The Sewing Pattern Tutorials: 6. Assembling a PDF sewing pattern
Putting a PDF pattern together
The Sewing Pattern Tutorials is a year-long FREE sewing course where we will demystify dressmaking patterns. We’ll begin with the basics so that if you are new to sewing you can join in from the start. We also know that lots of you want to learn new sewing skills so as the year progresses we’ll begin to cover more complex topics so that you will finish with the skills needed to deal with fitting problems too. In each post we will also have a sewing jargon busting section explaining any terms used that might be confusing. We’ve already covered the pattern envelope, now we are moving onto interpreting the patterns themselves. This week we explain how to put a PDF pattern together. Catch up on previous posts in the series here.
Whether you love them or loathe them, PDF patterns are more popular than ever so we’ve put together some tips for printing and assembling them correctly. We’ve also got some trouble-shooting solutions for when it doesn’t go quite to plan.
What is a PDF sewing pattern?
Traditionally sewing patterns are printed on large sheets of paper, which you can cut straight out or trace off. In our digital age we’ve seen the emergence of PDF sewing patterns over the last few years. These are sewing patterns divided over multiple sheets of overlapping A4 paper. You can print them out at home and stick the pieces of paper together to form a large sheet(s).
There are several advantages to using PDF patterns:
- They are usually cheaper than paper patterns
- After buying the pattern you can start sewing immediately
- You avoid expensive postage or customs charges for patterns purchased from countries that are not your own
- You can print the pattern off multiple times
- You can save paper by not printing out the instructions
- If your PDF pattern is interactive, you may be able to select just your size to print out
- If you print on standard printer paper at home it is thicker than the tissue paper used to print traditional patterns. This can make it easier to pin your pattern pieces to fabric.
- It can take quite a while to stick together all the pieces of paper
- You don’t get lovely packaging to store your pattern pieces in
- Printing can go wrong and you waste paper
What printer settings do I need to use?
- Firstly it’s really important to download and save the PDF files to your computer, don’t view them in your internet browser as they won’t display correctly (and more importantly they won’t print correctly!) Also some companies limit the number of times you can download a pattern, so if you forget to save it you might not be able to access the pattern at a later time.
- The best way to view your PDF sewing pattern is using Adobe Acrobat Reader, if you don’t already have this on your computer, you can download directly from Adobe for free here. It’s also important to keep your version up to date.
- You will notice that your pattern file is made up of loads of A4 pages. When you select print, make sure that the scale is set correctly. Most printers automatically shrink the size of an image slightly before printing so you must manually change this. Make sure that either ‘actual size’ or if you have the option ‘100%’ is selected in your printing size options. If your printer settings has a tick box called ‘fit to page’, make sure this is unticked. This will ensure that all the pattern pieces will be printed out at the correct scale, at the size the designer intended. If you don’t make these changes, the pattern pieces will be too small and so will your finished garment.
Checking the PDF pattern has printed out correctly
Most PDF sewing patterns will have a box you can measure to check you have printed the pattern at the correct scale. To double check you have printed out your PDF sewing pattern at the correct size, measure this box and check that the measurements match those given by the designer e.g. 10cm by 10cm. If you are worried about this, just print off the first page, check the box and if all is good, continue and print off the rest of the pages.
Tips for assembling the PDF pattern
To save time and using the dotted or solid line guides, just cut off the right hand side and bottom edge of each page of the PDF pattern. This will make the pages easier to stick together. If you want to save even more time, fold over these edges instead (although this will make the pattern a bit bulky when you stick it together).
The best tape to use to stick the pages together is Scotch tape, because it can be easily removed and reapplied, it is a bit more expensive to buy than other types of tape but worth it! Some people prefer to glue their pages together using something like Pritt-stick. Try both options out and see what works best for you.
It’s really important when sticking all the pages together that it is done as accurately as possible, otherwise you will add to or reduce the size of the pattern pieces. This will affect how they sew together and how the garment fits you. Using the guides included by the designer, match up the pages using the numbers or letters on the margins. There can be lots of pages for more complicated patterns (60 pages +), so make sure all the pages are stuck together in the right order.
Most designers include an overlap of the pattern markings outside of the dotted or solid rectangle box on each page, this is also to help you line up the pages with each other and ensures if your printer doesn’t print all the way to the edge, you aren’t going to lose any of the pattern details.
Don’t forget when cutting out your pattern pieces to snip/mark all the usual features e.g. notches or darts. With more lines on PDF patterns these can something get obscured or lost, so double check you’ve noticed everything before starting to sew.
Trouble-shooting PDF problems
Below is a list of queries we’ve been asked recently and how to solve them.
I’ve measured the box on my pattern and its 9.6cm x 9.6cm, what’s gone wrong? OR I’ve stuck all my pattern pieces together but they are too small/ the garment i’ve sewn is too small.
This is the printer settings. If the box measures slightly less than what is should do (e.g. 9.6cm x 9.6cm rather than 10cm x 10cm) your printer has printed it out at 96% not 100%. Next time print out the first page of the pattern only and check the measurements before printing all the pages to save paper.
When you select print, make sure that the scale is set correctly. Most printers automatically shrink the size of an image before printing slightly so you must manually change this. Make sure that either ‘actual size’ or if you have the option ‘100%’ is selected in your printing size options. If your printer settings has a tick box called ‘fit to page’, make sure this is unticked. This will ensure that all the pattern pieces will be printed out at the correct scale, at the size the designer intended.
I’m missing some pages of the pattern
This can happen when the printer feeds more than one piece of paper though the printer at the same time and some pages don’t get printed out at all. Instead of printing all the pages out again, just select the pages you are missing in your printing settings and print again.
There are no guides to help me stick the PDF pages together
Some designers don’t include a rectangular box or letters and numbers on each page, which act as a guide to assembling the PDF pattern. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about this other than to take your time and be as accurate as you can in matching up the pages. Try to make sure the overlap between the pages is the same where possible. You could measure the pattern pieces to double check the fitted garment measurements to be absolutely sure you have the right sized pattern pieces.
The pattern pieces fit together along the sides but not along the bottom (or vice versa)
The is a printing problem and to do with how the paper is being fed into your printer. If the lines are not printed accurately on the page and seem distorted our advice would be to use a different printer to get better accuracy.