Hey :) I'm Hazel and I was fortunate to be paired with Claire as a part of Kerry's Spring Sewing Swap. Claire asked me if I would mind guest-posting whist she was on holiday and there was no way I was saying no. Claire mentioned that maybe I could post about fabrics or something like that as I work in a fabric shop and as I got thinking about it, I decided that I would start with patterns as we're commonly asked the same questions about what the various parts of the back of a pattern envelope mean. So I'm going to try and demystify this a little.
Orange Section - Line Drawing
The first thing I advise looking at on both the front and back of pattern envelopes are the line drawings. Using the line drawings allows you to look beyond the (sometimes questionable) fabrics and styling used by pattern companies. These line drawings will also give you and indication of what's involved in the construction of the pattern, clearly showing gathering, darts, zips etc.
Green Sections - Sizing
We all know how frustrating choosing a pattern size can be, and I'm sure everyone is aware of the numerous debates online as to how to go about choosing your size. This is why I've grouped these two sections together. The first is body measurements and the second is finished garment measurements. Somewhere between both these figures is the best fit. All patterns are designed with a certain amount of ease. This means that for a close fitting garment, it can be best to go with finished measurements and for looser items go by body measurements. Personally, I usually go by the finished garment measurements as I feel this works best for me, but it's taken me over 3 years to work this out. I would suggest, as I would to customers, to make a toile first to see what fitting adjustments and pattern size would suit them best. Another note on sizing is that patterns are usually designed for someone of 5'5" in mind, this means that depending on your height, you waist may not be where they think it is. Take this into account when determining size and remember there are lengthen/shorten lines on the tissue.
Yellow, Purple & Pink Sections - Fabric yardages
Ever wonder why there are two sides to the pattern back? Well the English side is for the American market which is why it is in yards as they are still imperial. The French section is for the European market which is now metric. We always advise customers to use the French side as we sell in metres. I know it can seem confusing to work this way, but use the American side to identify your size and garment then trace across to the European side to work out what you need. You can also use the headings on the American side to help identify those on the European side. The other thing to bear in mind when using these yardage requirements is that they tend to over estimate. This is due to the pattern piece layout. Often you can use the layout to determine how much less or more you can get away with. I often advise customers who want to buy more fabric just in case to do so logically. Often taking an extra half metre will not be enough to cover mistakes due to the length of the pattern pieces. Look at the layout to work out how best to go about this.
Blue Section - Notions
This section simply states the extras you need to make the pattern, zips, threads, buttons etc. Again with this section, the recommended sizes can be adjusted, buttons don't have to be a certain width as you're making your own button holes, as long as you don't use massive buttons on shirt front, or small buttons on a coat, you're good to go! The same applies to zips, if you can only get longer zips (as is sometimes the case with invisible zips) all you do is make the channel longer or keep it the same size and cut it to length and stitch over the teeth.
Red Section - Recommended Fabrics
Now the fun part. The fabrics suggested by the pattern companies are those that are used to make the garment on the cover. Some times this scares people as they are expensive or we're unable to get them. My advice is to use these suggestions to determine weight, drape and type of fabric. If a pattern suggests chiffon, there's no reason why you can't use a georgette or light crepe. If it suggests cotton, there's no reason to not use a synthetic. If it suggests duchess satin, something with body is all that's necessary. It takes time to get used to this idea, but eventually you'll be able to make these replacements without thinking. This also stands for interfacing. Some Vogue patterns require 'fancy' interfacings. This is only so they can refer to these patterns as advanced or couture, so regular interfacings can be used with care
I often suggest buying a pattern, studying it (and doing some research online) and then coming back to the fabric shop to get fabric. This will make you better placed to make the right judgement on both the fabric and how much of it you need before spending your money. This can often make the difference between a good make and a great make!