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  • Writer's pictureLonda

How To Simplify Sewing Pattern Directions

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Originally shared back in June of 2017, I have to say that even now as I teach adults and children how to sew here in my Sunroom Sewing Studio, I continue to see how dated and often, wrong, and incomplete regular sewing directions still remain. It's like the companies continue to just re-cycle old directions. Sad, but true. Here are some, I hope, empowering ideas to have success as you sew.'s just fabric, and don't be too hard on yourself. Find someone who has sewn for years and don't be afraid to ask for help in deciphering pattern instructions! Very likely, if you have an idea of what they are trying to tell you to do, you may well be correct - so give it a try. Even create a similar situation out of scraps to try it first. Remember... it's just fabric! YouTube is full of How-To's, even for sewing. My channel is HERE, and has lots of help for you as you sew...along with many other sewing channels. I'm hoping to tape some new videos soon, so if you have suggestions, please share them with me at

I give you permission – to Simplify Sewing Pattern Directions! It constantly amazes me – how DIFFICULT most ‘Big 4’ pattern make it to sew even a simple garment.  Here’s my steps to simplifying – and improving – a basic design.  Many of these steps can be applied to ALL sewing.  Read and be empowered to CHANGE ‘the directions’!  

Here’s an example:  I’ve selected McCall’s 7114, a simple, yet fashionable top and leggings for an upcoming class for young girls at my Studio.  Looking at the pattern back, even deciphering yardage needs was a challenge.



Only by reasoning that the lower portion of the top would take more yardage than the contrasting yoke, was I able to figure out that what they called ‘Contrast’ on the back cover is for the upper ‘Yoke’ part of the tops, and that the other yardage lines are for the lower portion of the top.


That aside, onto the Construction…..

The neckline is obviously quite large, so WHY would there need to be a center back opening with thread loop?

center back o;pening directions

So many UNNECESSARY steps!  To eliminate that needless work, I simply decided to set the center back on a fold of fabric when cutting.  I tested the size 10 neck size on myself – and it even fit over this gal’s head!

The neckline finish is directed with a bias cut binding.  I feel that is too difficult of a technique for my beginning sewers.  The other good thing about this style is that it can be created of either a knit fabric or a woven – like a quilting cotton.  That makes this pattern even more perfect, as I’ll direct more beginning students to utilize a woven fabric and those more advanced can progress to a knit fabric.  I selected one of the French Terry knit fabrics from Jo-Anns.  On my garment, the light, ‘plain’ side is the yoke, and the darker, ‘loop’ side is the bottom body part.

For a neckline finish for wovens, I’ll simply draft a neckline facing.  That will be good, basic construction knowledge.  I’ll also have them apply the facing after the shoulder seams are stitched and before stitching the side seams so it will be ‘flat’ and easier to work on.

IMPORTANT STEPS – nothing at all is said.  For example:

  1. Stay stitching!!  Every neckline needs to be stay stitched to stabilize.  EVERY neckline – regardless of whether it is a woven or a knit fabric.

  2. Shoulder seams on knits need stabilizer.  See below that i have zigzagged twill tape to the seam allowance.  Then, to decrease bulk, I’ve graded the seam.  Next, the seam will be pressed to hide the tape, and topstitched.  I also will teach my students ‘chain stitching’ – working from one like seam to another without stopping and starting.

shoulder stabilization and grading seam.

Add shoulder stabilization and grade the seam.

Topstitch shoulder seams

Topstitch shoulder seams.

To join the lower portions to the yokes, I will help my students understand and execute the curve on the Fronts.  The Back seaming is straight – so after doing the Fronts, the Backs will be a cinch.

Seam finish:  I’ll have them stitch again about 1/4″ away and then trim close.

PRESSING is half of sewing!  Directions rarely include the IMPORTANT step of pressing.  I’ll teach and show how much better these seams look when they are ‘melded’, or pressed as sewn and then pressed towards the lower sections.

Some of their directions are just WRONG!  For example, the underarm seam is quite a curve.  As shown below, they say to stitch then stitch again – but NOTHING about clipping!!!  There is NO way this seam can lay properly one the garment is right side out if it is not clipped as shown below.

Clip underarm seams!

Clip underarm seams!

Knit Neckline Finish with Binding

To add a single layer Knit Binding follow these steps.  These are also taught in my 3 Disc DVD:  Stretching Your Knit Sewing Know-How.  (That’s a link to receive a FREE $15 pattern with purchase at SALE price by the way!)

Figure the Binding Length

  1.  Measure the neckline at the stitching line.  I do this by folding at center front and center back.  Measure that much and multiply by 2.  Mine measured 12″.  12″ x 2=24

  2. Knit neckline finishes are always at least 10% less in length.

24” x .9 = 21.6” – which is pretty close to 21.5”. Now add 1” for two 1/2” seam allowances for a seam = 22.5” .

Measure neckline on knits to determine length of binding

Measure neckline on knits to determine length of binding.

Figure the Binding Width

  1. Multiply the seam allowance by 3 and add 1/2″.  For this pattern:  5/8″ x 3 = 1 7/8″ + 1/2″ = 2 3/8″ – I’ll cut 2.5″ wide just to be safe – and especially for young sewers.  Isn’t is wonderful how sewing teaches fractions?  I’ll teach this both with fractions and decimals on a calculator.  My home-schooled students will likely ‘get it’ quickest – just my observation….   Sad thought, perhaps this is why pattern companies give us patterns for everything – because our education level has sunk so low?? However a Bias Binding of a knit just does NOT MAKE SENSE TO THIS GIRL!

Apply the Binding. 

At this point, you can either ‘raise’ the neckline by the seam allowance (as I’ve done), or trim away the seam allowance close to the stay stitching and then bind – which will be equal to the original ‘design’.  I thought binding the seam allowance and raising the neckline a bit was best for young girls, and the neckline was STILL plenty big.

  1. Seam Binding, right sides together with a 1/2″ seam.  For my fabric, a great French Terry with 2 different sides, I’m considering the ‘right’ side to be the loopy, dark side, just as the lower portion of the top.

  2. Trim that seam allowance – I go into great detail on this in my DVD.

  3. Quarter the Binding with pins.  Do the same with the top.  Find Center Front and Center Back, then match those to find the other ‘sides’ – which will NOT be the shoulder seams.

  4. Matching pins that marked the quarters, and placing the Binding seam at Center Back, pin and then stitch with a 1/2″ seam, right side ribbing to right side of garment.  Following the stay stitching as a guide makes this stitching easy.  I’ll be right by each student as they do this stitching.  

Trim CAREFULLY for a nice, clean edge.

Trim CAREFULLY for a nice, clean edge.  Press with steam – forcing the Binding UP, away from the garment.

6.  Press Binding UP the seam allowance.  I do this on a Dressmaking Ham.

Pressing Binding UP.

Pressing Binding UP.

7.  Press Binding AROUND to the back side, nice and snug around that clean cut edge.

Finished Binding

Finished Binding

Experience has taught me that ‘stitching in the ditch’ as I would personally do for this step – is quite hard for young sewers.  Hence, the ‘decorative’ effect of using the 3 step zig zag with stitch width of 4.5 and stitch length of 2.5, centering it on the seam line of the binding.  This 3 step zig zag will be repeated for the sleeve and lower hem.

STEAM to finish!  I always teach and show how STEAMING makes it all look better!

The steps above are taught in one of my You-Tube Videos.  HERE is a link to that video.


Another gem in my Knit DVD , and I’ve never seen this teaching other places…. CLIP the seam allowance at the fold line of a hem so that the bulk can be pressed the OPPOSITE direction to ‘balance the bulk’.  Do it and you’ll see what I mean!!!!!  Notice also the Knit Fusible Stay Tape applied to the hem allowance.  Adding this gives the perfect amount of ‘oomph’ so that your knit hems won’t WAVE.

Clip at hem fold line. Add Knit Fusible Stay Tape to hem allowance.

Clip at hem fold line. Add Knit Fusible Stay Tape to hem allowance.

Stitch hem using the same 3 step zig zag – or use a Twin needle as I teach in my DVD.  If you’re lucky enough to have a Cover Hem machine – of course, use it.  For the sleeve edge finish – utilizing the free arm of the sewing machine will be SO VALUABLE.

Free Arm use for sleeve hemmin

Free Arm use for sleeve hemming.

There you have it – I hope this LONG post will suggest to you some ways of IMPROVING those directions that come with patterns.  I recently realized how very very expensive ‘regular’ patterns have become!  Even this one is marked $16.95!!!  Not from my pocketbook – I bought on special at $1.99.  I also teach my students to SAVE $ by being smart shoppers!

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