Demystifying Pattern Markings - What Do They Mean?

Sometimes patterns and pattern markings can be confusing. So I thought it would be helpful to put together a glossary of terms for you to use as a reference point as and when you need it.

Buttonhole Position

This has been carefully worked out by the pattern designer and should be followed.

On a woman’s garment which is fastened at the front the buttonholes are placed on the right hand side and, on the back of the garment, they are positioned on the left hand side.

The 3 main key placement points for a buttonhole are the neck, the fullest part of the bust and the waist. Additional buttonholes are then spaced evenly between these points. The buttonhole must be positioned on the garment you are making in relation to the button placement line which, in turn, is placed according to the centre line of the garment. The pattern will tell you to mark the button placement line on both halves of the garment in order for the central lines of the garment to match when your garment is closed.

There are 2 buttonhole positions: the Vertical buttonhole and the Horizontal buttonhole.

  • The vertical buttonhole – is often used with a narrow placket where there is not much space such as a shirt or blouse band or where there are a lot of small buttons closing the garment.

  • The horizontal buttonhole – is used on most garments and is the most secure.

It sounds more complicated than it is and if you follow the pattern markings all the hard work is done for you and your garment will match when closed!

Figure 1: Button Positioning on blouse

Circles/ squares/solid triangles

These are markings to be transferred from the pattern pieces to the fabric for matching or to indicate detail.

Figure 2: Circle markings on a dressmaking pattern

You can mark these on to your fabric either by transferring the mark with chalk or a fabric pen or by placing a tailor tack (see the short video below on how to make a tailor tack).

Cutting Line

Solid line on pattern piece used as a guide for cutting out fabric –many patterns today have more than one size printed on the pattern paper. Each size is clearly marked and the cutting lines are indicated often using a different colour or type of line for each size.

Figure 3: Different cutting lines on a dressmaking pattern marking the shoulder and underarm

Top Tip: highlight with a highlighter pen the line you are going to be cutting on all your pattern pieces before you trace or cut your pattern, it might add 5 minutes to your garment making but will save you time and money if you make a mistake!

Darts Darts are folds of fabric stitched to a point, used to give shape and fit to a garment. Next to seams darts are the most basic structural elements in dressmaking. They are denoted on a pattern as broken lines (stitching lines) that meet at a solid point. All darts must be first transferred from your pattern piece to your material using your preferred method of marking, then you will need to pin and tack the dart carefully before accurately machine stitching it in place. Darts normally fall into 3 categories:

  • Plain Darts – These are often found at the waistline of skirt or trousers or at the bust on a top. They can also be found at the elbow and shoulder.

  • Contour Dart – Is normally a long diamond shape dart that fits at the waistline and then tapers off to fit both the bust and hip a the front of a dress or the back and hip on the back of the dress.

  • French Dart – Extends diagonally from the side seam in the hip area to the bust, it can be found on the front of tops and dresses. This dart can either be straight or slightly curved to achieve garment fit.

Figure 4 : Plain Dart on a skirt
Figure 5: Contour Dart on dress
Figure 6: Curved dart


This is a straight line with arrow heads at either end, it means place pattern piece lengthwise on grain of fabric. If you did not place your pattern on the grainline your garment would turn out twisted or mis-shapen.

Figure 7: Grainline on Zip Facing


This line tells you the recommended finish edge of your garment, if there is no line then there will be an instruction at the bottom of the pattern eg turn up a 1.5cm hem.

Figure 8: Hemline instructions

“Lengthen or shorten here” lines

This is denoted on the pattern as a double line and it is used to specify the exact place to lengthen or shorten the garment to suit your measurements. It is important to adjust the length of your garment where it states in order to create a well fitting balanced garment. If you were to lengthen or shorten your garment in a different place of your choice you will lose the intended shape of your garment, especially if you are having to add or take a couple of inches off your garment.

Figure 9: Lengthen and shorten lines on a dressmaking pattern