If you’ve never used a downloadable sewing pattern before, then we hope that Part 2 of our blog: ‘Using PDF sewing patterns’ will encourage you to take the plunge! Apologies to those of you who are well-versed in all of this – but if that’s the case please do share your top tips!
What exactly are PDF sewing patterns?
A PDF sewing pattern is a pattern that you can download onto your computer and print out. It will often come in two downloadable files; one containing the actual pattern; the other with the instructions and sizing guidance etc.
The ‘PDF’ stands for ‘Portable Document Format’, which is the type of file that you download. A PDF file always displays and prints out in exactly the same way, regardless of the kind of computer you have or what software you use. Your computer, tablet or phone will probably be able to display a PDF using in-built software or your web browser (e.g. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Windows Explorer).
If your device can’t handle a PDF file then don’t panic! All you’ll need to do is download free software called ‘Adobe Acrobat Reader’. Your computer probably has it already – if not then you’ll find it here.
How do you buy a PDF sewing pattern?
Couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is complete your purchase online just as you would for anything else (you already buy your fabric online, right?) Then, instead of the usual email telling you that your purchase will be packed and despatched, you get an email which either…
– contains your PDF pattern file(s) as attachments (scroll down when your email arrives – they’ll likely be at the bottom)
– contains a link for you to click on to download your pattern file(s)
Once you have your file, you just double-click or tap on it to display the pattern and instructions.
Producing your PDF sewing pattern
This is the bit that irritates non-PDF sewing pattern aficionados since it can take a good 20 minutes or so to put your pattern together. At this point I usually remind myself of all the advantages – and that even a paper pattern needs trimming, tracing and cutting. If you have a local print shop they will print your file off for you – and if you’re really irked then by all means give them a call. I promise you can get quite nippy at putting PDF sewing patterns together once you have the routine down.
1. Print your PDF sewing pattern
First off, you need to print your pattern. The pattern pieces will be laid out on a single large sheet, however since your printer will probably take A4 paper as standard, your pattern sheet has to be constructed using multiple ’tiles’ of A4 paper. Typically the pattern sheet might comprise anything from 20 – 30 pages or more – so this is a good opportunity to use that pile of half-used A4 paper you have hanging around.
TIP: It’s worth investing in a black and white laser printer – far cheaper to run and much quicker than inkjets which tend to be slow, with expensive refills.
WARNING! Some phones and tablets may print your PDF file without a problem but it’s worth checking and testing as others may not. If in doubt, then us a laptop or desktop computer.
WARNING! Whatever you do – make sure you print your PDF file off at full size. There’s always a 10cm square printed on one page – if in doubt then measure this square to make sure you printed the pattern correctly. Your PDF display or your print options both have the capacity to reduce/increase your printing scale – and it’s easy to overlook that (I speak from experience)
Next comes your chance to release your inner Valerie Singleton – since your next job is to stick those A4 ’tiles’ together to create your pattern sheet. You’ll usually find an assembly plan for your pattern pages as part of the instructions.
To help you, each A4 page will usually have a letter and number to indicate how they fit together – Row A, tiles 1,2,3… Row B, tiles 1,2,3… and so on.
Along each edge of each page will be a mark to help you align that page with the adjoining ones
Sometimes you’ll need to trim the edges of the A4 sheets in order to line it up with the next one.
TIP! I always used long-bladed wallpaper scissors for this – they’re very cheap and make quick work.
EVEN BETTER TIP! Thanks to the Fold Line for this one – if you’re a regular PDF sewing pattern user, consider investing in a paper guillotine for trimming your pages – it makes the job even quicker.
It’s then just a case of sticking your paper together, matching alignment marks, letters and numbers.
TIP! Thanks again to the Fold Line for this one – use a stick of glue rather than sticky tape – it’s quicker and allows you to reposition pages if required.
I’m lucky enough to have the ClothSpot cutting table for assembling PDF patterns – but whatever surface you use to cut your fabric is perfect. Here are some ideas and here are some more – from fold-down surfaces to a trestle table kept under your bed!
TIP! It’s easiest to stick together one row of pages at a time, then stick the rows together
3. Trace and cut your PDF sewing pattern
You’ll find that different publishers present their PDF sewing patterns in a variety of ways; here are some examples:
BurdaStyle offer a single sheet containing all the different sizes. Each pattern piece is laid out separately meaning that you can cut your pattern direct from your pattern sheet rather than tracing it off.
StyleArc provide each size on a single sheet. You select the size you want when you purchase your pattern – but they also send you two additional sizes in separate files – one size up and one size down from the the one you selected. Again, you can then cut your pattern pieces straight from the pattern sheet if you like.
Named Clothing provide all the sizes on one sheet – but the different pattern pieces are overlaid on the sheet using different line patterns to distinguish between them. You’ll need to trace these off and cut them from your tracing paper.
Of course you may prefer to trace all your pattern pieces anyway – especially if you’re doing alterations. However the advantage of cutting straight from the A4 sheets where possible is that your pattern pieces will be more durable.
TIP! We agree with Marion that it’s worth investing in a roll of tracing paper if you’re adapting any pattern or using PDF patterns regularly.
TIP! Where pattern shapes are overlaid, Sarah suggests it’s a good idea to use a highlighter pen to mark out the one you want to trace.
4. Store your PDF sewing patterns
With no handy envelope in which to refold your patter, you’ll need to improvise. I have two storage system:
I like to use transparent A4 pockets, into which I fold the pattern pieces. I insert the pattern instructions at the front, so I can see what the design is. The added advantage here is that I can fold my final toile into the pocket too! My folders live in a handy white box from Ikea (naturally…)
For pattern pieces that I use regularly, I have a stash of bulldog clips which I hang from hooks on a coat rack. Another option is to use trouser hangers with clips – they can then which can be hung on a clothesrail.
5. Quick checklist
Here’s a final reminder of what you’ll need to get under way with using PDF sewing patterns. Nothing resembling rocket science equipment we think you’ll agree – a whole world of creativity will soon be your lobster!
– Computer (a tablet or smartphone may work but test first!)
– Printer & A4 paper
– Wallpaper scissors or guillotine
– Sticky tape or gluestick
– Tracing paper (a roll of Swedish Tracing Paper would be good – we use rolls of pattern tracing paper from Morplan
– Pen/pencil, highlighter pen & ruler
– 20 – 30 minutes of your time (and just a smidgeon of patience!)
Please do let us know if you have any handy hints for using PDF patterns – we’d love to know! Likewise if you have any questions then post those too – if we don’t know the answer then we surely know someone who will!