What Sewing Pattern Symbols Mean: Breaking it Down for Beginners


Have you ever glanced at a pattern and noticed all of the pattern markings involved, then put it down because it looked overwhelming. Every pattern comes with a series of dots, lines, and other symbols, regardless if it is a purchased pattern envelope or a downloadable PDF pattern. But what are they for, and what exactly do they mean? Below you will find a list of what common beginner sewing pattern symbols mean.

As confusing as they may seem for a beginner, these symbols are there to help you in altering your pattern and to guide you so you know where to join your cut out fabric pieces and where to sew.  Although they may seem confusing and look like a new language to decode at first, the good news is that these symbols are generic in all paper patterns. Phew!

Here are a few of the common sewing pattern symbols and what they mean:

Cutting and Stitching

Cutting line

Patterns that come with one solid cutting line do not need to be sized. They will be a one size fits all pattern. Cut along the solid line to get your pattern pieces.  You can then transfer them onto your fabric by following the pattern instructions on how to lay it out.

Multi-size cutting line

Some patterns will come with various sizing options that have a series of different line patterns for cutting. If your pattern has this, you will need to find the guide/key to match your sizing measurements up with the cut line that is best suited for your size. Once you determine your line pattern, you can cut your pattern accordingly.


This is referring to the weave of the fabric: which direction the threads are running. The straight grain, or lengthwise grain, are the threads going parallel to the selvedge of the fabric – the uncut edges that are bound so that they do not unravel. Think of it like this… when fabric is cut at a shop, it is cut on the crossgrain.

Place to fold line

This symbol is telling you to place your pattern piece on the folded edge of the fabric, making sure the selvages are even on the other side.

 Alteration lines

Seamline or stitching line

Seam Allowance

In this marking, the solid line is the outer edge of your fabric, the dashed line is the guide for your stitching and seam allowance.

Button Markings


If you see this symbol or marking on your pattern, you may way to practice your buttonholes on your sewing machine first. Practicing on a scrap piece of fabric to test your stitch length and width so you know if you have to make any adjustments.

Combined Button and Buttonhole

Typically the button is marked as an X on the pattern.  You may also find that some patterns use an actual button symbol as well.

Button Position

To represent button placement on a pattern, you will find an X, or in some instances, you may also find an actual image of a button instead.

Other Pattern Markings

Zipper Placement

If you are a beginner and have not tried a zipper yet, practice before you attempt it on your project. Amazon sells zippers in multi-packs, and they are not bad to always have handy in your sewing room.

Markings that Need to be Transferred to Fabric

Squares and dots are used to determine where to start and stop sewing. The triangles indicate where to connect your fabric pieces.


Notches are used to show you where your pieces should line up when you are joining them.

More on Patterns for Beginners...

Joan Mantini

About Joan Mantini

After several years of being the Facebook page owner at Beginner Sewing, I noticed there was a desperate need to have a single go-to spot for members to be able to find answers to their common questions, get some useful tips & tricks, as well as find reputable places to purchase sewing products online. Taking my role as a trade publication editor by day, and combining it with my knowledge of frequently requested beginner sewing advice, I created www.beginner-sewing.com. An outlet that gives new sewists a free digital magazine geared for entry level sewing as an extra bonus!

One Comment

  • Glory says:

    I am a re-restarter. You are helping me to remember things from decades ago and learn new techniques, fabrics and make sewing fun again.

    Thank you,


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