25. Dear Gabby: Print at Home PDF Patterns: Community Feedback!

Since the start of quarantine, I’ve been sewing for myself at home so much more—a lot of masks, of course, but it’s been a saving grace as a diversionary tactic. I sewed for myself through college, and I made my own wedding dress, but overall it has been a long time since I’ve done this much sewing from other people’s patterns. When you work in the garment industry, sometimes the very last thing you want to do when you get home is sew, if you’ve spent all day working on making clothes! 😂

Print-at-home PDF patterns are a fairly new frontier for me, comparatively, as I’m used to tissue paper patterns or simply drafting my own. I’ve used pattern making software and printed my own patterns, but always on a professional plotter. I’d never even considered the idea that you could simply tile a pdf and print it on a home printer, before a few years ago. My mind, when I discovered this, was blown.

As I started exploring this brave new world, I kept bumping into things I wished were different. Things that I would change. Things that were totally annoying. Things that were very cool! Considering that this is essentially an unregulated playground of unbelievable potential, I am so puzzled as to why most pdf patterns are treated merely as extensions of a printed paper pattern. There are SO. MANY. MORE. INTERESTING. THINGS. THAT. CAN. BE. DONE!

I know there’s no way I’m the only person who “has thoughts”, and I wanted to solicit some feedback from the community. A reverse Dear Gabby, if you will. What follows is a list of ideas, general woes, rants, and thoughtful input regarding print-at-home pdf files from readers, with my endless thanks for the generosity of everyone who took the time to share with me and with you.

  • Patterns with multiple style views: Why not provide separate files for the different style views offered in a pattern? There are arguably a bazillion files in a pattern zip, so why not break them down into views? There’s nothing I dislike more than having to print a dress, if I’m only making a top, because a sleeve piece overlaps at the bottom of the skirt hem piece on the pattern layout. I wholeheartedly appreciate when a company lists what pages to print for a certain view, but it would be nice if everything was already separated. Either that, or separate the pieces— here are all the sleeves, here are all the fronts, here are all the backs, etc.
  • Speaking of views: Why not sell them separately? There are so many times I’ve wanted to make only a single view—I’d happily pay $7-8 for just the one, rather than $18 for several I will never make.
  • Printing in color: Most people don’t like this feature. I’ve also found that the differentiated size lines usually aren’t different enough, and it can be hard to tell what size to cut, on patterns without layers. Perhaps more line variation in shapes and weights?
  • Using cut lines for sleeve lengths/neckline options: Why not? If there are options, and the only difference is length, it makes sense to use cut lines instead of having separate pieces.
  • Tiling: When hems/sizes are too close to the bounding box/tile boundary, it is hard to tell what to cut, and the taping is very inconvenient.
  • Incorrect pattern terminology or markings: Say it with me, friends: “cut/place on the fold” means exactly what it says, it does not mean “mirror piece!” I get wanting to only use half pieces on bulk printed patterns to save on paper/printing costs, but for pdfs and copy shop files it costs the patternmaker nothing to mirror the piece, so it prints fully at home, especially when the cutting layouts specify to cut things single layer. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this, or bitched about it with sewing friends. Or, simpler solution, just say “mirror piece” instead of “cut on fold.”
  • Measuring patterns onscreen: I love that pattern companies have started to make it standard that you can just print a single size layer, or just a few if you’re grading between. One thing that would make this even more convenient is to either enable measure tools while still keeping the pdf files locked, or to add a few basic measurements to each size layer. For example, across shoulder, bust, waist, and hip circumferences, and waist and apex placements. It could be an option to turn the measurement layers on or off, so they don’t necessarily need to print. I really dislike having to print something only to check a few measurements, it’s such a waste of paper. Also, I’m always a little wary of measuring home printed patterns, if scale is just a little off, or if the line matching is not quite perfect, it can throw off your measurements and as a perfectionist this just won’t do. 😩
  • Cutting and taping: The inimitable Rachel (@minimalistmachinist on Instagram) has shared a trick to fold the corners of your pdf printouts to save time on cutting and taping, as well as saving a bit of paper waste. I would love to see this shared more widely as a construction method!

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention projectors, and the amazing potential they have for money and resource saving. I’ve been going down the rabbit hole exploring this, and it seems like a dream if you sew a lot of accessories, quilts, or kids clothes, or things that don’t need bunches of fit adjustments.

Curvy Sewing Collective has an excellent resource roundup, if you’d like to learn more about this option. A projector is a bit of an investment, but not having to spend gobs on paper, printer toner, tape, and massive amounts of your own time has a very enticing ring to it. The Projectors for Sewing Facebook group is an incredible source for those wanting to take the plunge, they have lists of pattern companies that have projector files, they can show you how to calibrate your machine, and even make simple corrections to the pattern files digitally.

All that said, I do enjoy the ability to print something at home and theoretically make whatever it is instantly. What I hope, is that more pattern companies will put more time and thought into their pdf options. There really is no reason to recycle the same old file as the bulk printed pattern, when there can be so many inventive and useful features built in to enhance the user’s experience of an already thoughtful pattern. And with the endless nature of Covid in the United States, at least, we can say so long to the days of leisurely hanging out at the fabric store, writing down pattern numbers from those massive catalogue bibles, rustling through endless drawers to find one elusive pattern envelope. So… why not?

How about you? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments! Did anything speak to you? Have you found any good workarounds we should all know about? Any tips, ideas, or rants to share? This is surely only the beginning of what our wonderful hive mind can come up with!

Gabby is a technical designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.