Morning Muskrats! I’m back with another post in the sewing school series. we kicked this off a while ago with an overview of the different places to get your patterns – pattern companies, magazines and downloads. In this post I’ll continue with the next logical step after figuring out WHERE to get your patterns – how to pick out your patterns! Specifically, we’ll be talking about envelope art, both what’s on the front and what’s on the back.

Again – before I get started… this is what I go over in our beginning sewing classes, so we’re staying at a pretty basic level!

The envelope front and back: views, drawings, & descriptions

OK! So I’m going to focus mostly on traditional patterns that come in envelopes. Most of this information will apply to magazine and online/download patterns as well.

Pattern envelopes usually have some sort of picture of what you can make from the pattern pieces inside the envelope. Like so.

You’ll note that there are letters by each of those fine ladies (wait, that’s one fine lady in four different outfits, isn’t it??) Those letters indicate different views of the pattern. For this pattern view A is a shirt, while views B, C, D are all straight, above the knee dresses. View B has a lower cut cowl neck, view C a higher cut cowl neck, view D adds sleeves to view C. Sometimes it’s sort of difficult to figure out what the difference between the views are. Flip over the envelope and there’ll be a bit more information, my fine furry friends.

OK, it’s not super readable, but I’ve circled in green the description of the garments and views. Not all pattern companies include descriptions of their garments (Simplicity and New Look do not) but they are SUPER helpful. I’ve also circled the technical drawings in pink. These are very detailed drawings showing the front and back of each view of the garment.

If you look carefully at each of these three areas on the envelope you can get a very good idea of what’s inside and if it’s really something you’d like to sew. This information is also super helpful when you start mixing and matching patterns and trying to replicate a look that you really love (Ummm… hello Mad Men and Anthropologie. Is your nose itching? We are TOTALLY talking about you!)

Don’t judge a pattern by it’s envelope cover

I usually reiterate about 1,000 times during a class that it’s best to completely ignore the front of the envelope (notable exceptions include Sewaholic and Colette Patterns) and to just flip it over and look at the technical drawings. Envelope art is fun, but misleading. It comes in some major varieties… first we have the ever-lovely illustrated envelope art.

McCalls 3499 from the Blue Gardenia

Vintage patterns are particularly tricky. The envelope art is awesome and ridiculous. I don’t know about you muskrats, but the only girl I know with a waistline smaller than her noggin’ is Lucy the hound.

Modern companies are also prone to elegant envelope art…

Hot Patterns 1053

While I love Hot Patterns, their envelope art is clearly based on an 8 foot tall model. Also, I’ve made these particular trousers and the fit is more mom-pants than flowy, wide legged as indicated by the drawing.

More common in most pattern companies is a mix of photography and illustrations that are more two dimensional looking. Like paper dolls. The styling on the envelopes is frequently eye-burningly horrible.

Simplicity 2453

Oh, lord, those beige trousers and flowered jacket-thing!

For the most part, the envelope art makes it difficult for the sewist to envision the garments in anything other than the fabrics the pattern company chose. On 8 foot tall models with teeny waists. It’s a lot like shopping for your first house – SUPER difficult to see past the paint choices. It’s also hard to see the actual details in the drawings and photographs – are those ruffles? Double Darts? Is that a zipper??

Sewaholic and Colette skip past this whole issue by putting the technical drawing right on the front of the envleope so you can see the details and use your imagination!

The Sewaholic Lonsdale Dress

{Side note! Tasia just posted yesterday about how you can quickly see pictures of her patterns by using a super-cool app! Check out her post}

The Technical Drawing

This brings us right to this wonderful little detail included on most pattern envelopes – the technical drawing! When you’re working with patterns the ‘artwork’ and instructions might be super confusing, outdated or occasionally incorrect. The drawings, on the other hand (technical and instructional) always show you EXACTLY what’s going on, so pay close attention to them! There’s a lot of detail in these little drawings and they seem to be somewhat standardized (i.e., a zipper is always drawn the same way) so once you understand what you’re looking at you’ll be able to figure out exactly how the garment is made. Here’s a collection of technical drawings where I noted some common construction details. Notes are below each photo.

Basic Pencil Skirt

Kwik Sew 2957

This Kwik Sew skirt comes in 3 lengths with either darts or gathered into the waistband.

the Pink dot shows a lapped zipper on the center back seam. see how it’s dotted on the left side? That’s a line of stitching.

the Green dot shows what a fitted (versus elastic/gathered) waistband looks like. A simple rectangle. This will be paired with some sort of zipper/botton/hook closure.

The Aqua dot shows what vertical darts on trousers or skirts look like.

The Purple dot shows the two additional length options.

The Orange dot shows that there is a slit in the back of the skirt to allow for movement.

The Black dot shows that the skirt is gathered into the waistband rather than using darts to provide shaping. See all those little lines? That’s gathering!

Elastic-waist skirt

Kwik Sew 3003

Kwik Sew 3003 is an elastic waist skirt with an option to add a center front/center back seam.

The Pink dot shows what an elastic waist skirt looks like. Rather than the plain rectangle like the pencil skirt above, there’s tons of little lines.

The Green dot shows the center seam.

Flared Skirt

Vogue 7910

This is a loose fitting skirt with a bit of flare!

The Pink dot shows a centered back zipper. Unlike the lapped zipper in the Pencil skirt above, this shows dotted lines on both sides of the center back seam.

The Green dot shows that this is a fitted waistband

The Blue dot shows that this skirt is made up some panels – that seamline stretches from the hem to the waistline.

The Yellow dot is showing the ‘flare’. This kind of line is showing that this part of the skirt is going to be fuller and have some movement.

The Orange dot shows that there is some kind of stitching by the hem. Likely, the pattern includes a simple, narrow hem where you fold up twice and ‘topstitch’ down.

Full Circle Skirt

Vogue 2902

Vogue 2902 is a Vintage Vogue with a full circle skirt, waist darts and a side zip.

The Blue dot shows what waist darts look like in technical drawings.

The Pink dot shows a full circle skirt. You can tell it’s full circle because there are NO markings around the waist – the fabric falls smoothly into folds and is not ‘shaped’ into the waistband with the help of any seams, gathers or darts.

The Green dot shows the side zip. see how it’s sticking out a bit there? The image is a bit pixelated, sorry!

Box Pleats

Vogue 2903

Here we have another Vintage Vogue. Note how there’s no horizontal line at or near the waist? The pieces for this dress are cut out full length – from shoulder to hem. This is a difficult style to fit, as most adjustments affect the entire dress. AND it’s a fabric hog. I used 9 yards of 45″ fabric when I made this! Lots of odd shaped scraps left over!

The Pink dot shows a centered back zip

The Blue dot shows that the shaping in the bodice is from princess seams

The Yellow dot shows the box pleats. They’re a bit hard to make out, but you can see the upside down ‘triangle’ that ends near the yellow dot, right? This is reapeated around the skirt with relatively ‘flat’ parts between them.

Gathered, dropped waist dress

Vogue 1094

Here we have yet another vintage Vogue with a ballerina feel. The skirt is very gathered with a drop waist a’la Ms. Hepburn’s iconic dress in Funny Face (I think it was)

The Yellow dot shows the classic combo of vertical waist darts and horizontal bust darts.

The Pink dot shows the dip for the waist, with the bodice dropping to a lower point on the hips.

The Green dot shows what a gathered skirt looks like in a technical drawing. See how all the lines connect with the horizontal waistline??

Blouse with button placket

Vogue 8689

This basic shirt has a yoke, princess seams, set in sleeves, sleeve cuffs and a button placket

Left drawing

The Blue dot shows what set-in sleeves look like

The Green dot indicates the yoke

The Purple dot shows a cuff on the sleeve. But note that there aren’t any lines on the sleeves to indicate gathering.

The Yellow dot shows the arm-princess seams

The Pink dot indicates a button placket – see how there’s a ‘rectangle’ around all the buttons?

Right drawing

The Pink dot shows that there is a vent and buttons on the sleeve cuff

The Red dot shows that there is a center seam on the yoke.

Also note how the seam lines are all sort of dotted/doubled? The seams in this shirt are flat felled –  you can tell from the drawing that they aren’t just plain seams!

Simple blouse

McCalls 5138

This blouse has much more simple lines.

The Green dot shows (again) the combo of the horizontal bust darts and vertical waist darts

The Red dot shows a simple band on the sleeves

The Pink dot shows the simple front – just buttons, no placket or band!

The Blue dots shows a shaped hem – since it’s doubled it’s probably another narrow, topstitched hem.

Kimono-style sleeves

Colette's Sencha blouse

I imagine many of you are familiar with the Sencha blouse from Colette Patterns. I included this drawing as this blouse has a sleeve style that’s very common in vintage dress patterns – the short kimono-style cap sleeve (indicated by the Pink dot.) Not quite sleeveless, but no extra sleeve setting in to mess around with! The Blue dot shows the released tucks that are a key detail of the Sencha. I actually think this drawing is a bit misleading, because without having made the shirt, I would assume that these are two sets of double darts, when in reality they are two sets of double tucks with the tops left free. I think if there were little ‘V’s’ on the top of each line it might be more clear!

Real life #1: Why technical drawings are the most helpful!

Here’s a great example of how the cute pictures can mislead and the photographs frighten, while the technical drawings can illuminate!

Simplicity 3673 is a cute 50’s pattern reissue – I think I remember that Gertie made a version of this! Here’s the original envelope art.

Totally cute, right? I don’t love the layered pinofore vibe of the green and blue versions, but the black is awesome and if the blue was on its own, very chic! The bow/buckle detail is cute! Let’s have a look at the updated envelope which is actual photographs, shall we??

Egad! What IS that schoolgirl monstrosity? Did I somehow get to the costume section without realizing it?? I simple cannot get past the overuse of layers and pearls. This pattern gets a definite ‘no.’

At least, that’s how I feel after looking at the old and new envelope art – the drawing is super cute, but perhaps a bit unrealistic. The pictures are styled in such a way as to be a big turnoff for me. But lets take a look at the technical drawings…

Hmmm… It actually looks like a pretty versatile dress. The skirt of views A & B almost has a bit of an A-line thing going on, so I’d probably peg my skirts a bit. I like all the darts – good for shaping! And you KNOW I like me a empire waistline! A gathered bust makes it super easy to do an FBA without having to deal with how to blend the adjustments into the waist and hip measurements – I didn’t realize from either the photo or drawing that it had gathering at the bustline! I’m not a huge fan of such a high neckline, though. I’ll put it in the maybe pile..

See? Looking at the technical drawings makes it easy to really ‘see the pattern…”

Final note: Descriptions

As I noted at the beginning of the post, the envelopes of most pattern companies also include descriptions. These are super helpful to look at as well. They tend to be packed full of facts and low on flowy, catalog description type language. Here’s an example of the description for Vogue 1094 (The Audrey Wedding dress above) “Lined, sleeveless dress has darted, fitted bodice, dropped waistline, inside belt, neckline bands, gathered skirt and side zipper. A: below mid-knee length. B: floor length.” See? Lots of good info!

And here’s a funny example that my co-worker Laura just brought to my attention… check out this dress from Kwik Sew…

Kwik Sew 3760

Super cute in an airline stewardess meets Mad Men way, right? Now read the description… “Sleeveless dresses have fitted bodice with princess seams, waist inset, center back zipper, armholes finished with facings, and slightly A lined skirt. View A has collar, decorative trim on collar, front bodice and waist inset, and decorative buttons. View B has boat neckline with inset.Pattern includes 5/8″ (1.5 cm) seam allowances”

Did you catch that about view A? Decorative trim on the front bodice, waist inset and decorative buttons?? Muskrats – THAT’S A FAKE BUTTON UP!! It’s just a sheath dress made to LOOK like it buttons up the front!! Depending on your goals that might be perfect or a travesty!!

Well, that closes down part II of the Pattern Course at the Snugbug Sewing School. Class is now open for questions, comments, ridicule and whatever else you crafty varmits have on your minds!


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