Clueless QCAL (As if!) — How to Read A Clothing Pattern

I hope the information I’ve compiled and shared has been helpful; and even if you can’t join or “fall behind” I hope you can still use all the info whenever you can make a coat.
Now, onto a subject I’ve gotten several requests to cover.
If you’ve never made garments, clothing patterns can look really complicated! I learned how to sew clothing when I was a wee little lass (I don’t actually talk like that but that’s what my fingers typed!), but it’s been decades and I was a bit confused when I pulled out my instructions for the NewLook 6585 last month. I haven’t done anything with it yet…just had to open it up and read it as soon as it arrived!
Anyhoo…here are a couple resources that may help you read your pattern.
A Quilters Guide to Making Clothes

Some of the tips are geared for if you are making normal clothing (such as talking about fabrics, interfacing,), but since we are quilting all our pieces, these tips aren’t relevant for this project. But definitely handy to know if you venture into making more garments!
Here are the highlights in case you don’t read it. 
  • Seam allowances on clothing are often 1/2″ or 5/8″. Be sure to note this before you start assembling!
  • **The BIG takeaway…secure your stitches at the beginning and end of each piece you sew, whether it’s backstitching a few, or if you have a fancy machine, use your staystitch button.
Symbols Found in Clothing Patterns
  • One note…this article talks about cutting out the notches (away from pattern). I’ve always been taught (and read in other articles), to just do a tiny snip (don’t cut triangle out), into the piece. It’ll be well within your seam allowance and is much quicker than how they show in this article
How to Read Sewing Patterns
This post goes into a lot of detail (like how to read the envelope and pattern), which is great! But also may be a bit overkill for this project. But, in work and projects, I believe in having “too much” information that doesn’t pertain to me, than not enough. There are likely some useful tidbits on this page (otherwise I wouldn’t share it).
How to Read Sewing Patterns, Part Deux
Another site on how to read patterns. Simpler, but still very informative than the previous link, in case that one is just too much to handle.
Tracing Pattern Pieces
Clothing patterns offer a variety of sizes. While the pattern envelope tells you what size to make based on your measurements, for coats especially, they can be really off. If you end up needing to scale up after your test coat, and if you’ve cut into the pattern pieces, you are kinda screwed. You’ll need to buy the pattern again. This is where tracing comes in!
What are the benefits of tracing?
  • Tracing allows you to keep the original pattern pieces intact, which is especially nice if they are printed on a delicate paper such as tissue, or if they are printed in such a way that the pattern pieces overlap
  • Tracing allows you to use a pattern multiple times in more than one size
  • Tracing allows you to blend between sizes if you are more than one size (smaller bust size than hip size, for example)
  • Tracing if absolutely essential if you need to make a significant adjustment, such as a bust adjustment, adding a dart, or lengthening the arms
  • Even for a PDF pattern, tracing saves paper and ink, not to mention the extra time it takes to tape it together if you need another size or view.
How to Trace a Pattern
Tracing Paper
I have a roll of the paper they put on the exam table for the doctor’s office. I bought mine AGES ago from a medical supply company, but you can find them on Amazon and other online retailers. The benefit of using this instead of official pattern tracing paper is it is WAAAAAY cheaper if you plan on making more clothes (one roll of the exam paper is $35 for +40 yards, versus $3.50/yard of the official stuff). But, if this coat is the only clothing you’ll make, the official stuff would suffice.
Pattern Weights

When using pattern pieces (for bags, wallets, clothing), you want to keep your pattern pieces in place while you mark/cut. You can get pattern weights from a variety of sewing shops…but if you are budget-conscious and don’t care about appearance, I have an alternative! I get giant washers from the hardware store. I have 8 – 3.5″ washers to keep all my pieces in place. If you want to spruce them up a bit (and minimize the clanking), you could wrap them in ribbon.

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