PDF Patterns

Do you?

I started out in great antipathy to PDF patterns, grumbling as I pieced together what felt like 3 million bits of A4 pages.  I grumbled when I bought a PDF and it had not told me how many pages it was, and then I discovered it was 50+ pages when I printed it out and it made me really grumpy and I never ever pieced it together and I swore off PDF patterns For Ever.  Take that, pattern I spent my money on!

But I live in Australia.  We are terribly far away from the rest of the world and the post takes forever, because while the rest of the world is in the 21st century, Australians reside in an idyllic pre-historic age where communication is by carrier pigeon.  And you know that it’s cruel to ask a carrier pigeon to fly 12,000 miles with a large (or even a small) parcel tied to its wee feet.  

Did you know, sea birds fly a really, really long distance and many of them don’t eat for a lot of the journey and they sleep *on the wing*, and they’re only wee things.  They’re amazing.  I love them.  Especially puffins.  But, er. tangent.  Back to topic:

Waiting for patterns to be released as paper patterns and make it to Australia is agonising, especially for the poor carrier pigeons.  I’d probably wait except that I inevitably forget about that particular pattern because some new shiny one comes along to distract me.  And some patterns are only released as PDFs.  And even if I’m not going to make the pattern right now, dammit I want it right now because everyone else on the internet has it right now and why can’t I? It’s not fair! *stamps feet* (here’s where my mother comes in, shakes her head and directs me to bed, reading me a bedtime story about a poor put-upon carrier pigeon zooming from northern hemisphere to southern, delivering shiny new patterns to petulant seamstresses.)  

One day, I grumbled on Twitter, and Maria Denmark heard me and asked me why I did not like PDF patterns and I began to enumerate my reasons, and then she said, plaintively, sweetly, cajolingly (yes, all these things I read into 140 characters, what of it?), (and I paraphrase), “Have you tried mine?” 

Suddenly, it seemed I was being terribly unfair.  Personal interaction with a pattern maker will do that to you.  I mean, I had not tried every form of PDF pattern out there.  Only … well, currently I can no longer remember which ones I had tried and which I had not, way back when I had my little tantrum and then the twitter conversation with Maria Denmark.  

Actually, I can remember one: Victory Patterns.  And I got well grumpy with them when they came out with paper patterns, having never said anywhere that that was the direction they intended to go.  I had bought Nicola as a PDF, but it was ridiculous amounts of pages and I never pieced it together.  Then they released everything in paper and I got grumpy.  You will know that I eventually bought Lola, and have even made it up, so obviously I got over my grump, but yes, grumpy at you Victory Patterns.

So, I tried a Maria Denmark pattern.  I think I may have tried the Birgitte Basic Tee first.  Maria Denmark designs excellent PDF patterns.  She is not paying me to say this. Nor has she given me anything that she wouldn’t give you (i.e. the free Kirsten Kimono tee).  Maria designs with the PDF-ness in mind, and it changed the way I viewed PDF patterns.  She also included instructions on how to piece together PDF patterns.  The PDF patterns I tried prior to trying Maria’s did not have instructions.  I had treated them as if they were paper patterns, which I had to put together first and *then* use as paper patterns.  This is exactly the wrong way of going about it, and is exactly the wrong way that some PDF pattern designers go about it.  Don’t go about it like that.  Think about the medium.  

Here’s where I was wrong:

I thought I had to piece together the individual A4 pages to form a large pattern sheet, which I then traced my size from, preserving the pieced together pattern.  No one told me to do it like this.  I just did it like this because I started working with paper patterns.  And you know what?  I actually hate tissue a lot more than I hate PDF.  Why do I hate tissue?  I find it really hard to handle.  I have sweaty palms (just a talent, you know?) and sweaty palms make tissue paper really difficult to handle and sometimes destroys it.

Now, another caveat.  I like tracing.  I know many of you don’t, but I do.  It makes me feel very artistic. But I don’t want to piece together a PDF pattern and then trace it.  Too many steps.  And you don’t have to! (but you can if you want to.)

Here’s how I learned to do PDF patterns right (for me.  This works *for me*.  It might not work for you, but if you’ve been hating on PDF patterns, feel free to try this way and see if you hate them less. Or, like me, have a complete turnaround and become a PDF-evangelist):

1. Print out PDF patterns on scrap paper.  This makes you feel much less guilty about the paper wastage, especially if you work in the kind of job that wastes a lot of paper.  I definitely do.

2. When you’re ready to piece them together, which could be the very same day you printed them or some months later depending on, oh, I don’t know the moons and the tides and other vicissitudes of life.

3. Find a large space and lay out all the paper pieces to see how they fit together.  If the pattern designer had thought about how the PDF pattern fit together, there would be discreet pieces finished after a few pages.  So, for example, the Birgitte tee front pattern piece is only 3 A4 pages, if you are one of the smaller sizes.  This means you do not have to tape all the pages all together. Sometimes when only a small part of the pattern piece is on a page, I don’t tape it in, I just draw in the blank of the overlap.  

4. Tape together pages to form one pattern piece, rather than the entire sheet.  I tape by cutting the bottom and right off connecting pages, and overlapping.  *I do not cut my pages until after I have done the laying out exercise above, un case I need to draw a small part of the pattern onto an overlap.* I use sticky-tape from a sticky tape dispenser, rather than glue.  This makes it much, much easier.  I’ve not tried glue.  But if one could pass/fail kindergarten, I probably would have on the basis of never developing glue handling skills.  Basically, when I use glue – even glue sticks – it ends up all over my hands and elbows and sometimes cheeks.  I don’t know how.  Just talented I guess.  Ink from pens also ends up in unlikely places, like my elbow.  Sometimes, my right elbow (and I’m right handed).  I prefer ballpoint pens, though even then sometimes I get ink all over me.  If you’ve a talent, use it, right?

5. Once you have one pattern piece, cut it out; work on your next pattern piece.  This is the pattern piece you use to cut your fabric.  Don’t trace onto another medium, unless you’re tracing around the pattern piece directly onto your fabric to cut.  Does anyone do that?  Pros? Cons? Should I?  

6. You will hopefully find that you don’t need to tape together all the pieces.  If you do have to tape every single piece of paper to every single other piece of paper in order to find a pattern piece, make a note of that pattern company and consider never buying their PDF patterns ever again.  Or, if you don’t want to be that extreme, get in contact with them and grumble about it.  Maybe they will change their ways.  

7. Because I am often the smallest, or close to the smallest size, I cut my pattern pieces out from the rest of the pattern and preserve the extra bits.  When/if I want to make a larger size, or grade across sizes after making my first item (should I wish to make another), I tape the extra bits to my cut bits and trace.  I have done this only twice, but I liked it so much, I now preserve the extra bits that I cut from my PDF pattern pieces.  I add sticky tape to the bits of paper where I think it is needed, e.g. corners, small bits and where I fold.

NB – another way of getting around piecing together PDF patterns is to print it at a copy shop.  Note, however, not all PDF pattern designers offer a copy shop option (I think they should) and not all copy shops are equal.  I had been enthused about this way of doing it, only to discover that even if I chose an option to print at the copy shop where there was no scaling or at 100% or whatever, the copy shop just decided to do it how they wanted to do it and scaled it to fit any ol’ how.  I got right mad at the copy shop and have never printed there since.  Also, paper sizes are not universal.  I’d love an A0 option, because the copy shops here understand that and when there has been an A0 option, everything’s worked wonderfully.  But some of you reading this will be wondering, “what on earth is A0?” And that’s fair enough because you don’t live in Australia, yet you’re reading my blog (aw, thanks, or why are you still reading this far down if you did a google  search for puffin noises*?  Did you not realise that by now I might not even get to discussing that because I already discussed it back in 2009?) 

Here’s another thing.  If you are an Australian company producing PDF patterns (cough, cough, Tessuti, cough), why don’t you offer an A0 version?  

(* this and variations upon it is still the number one search query that brings randoms to my page.  Hello, Randoms!  I love puffins and the internet knows it.)



  1. Yes.
    I too detested them, and then discovered, not unlike yourself, that not all .pdfs are equal – I also like Seamster as Mari taught me to only match the lines that overlap & to cut the corners diagonally. My slicer is dangerous and as my printer never quite prints the pages the same, this leads to more swearing than necessary. On that note, can a border please be printed, with the page number like a big watermark – and an overview of the tiled layout is SO helpful.
    I have the reverse talent to you though – tape & I are not-yet-competent, however glue sticks are awesome. And I trace around the paper onto my fabric & can’t go back to modern tissue now – it’s horrid & creases & rips & I can’t trace it & well… I’m NYC with tissue…
    And everything should be in A0.


    1. Ooh! Cut corners diagonally! I shall add that to my PDF arsenal.
      YES to all those suggestions. I will have to discuss with you the pros and cons of tracing onto fabric. I want to understand why, and is it better than me just cutting out around my pattern? I should just try it sometime, and then I’ll probably start proselytising about that method of doing things….


  2. The UK uses A paper sizes!
    And I’m fairly sure Europe in general does too. Silly old Americas and their weird formats and measurements.

    I’ve not tried many PDF patterns but I gave up on getting Sorbetto to print the right size, didn’t get on with Salme’s Sonja at all (no seam allowance!), and haven’t printed anything else since I left university & printing became something I have to go out of my way to do.


    1. Then UK & Europe should do A0 patterns!

      Actually, with PDF patterns I don’t mind no seam allowances, but I would like that clearly marked on the pattern pieces. If it’s not, I write it in in red marker!

      You have the luxury of being in the world… So you can (mostly) swear off PDFs!


  3. I hated patterns at the best of times (like when I used to sew) and cannot imagine dealing with 50 (!) sheets of paper taped together. But I like your adjustments to the horror. And I especially like Macinic’s suggestion of printed to borders to help you align things.


    1. I’m really pleased too that I’ve got a way of dealing with PDF patterns; the world of indie patterns would not be open to me without them! I think I need to write a follow up post of great ideas, and great PDF pattern designers who incorporate all these ideas. That might mean I make a useful resource page on my blog … That’d be a new direction!


  4. Ugh. Massive bugbear here, too. One thing I always want to have, is a MAP of the pattern pieces once they are laid out, that I can view prior to printing all those pages. The Portside set, my most recent make and also bought as a PDF – didn’t have a MAP and I printed the whole thing. There were 12 unused sheets of paper in the Grainline portside set pattern print out file. TWELVE!! The MAP could have prevented this!


    1. Oh, that’s aggravating, I thought Grainline was good with her PDFs! Tessutis Birgitte boat neck tee had 5 pages with nothing!
      I’m tempted to write a follow up post collating all these excellent suggestions!


  5. That’s a really good idea to keep the bigger sizes and stick them back on if needed. Thanks!
    I’m totally with you about more companies offering PDFs! I love how, well, THERE they are. And it takes so looooooooong for the mail to get to Darwin. (I get emails like ‘By now you’ll have got our product and had plenty of time to give it a good try out, so can you please review it?’ And my parcel is still two weeks away 😦

    As for copy-shop printing, I had a sad experience with one pattern (from Your Style Rocks. Free patterns and offered in copy-shop printing sizes!) *sigh* so I swore off it For EVAR!!! But then my friend told me she’s had good luck with officeworks. I’m trying that next!


    1. Oh goodness, Darwin. Yes, if Australia is the back of beyond, Darwin is the backed back part of our back of beyond. I feel your pain.
      Um … Officeworks is the place I got grumpy at, although it might vary store to store. I daresay you would have much better luck with a smaller, indie shop where the person doing the printing might care about keeping your business…


      1. Well, we do have a Spotlight…. 🙂 I’d shop more online for fabric but after most of my life reaching out to get the feel of a fabric and buying on that as much as colour and print, I find online fabric shopping very stressful.
        That was officeworks? oh. Hmmm.
        Er, no it was an indie print company I had trouble with, and they told me one thing about the cost and charged me another and there were reasons as to why I had no redress blah blah. Not to mention having to go out of my way to get there etc. Way more than it was worth to avoid half an hour with stickytape and scissors.
        I dunno, go figure eh?

  6. I have a love/hate relationship with PDFs too, like the instantaneous of them, but are they really that instant when it takes me an hour to stick them together. I use a gluestick by the way, is usually the perfect width for the boarder. So far no issues with them falling apart.
    Storage of PDFs was my bugbear too, until last weekend when I bought some cardboard folders and a labelling machine – now I am sorted 🙂
    I printed a copy shop version of a colette pattern at Officeworks, but their machine wasn’t wide enough so I had to go with an inch cropped off the sides to make it fit. Obviously the US have bigger machines than we do. Very frustrating.


  7. Read this with some interest but jaundiced eye. The thing I don’t like about Christmas is sticky tape, and bear in mind parcel wrapping needs no great accuracy or smoothness. The thing I hate about printers is how quickly the ink runs out, how much it costs, and how often the right brand isn’t in stock. The thing I hate about keeping bits of paper with odd bits cut out of them is .. really someone does this?
    Then I don’t get free paper, and don’t feel good about paying to work. Yeah, not convinced.


    1. Fair enough, Jay, each to their own! I certainly don’t love it, but these are my workarounds that make it bearable. I have used the saved odd bits of paper; e.g I stuck them back onto my Lady Skater pattern to trace a larger waist, and found it quite useful.


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