This post is gonna be all about how to use PDF sewing patterns.
PDF sewing patterns are great for so many reasons, but like all pattern formats, they come with some quirks we gotta get over.
The biggest frustration to PDF sewing patterns is easily the printing and assembly issue. Beyond that, raise your hand if you’ve bought a PDF pattern only to lose it. [waves hand in air wildly, shamefaced]
Here are my best tips for printing PDF patterns. After that, we’ll talk about THE fastest way to assemble your patterns. Plus, I’ll give you some thoughts on storing your PDF sewing patterns both physically and digitally.
Begin the PDF sewing pattern love!
PDF sewing patterns: what are they and why should I bother?
What is a PDF sewing pattern?
A PDF sewing pattern is a sewing pattern that’s been formatted to print either at home or at a copy shop. You might see PDF patterns also called digital patterns. It’s an alternative format to more traditional sewing patterns printed on tissue or magazine patterns.
The pattern is created, then broken down so that it can print on home printers. The user buys the pattern, prints it at home and reassembles the pieces like a puzzle. Nowadays, a huge percentage of PDF pattern designers also offer copy shop formats for their patterns. This is a way for people to get the pattern printed without all the assembly.
Benefits of PDF sewing patterns
Onto the good! PDF patterns offer a lot of benefits both to the home sewist and the pattern designer.
Benefits of PDF sewing patterns for the designer
For the pattern designer, it can be a way to get a pattern out into the world with less monetary investment. Big printers cost $$$$$$ and shipping patterns comes with some challenges. Being able to send a pattern digitally and have the person on the other end still get a great pattern is a great thing for a pattern designer who might be just getting started in business.
Benefits for the home sewist
There’s also a lot of good in PDF patterns for the home sewist. There’s so many indie pattern companies out there! Think of a really specific need like running activewear and you can find a PDF pattern company for that. Indie pattern companies have done such an awesome job addressing special fitting needs like cup sizes and extended size ranges.
Big pattern companies don’t always have the luxury of being able to specialize their patterns to that level. Diary of a Chain Stitcher has a fantastic comprehensive list of indie pattern companies. Here’s a few really good ones.
- Itch to Stitch: Beautiful modern patterns with a lot of fantastic must make it details. So many gorgeous dresses here!
- True Bias: Streamlined minimalist patterns with elegant clean lines. I could seriously write a love letter to Hudson Pants!
- Hey June Handmade: sporty basics with fun details. I love that they have patterns for juniors.
- Cashmerette: a favorite company for curvy sewists.
- Patterns for Pirates: great everyday patterns for the whole family.
The biggest benefit to PDF sewing patterns is convenience. Since becoming a Mom, my fabric store trips are more complicated. I can’t tell you how many times I planned to get an envelope pattern only to miss out. But with PDF patterns, it can be O’dark thirty and I can print out a shiny new pattern. Also, how great is it to be able to buy a pattern from the other side of the world without shipping costs! PDF patterns = instant gratification!
On to those tips for making printing PDF patterns a little less painful.
How to use PDF sewing patterns: awesome tips for how to print patterns
When we’re talking how to use PDF sewing patterns, printing is hurdle #1.
My goal when I’m about to use a PDF pattern is to minimize paper and ink use at all costs. Here’s how to do that.
Check the pattern layout
In the instructions for any PDF pattern, you’ll find a pattern layout. It will look like a mini version of what your pattern will look like when it’s all assembled. Go through it and figure out what you actually need.
In many cases, you won’t have to print a couple or a lot of pages. Let’s say you’re working on a dress with multiple lengths. You don’t need to print all the pieces for the maxi length if you’re going for the shorter knee option. Once in a while I’ll find a PDF that ends up with a blank page in the layout. Skip that guy!
Utilize pattern layers and save that ink
Once upon a time when PDF patterns only had the option of printing ALL the sizes at one time. None of us are 20 sizes, so that’s a lot of wasted ink. For example, here’s my Drawstring Backpack pattern. It only has one layer, but on a multisize pattern, you’d see many layers where I circled below.
Now when you go to print on a multisize PDF pattern, you only need to click on the eye for the size(s) that you really need. For instance, my boys are 3 different sizes. I can easily print out one copy of Mini Hudson Pants, picking their individual sizes. After that, I’ll typically trace what I need.
Check the scale
It’s really important that you print your PDF pattern at 100% scale. Never ever pick “scale to fit” when you go to print. That’ll mean that the pattern will end up printing smaller than intended. Nobody needs that!
To double check the scale, most PDF patterns have 1 page somewhere near the beginning of the pattern pages with a little square. Print that page out and check the specified dimensions with a ruler. A 1″ square needs to measure 1″. If for some reason it doesn’t, check your printer settings, and try again.
Draft not best quality
Save on ink by printing on the lowest quality. Go into the printer preferences and choose “draft” or whatever it’s called for your printer. It’ll still be fine for your pattern, and you’ll get more patterns out of that cartridge.
Printing PDF patterns at home vs. the copy shop
Copy shop formatted PDF patterns have been growing in popularity the past few years. It’s a super convenient way to get a PDF pattern that you don’t to put together yourself.
The downside of copy shop formats is that you’re extra paying for the convenience, and it’s a little less instant gratification. The best place I’ve found to date is PDF Plotting. Their prices are extremely reasonable, and if you have several PDF patterns that need printing, you can save on the shipping. Another option is Patternreview’s copy shop printing options. If you’re already buying a digital sewing pattern there, you can have it printed for a little extra.
Yes you’ll have to wait for shipping, but if you don’t like putting together PDF patterns, copy shop is where it’s at. Save copy shop formats for big PDF files with paper hogging pieces like circle skirts. They’re also great for patterns with lots of pieces like coats and jackets.
How to use PDF sewing patterns: THE fastest way to assemble PDF sewing patterns
Assuming you print your PDF patterns at home, what I’m about to share will save you SO MUCH TIME.
Trimming the edges of the pages so that the pieces overlap all clean is neat. The pattern pieces are all spiffy looking and more like a traditional pattern. That being said, trimming pages takes time–time that you could be cutting that pattern out and actually sewing.
Skip the trimming and use a window. The window will act like a lightbox. Simply overlap your pieces per the markings on the pattern. You don’t need to tape every last inch of your pattern together. Tape only in the places where the pattern pieces actually are. Also take extra care where pieces of paper meet.
Use the biggest window in your house, but if you don’t have a big window, don’t fret. You can also use a sliding glass door or maybe even a shower door! The idea is to use a large vertical surface that light can pass through. You’ll see all the places where the pattern pieces come together, and you’ll save your back.
Here’s a video of me doing this so you can see the process.
How to store PDF sewing patterns
Storing your printed PDF sewing patterns
The biggest difference between envelope patterns and PDF sewing patterns is the paper. Printer paper is thick and not so foldable.
That being said, I’ve never had a problem with storing my PDF patterns.
Simply fold up used pattern pieces in several places and store them in a manila envelope.
Another option is to trace your pattern pieces. Tracing patterns onto something like this soil separator cloth from Home Depot will minimize the bulk of a pattern.
Store unused copy shop patterns in a little basket. Here are some more ideas for decluttering your sewing pattern storage.
How to store your patterns
Killer organization ideas for all the sewing patterns in your life
Keeping track of your PDF sewing patterns digitally
True: I am REALLY slow at getting to patterns. It can be years before I go to actually cut out a pattern. As such, I’ve forgotten and lost files of patterns I’ve bought multiple times.
Don’t be like me! Set up a file on your computer that’s just for PDF patterns. When you buy a new PDF pattern, download it immediately and put it in that folder. You can save some disk space and store your patterns with a cloud storage service like Dropbox.
Either way, if you store your digital sewing patterns like this, you’ll never lose a pattern again!
How about you? Are you a PDF pattern lover? With these tips for how to use PDF sewing patterns you’ll be armed to give them a try!
Check out more pattern tips here.
How to read a sewing pattern
Key places to pay attention and help your sewing process and skip the frustration
Tips for working with pattern magazines
Team Trace FOREVER! Why you should give magazine patterns a try.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.