Ode to a Digital Pattern

Assembling a Digital pattern | Inanorchard

This isn’t really an ode.  Strictly speaking it’s a PDF pattern review and instructional post, but that sounds really boring; hence the catchy but misleading title.

Let’s take a moment to just talk about PDF patterns, or as they are more frequently called these days; digital patterns.  In the 5 or 6 years that I have been seriously sewing, I have seen digital patterns advance and grow by leaps and bounds.  What started out as a cost-effective way for small independent pattern companies (most of them Esty sellers) to sell and distribute patterns, has become the wave of the future.  People who were brave enough to try these new PDF patterns, quickly realized the many benefits digital patterns had to offer.  Suddenly small independent pattern companies were sprouting up everywhere and growing rapidly. It opened up a whole new world of sewing techniques and pattern styles to a new generation of self-taught seamstresses.

So let’s take a minute to go over all the advantages a digital pattern has to offer.

1.  Instant gratification-  you find a pattern you like online, purchase it and instantly you are emailed a link that will download the pattern to your home computer.  INSTANT!  I don’t know about you, but that’s worth a lot to this busy mom, who no longer shops at any store that doesn’t sell disposable diapers.

2.  Superior instructions and photos- because these patterns are digital files, pattern companies no longer need to be stingy with written instructions and visual aids.  It costs real money to manufacture a paper pattern with lengthy instructions, which is why the patterns of our fore-mothers seemed so irritatingly cryptic.  With a digital pattern you not only get more detailed written instructions, but nearly all of them come with photographs.  Actual colored photographs showing exactly what each step looks like.

3. Re-printing-  at any time you can reprint your pattern.  Let that sink in for a moment.  NO MORE PATTERN TRACING!!  No longer do you have to spend an extra 20 to 30 minutes tracing an exact size in order to preserve all the sizes.  When you, or your child need a different size you simply reprint.  It also makes it easy to replace lost or damaged pattern pieces (which happens a lot when you have and 18-month-old living in your house).

4. Cost- Most digital patterns are less expensive than printed patterns.  Because there are no printing expenses, pattern companies are able to pass that savings on to the consumer.  This isn’t universally true, some of the more popular pattern companies (such as Oliver + S) charge as much for their digital patterns as they do their printed patterns.  Etsy is an amazing source for inexpensive, well written, stylish PDF patterns. 

Because there are so many compelling reasons to use digital patterns, I’m always surprised when I run into people who love to sew but have never used one. I ask myself “why?”.  What’s the hangup?  I think the big hurdle is the daunting thought of having to purchase, print, and assemble one’s own pattern.  Especially for people (like myself) who have a love/hate relationship with their computer.  Fear not!  Downloading and assembling digital patterns doesn’t have to be intimidating.  In fact the lovely people who produce digital patterns work really hard to make these steps as easy as possible.

And today is your lucky day, because I’m going to do a quick tutorial on how to assemble a digital pattern.

Once you have purchased and downloaded your pattern, you will print it on your home computer using regular computer paper.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

On every digital pattern there will be a “test square”.  Its a small 1″ by 1″ square (or in this case a 2″ by 2″ square).  BEFORE you print off the entire pattern, print just the page with the test square.Assembling PDF patterns | Inanorchard

Measure the square to make sure that it’s the right dimensions.  If your square is the right size, your pattern will print with the correct dimensions.  If the square is smaller or bigger than it should be, then you will need to adjust your printer settings.  I know that sounds terrifying, but all digital patterns include instructions for printer troubleshooting, which will walk you through the changes you need to make to your printer settings.  All that being said, I have never encountered a digital pattern that didn’t print correctly on the first try.

Once you’ve checked the test square and it checks out, go ahead and print the rest of the pattern.

Now that you’ve printed your pattern it’s time to assemble the pieces.Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Each pattern company has its own system for helping you match and assemble the pattern pieces, but all of them are very clear.  Some are color coded, some have a number matching system…

This pattern uses an alphabetical labeling system.  The first thing I do match up all the letters and then lay out the pieces on the kitchen table.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Next I trim half of the horizontal dotted lines, and leave half of them untrimmed.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Then I match all the trimmed edges up with the untrimmed edges and tape them together.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

When that step is done it looks like the picture below.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Next I trim half of the vertical dotted lines and leave half untrimmed.  Once all of the vertical lines are matched and taped the pattern piece is ready to be used.

At this point I flip over the paper and reinforce the back with a few more pieces of tape.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Just repeat those steps with each pattern piece until you have all the pieces needed for sewing.  Not all the pattern pieces will require assembly, only the ones that are too big to fit on a single sheet of paper.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

Before I begin cutting out the pattern I like to use a yellow marker to mark the size I’m going to use.  This helps my eye stay on the right line as I’m cutting.

I store all of my printed patterns in Zip-lock bags and file them neatly in alphabetically order in a file box.  Not really.  They get tossed haphazardly in a cardboard box that is bursting at the seams. At least they’re all in Zip-lock bags and in one place now; which is a drastic improvement over my last filing system which bore a striking resemblance to a recycling bin.

Assembling a PDF pattern | Inanorchard

I hope this will give you the courage to give digital/PDF patterns a chance.  I think you’ll find that the benefits out-weigh any of drawbacks.  If you have any questions please feel free to leave me a message and I’ll do my best to answer!

Thanks and happy sewing!  ~April


2 thoughts on “Ode to a Digital Pattern

  1. Susan

    Have you tried this with young ladies and adult size clothing? I was just wondering how many pages of printer paper would have to be taped together. It seems a lot easier with little clothing but maybe someday I will be brave! :-)

    1. April Post author

      Susan, I haven’t done any PDF patterns for myself, but I’m hoping to soon! Maybe I’ll write a part two to this post, but yes, I imagine it would be a lot of printing and assembling.


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