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Reading a Sewing/Quilting Pattern Directions

Reading a Sewing/Quilting Pattern Directions 

Read the entire set of directions first.  They should explain what abbreviations are used within the pattern, seam allowances used, special directions for parts of the pattern, and sometimes information about using the fabric. Have several highlighters out to mark parts of the pattern you need to pay special attention to - seam allowance, how many to cut, sizes to cut, what piece gets attached to what piece. The parts you need to read carefully and note are boxed in the examples below. Many patterns give you the choice of making several different sizes. They list the sizes in sequence - (baby, lap, twin) or (small, med, large). They will let you know how many sets or rows to make using the parentheses - (3, 6, 9) or (2, 4, 6). Make sure you note what size you are making and make that many sets. Clothing patterns have the different sizes on the pattern pieces. You can cut out one size for the entire pattern or mix sizes based your actual measurements.

          Notice that this author has tips to pay attention too - sizing, checking the seam allowance. The pattern notes how many sets are needed based on the quilt size you are making.

          Fabric patterns show you how to lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric for non-directional patterns. They usually show an economical use of fabric. Check the width of fabric the pattern layout is based on. It may be for wider fabric than today's 40" - 42" quilting cotton (especially older/vintage patterns). You will need additional fabric if your fabric isn't as wide as the pattern calls for.

          This pattern uses a chart to show what the block will look like, and what size pieces to cut. It also lets you know how many blocks to make based on the size you want to make.

           This bag pattern gives you a cutting layout for all pieces. Notice is is based on 54" wide fabric and the fabric being folded over/in half.

Make sure you know what the anagrams or abbreviations stand for. Straight of grain, WOF – width of fabric, LOF – length of fabric, HST – half-square triangle, SA – seam allowance, RST  - right sides together are a few you may encounter.

            Several abbreviations are used on this page. They are:

  • SA - seam allowance
  • RST - right sides together
  • HST - half square triangles

      ¼" SA are used through this tutorial. 

Remember that quilting cotton is 40"-44" wide - WOF. When the directions say cut a strip 3 ½" x 40" - you cut a strip the Width of the Fabric (WOF).


There may be tasks that need to be completed before sewing, such as cutting that can be done all at once, or special directions for a specialized item. When making clothing, sometimes zippers need to be sewn in at a specific point in the garment construction. Reading through the instructions will help with any special step. If you are an experienced sewist, you may find some of the steps aren’t as efficient for you. Modifications to patterns need to be made from the start of the project. Reading through the entire set of instructions will allow you to see where modifications can be made. For example, a pattern with half square triangles or flying geese may have you make several of the same items one or two at a time. If you read the entire set of directions, you may find that you may be able to make the blocks needed 4, 8, or more at a time. Clothing construction often sews the side seams of the body closed and then insets the sleeve. You may be able to sew the sleeve in first and then sew the side seams and sleeve under seam all at once.


Make sure you know what the seam allowance is for the pattern. Quilt patterns usually are a ¼” or a scant ¼”. A scant ¼” is a couple of threads smaller than a full ¼”. Clothing and home dec patterns usually use 5/8” seam allowance. Check your sewing machine to make sure you are using the right foot for the task and seam allowance needed. If you can’t find an exact foot, measure from the needle to the right and put a piece of tape or a sewing edge to show the seam allowance spot on your machine. The sewing machine may have the seam allowance marked on the top of the machine or on the extension table. If you start sewing with a seam allowance measurement that is slightly off from the pattern requirement, keep sewing the rest with the same seam allowance. This should allow parts to still fit with each other.  You may be able to fix this error later when squaring up blocks or putting other parts together.


Remember there are no police watching you sew. If the end product is one you like and looks right or fits right, the project is a success.


Raffle tickets for the Unicef Quilters for Ukraine quilt will be available Tuesday, April 5. Tickets are one for $5, 5 for $20. All money collected with go to the Unicef fund. The quilt is queen size and stunning. It is getting quilted as you read this. We will let you know when we have finished binding the quilt and it is up for show in the shop.


Don’t forget to check our calendar for classes this spring and summer. Want a certain class, ask us about it. Have a group that wants a class on a certain quilt, let us know and we can arrange it.

The weather is getting better, so make sure you have your projects ready for those spring shower days.


Happy sewing everyone,

Phyllis and the QA staff

Quilting Adventures                                                                     Hours: 
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Richmond VA  23228                                                                     Sun - Mon  Closed
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