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Sewing and pattern cutting terms, annotations and symbols

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

Whether you're just getting started on your sewing and pattern cutting journey or you're a professional, it's essential that you know the correct lingo!

All the different terms can seem really confusing especially when you're watching The Great British Sewing Bee and it seems like they're using a secret language. Well, don't worry because we've broken it down for you below and you'll soon be fluent.

We've also included exactly how and where to use these terms and symbols on your patterns so you're ready to implement this in reality. We love sharing the 'where', and especially the 'why,' with you so you can get the most out of your pattern cutting journey and progress.


A-Z Glossary of pattern cutting terms & symbols

Apex: Highest point of a dart (i.e. the apex of the bust = the highest point of the bust)

Armscye: The armhole measurement

Balance Marks/ Notches: The marks around the edge of a pattern which match on two pattern pieces so you know where to match the fabric when sewing. These will usually be shown by small lines or 'V' shapes which are then snipped into the fabric for reference.

Bias: The bias is the diagonal direction of the fabric at a 45 degree angle.

Cutting the fabric can create a lovely drape to the fabric and is normally used with a cowl neck

Block Pattern/ Sloper: A base pattern/stencil normally made out of a thicker card that can be used to create new patterns from

The block patterns in the images above are quarter-scale blocks. Learn more about the different scale blocks here.

Centre Front/Centre Back: The place on a pattern piece where the centre of the body will be on the front or centre of the back. Abbreviated on patterns to CF and CB.

Dart: A fold or tuck sewn into a garment to shape the fabric to the natural shape of the body. Normally used around the bust, waist and shoulder areas. Sometimes you may want to create a more oversized garment and this is a little tutorial I made showing you how to remove a dart from your bodice pattern:

Dart manipulation: Moving darts to make them work for your sewing pattern design. There are two different methods you can use to move your dart, the pivot method or the slash method.

Design Ease: Extra space purposely added into a garment/sewing pattern to create a particular silhouette. For example, you might want to create something oversized so you'll add in design ease. Click here to watch my tutorial on how to add in design ease. This isn't to be confused with Fitting ease which is defined below

Ease In: To fit a longer piece of fabric into a shorter distance by compressing the longer piece without gathering the fabric. This is commonly done with woven fabrics around the top of the sleeve head to allow extra room for the shape of the arm.

Fitting Ease: (Also known as wearing ease) is the extra space added into a garment/sewing pattern to allow for day to day movement in your clothing. For example, sitting, walking and moving your arms around. To learn how to create clothes that fit you perfectly join my 8-week fitting course, Fitting Confidence, to create perfectly fitting clothes. Facing: A separate piece of fabric sewn on the inside of the garment, often sewn on to a main pattern piece to strengthen it and or finish the raw fabric edge. Commonly used on the neckline and armholes. Click here to learn how to draft an all in one facing.

Gathering: When a fabric is ruffled up usually using two rows of long stitches to reduce to the length of a piece of fabric to fit your other pattern piece. It is often used on a sleeve head or the cuff or just as a really nice design feature.

Gusset: An extra section of fabric which is added in between two other panels to allow more movement.

Grading: The process of turning your pattern into a larger or smaller size. For example, you may have drafted your sewing pattern from a size 12 pattern block so you would then grade this pattern if you wanted to create more sizes in it.

This is what every pattern company will do once a design has been created in one example size and is then needed in multiple sizes to sell in store

Grainline: The direction in which the horizontal threads are woven in a fabric otherwise know as the warp. The grainline can also be recognised with the selvedge edge as it is always parallel to this edge.

Hem: The bottom of a garment with a finished edge so no raw edges can be seen at all. If you'd like to understand how much hem allowance to add to your sewing patterns or to understand about different types of hems, click here to download my FREE eBook which includes a hem allowance chart for you to refer back to anytime.

Pattern Cutting/ Pattern drafting: The method of creating sewing patterns that are used to construct and sew a garment. Learn the pattern cutting process here.

Seam: The edges where two fabrics are sewn together i.e. a side seam

Seam Allowance: The amount of fabric allocated around the edge of the fabric for a pattern so it can be sewn, this is normally indicated on the pattern piece or on the instructions. Unsure how much seam allowance to add for different types of seams and where they should be used? Click here to download my FREE eBook which includes a seam allowance chart for you to refer back to anytime.

Selvedge: The edge of the fabric which has been held on the loom when the fabric was woven. Generally, this edge isn't used when you cut your pattern pieces out but it can be a good guide for you to line your selvedge up parallel to the straight grain on your pattern piece. Sewing pattern: A sewing pattern is normally made up of different pattern pieces. They are the pieces/templates that you lay on your fabric to cut around and sew together to create a garment. Learn how to start creating your own sewing patterns here.

Sloper/ Block pattern: A base pattern/stencil normally made out of a thicker card that can be used to create new patterns from

Swayback alteration: removing unwanted folds in the back of the garment/sewing pattern. A swayback is when the back curves in more than usual, often leaving excess fabric causing it to fold and not fit properly.

Tacking: Rough stitches used to hold two pieces of fabric in place before sewing them together properly. Tacking stitches are normally used with intricate designs or slippery fabrics.

Turn Through: To turn the fabric you've sewn together so it is either the right way around or the wrong way around depending on the instructions given

Toile: A prototype of a sewing pattern to test the pattern size and look. This is normally made using calico (a raw cotton fabric that is cheaper than most as it has gone through the least processes in manufacture). To learn more about toiles click here.

Top Stitch: A finishing stitch visible on the garment or project. It can be done with a slightly thicker thread

Warp: The vertical threads in a woven fabric, this is the grainline of a fabric

Weft: The horizontal threads in a woven fabric

Weight of fabric: The actual weight of a fabric per square meter usually written as grams per square meter (gsm)

Yoke: The shoulder piece of a shirt or blouse


Annotating your sewing patterns

Ok, now let's put these terms and symbols into practice... It's so important to remember to annotate your patterns. I know there have been times in the past where I haven't so I get it!

It's one of those 'ah it will be fine without it' things. But remember that time you came back to your pattern pieces with no annotations and you didn't have the foggiest what, where, how, who? Trust me, knowing how to annotate your patterns properly is going to really help you keep track, organise your patterns and come back to them at a later date knowing exactly what to do.

Annotations you should include on each pattern piece:

1. A title of what you’re making

2. The pattern piece number & number of pieces to make the garment/project. For example, 1/5 if it is pattern piece 1 and there are 5 pieces in total (you’ll thank me later when you have 20 pieces to a garment and you know which one is missing).

3. Size - if you’re making multiple sizes or it’s for a specific size. If you used a generic size block to draft your pattern it's good to note this down on your pattern.

4. Woven/stretch (so if you decide to make it again later you know what fabric to use. Using the wrong type of fabric isn’t advisable as it could create a strange fit, pull and distort)

5. Seam allowance - write the amount of seam allowance given, (e.g. '1cm Seam Allowance', this can be shortened to '1cm S.A.')

6. Hemline - write how much the hem allowance is (e.g. 1.5cm H.A.). Also, notch your hems at the side so that it’s obvious when the fabric is being sewn or folded over as this is normally different to your seam allowance.

7. The date – this then means if you adapt your patterns at a later date you'll be able to keep track of each version easily. 8. Mark the Centre Front line = CF & the Centre Back line = CB. These are useful when altering patterns as you know the position of these won’t change. 9. If you know the waist, bust, hip, elbow & hemline then mark any of these on as they can be useful for working out the length of the garment and adjusting it later.

I have created a pattern cutting checklist that tells you exactly which annotations you need to add to your sewing patterns which you can tick off as you go along. Grab your checklist here.

The following symbols should be shown on every pattern

1. The grainline - to show the direction of the fabric's threads (warp and the weft). This is always indicated by an arrow, the arrow will usually be straight but when a pattern piece is cut on the bias (diagonally to the grain) then the arrow will be diagonal.

2. Mark dart points with an ‘o’ where they end, these are then marked on the fabric with thread (which is removed later) or a pin/chalk. Use dotted lines to show where they are folded.

3. If the pattern is to be cut on the fold, mark this on the pattern. If you’re making your own pattern then make sure there’s no seam allowance where the fold of the fabric would be.

4. Use notches to show where two pattern pieces should match up. These are normally done as cuts along the edge of the pattern piece in a ‘V’ or ‘U’ shape or you can use pattern notchers. Click here to see a list of essential pattern cutting tools.


These are a Few Little Extras for Specific Design Features:

1. Pleats - Use dotted lines to show where to folds are and an arrow to show the direction of the pleat.

2. Gathers - Mark the start and finish of the gather with a wiggly line to join them, write the finished length the gathers should be (for example the fabric may be 20cm when cut but once gathered it needs to be 10cm).

3. Button Holes - Mark on buttonholes showing the placement and length with the symbol shown in my FREE eBook. The ‘I’ shape makes it clear where the hole starts and finishes.

4. Buttons & Poppers - Mark where the button/popper should be sewn on to with a cross.

5. Zips - For a zip mark where it’s going to go and write the type and length required.

6. If a different type of seam is to be used, e.g. french seam, flat-felled seam and so on, then write this on the pattern too.


All the terms and symbols may seem a little overwhelming if you're new to pattern cutting, so I've put it all together and created the perfect beginner's guide for you to refer back to. I've even included a glossary at the back too so it's super handy. Did I mention it's FREE?!

Follow me on Instagram @thesewingretreat where I share and break down lots more tips and tricks around sewing and pattern cutting.

Also, if there's a term you don't understand and I've not added it here, send me a DM or email ( and I'll explain it to you and then add it in here for everyone else too.

Happy creating,

Sarah xxx

P.S. Why not download our FREE eBook for lots more info on the terms and the basics of pattern cutting to create your own sewing patterns, click here to download now



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