How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

In this article, you will learn the important rules of laying out your sewing patterns; the four most common pattern layout options; the definition of nap vs. without nap; how to tell the right side vs. wrong side; how to use the pattern guide sheet to choose the best layout; and how to prep your tissue pattern for laying out!

Yes, we’ve finally made it to the cutting table.

And on our way here, we’ve learned…

That’s a lot of good stuff!

And I hope you’re as excited as I am to finally be at the cutting table. YAY!

Since I can’t wait to sit down in front of my sewing machine and go, let’s get to it…

Layout: The Rules

Rule #1: Laying out your sewing pattern pieces actually starts when you buy your fabric. You really need to pay attention to WIDTH. Because if you don’t have enough width, you aren’t going to be happy once you’re at the cutting table.

Rule #2: It’s really nice to strive for the largest cutting surface you can. Ideally, you want a cutting surface that will allow you to walk around all four sides. But for the love of your back, not the floor. Your body won’t last and your fabric is going to pick too much dust, lint, and god knows what else.

Rule #3: Your fabric should NEVER hang over the edge of your cutting table, especially knits. Because the weight of the fabric and gravity will cause it to drag downwards, which means pinning and cutting can’t possibly be accurate. Keep reading to find out how to deal with a too-short cutting surface.

Rule #4: The straight, the “cut on fold,” and the bias grain lines are usually parallel to the selvage.

Rule #5: If you are going to line, underline, or interface your garment, you need to lay them out in the same grain direction as your fashion fabric!

Rule #6: When working with knits, you ALWAYS want the greatest amount of stretch going around your curves, not up and down!

Rule #7: Before you layout, your tissue pattern, make sure all the pieces are smooth and free of wrinkles and creases! Set your iron to DRY and the WOOL setting and iron your tissue pattern to start!

Okay, let’s start by discussing just a few of the most common pattern layouts…

Pattern Layouts

Here’s what you need to keep in mind about pattern layouts…

It’s all about the selvages and the fold.

In other words, when you’re ready to layout your pattern pieces, the question you need to ask yourself is this…

How will I fold my fabric in relation to the selvages?

And these are the five most common layout options…

Option #1 ~ The Standard Lengthwise Fold

With this option, the fabric is folded lengthwise in the middle so that the selvages are perfectly aligned with each other. It is the most common layout used.

But it might also be the most wasteful.

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Option #2 ~ The Partial Lengthwise Fold

With this option, you get a twofer: a double layer and a single layer. This can help reduce fabric waste.

One selvage is folded towards the center of the fabric. How much?! Well, it depends on the width of the bottom edge of the widest pattern piece that will be placed on it.

Using a measuring tape, measure the bottom edge of your widest pattern piece, and then fold and measure one selvage in towards the center by that amount.

It is critical that you make sure that the folded side is the same width along the entire length of the fabric. Use your measuring tape or grid ruler to measure at various points along the length of the fabric from the fold to the selvage!

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Of course, as with the partial fold, you need to make sure that both selvages are the same width as each other and along the entire length of the fabric. Use your measuring tape or grid ruler to measure at various points along the length of the fabric!

Option #3 ~ The Crosswise Fold

This is a great choice if you have pattern pieces that are very wide or if you need to use your fabric more efficiently than the standard lengthwise fold will allow.

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Simply fold the fabric so that the cut ends are aligned with each other. This means that the selvages will be opposite each other instead of lying on top of each other.

Option #4 ~ The Single Layer Layout

With this option, your fabric is placed on the cutting table unfolded, in a single layer, with the print or right side (RS) up.

But here’s the thing…

While a single layer layout is the most time-consuming layout, it will allow you to use every scintilla of your lovely and/or pricey fabric!

And it is a most excellent choice if you are cutting soft, slippery, naughty fabrics, such as knits, chiffon, or charmeuse. Or, if you are cutting pattern pieces on the bias.

Plus, it will give you greater control when using fabrics with humongous designs, so you avoid unfortunate and embarrassing design placements — for example, two large flowers (bullseye) on each butt cheeks!

In fact, this layout is a perfect example of when you might want to duplicate or expand a pattern piece.

Otherwise, any pattern piece that instructs you to cut 2, you will have to cut twice: once with the printed side up and once with the printed side down. This way you’ll end up with one left and one right pattern piece and not two rights or two lefts.

Sew easy tip: Industrial garment factories, only use the single-layer layout. Because they can stack many layers of fabric and cut them all in one go! If you want to replicate this technique, you will need to make an expanded pattern.

With Nap vs. Without Nap

Solid coloured fabrics or fabrics with tossed prints with no obvious direction are said to be “without nap.” In other words, you can point the bottom edge of the pattern pieces in either direction.

But a napped or pile fabric looks lighter in colour or shiner when you smooth it in one direction lengthwise and darker or duller when it is brushed in the opposite direction.

And you have to pay attention to what direction you lay out the bottom edge of your pattern pieces. In other words, the bottom edges of every pattern piece will need to be placed in the same direction.

Examples of napped or pile fabrics include velvet, fleece, and corduroy. These napped and pile fabrics will require that you use a “with nap” layout.

Other fabrics that also use a “with nap” layout are those with an obvious one-way design or a border. Because these pink flamingos won’t be quite as cute standing on their heads!

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Sew easy tip: A “with nap” layout requires more yardage than a “without nap” layout.

Now that you’re headed in the right direction, it’s time to get on the right or wrong side of things…

Wrong Sides Together (WST) vs. Right Sides Together (RST)

When it comes to WST vs. RST, sewists are in different camps.

But I generally like to lay out my pattern pieces with the fabric WST.

And here’s why…

It makes it easier to match large designs along seam lines for a “yes, I gave a damn about where my prints match up.”

It also makes it more efficient to mark the fabric after cutting.

And it an absolute requirement when working with napped or pile fabrics like velvet or corduroy. Because it will make cutting less annoying!

However, I can think of one benefit to laying your fabric RST. Your pattern pieces will be in the right position to be sewn.

Sew easy tip: If the fabric tries to confuse you by looking the same on both back and front, all you need to do is to choose a side to be the wrong side (WS) — and then be consistent. Make sure to mark an “X” on the WS of your fabric with chalk or use a piece of painter’s tape or, even better, pretty washi tape.

Using the Pattern Guide Sheet Layout Section

The Big 4 pattern companies –Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, and Vogue– all use standardized cutting layout instructions.

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

A white pattern piece tells you that it should be placed with the printed side up. This happens to be the default.

A shaded or dotted pattern piece tells you that the pattern piece needs to be flip and placed with the printed side down on the fabric. This way you end up with a left side pattern piece and a right side pattern piece.

Finally, if you see a pattern piece that is placed halfway on and halfway off the fabric, this just means that with the fabric folded there is simply not enough fabric to cut it out. This is usually marked with an asterisk (*) or a star.

So you need to cut out all of your other pattern pieces, unfold the fabric, place that pattern piece on a single layer, and cut it out. Once with the printed side up and a second time with the printed side down — so you get a left and a right side.

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Or, you could duplicate the pattern piece so that you don’t have to flip.

So now that you’re in the know about the most common layout options and markings, it is time to try your hand at laying out your first pattern…

How to Layout Your Sewing Pattern

First, read the pattern’s instructions completely. Pretty please.

Then, choose which view you will be sewing.

Choose your starting pattern size and cut it out with your paper scissors (I love my Fiskars Nonstick Titanium Softgrip Scissors!).

Extend the grain line along the entire length of your pattern pieces. In the image below on the right, I hope you can see the faint pencil line where I extended the grainline.

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Make sure you’ve bought the right amount of yardage for the fabric width. You don’t want to get to this point only to realize, “Oops! I don’t have enough fabric!”

Now look at the pattern guide sheet and set the required pattern pieces aside for your chosen view.

Choosing Your First Sewing Pattern

If no view is listed specifically for a pattern piece, then you will use that piece for every view.

Iron your tissue pattern pieces with a warm, dry iron. They must be totally free of wrinkles, creases, and pleats if you are to pin and cut accurately!

Inspect the fabric for creases and wrinkling. And iron them out too! It is crucial that you start with a fabric that is smooth and free of creases and wrinkles.

And if you can’t remove a crease, then you will have to start thinking about how to layout your pattern pieces around it — may be a double fold layout.

Fold your fabric on your cutting table per your chosen cutting layout.

And if it is too long, do NOT allow it to hang over the edge of your cutting table. Instead, neatly fold it up at the end of the table. You can then unfold as you need it!

How to Layout a Sewing Pattern

Next, start with the largest pattern pieces that are to be “cut on the fold.” And then, add the other large pieces. For example, if you are making a dress, this will be the skirt bottoms. Then, add the bodice pieces. Finally, you can add smaller pieces like sleeves and facings.

Also, layout all of your pattern pieces as close together as you can without committing to pinning them. Because you want to make absolutely certain that you have enough yardage.

And there’s one thing that you must make absolutely certain of…

That the grain lines on all pattern pieces are parallel to the selvages. This is key to a finished garment that is both good looking and wonderful to wear!

Remember: If a pattern piece says “Cut 1,” it is important that you place the fabric and the pattern piece RS up on a single layer of fabric!

Finally, whatever you do, don’t place any pattern pieces on the selvages. Because selvages are so tightly wound, they don’t have any give. And this can result in puckering in the finished garment.

Guess what?!

If you’re satisfied with how everything is laid out, then you’re pattern pieces are now ready to be pinned to the fabric!

The End

This article has covered the least you need to know about sewing pattern layouts:

  • You have the rules for successful layouts;
  • You know some of the most common sewing pattern layouts;
  • You can tell which fabrics are with nap or without nap;
  • You can tell the wrong side (WS) from the right side (RS); and
  • You understand how to use sewing pattern layout instructions.

So you’re now ready to pin your sewing patterns so that you can get to cutting and marking.

Yay! We’re getting closer and closer to sitting in front of our sewing machine to sew, sew, sew!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click HERE if you’re ready to unleash your dressmaking superpowers and learn how to sew a simple dress! Warning: This is a MEGA 5-part series!