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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Instant gratification Part 1: Why we love PDF sewing patterns

PDF Sewing patterns

Regular ClothSpotters will know that we like to offer sewing pattern suggestions for all our fabrics. We think it’s helpful to illustrate the kind of garment that a specific fabric could be used for; it also focuses our mind on the purpose and potential of a particular cloth. Our suggestions regularly include PDF sewing patterns as well as the more usual printed paper versions. Following questions from some of you we thought we might explain why, as well as offer some tips for using PDF sewing patterns.

Pattern anticipation

Invariably we find ourselves carried away by a potential project for every fabric that comes through the door – leading to a certain amount of excitement as deliveries arrive, photographs are taken and fabrics are described for the website

That excitement is a familiar feeling. In my case I’m standing in front of a large, hardbacked Vogue Pattern book in one of the two (imagine – two!) fabric shops in the small town where I went to school. They were a doorway into another world, confined only by imagination, skill and a suitable occasion for wearing my latest creation. In the absence of the latter, ‘wear it anyway’ became my motto as I became bolder and older. For the sad tale of what happened after that, I refer you to my Style Crisis posts – but the enchantment and excitement of leafing through those pattern books is aptly summed up by Stanley Tucci as Nigel the Art Director at the fictitious Runway magazine in the film The Devil Wears Prada.

You think this is just a magazine, Hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for – oh I don’t know – let’s say a young boy growng up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight.

Yes I know – we might all have issues with other aspects of that film – but this moment was heartfelt and a perfect illustration of the positive potential of the fashion press.

Despite my waxing lyrical about those pattern books however – there were drawbacks. Getting to the shop when it was open was always an issue, living miles out of town with a limited bus service. There was also that moment where I’d ask for the pattern number in my size and wait, breath bated, while the shopkeeper fingered through her drawer of envelopes. Sometimes I’d have a list of two or three alternatives – just in case – but on other occasions it was my chosen design or nothing.

Of course the obvious solution to that was ‘make my own pattern’ which I gradually began to do, with varying degrees of success. However where a design involved complicated construction or a new technique, that wasn’t always an option.

But then – the internet! An early adopter because of my work at the time, the potential for downloading sewing patterns as documents was an obvious opportunity for the sewing pattern industry. The excitement – just imagine – any pattern in any size at the touch of a button! My anticipation was almost unmanageable.

The reality was, however, that this vision took a long time to come to fruition, partly because this was the mid-1990s with the home sewing market  in decline as fast fashion took over the high street. However over the course of the last few years the market has taken a turn for the better and we now have a wealth of independent sewing pattern designers and publishers. As you might imagine, I couldn’t be more excited.

Why we love PDF sewing patterns

Here at ClothSpot we have a limited stock budget and what we do have, we like to spend on gorgeous fabrics rather than keeping stocks of multiple sizes of pattern design. That’s in no way a judgement on paper patterns or their stockists – far from it! We love a nice-to-handle paper envelope and we do appreciate a beautifully-produced instruction booklet.

PDF Sewing patterns

Obviously I still have a paper pattern collection!

On the stock front however, we have to cut our cloth according to our means. (Thank you! Yes, we were quite pleased with that too.) So – although we offer some patterns that can be sent direct from the distributor or publisher, we don’t currently stock physical patterns ourselves.

Like many of you, we’re located some distance from a large town – and we’re not immune to a bit of instant gratification when it comes to our sewing projects. For us then, it’s a natural inclination to turn to downloadable sewing patterns as a means of getting what we want when inspiration strikes. Frankly, PDF sewing patterns are a bit of a dream come true – and we love to share the joy, especially now there are so many to choose from. Many independent publishers increasingly offer their patterns in both formats – and the BurdaStyle site in particular has been built around its digital offering for some years now.

However we know from conversations with many customers that many of you are new to online sewing patterns – so in Part 2 of this post we’ll try and to demystify, reassure and offer some guidance on how to get started and make the most of what’s out there waiting for you.

Click through to Part 2!

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Quick fabric cutting tip: get a lot from a little!

We thought we’d share a quick fabric cutting tip that we often find ourselves recommending to customers. We’ll begin by apologising to those of you who are old hands at making the most of your remnants when it comes to fabric cutting. (You know who you are!) However we get lots of calls from customers who want to know how much fabric they need for a pattern, particularly when a fabric is an unusual width – or when we’ve posted an oddly-shaped remnant on the website!

Most patterns will give fabric cutting layouts for fabrics that are 115cm wide (aka 45″) – and again for 150cm widths (that’s 60″ in old money). What happens though, if there’s a mis-shapen (but potentially useful) remnant on offer? Or if the fabric you want to use is an odd width, such as 140cm? You’ll often find that linen and viscose fabrics in particular lie between the standard widths – and obviously the pattern publishers can’t cater for every eventuality.

You could of course use the amount given for a 115cm fabric – however if you do, then you’re probably going to have lots left over – and unless you’ve a use for that surplus, then that’s money you could have spent on something else (shoes, bags, more fabric – take your pick…)

We’re always very happy to advise on a project whenever we can, but when it comes to pattern cutting, even if we have the pattern in question and can see the recommended layout, there’s not a lot we can do to help. Absolutely, we know that if you can squeeze a sleeve alongside a bodice piece then that might be half a metre saved at least. However layouts can change between sizes – and never underestimate the width of a sleeve head. Before you know it, a couple of centimetres in a fabric width has become the difference between triumph and disaster.

However we’re just as keen as you are to get maximum monetary value from your sewing. That’s why we usually recommend that you get yourself a roll of sticky tape and a newspaper – in true Blue Peter Style.

Cut and stick your newspaper until you have a length that’s the width of your folded fabric and then use this as a template to represent your length of fabric. Lay out your pattern pieces to try out different fabric cutting layouts.

Fabric cutting tip

Here’s one we made earlier…

For a start  you might want to stick to the approximate layout recommended by your pattern, but as you become more expert, you can get quite cunning. However we should sound a couple of notes of caution…

DO make sure that you take note of pattern and nap directions as you position your pieces – your newspaper print might not be important but the print on your fabric might be!

DO be accurate in measuring to make sure your pieces line up with your newspaper ‘selvedge’ too – that’ll affect the angle of your pattern pieces and how they’ll fit.

It won’t take long – just 10 or 15 minutes. If you like, email or call us first and we’ll be happy to reserve your fabric while you do your calculations. Don’t forget – we’re always able to cut to any length if you place your order by telephone or email.

Do you have any other clever tricks for saving fabric or for fabric cutting? Let us know if so!

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