What follows was an email I sent to one of the moms who has participated with her daughter in the sewing classes and wanted to know how to read and understand a pattern. (The parts in italics reference experiences we had in class.)
1. When choosing a size, go by the child’s measurements, not by the size of garment you buy for them in ready-to-wear. Measurements for each size are found on the back of the pattern envelope - usually near the top.
2. If a pattern says it is for knit fabric, it will not fit if you make it in a woven fabric. This is because woven fabric doesn’t stretch.
3. It’s definitely a good idea to read all the steps in a pattern's instructions before you begin. …kind of like reading a recipe all the way through before beginning something you haven’t cooked/baked before. (The problem we had with the bag that S. was making, was that we didn’t read all the way through first and were trying to ‘wing’ it as we went along, and even thinking we could do it differently without knowing all the facts.)
When the kids want to make something and I haven’t had a chance to study it ahead of time, I am more likely to make a mistake in guiding them along. That’s why I like to make a sample first, not just so they can see it made up, but so I can experience the pitfalls that they are likely to face and help them to avoid them.
4. Take something you have already made and read the instructions again. You will see how the sequence of steps now make sense and you will be able to visualize what they are telling you to do.
(For example you could download the pattern for the penguin pillow that E. made. and see if you understand the instructions. If you don’t understand something, see if E. remembers what she did at that point.)
5. A good pattern includes good illustrations, so if you don’t understand the text, check out the illustrations. They often give a clue as to what the designer means.
6. Every skill has its own terms and definitions. Learn definitions of sewing terms – or know where to find them when you need them. The problem with commercial patterns is that they are usually NOT written with children in mind, so they are wordy or use technical language. A glossary or explanation of terms is very helpful. Sometimes a pattern comes with these explanations.
If you look in E.’s first ‘Kids Sewing Company’ workbook where she made the pyjama shorts and top, you will find a glossary at the back.
7. Read everything on the pattern pieces too, not just the instruction sheets. Cutting out your pattern pieces correctly is very important, as you don’t always have a second chance to fix mistakes in cutting. For example, you find out later you should have cut 4 pieces and you only cut two, but now you have run out of fabric. Most patterns pieces always tell you right on the paper pattern how many pieces to cut.
8. If you have a right and a left side and only one pattern piece for both, it’s best to double your fabric so you don’t make the mistake of cutting 2 left sides or 2 right sides -something that can easily happen if you cut the pattern piece twice on a single layer of fabric. Also check to see if something is to be placed on a fold (this was my mistake when I cut the belt for S.’s doll jacket – the belt should have been twice as long).
9. Before you sew, check the pattern instructions to see how wide to make your seam allowances. Most garments use 15mm. seam allowances and many non-wearables like toys, or home décor items use 6-7mm seam allowances.
10. Make the same pattern more than once. When you make a recipe the second or third time you often make small improvements, and the second time you’ll also be much more confident that you’ll have good results.