Some sewists avoid PDF sewing patterns
They think it’s complicated, time-consuming, and intimidating to put them together.
But, despite many moving parts (or papers), it doesn’t have to be difficult.
This post will guide you through the steps of how to download, print, and assemble a PDF pattern.
If you’re not familiar with it yet, a PDF sewing pattern is the digital counterpart to a paper sewing pattern you can buy in a physical store.
But why should you try them?
The benefits of a PDF sewing pattern
- Instant access, start sewing right away
- No tracing off the pattern, no risk of tearing delicate pattern paper
- Easy grading between sizes, print only the sizes you need
- Keep trees by reducing stock that may or may not be sold and
- Protect the environment from patterns being distributed across the globe
- Save money on package and postal fees
- Access patterns in any country without file conversion issues
- Enable variety because indie designers can easily release patterns due to the low production cost compared to printed patterns (however, that is not to say that it’s cheap, quick, or easy to design, draft and digitize PDF sewing patterns.)
Downloading the pattern
When you buy a PDF pattern you get access to the file directly after you’ve checked out in the e-shop, so you can download it right away.
You’ll also get a download link in the order confirmation email as well as the possibility to log in to your account on the site and download the file again.
Click the link or the button and the file will download to your computer automatically.
Opening the zip file
Find the zip file on your computer and unzip the files by clicking it. The icon looks like this;
Some mobile phones and tablets don’t handle zip files very well. To be sure everything will work perfectly, use your computer to download the zip file.
Open the PDF file with the Adobe Reader software.
Adobe is the company that created the PDF file format and therefore the only program that is 100% certain to display the pattern exactly as it was designed.
Get Adobe Reader through the link below. It’s free to download and free to use and will guarantee that your pattern shows correctly when you want to print it.
If you’ll print the pattern yourself the two print-at-home files are yours to choose from. We’ll go through the difference between the two options below.
Selecting what file to print
The zip file contains all variations of the pattern that a particular designer offers. For example, you will find 6 PDF files in a Morphí pattern, looking like this when you open the folder;
The different files in a PDF pattern zipped folder.
Let’s go through the different options:
Print it or have it open on your computer or mobile when you sew
There are usually two different large format files, select which one to use depending on where in the world you’ll print your pattern. Ask your Copyshop what standard they use. Save the file to a portable drive and take it to your Copyshop of choice for printing. Be sure to check their prices before they print.
Requires a projector. Project the pattern onto your fabric and trace it with tailor’s chalk or cut out the pieces directly.
Trimless print-at-home file
With guides that allow you to tape or glue the pages on top of each other without trimming off any margins.
Regular print-at-home file
Has margins you cut off with scissors or a roller cutter and symbols you match up when taping the papers together.
Adobe Reader opens the PDF file in the print direction it’s saved in. For example, if the designer saved her pattern as “portrait” (standing) pages it will open and print that direction too.
You can check in the preview window how the pages will print but it’s best to leave the setting as is and let the file and printer do their default thing.
Between brands, all printer settings have different terminology but the principles of printing a PDF pattern are the same for all of them:
- Print actual size
- No scaling
- Automatic print direction (the default discussed above)
This is what it looks like in my printer’s user interface (it’s in Swedish, but hopefully you get the general picture).
The Actual size, No scaling, and Automatic print settings.
Printing the pattern
If you print your PDF pattern at home you have two options:
The regular trim file. It’s the standard among indie PDF sewing patterns, I call it the cut/tape version.
Cut off one of the short and one of the long side margins. Line up the pages beside each other, match the pattern lines, then tape the pages together.
The “trimless” file. It’s created with offset grid lines and options for both the US and A4 format.
Match up the grid and tape or glue the pattern together, no cutting needed.
A fair warning about the trimless option. Even if it’s supposed to save you time from cutting/trimming it can sometimes cause trouble when matching up the pieces.
So, if your printer is a bit old and frail like mine, you may save both time and frustration by printing the regular pattern instead.
Always print the test square first, you usually find it on the first pattern page.
Measure the square and make sure it’s the same size as indicated e.g. for Morphí’s patterns the test squares are 5 cm and 1 in wide and high.
An example of a test square.
The Layers view in Acrobat Reader.
Assembling the pattern
A digital pattern is laid out on a numbered template and will print in numeric order. The pattern layout (below) shows how many pages in each row and how many rows you’ll need to assemble.
The Pattern layout view.
In the regular print-at-home option you match up the guides and the symbols in the corners, then tape or glue the pages together like below.
The Regular trim version.
In the no-trim option, you match up the vertical guides and the pattern lines without trimming the paper edges before gluing or taping.
The trimless version.
You can see the pattern lines through the printed paper with a bright lamp. Match the lines on top of each other and tape or glue without cutting the margins. This will save you time so you can start sewing quicker. It also works with a regular grid pattern.
Grading before cutting the pieces
Now is the time to do all the grading between sizes you need, before cutting out the pattern pieces.
Grade between sizes if needed.
Use a paper scissor or a roller cutter designated for paper when cutting out the pieces following the pattern’s outer lines.
If you’re short on space and don’t need to alter the pattern, cut the pieces as they’re completed rather than waiting for the whole pattern to print before assembling.
Printing troubleshooting (a checklist)
Sometimes the gadgets we use don’t want to do what we want them to.
Don’t give up!
If it has worked before it can probably (hopefully) work again. Use this list of common issues I’ve compiled over time when troubleshooting. The solutions are all tried and true by yours truly.
- Downloaded the zip file to a mobile or tablet?
Download it again but to a computer this time.
- Opened the PDF file in your computer’s preview mode?
Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Reader instead.
- Tampered with the default printing orientation setting?
Close the file and open it again, leave the default orientation settings as-is.
- Mismatched (or no match) pattern lines?
Inspect the paper tray for skewed, stuck, and, loose papers.
- Hardly visible pattern lines?
Analyze the ink cartridge status, it may be time for a refill.
- Half-printed or no printed pattern at all?
Inquire the manufacturer’s homepage FAQ for common issues.
- Error messages you can’t decode?
It might be time to download new drivers or, update the printer software.
- No printer action at all?
Check the communication between your computer and your printer. How’s the Wi-Fi status? Maybe your cat jumped on the router so the cord slipped out of place? (Ask me how I know 😺)
- Downloaded the zip file to a mobile or tablet?
Always use the latest version of Adobe Reader, update it if needed.
Your next step
So there’s the method. Now you can print a PDF pattern, test it out and use this guide as a checklist.
Assemble a couple of patterns and before long it will become second nature to you. And then you’ve increased the number of patterns you can try a hundred times over or more.
Before you start sewing, check out this article about 3 common fit issues and how to fix them.
I hope this has been useful and will help you on the way to explore the ever-expanding sea of PDF patterns in our sewing world.
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