Reading Pattern Symbols

Reading patterns can be quite a task if you don’t talk sewing language. Learn it, and you’ll be speaking like a professional seamstress.

Sewing patterns have special symbols that tell you how to arrange the pattern on the fabric, where to sew and how to match the pieces.

They will guide you in either cutting or sewing your pattern.

Ignoring them could result in in twisted pants, slouchy skirts and baggy t-shirts. It’s ok if you’re going for a harem look, but not if your clothes are supposed to be sleek.

If you study these symbols and markings, the next time you give reading patterns a try, they’ll be clear as ice. Here’s a little guide to help you.

Sewing Pattern Symbols

These symbols are the same for most patterns but they vary depending on the company. You should always check the pattern’s instruction sheet to make sure you’ve got them right.

Pattern Pieces

Tells you how many of each pattern to cut. It’s usually written on each pattern.

Straight Grain or Direction

Reading sewing pattern symbols
Every woven fabric is made of crosswise (from selvage to selvage) and lengthwise threads. The grain is the direction in which they’re going.

The selvage is the finished edge of fabric. It usually has a different color or texture. Sometimes it also has little holes.

In patterns, this arrow must be in the same direction as the length and parallel to the selvage. This will make the fabric preserve its fall and be more resistant to movement. If you place it parallel to the crosswise grain, the fabric will hang after it is sewn.

Reading sewing pattern symbols


Reading sewing pattern symbols
This little symbol marks the beginning and ending of a pleat. The arrow indicates which way to fold. In this example, you would pleat from left to right.

Reading sewing pattern symbols


Reading sewing pattern symbols
These help you match pattern pieces.

If you were sewing a blouse, you’d find one in the front pattern and one in the back. You would need to align the triangles from both patterns. This is helpful for strange shaped patterns or ones that have many pieces.

You can find one triangle or several. Some patterns include numbers beside the notch to help you.

Reading sewing pattern symbols


Reading sewing pattern symbols
Fold the fabric and place the pattern’s edge on the fold. When you cut, only do it around the pattern, never cut the folded edge.

Reading sewing pattern symbols


Reading sewing pattern symbols
They are used to mark important parts of the patterns such as dart points or pocket placement (see the image above). Their meaning varies depending on the pattern.


Reading sewing pattern symbols
Lengthen or shorten here. This is the part of the pattern where you can safely adjust the length. Don’t do it before or after because the pattern’s shape could change.

Cutting Lines

Reading sewing pattern symbols
These vary depending on the pattern company but they’re usually marked with a dark line and scissors symbol or dotted line.


Reading sewing pattern symbols
Mark where to make the buttonholes.


Reading sewing pattern symbols
Where to sew the buttons.


Sewing will be easier now that you have the know-how on reading patterns. Pay attention to every symbol. This is sometimes tedious, but remember they’re there for a reason.

Immediately transfer the symbols to the fabric after cutting. This way you won’t forget to do it. It’s not fun to have to find out where they go after removing the pattern.

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