Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sewing 101: Cutting Patterns Part One

So, now that you know how to measure yourself and pick a pattern, it's time to learn what is my leastest favorite part of sewing -- the dreaded cutting process.

OK, it's really not that bad, but I just hate it.  Girl Scout Promise: I promise to try not to let my distaste for cutting color my description of the process.  And that's a promise you can count on.  Did I ever tell you I was in the Girl Scout calendar in 1985?  I was!  I'll show you that in part two.  I know, I know, a real cliffhanger!

Now, while this guide is specific to the pattern I'm making (View D of Simplicity 2739), you can adapt it for any garment from Simplicity, McCalls, Vogue,or Butterick.  Probably any other pattern company too, but don't quote me on that.  I've never really ventured away from the Big Four.

OK, so one thing I forgot to mention about patterns was the sizes they sell.  I told you how to measure your size, but not how to get the correct pattern for your size.  This pattern envelope is for a Size BB M, L, XL; I will be cutting the M.  Generally patterns have size numbers, just like off the rack clothing, but because these are loose fitting jammies they go by XS, S, M, L, XL.  The smaller pattern comes in XS, X, M, so technically I could have purchased either one.

Below you will see the contents of every pattern envelope -- the tissue which has the pattern pieces on it, and the sewing instructions:

The instructions include a line drawing of each finished garment in the pattern, cutting layouts for each garment, a line drawing and list of each piece, and sewing instructions for each garment. 

Below, you see the list of pattern pieces for each garment (click photo to enlarge).  The letters beside each piece specifies what garment it's for.  For example, piece 1 is for the Bodice Front and is used on garments A, B, C, and D - basically everything but the robe.

I will be sewing View D.  This is the cutting layout for that garment:
The layout section gives us so much fab-o information.  Firstly, it tells us what pattern pieces we need for this garment.  I need pieces 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 14, and 15.  4, 6, and 11 are out of elastic, but these pattern pieces tell us how long we need to cut the elastic depending on the garment size.

Secondly, if you look to the left of the cutting guide, you will see some information that's utter gibberish unless you sew: 44" 45" WITH NAP ALL SIZES or 58" 60" WITH NAP ALL SIZES. 

Let's break it down. 
  • Garment fabric is generally sold in two general widths: between 44-45" or between 58-60".  The cutting layout for 4A is for 45" fabric, and 4B is for 60" fabric.  You can see that the layouts differ depending on the width of the fabric.
  • A fabric with nap has a print (like plaid) or grain (like corduroy).  If the cutting guideline shows "with nap" then you will still be able to lay out the pattern pieces as shown and not worry about your fabric showing up all wonky.  The cutting guideline will specify if the layout should differ with a napped fabric.  Horrah!
  • All Sizes means that the cutting layout will work for M to XL.  Sometimes the layout will differ for different sizes.
Now, my next step is cutting out all of the pieces for the garment from the tissue paper.  Because the tissue is generally really big (think full sized blanket) I like to quickly cut out the pieces so I can refold the big tissue full of pieces I don't need.  Then I go into actually cutting around the size lines.  Below is a picture of all of my pieces cut out, but not cut around the size lines:
You can dive right in and cut around the size lines and skip my added step, this is just my preference since I almost always cut when I'm sitting on the couch. 

Usually the size lines are quite well marked and easy to follow.  Some pattern companies use different line types (dot-dot-dash, dash-dash-dash, etc.) to differentiate the pattern sizes, but Simplicity tends to use a solid line for each size.  Below is an example of a hem I need to cut:

Also good to note is that sometimes a single pattern piece will be used for multiple views of a garment.  The pictures below are of pattern piece 2.  This piece can be used for garments A, B, C, and D, which are all varying lengths.  View D, being the shortest, is the highest set of lines to cut (see the orange dotted lines on the picture on the left). 
Now, I could just cut my pattern piece here, but I like this pattern and may end up making the View C nightgown. In that case, I don't want to cut the pattern piece apart so I will just fold along that cutting line to keep the piece intact. Later in the week I will do another tute on using freezer paper to save pattern pieces so that you can cut the pieces you want without damaging the source pattern piece. It's easy peasy lemon squeasy.

Hanging in there??  I hope so!  Part Two will come this Thursday.  We will be cutting into our garment fabric and marking the pattern pieces where necessary.  I'm so excited!


  1. I love these posts! They are fantastic - thanks again! Can I make a request? (Now I'm just getting greedy!!) When you get to the point where you have to transfer things like buttonholes and darts, can you show how you do it? I keep doing really weird things that seem way too complicated to get it and I know there has to be a better way.
    P.S. Is that Zach Morris and Jessie Spano??

  2. Haha, Bethany, you're too funny! I will definitely do that in my next post. I generally just use tracing paper for buttonholes and a marker for darts (I only mark the dots, not the sewing lines).

    And yes, that is Jessie & Zack!

  3. Tracing paper eh? Either I'm just lazy or braindead! I kept lifting the paper up and guestimating where to draw a mark. Let me tell you, lifting the paper up 80 times to make a curved dart is NOT efficient. I've seen those tracing wheels and thought they looked like little pizza cutters. We haven't gotten that far in the sewing class I'm taking! Thanks again for the great posts!

  4. Hey Regan,

    I'm sewing my first pattern...a Halloween costume that needs to be done TODAY..LOL. I know my way around a sewing machine..but I'm really nervous about this project. When I cut my pattern out (simplicity pattern) do I have to allow for a seam allowance. Part II looks like you just right against the pattern? Thanks!

  5. Hey Meagan!

    Simplicity sewing patterns (and all of the Big 4 - Vogue, McCalls, Butterick, & Simplicity) always include a 5/8" seam allowance in their pattern pieces. You do not need to add anything, just cut away!! :)


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