Everything you need to know about PDF Sewing Patterns
What are they and how to use them
Blog updated November 2022 - Original post from December 2020
I’m sure most of you lovely readers will have at least heard of PDF sewing patterns before, but if you have never used one, don’t really understand what they are all about or are a bit sceptical about using them then I’m sure this blog and video will help you!
I’ve broken things down into smaller chunks to make it easier to follow so feel free to jump to the section you are most interested in!
You can hear me chat all about them in my latest Youtube video or read on for more info!
Updated video tutorial on how to use our A0 Pattern printing service
What are PDF sewing patterns?
They are electronic files in a pdf format of a sewing pattern that can either be printed at home or printed using a copy shop or pattern printing service like the one we have here at g&g! It means you can order your fabric, notions and pattern to be printed all at once!
As technology has advanced over the past decade, PDF sewing patterns have increased in popularity and become much more readily available. So now, many pattern companies release the PDF version of their patterns alongside the traditional packaged and printed sewing pattern. There are also lots of companies who only offer their sewing patterns as PDFs. Or it might be split, so for example, different size ranges may only be available in PDF format.
What are the advantages?
You have access to a much wider range of patterns compared to what is available in the traditional printed sewing pattern format.
You can start instantly if you have a printer at home - you just have to stick together your single sheets of paper to get the full size pattern.
As you own your own copy of the file you can print it out again should you misplace the pattern, or want to make a different size, or loose one of the pieces.
A lot of people find them especially useful for kids patterns as it's likely you’ll use several sizes of the pattern over the year.
Despite the cost of the pattern and then the cost of getting it printed the first time likely totalling more than buying the traditional printed pattern, the fact you can print it out again and again if you need to makes it better value in the long run.
If you are short on time, you can skip the tracing stage and just cut out the PDF print out. Worst case if you need to use a different size in the future you could just get it printed again.
For patterns that have multiple variations and options, having the pdf means that you only need to print the section relevant to the version you are making, so it saves paper and storage. You will still have the electronic PDF files if you do need to print another version in the future, but in the mean time you don't have to store that physical copy.
You can also view the instruction booklet on a tablet/device or computer so it saves paper, rather than having it printed out.
Where to get PDF sewing patterns?
There are so many companies, too many to list here really (maybe that’s another blog post!).
Getting them directly from the pattern companies website is the most common way. You can usually select to browse what PDF patterns they offer separately from printed patterns.
There are some companies that also sell their PDF’s through other websites or on Etsy for example.
Here at g&g we sell PDF patterns from Jennifer Lauren Handmade, Friday Pattern Company and Named Clothing. You can visit the PDF sewing pattern section and see all of the ones we offer. You can either opt to just purchase the PDF files, which are then emailed to you with your order confirmation, or you can opt to purchase the PDF files and have us print them. In this instance, you don’t need to upload any files as you have purchased them from us anyway.
This makes it easier to order your project all in one place, you can get your PDF files, order it to be printed and get your fabric and notions all in the same order.
How do they work?
So when you purchase a PDF pattern, you typically get access to download the files immediately, or they are emailed to you immediately so it means you can get working on your project right away!
Once the files are downloaded, its best to save them in a safe place in your computer or device so they are easy to find later. I have a sewing pattern downloads folder on my computer where I put all of my PDF’s and you could then organise that by having sub folders or pattern company, or garment type for example, whatever works for you.
The files that you receive will typically include:
an instruction booklet that would be the same as what you would receive with a traditional printed paper pattern. You can print this out at home if you have a printer or view it on your device (phone, tablet etc).
You will get an A0 or copy shop file which is a full size version of the pattern that can be printed on a large printer that you will find at a copy shop/print shop or you can send the file off to a company who can print it for you.
You will also get an A4 (and sometimes a US letter) version of the pattern which you can print at home on your own printer. This will be in a tiled format which means you then have to stick all the papers together like a jigsaw to get the full size pattern.
Options for sticking your A4 PDF pattern together
When you print the pattern at home on your regular printer - you need to print at 100% scale and make sure the right paper size is selected. Then check the calibration square to make sure its printed at the right size.
Some sewing pattern companies tell you what pages are needed to be printed for the version you are making, which is really useful and can save on paper.
Most patterns printed on single sheets will have an empty border all the way around the edge that can vary in width. You might notice a little mark or notch to tell you where to line the pages up. Some patterns come with a print layout guide as well like this one here. It tells you the order that the pages stick together in.
There are different ways to put the single sheets together to make up your full size pattern.
I personally prefer to trim the bottom and right hand side of all the sheets.
I then use a glue stick to overlap them and stick them together, or you could tape them together. I will stick together a whole row of sheets overlapping the pages. Then I’ll stick the next row together, then stick those two rows together.
If you are finding that the lines don’t match up exactly, then it could be that there was a slight discrepancy when you were cutting the pages down. If its only a really small amount I wouldn’t worry about it its unlikely to make a different to your finished garment. If its a more fitted garment or its bugging you too much then I'd recommend just getting it printed in A0 format.
How to get your A0 files printed here at g&g
We started offering a pdf printing service back in July 2020 when we invested in our own A0 printer. The printer lives in the studio above the shop and prints patterns full scale from large rolls of paper that get cut automatically into sheets.
You can order your files to be printed on our website by viewing the sewing pattern printing service product and selecting the number of pages that are in your file to be printed. Most patterns just have 1 or 2 A0 pages but if it's a garment with a lot of pieces, like a coat for example, then it can be more pages.
You will then be prompted to upload your files at the checkout page. The website will allow you to upload one file per pattern printing product. So for example, if your pattern has 2 pages but each page is a separate pdf file, then you’ll only be able to upload one of the pages. You can then either email us the second page or create a zip file to combine the files into one.
We will then print it out for you, check that the scale is correct, fold it up neatly and send it out to you.
We can also print the instruction booklet for you as well if you like to have a paper copy but don’t have a printer at home. There is a pattern printing product that you can add to your basket online, and upload the instruction booklet in the same way at the checkout.
How to use a printed out PDF pattern?
Some of you might be thinking, once it's printed out, either at home or on a large scale printer, how do you then use that pattern to cut out your fabric if its on thicker paper than traditional fine tissue paper?
There are a few options to consider and a lot of it comes to personal preference
Cutting out your size and pinning straight onto fabric
Given you own the PDF files and can have them re-printed, you may want to go straight ahead and cut into your print out, cutting out your preferred size.
You can then easily pin through it straight onto your fabric and cut out as normal around the edges. This is by far the quickest method.
If your fabric is very fine or slippery you could use the cut, print out of the pattern with pattern weights and a rotary cutter on a self healing mat.
Tracing your size onto dots and cross pattern paper
You could opt to keep the print out like your master copy and trace off the size you want to make onto dots and cross pattern paper. We sell this by the half meter in two width in the shop.
This method is useful if you are making a toile or making adjustments to the pattern and want to have the original to hand should you need to remake a different size.
You can place the dots and cross paper right on top if your print our and trace over your preferred size. I usually line the dots and cross up with the grainline or fold line of the pattern pieces. Just make sure you transfer all pattern markings onto your tracing and write the size you have traced and the pattern piece it is for easy reference in the future.
If you are struggling to see the lines through the paper, you can cover your surface with a self healing mat, place the dots and cross paper down with the printed sewing pattern on top and then using a tracing wheel, trace around your size. This will leave a perforated line on the dots and cross paper that you can then cut out or draw over and cut out.
Tracing your size onto Swedish tracing paper
Swedish tracing paper is a cross between paper and a very light weight fabric. It’s easy to see through it so tracing over your master copy print out should be easy. It can also be stitched together so it great if you want to tissue fit a pattern to get an idea of size.
Again, just remember to transfer all pattern markings as well.
Using chalk/carbon paper and a tracing wheel
With a self healing mat on your surface, you can use carbon paper and a tracing wheel to directly transfer the outline of the pattern onto your fabric. I’d recommend roughly cutting around your master copy to make smaller pieces as it will be easier to work with.
You would place the fabric on top of the mat, followed by the carbon paper face down touching the fabric and then the printed pattern on top. You can then trace around the size you want to make with a tracing wheel to transfer the outline onto the fabric for cutting around.
How to store PDF patterns
I use A4 clip folders to store mine or you could use paper envelopes in a similar way. I usually put the instruction booklet at the front, or even just the first page of the instruction booklet facing out so that I can easily see what it is and then I try to store them alphabetically, but you could choose your own order for filing.
You could colour code the patterns by garment type, or fabric type (stretch vs woven) or pattern company.
A great idea to be able to get a quick visual reference guide to what PDF patterns you have is to create a Pinterest board. You could pin the image of the front of the pattern instruction booklets or even pin images of versions of the patterns made up that inspire you!