Taking the Leap: Understanding Sewing Patterns – Part 1, Reading A Pattern Envelope

As I mentioned before,  I am doing a pajama sew-along with some twitter sewing buddies. We all come from a variety of sewing experiences and hobbies (quilting, crafting, garment sewing), and we will be working through it slowly to help the newer seamstresses out. I know some of my readers are intimidated by this type of sewing pattern, so I’ll be taking pictures as I make mine and explain the details of how to use sewing patterns as I go along. I think you will be surprised by just how easy they come together.

Why Pajama Pants?

They are simple in construction, and they have a generous amount of “ease” so that fitting isn’t really an issue, and even if they look more “homemade” than “handmade”, you never have to wear them in public.

Our group chose to work with Simplicity 9505, which was on sale recently for $1.99. Cha-ching! If you trot yourself into your local pattern store, you can dig through their filing cabinets yourself or ask for help from one of those excellent cutting counter ladies.

Taking a look at the pattern envelope.

Let’s break down all the info found on the envelope. All sewing patterns have this information on them, but they might be in slightly different places depending on the brands.

On the front, you will find the pattern number and the size range included in that particular envelope, and maybe some line drawings to get a better idea the type of garment this is. We will get to which size to choose in a minute, but make sure you walk out of the store with the right one.

The back really gets down to the nitty-gritty. Most importantly for now, it will let us know which size to choose and how much material to buy.

What size?

Pant sizes are determined by your hip measurement. (See How to Take Measurements) Mine is a 44 1/2″ which plops me into the size L range. (yellow arrow and highlighting)

Now that I know my size, I can pick out my fabrics. The envelope gives recommended fabrics (red arrow), all of which are light-weight wovens (i.e. no knits or fleece). Pajama pants work nicely with lots of fabric types, but the different types will drape differently.  I picked a cotton seersucker, super light and cool, and a little bit drapey. I think it will be a nice choice for this summer.

How Much Fabric?

The lined drawings of the pants are labeled G. In the G row (green highlighting) and size L column (yellow highlighting), it lists 2 5/8ths yards of 45 inch wide fabric.

(If you want shorts instead of pants, look in the H row instead.)

Don’t forget the other supplies!

The envelope also lists “thread” as a required notion (purple highlighting).  You can ignore the notions listed for C, D, E, and F. There is also elastic requirements hiding underneath the fabric yardages (purple highlighting). I know, that was a silly spot for it. I almost missed it too.

Another handy bit of information

One more thing, the pattern envelope lists some finished garment measurements. These are handy because you can check to see how much wearing “ease” the garment has and whether you might need to make some adjustments to the pattern to fit you.

For example, it lists a finished hip size of 48 1/2 inches for size L (blue highlighting). Remember I am 44 1/2 inches in my hips, which means I will have 4 inches of ease on my pants. Nice and roomy.

It also lists a finished side length of 42 inches. Comparing that length with other pajama pants of mine, I know I will want to extend the length of the pant leg by a couple of inches. I will need to buy a bit more fabric for that extra length. Wasn’t that handy to know while shopping for fabric?

 Next time, we will open up the envelope and prepare our pattern and fabric pieces.

Any more questions reading a pattern envelope?

Contact me!


  1. angela says

    Jodi – this is genius. When I bought my first pattern, I had the hardest time understanding how to read it. It was like a foreign language! Now, that was my first time – I’ve got a few more I need to work on and I’m sure I could get it! :)

  2. Karen says

    You make it seem so easy. Somehow, I get all frazzled when I’m planning a project and it seems so hard :)

  3. Susan M jensen says

    Genius idea just super. Especially a newbie senior whose teaching with no help. Who says your never to old was correct. Thank you so much i will follow you to they end Jodi, LOL

  4. says

    At the risk of making millions of experiences home sewists angry, I wonder if it’s about time the sewing pattern industry redesigned their pattern envelopes. You are right that this small bit of paper is packed with information, but clearly this information needs so much deciphering it is putting a lot of people off.

    Back when everyone’s mom and grandma sewed and could show them the ropes, that was perhaps acceptable. But today many of us are coming to sewing without that sort of guidance. And graphic design has come a long way. Wouldn’t formatting the back of the envelope so that we could all easily understand it be in the industry’s favor?

    • says

      An interesting idea… I’m definitely not a graphic designer. How could you include the pertinent information without making it just as confusing?

      ooohhh.. what if there was an app? Like you scanned the code and it walked you through the info? Like enter your hip measurement and it gives you a size and then tells you the fabric amounts and tips. I dunno. :)

    • Beth F says

      Years ago, when I first learned to sew in school in Home Ec class (1977), I remember the pattern envelopes used to clearly label how difficult the pattern was to make. Sure wish they still did this, as it would really help those of us who don’t sew as well as others!

  5. says

    God Bless you for doing this! So far I have been creating my own patterns because I am terrified of reading patterns. I have better luck with simple patterns from some of my sewing books. You are helping broaden my horizons.

  6. Amelia says

    I have a question about size. If the front of the pattern says 2-3-4 and on the back it shows amount of fabric for 1-2-3-4. Will the pattern for size 1 be in the envelope? Thanks in advance. :)


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