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How To Use PDF Sewing Patterns – A Beginners Guide


I LOVE the internet for crafting, specifically I love the fact that it has given us access to a much wider range of sewing patterns from all over the globe. Pattern designers upload their patterns as PDF files.  I have downloaded any number of PDF sewing patterns over the last few years. Some I paid for and some were free of charge.  I have learnt a few things along the way that might just be useful to you in starting out with PDF sewing patterns.

Note: Please take all your usual precautions when downloading pattern files in checking that they are from a reputable source and that you are ONLY downloading the file not a virus!

What to expect when you open a file and printing:
Pattern Source: Tilly and the Buttons (

Pattern Source: Tilly and the Buttons (

Each page of the sewing pattern is there in front of you, you simply need to connect up your printer and print it.  However when you are printing there are a couple of things you need to watch out for:

How to Print

Pattern Source: Tilly and the Buttons (

It is crucial that you select “actual size” or “print 100%” or the printer will try to be helpful and fit all the pieces onto less paper and you will end up with pattern pieces that might fit your dog or cat once made up (if you are lucky) and it wont make sense when you try to put all the pages together!

If the pattern is from an experienced or professional designer they will have a checking mechanism built into the pattern design so that you can check it has printed to size.  The square below appeared on the first page of the wonderful pattern I bought from Tilly and the Buttons. So I could check the size as soon as it printed and not waste paper printing the rest of the pattern if it was the wrong size!

Test Square

Pattern Source: Tilly and the Buttons (

If the pattern is less modern or sometimes if it is free of charge you may have to make an educated guess.  I recently downloaded a free apron pattern and it had no way to check if the print size was accurate.As this was a simple pattern with very little in the way of tailoring I resorted to holding it up against myself to check and adjust the fit.

Checking Pattern Sizing-1

What you get once the file has printed:

The program usually splits the pattern into A4 pages that start with the number 1 in the top left corner of the pattern and, page 2 is the next in the top two rows assembled. (to see exactly what I mean look at the red text I have added to the assembled pattern picture below).

Assembly - Final Assembled Piece-2

Most patterns have “markers” to help you line up the pieces.  You can see some examples of these in the image below.

Different Methods For Aligning Pattern Pieces

Assembling the pattern for me involves a glue stick, paper scissors and a large cup of tea! I trim the borders off of each page, one at a time and glue them into position as I go.  That way I do not muddle the pages up and have loose ones floating around!

Pattern Assembly Collage

I won’t lie, lining up can be a little tricky and I work on the “more is best” principle.  That means, if the main outline lines on the pieces line up pretty well I can sort out darts and notches in the pattern once it is assembled!

I’ve Glued It Together – Now What?

You have the same two basic options that you do with a store bought pattern.

  1. Use tracing paper/dressmaker’s carbon paper to trace it from the main sheet(s) – this preserves the pattern for other uses in other sizes.
  2. Cut it out with paper scissors and use it on your fabric.

I don’t get on very well with tracing and to be honest I don’t have the patience when I can print it again if I want a different size (the beauty of PDF patterns, create a folder on your computer labelled patterns and keep them all in there!). I use them directly onto the fabric.

Pinned Pattern-1

Some people do find that printer paper is too think and immobile for them though.  Tracing paper is certainly lighter.

A word of warning though; if they arrive saved with an obscure name save them as something you recognise or you will never remember which pattern is which!

In picture 1. You will see my pattern file layout (a folder for “Patterns”, and one each for Sewing, Knitting and Embroidery) in picture 2. you will see the original pattern name, in picture 3 I have changed it to something I will recognise

Renaming Patterns Collage

Well, those are my top tips and I would love to hear from anyone who has something else to make PDF patterns less daunting – I am a true magpie, always on the look out for bright ideas!

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