How to Use a PDF Sewing Pattern

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I’m about to start sewing a new project as I write this, so I thought it would be a great time to share how to use a PDF sewing pattern in case you’ve never done it before. You’ll need a lot of space and some time to put it together, but it’s not difficult at all.

What is a PDF Sewing Pattern?

If you buy sewing patterns online instead of in paper from a crafts store, you will have to print and assemble the pattern yourself instead of having pre-printed paper to cut your pattern from.

Getting sewing patterns as PDFs instead of paper patterns saves you on shipping (cost and time) and lowers costs for independent pattern makers because they don’t have to pay to print their patterns.

Generally when you buy a pattern online there will be several options for printing: one made for standard US letter sized printer paper, one for British A4 paper and one that you can send to a print shop and have them print on a single piece of paper for you.

Assuming you want to print it at home, you might need some help with how to put the PDF sewing pattern together so you can use it.

Step One: Print the Test Square

The most important thing when you want to use a PDF sewing pattern is making sure the pattern pieces come out the right size. PDF patterns will include a test square on one of the pages so you can print it and make sure your pattern is coming out the right size.

Here I’m showing the Petrichor Pinafore pattern from Sew Liberated but all PDF patterns will have this somewhere.

Print out just the page with the test square, making sure your printer is set to print actual size/no scaling.

Use a tape measure or ruler to make sure the square is the size it should be (generally 3 or 4 inches/8-10 cm).

If it’s not the right size, check your printer settings again to make sure nothing is getting stretched or shrunk. If it is the right size, go ahead and print out the rest of the pattern pages.

Color or Black and White?

Printing your pattern in black and white is an economical choice, and if your printer only prints black that’s totally fine to do. But it is a lot easier to use a PDF sewing pattern if you print it in color.

That’s because each size is usually drawn with lines of different colors, so it’s easy to see which line belongs to your size. This can be especially helpful when all the sizes are pretty close but not quite the same size.

If you can’t or don’t want to print color, no worries. The lines for each size should also be formatted differently in terms of having a solid line, broken line, dots and dashes, etc.

Putting Your PDF Sewing Pattern Together

The most time consuming part of working with a PDF sewing pattern is physically putting the pieces together.

PDF sewing patterns are tiled, and often have numbers on them (as shown here) so that you know what order they go in if they get mixed up before assembly.

In addition to the numbers you’ll find letters, or letters and numbers, next to or inside a symbol (usually a triangle or square), which show you how to align the pieces to each other. For instance here 1A aligns to 1A, and 2A is the first tile of the second row. Some patterns use letters on the sides and numbers top and bottom so the corresponding letters and numbers align as you put the pieces together.

Whatever way your pattern works, you’ll need to either cut or fold some of the margins back so that you can align those pieces.

I prefer folding because it feels faster, but I did some cutting and some folding on this pattern and felt like the pieces went together a little better when I cut the extra paper away.

I always cut or fold the right edge and the top edge and leave the left and bottom for a little stability, but as you use PDF sewing patterns you’ll find the system that works best for you.

You can tape the pieces together or use glue stick. I like using a desk-style tape dispenser because you can work the tape with one hand and hold the pieces with the other. If you don’t tape the full length of the page, make sure you’re taping within the pattern pieces so they’ll stay together when you cut them apart.

How to Use a PDF Sewing Pattern

Once the assembly is done, it’s time to cut it apart. I like to cut out all the pieces but I don’t worry about getting close to the lines.

You can cut these pieces on the line for the size you want to make and use them just like a pre-printed pattern from the store, but that’s not what I do.

I like to trace the whole pattern pieces for my size onto tracing paper, making sure to capture any grain line arrows, notches or other symbols from the original.

I write down what pattern it is from, what piece it is, how many and how to cut it and the size. That way if I want to make it again in that size I’ll know what to do without consulting the original.

But I also keep the printed out pattern pieces in case I want to make a different size or lose one of my tracing paper pieces at some point.

Once you have all the pieces traced, cut them out and use them to cut your fabric.

My pattern storage system leaves something to be desired, but I try to keep both the print out and the tracing paper pattern folded up in a plastic sheet protector until I need them again.

Do you do anything different when you use PDF sewing patterns? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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