Get Threads magazine!

Subscribe Renew Give a Gift

I want expert
sewing tips, fabric
reviews, and more.
Renew subscription
Give a Gift

In the Current Issue
Magazine Extras
Digital Issues
Magazine Index
Advertiser Marketplace
Contact the Staff
Author Guidelines
Buy Back Issues
Buy Special Issues
Buy Magazine Slipcases

Threads eLetter

Pattern Road Map: Reading the Signs and Symbols

Become familiar with the marking on your patterns, and you'll find it easier to fit and sew your garment. The chart below explains what pattern symbols mean and how to use them.

Description Purpose Where Located Tip
Bust and hip indicators
Circle with enclosed cross. These handy pattern notes give finished measurement of garment all around at hip and bust. Bust symbol is generally located at point of bust. Hip symbol is located at hipline (about 7 in. down from waist). Refer to bust and hip indicators to quickly determine amount of ease in pattern.
Lengthen/ shorten guide
Double solid line running across pattern piece. Or single dashed line. Or single line with dotted rectangle above it and mini-rulers at either end. Recommended area in which to lengthen or shorten pattern piece. Below knee on pants, below elbow on sleeve, between bust and waist on tops, below hip on skirts. Use "petite" lines (spaced 1D 2 in. apart on some patterns) to alter patterns for petite figure.
Cutting line
Outermost line on pattern, often accompanied by scissor icon. Solid line on single-sized patterns. Line pattern different for each size included on multisized patterns. Where you cut both pattern tissue and garment fabric. On all pattern pieces. Cut edges of pattern will sometimes be uneven because matching points correspond to where seamlines meet. Cut slightly outside line to ensure correct shape of pattern piece. If you cut line off, you may nick tissue and distort shape.
Dashed or broken line on single-sized patterns, often accompanied by presser-foot icon. Where you sew garment pieces together. Corresponding seamlines (sleeve, armscye) will always have same seam allowance. Rarely noted on multisized patterns. Pencil in seamlines if they aren't marked. This allows you to accurately measure and alter pattern, as well as match plaid and directional prints.

Solid line with arrow point at one or both ends. Arrow orients pattern on fabric for cutting. Usually indicates lengthwise grainline (parallel to selvage). Arrow of bias-cut pieces should be placed on lengthwise grainline. "Foldline" replaces arrow and should be placed on lengthwise grain (see below). On all pattern pieces. Extend grainline to pattern edge to help match stripes and plaids exactly. Crosswise grain is rarely used but may be used with 4-way stretch fabric, in home decorating and quilting.
On the fold

Rectangular bracket with arrow tips pointing toward folded edge. For layout efficiency, pattern pieces are often produced as "half" pieces. On-the-fold edge is never cut. Pattern piece must be placed along folded edge of fabric (cutting out double layer) to create full piece. At CF and/or CB. To save fabric and ensure straight cutting of stripes or plaids, double pattern at on-the-fold edge, and cut fabric in one layer.

One diamond, pair of diamonds, or triple set of diamonds, usually half inside/half outside cutting line. Some patterns use half-diamond (triangle pointed into seam allowance). Tick lines, used in European patterns, are small solid lines. Used for matching seamlines. One diamond often indicates garment front. Pair of diamonds usually denotes garment back. Triple set of diamonds indicates seam reference other than front or back. On most pattern pieces, in variety of spots. Instead of trying to cut out diamond tip, cut straight along cutting line, and clip 1/4 in. into center of diamond on a 5/8-in. seam. This is more accurate, and your clips will match better.
Dots, squares, triangles

Solid circles, squares, or triangles of varying sizes; sometimes appear as unfilled shapes with different outline patterns. To match patterns at seamlines and for details within garment. Appear most often on collar, neck, and shoulder points. Use paper punch or awl to cut out marks on tissue only, then easily mark through to fabric with pencil. Or you can use small sticky dot labels available at office-supply stores.
Dart symbols

Darts are either open or closed. Sides can be straight or slightly curved. Little dots in various increments aid in matching dart seamlines. Open dart is long V-shape, extending to cutting line. Closed (double-ended/fisheye) dart is elongated oval or diamond shape and generally found within pattern (not necessarily at cutting or sewing line). Bust, waist, hip, and occasionally at shoulder and armscye. To quickly and easily match open dart ends, make a small scissor-clip at those points.
Buttonholes and buttons

Buttonholes are marked as horizontal or vertical I-bars. Buttons are noted with an X. Placement and spacing of buttons and buttonholes. Either illustrated on pattern piece or provided as separate overlay. Use button placement only as guide, and adjust to size and shape of buttons you choose.
Pleats, tucks, and gathers

Spacing denoted by series of straight lines extending from cutting line. Line length reflects how "deep" detail is. Small dots, generally at interior end of line, note end of detail or end of stitching line. Symbols indicating pleats and tucks are very similar. Only difference is that pleats are folded in place, and tucks are sewn in place. For gathers, fabric is simply eased between two points. Bodice, skirts, and pants, common at waist and shoulder. Cutting line is distorted (offset) before pleat or tuck is formed. Once tucks or pleats are folded into place, cut edges will align.

-- Celeste Percy

Adapted from "Basics -- Pattern Road Map: Reading the Signs and Symbols," Threads magazine, April/May 2002 (#100), pgs. 20, 22, 24.

© 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc.

All the Tips      NEXT TIP