Instant gratification Part 2: Using PDF sewing patterns

Using PDF sewing patterns topper

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)

OR

– 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)

using PDF sewing patterns blog print size2. Assemble your PDF sewing pattern

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.

Using PDF sewing patterns plan

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

Using PDF sewing patterns align

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.

Using PDF sewing patterns guillotine

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

Sticking together rows using PDF sewing patterns

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…)

Using PDF sewing patterns box

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.

Using PDF sewing patterns hanging

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!)

…and finally

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!

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8 Responses to Instant gratification Part 2: Using PDF sewing patterns

  1. Sarah Skinner

    Thanks, Alice for your excellent overview. I would, however, be wary of printing from a tablet or smartphone as I have heard of horror stories. I can’t remember which pattern company was involved, but I know some now do say don’t print from a tablet.
    Local copy shops can be expensive…
    I have used on line printing services ( I know this slightly defeats the object of instant gratification ) but you still get the nice thick paper and is still helpful if you like a regular pattern when that option is not obtainable from some companies ( e.g. Style Arc, Tesutti ). Printyourpattern.com is run by someone who sews so knows what to look out for ( e.g continuous roll printing ) which some on line printing services don’t offer ( which I have found out the hard way ).

    September 15, 2017 at 6:14 pm
    • ClothSpot

      Thank you for the print warning, Sarah – I’m updating the blog to reflect that. It’s an object lesson in assuming that ‘if it works for me then it will for everyone else’ – clearly not the case!! And I didn’t know about printyourpattern.com – I see someone spotted that hole in the market 😉

      September 20, 2017 at 9:59 am
  2. Sarah Skinner

    Oh, and I would add a highlighter pen to the list of equipment to highlight the lines /size you wish to cut. The dots/ dashes all look the same after a while…
    A teenage boy is useful too – they seem to like the challenge….
    Maybe I could hire mine out 🤔

    September 15, 2017 at 6:18 pm
    • ClothSpot

      Highlighter pen – great idea – following those lines can be a nightmare. Ha ha – nice try with the teenage boy hire-out but not so fast *grins knowingly*… but I think I’m happy to play at Blue Peter for now!

      September 20, 2017 at 10:04 am
  3. Marion George

    I, too, remember the joy of the fabric shop and the pattern books. Now that I live in France fabric shops are few and far between, at least where I live, so I really do have to rely on the internet for most of my sewing needs. I haven’t used so many PDF patterns but I have been pretty satistified with the results I have had. Interestingly, I see that there are more and more of these patterns available and also the range of independent pattern companies. Have you any thoughts on the ease of use any of these particular patterns? Maybe for the future a review of the independents would be interesting. You did such a fab job on the V&A exhibition.

    By the way, I find rolls of Swedish Tracing paper invaluable, if anyone hasn’t already found it, and want to trace off a pattern and it saves having lots of bits that have to be stuck together.

    September 16, 2017 at 8:09 am
    • ClothSpot

      Good to hear that the PDF patterns have been working for you in France, Marion – I do think they come into their own when you live off the beaten track. I do have thoughts on the different patterns that I’ve used (and drop these into individual blogs where it seems relevant – e.g. the Zen-like instructions that come with BurdaStyle patterns 😉 but I suspect I’m way behind others in terms of the range I have used. For that reason I would hesitate to put myself forward with a review as such, however Fiona at Diary of a Chainstitcher has a very comprehensive list at https://chainstitcher.blogspot.co.uk/p/indie-pattern-designers.html – which she updates regularly. Thank you for the tracing paper roll suggestion – I’ll add that to the list!

      September 20, 2017 at 10:10 am
  4. This is so helpful! Thank you so much for such a helpful couple of posts.

    September 22, 2017 at 4:44 pm
    • ClothSpot

      So pleased they’re helpful, Anna – thank you for letting us know – it’s very kind of you!

      September 25, 2017 at 10:36 am

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