back of the evelope the back side is rendered in a simple line drawing. There you will see if there is a zipper, darts, and further back side details.

There is a written description of the entire garment. This pattern states: “Misses knit dress in two lengths with bodice variations.” More complicated garments will include more details. Take note of this description for it will tell you all that you will be getting in the pattern. If the description calls for princess seams and you’re not comfortable sewing princess seams, you might want to try another pattern etc..

Most patterns will have the size range and the body measurements for each on the back. Some patterns have it on the pattern itself. You will need to know what size you are in order to get the correct amount of fabric.

Fabric Type

Pay close attention to what type of fabric the pattern calls for. Especially important when a pattern calls for a  knit. Actually, it’s important even for wovens. If a patterns call for something drapey like silk, don’t reach for a cotton twill unless of course that’s the look you’re going for. The views that are on the live models are made with the recommended fabrics that the pattern envelope calls for.

Pick A Knit Rule

This is for knits only. There will be a gauge on the top or side of the back of the envelope. You will take your knit fabric and following the instructions test to see if there is enough stretch in the fabric to use for that particular pattern. If there isn’t enough stretch it may not work.

Fabric Yardage

This tells you how much fabric to buy for a particular version. Very important detail. It will give you choices usually based on 60″, 55″ and 45″ wide widths. Be sure you know how wide your fabric is before getting it cut, or ask at the counter. Show them the pattern and what version and size you want and they can help you in getting the right yardage.

If you fabric has a nap, like velvet, one way design, stripes, large designs, even or uneven plaids you will need more fabric. Also, if buying a fabric that is new to you, you may want to purchase a little extra to experiment on.


On every pattern envelope is a list of notions that you will need to complete the project. This might include zippers, elastic, buttons and so on. It will also give you the exact measurements of these notions, for example, a 7 inch zipper, 5 5/8″ buttons and so forth.

Finished Garment Measurements

I find this very helpful. Especially with width of a skirt or pant leg width. Some patterns don’t always have this. But, you can get a good idea of what the finished width or length will be and make adjustments to the pattern beforehand.

See? Not too bad after all. Your homework is to head out to your local fabric store and grab up a half dozen or so patterns and get to reading!



  1. Yes those photos and drawings on the front of the envelope can be very deceiving! Usually I imagine that I look just like the models and am disappointed when I make the garment and I still don’t look anything like the models!

    Liked by 1 person

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