How to use pdf patterns

PDF Sewing Patterns 101 – A Complete Step-by-Step Guide

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PDF sewing patterns are truly an amazing new part of the sewing world. Whether you have been sewing for years with tissue patterns, or if you have never sewn at all, you can easily learn how to sew with PDF patterns. I’ll list a few reasons why I love them:

  • The instructions from many designers are phenomenal and come with pictures! Which is especially useful for beginners.
  • The size range for women’s patterns, for example, can go from tween sizes through women’s 5XL. So you can buy one pattern and have the ability to make it for you and pretty much anyone other sized person.
  • Once you have the pattern, it’s yours. You can reprint it as many times as you want. (I don’t reprint my already correct sized and printed patterns. I’ll show you how I store them later in the post).
  • Most independent clothing pattern designers use a group of everyday people to test their designs before they are sold. This translates to two great outcomes:
    • The pattern is tested on every size. Have you ever made a garment from a pattern and thought, “this would look good on such and such type of body, but it doesn’t work for me.” Well, the designers get to look at every size to make sure the fit is right.
    • Because of this method of testing, you get to see pictures of the garment on people in a variety of sizes and types of bodies, as well as in different fabrics for ideas.
Have I got your attention now? (Because they really do rock). Okay, on to the step-by-step Guide.
*This post contains a few affiliate links. They are here purely to help fund the blog and my hobbies so I can bring these posts to you!

PDF Patterns 101

1. Choose a Pattern

There are PDF sewing patterns for literally everything. Dresses, wallets, shoes, purses, shirts, pants, hats, gloves, leggings, stuffed animals…you name it. Below are a few designers I like to help get you started. Most, if not all, of the independent pattern designers have at least one free pattern listed on their website. Many of them require you to join their Facebook group to obtain the free pattern code that you input on their website. Click on the pattern designers below to check some out!
  • Patterns for Pirates – Mostly clothing for women, men, and children. They have quite a few freebies including the infamous pegs which are everyday leggings.
  • George and Ginger – Women’s clothing. Very well designed patterns. Lots of edgy unique patterns too. The designer also does runway shows in places like New York City.
  • Ellie and Mac – Clothing for women, men, children as well as craft patterns. Lots of great sales.
  • Love Notions – Clothing for women, men, children, dolls.
  • Designer Stitch – Clothing for women. Very experienced designer who also owns a sewing school. Great drafting.
  • Rebecca Page – Clothing for everybody. They also have cute kids stuffed patterns plus bags and a few others. The drafting has always been good to me.
  • Peek a Boo Pattern Shop – Clothing for women, men, children. Lots of fun freebies including kids costumes.
  • Bella Sunshine Designs – Clothing for women, men, children, dolls.
  • Itch to Stitch – Clothing for women. Widely known as a very precise designer with great drafting.
  • Made for Mermaids – Clothing for women, men, children, and dolls. The sister of the designer of Patterns for Pirates. Lately focused on their “lace and lounge” collection, which is really cute.
  • Winter Wear Designs – Clothing for women, men, and children. Not just winter clothes! The designer’s last name is Winter.
  • Jalie – Clothing for women including outerwear, casual wear, and active wear. Jalie’s been around since 1983 and there’s a reason.
  • Sinclair Patterns – Clothing for women and men. Known for great drafting and quality patterns. when you purchase a pattern, you get actually get three files including – petite, regular, and tall.
  • Stitch Upon a Time – Clothing for women, men, and children. They carry an assortment of patterns, but are infamous for their great underwear patterns.
  • Greenstyle Creations – Clothing for women, men, children. Focus on athletic wear.

2. Print the Pattern

After choosing the pattern, you will need to download it to your computer and then open the file with Adobe Acrobat. If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat, you can download the free reader version here on the Adobe website. DON’T try to print the file from a web browser. Make sure to open either the letter or A4 file depending on the size paper you have (generally “letter” sized in the US and “A4” elsewhere. AO is the big blueprint sized version which can be printed at a print shop).If you are printing a clothing pattern, you will need to locate your size in the size chart. If your measurements fall into more than one size, no worries, you can easily grade between sizes to achieve the best fitting garment. Most good pattern designers these days will include layers in the pattern, which means you can deselect the sizes you don’t need and only show the sizes you do. This makes it much easier to assemble the pattern and cut on the correct size lines.

Refer to picture below. On the left hand side of your Adobe Acrobat program screen, you will see a side bar with some icons. Click on the icon that looks like 4 sheets of paper stacked on top of each other. Now let’s say your (or your model’s) measurements fall into three different sizes – 8,10, and 12. Deselect all the sizes you don’t need and only leave the eye icon in the boxes for the sizes you want. Great, only those three size lines will be visible on your print out. Now, below that you may see some extra options. In this example, Bella Sunshine Designs offers a few different ways to assemble the pattern. I use letter paper and prefer trimless pages so that I’m not cutting more than necessary, so I have “Trimless – Letter” selected.

Once you have decided on the size, decide what version of the pattern you would like to make (if applicable). If there are many different options in the pattern, many designers will include a chart of which pages to print in order to save paper. Then, see the highlighted numbers in the photo below? You can enter whichever pages you need to print in that box.

This part is really important! Make sure your print setting are correct or the pattern will not print to the correct scale!Refer to picture above.You want to select:

  • Under paper sizing and handling, choose “custom scale” and enter ‘100%‘ in the box.
  • Orientation should be “Auto portrait/landscape
Generally on the first page of the pattern pieces, there will be a square or rectangle that will be marked as to it’s size. The shape is usually 1″-3″ to make sure that your printer printed the correct size. If this measurement is off, the whole pattern’s scale will be off.
As long as you printed correctly and your printer is configured properly, the square or rectangle should always be the right size. For the first couple of times you print PDF patterns, I recommend printing only the first page to check that the measurement is correct. If it is, then proceed with printing the rest of the pattern pieces.

3. Assemble the Pattern

After you have everything printed, it’s time to tape or glue all the pattern pieces together and cut them out (If you choose to print an AO document, you would not need to do this, however you would need to trace out the size you need onto another type of paper if you order a document with all sizes included).I like to use scotch tape and a regular pair of paper cutting scissors. Some people prefer to use a glue stick or masking tape. Do what you like!

Every designer will label their pages slightly differently. Some will have a letter and number order, ie, A1, A2,A3 would be the first row and B1,B2,B3 would be the second row. Other designers use just letters or just numbers and some use an assembly chart akin to a jigsaw puzzle.

But in the end you should have a large taped together pattern ready to cut out. And…cut it out!

4. Cut out your Fabric

Make sure to read through the PDF pattern cutting instructions first to make sure you are using the correct pattern pieces for the option you want to make (e.g. different pocket types or neckband choices).
Then cut out your beautiful fabric! I like to use a rotary cutter on a healing mat with my scissors nearby to cut anything that needs a precision angle.

4. Sew it Up and Show it Off!

Now just follow the detailed instructions in the PDF Pattern and sew up your new handmade item. You can print out the instructions for reference or just use an electronic device to access the PDF.
Make sure to join the Facebook group of the pattern designer if you have any questions. There are so many people willing to answer your questions in these groups!

memade dress Let's Go Hobby
Want to see more about this dress? Click HERE

5. Store it

There are many ways to store PDF patterns. I like to use gallon sized storage bags. I fold all the pattern pieces into one bag. Then label the front with the pattern designer, pattern name, and size if applicable. Plus any options included in the pattern that I want to be sure to remember.
I then store each bagged pattern in a file folder organizer box in alphabetical pattern by pattern name.
Some people like to use manila folders with the first page of the PDF pattern taped onto the front. Others like to hang up their patterns unfolded on pants hangars. Still other sewist roll their papers and store them like wrapping paper.
This part is completely up to you!

Have fun and let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if you want to add something I missed. 

Happy Sewing!

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  1. Thanks for your tips! I have started a collection of PDF Patterns.

  2. Certainly! Glad it helped.

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