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.
Thanks for the very comprehensive article – I’ve had some of the same thoughts over the past few years.
Re: pattern pieces, I often refer to the ‘map’ and only print the pages that have the pieces I want – it’s more puzzle-y to put together but saves paper and tape. I do wish EVERYONE would use layering – even if I’m grading I usually only want 3-4 sizes and I think you lose accuracy at convergence points if you have to print everything. I also hate it when that important 1″ x 1″ corner is on a separate piece of paper!
I am lucky to live very close to a printing business that will print copyshop sizes for me for about $2-3 for a pattern which solves a lot of issues (but I still want EVERYONE to use layering…) and does require a little forward planning.
I am a huge fan of pdfs because they’re usually less expensive, they’re instantly accessible, and you can cut your pattern and not worry about making a mistake (just print another one!). They give us access to smaller design companies worldwide as well!
Have you figured out (or bothered finding) a way to get the shop to print the size layers you want? Mine will just print the file, so I’m not sure how to just get the sizes I need.
Using the print layout to only print the pieces you need is an excellent tip! You also have a great point about layering- I wish it was standard across the board as well. Thanks for reading 🙂
Bravo! You have assembled all my beefs (and more) about working with PDFs. Although I do appreciate the effortS of some companies to more thoughtfully prepare the PDF files, there is MUCH room for improvement. Unless it is a real wowser or a pattern, I tend to steer clear of pattern makers that are not user friendly.
Agreed- especially now that we’re homebound more than ever before, using a nicely designed pdf pattern takes all the pain out of a drawn-out process. Thanks for reading 🙂
What an excellent post! I am not a professional as you are, but I have thought about the pros and cons of PDF patterns. There is a lot of room for improvement, but also great potential.
In general I am not a big fan of PDF patterns. In fact, I refuse to use my home printer to copy them. However, I do happily buy them if a “copy shop” option is included. I can send the file with instructions to my local print shop and my pattern will be waiting for me to pick up….of course that also adds a significant cost!
Technology is advancing so quickly that I cannot imagine the possibilities for the future of “print-at-home” ptterns!
Right? I am so excited by what forms this could take! There are so many options to explore, it’s a really fun thing to ideate on. Thanks for reading 🙂
I like the copy shop option too. If I were to do it again, I’d trace off the bits I wanted and keep my copy shop print as an original for a couple of reasons. It is much easier to store as a whole piece, and also, when I find a fit I like I combine the pieces to do make other items.
Pre-pandemic, I would only do PDFs that were copy shop. I’ve broken down a done a few print-from-home when things were really shut down where I live. I cosign the more markings. I miss the single size patterns of yesteryear where the bust point, waistline, crotchline, etc were all clearly marked. I’d like to see that come back for PDFs.
Agreed x one million. I love clearly marked patterns- if you think about it, a well-designed pattern should be the complete roadmap to making and fitting your garment, so why remove useful information?
I actually don’t mind taping together PDF patterns. The trimming off of 2 edges is a bit tedious, though. And if the pattern doesn’t have layers, that’s annoying. I put one pattern together on my living room window so I didn’t trim any edges. On the window, you can see the lines to match up. Love Notions patterns have layers and no-trim pages, which is nice. She also has projector files, but I haven’t ventured down that road.
Oooh no trim pages… now that’s handy!
Thanks for this list. As a resident of a country where printed patterns are expensive, mail from the US takes a long time and copy shops charge about $10 per page, I’ve been printing pdfs for years. I immediately abandon any brand that doesn’t provide a test square or is sized for US letter only and not metric sizes. Big ups to those that offer an A3 size option (Lekala). I also want it to be easy to buy and download the pattern.
I am a fan of layering, marked seam allowances and measurements on the pattern. Colour printing is slow and expensive, so I never do it.
I print in draft mode and assemble by cutting off the lower and right hand edges and using a gluestick to join pieces, with a bit of tape only if needed. Faster and cheaper.
Very keen to hear everyone’s storage tips.
I’ve seen so many various tips on storage- file folders, rolled in a container, and I personally use pattern hangers for everything I’ve cut and recycle the rest if I’m finished with it, I can always reprint if needed. Thanks for reading!
I’ve used only a few, as in 3, pdf patterns. Disliked them heartily! What a lot of work & waste, of ink, paper, tape. Printing a whole sheet for an edge or corner. And since I have to make many alterations, I need and miss the markings like bust apex & hip. I’m glad they’re useful for others but so far I’m avoiding them.
Oh absolutely, poor layouts drive me up the wall. Thanks for reading 🙂
My gripe with PDFs is paper waste – please put the Center front seam edge on the same edge of the tile, no gaps! So often I feel like I could save a bunch of paper if everything was better aligned.
I also love it when designers include which pages to print for certain views – but having separate files for each view would be even better.
Finally, please just include measurements for rectangles. I hate tracing off cuffs/neckbands/waistbands that are just blocks. I have a ruler, I can measure out a rectangle!
Yes!! Binding pieces especially frustrate me. Just give me the dimensions!
I’m a pdf pattern fan since I discovered them, with the same problem as Lyndle mentioned: printed patterns are really expensive where I live (store or mail), pdf patterns have been a way of tapping into many, many, many designs which aren’t accessible otherwise. If not printed out, the only space they take up is on my disk. When I botch a pattern adjustment I can just reprint parts of the pattern, which is faster than tracing (hello 6 muslins for Colette’s Ceylon dress).
What annoys me most in pdf patterns with no plotter at home: assembling 56 A4 pages of a jacket in A4 format takes a long, long time, often I have ill-matching lines due to printer irregularities or due to my bad taping, and all the tape makes them really thick, especially after pattern adjustments. I really wish more pdf patterns were sold as A4 AND A0 (looking at you, Big-Pattern-Company B). Some indies are already doing it, but there’s room for improvement. I’m currently coding a small program that turns those 56 pages into a couple of printable A0 sheets which at least solves my biggest issues with pdf patterns (it’s accessible and free to all, but still in development). What I also miss in pdf patterns is their “discoverability” once bought: They sit on my disk and it’s hard to “leaf through” digital patterns to be inspired. I usually print out their front pages and collect them in a folder as a solution.
Storage: I usually sew a brown paper bag just the appropriate size of the slightly folded patterns, but they still take up a lot of space…
Oh wow, that’s so handy!! I just clicked on your handle and it took me right to it- is that the correct link? That seems like an excellent resource, thank you so much for sharing 🙂
Yes it is, that’s the tool/code! There’s still a lot of work to be done especially in terms of code quality and it’s not easy to use for non-tech folks yet. But I hope that one day it turns into a tool for the sewing community that does not require technical in-depth knowledge.
My favorite pattern company has no-trim pages. It saves SO much time and I feel like it makes putting the pattern together much more accurate. I wish all the pattern companies would do that. I also agree with just giving me the measurements for rectangle pieces-let’s save paper and ink as much as possible!
Yes to all of this 🙌thanks for reading! 🙂
This is exactly what I wanted to say! But I’ll say it again louder: NO-TRIM PAGES PLEASE!!
Plus folding it up after using it is much much easier as well.
Do you have any suggestions on where to start the hunt for a use-at-home projector? I could use one for several sewing applications and I have no idea where to start looking.
Yes! The facebook group linked in the article, Projectors for Sewing, has a section just for projectors and reviews- they have a bevy of useful information, I’d check there first 🙂
All 👏 Of 👏 This 👏!! I have a lot of pdf patterns, and very few have that ‘wow’ moment that makes me enjoy taping together the pieces. I appreciate when companies use the page edge as a reference point for taping. And for the love of god, please add bust/waist/hip level markings! What I would like to see is pattern makers give an overlap option, like Burda, where pieces are layered on top of each other. I am #teamtrace and really dislike the paper waste of wide-spaced individual pieces (or unnecessary duplicates like front and back skirts that are exactly the same!).
I always use the map to just print the pieces I need. & when I assemble, I do so pattern piece by pattern piece. I don’t assemble a huge sheet of paper that takes up my entire living room floor. I feel like this helps it come together faster & easier. I like no-trim patterns–so fast! But if I have to trim, I just cut two edges. If the pattern piece doesn’t cross over into the adjacent paper, I don’t bother trimming it.
I’m perplexed by the comment about “mirror piece”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that on a pattern. “Cut on fold,” yes. “Cut two” & it’s clear in the fabric layout that those two pieces should be mirrored (like ith a pant leg), yes. It’s possible that I just don’t pay that much attention to the terminology on the patterns because I’m experienced enough that I understand the basic mechanics of a pattern, so maybe I do have patterns that say “mirror piece” & I just never noticed.
As far as storage…that’s a conundrum. I’ve been storing PDFs in a big artist’s bag (like the kind they use to carry around large canvases) that I keep under my cutting table. But that’s starting to get out of control. & since that’s been my approach ever since I started sewing, there are patterns in there that I know I’ll never make again, or that I’d make after cutting a whole new size (I didn’t understand the importance of picking a size based on your high bust measurement when I first started sewing, so I have a lot of patterns that are printed at too large a size). I’ve been meaning to go through & recycle everything that I’m not going to use again, but that’s a whole project in itself. I might get a box of manila folders & start storing my PDFs that way to better keep track of itty bitty pieces like pocket facings. I’m in the habit of pressing my patterns anyway before I put them to fabric so a few extra folds on some pieces wouldn’t be a big deal.
& BIG YES to more pattern marks! I have to do an FBA on everything anyway so I’ve gotten into the habit of tissue fitting to mark the apex, etc etc, but it would be cool to have some of that marked already (even if I have to adjust a bit for my own unique body).
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