This guide teaching you how to use pdf patterns is written by Helen Newton from Lilly Blossom who has been creating and selling her own range of pdf sewing guides for over 10 years. Browse her pattern store here.
Check the feedback
The first thing I recommend when looking to buy a PDF sewing guide is to use a website that has a feedback/review option where buyers can post comments about what they have created using a particular pattern. I find it really helpful to discover exactly what other buyers thought; if they found the instructions easy to follow, was it good value for money and if they were happy with the finished results. Some websites also allow buyers to post photographs of what they have made; this is a great way to see what the project looks like when made in lots of different fabrics.
Search by keyword rather than category
Most websites are divided into categories by sewing, knitting, crochet etc but sometimes it’s a good idea to do a ‘wild search’ using key words such as ‘picnic bag’ or ‘jewellery pouch’ and you may be surprised how many more patterns you find. It’s not always easy for sellers to choose categories for guides as some will fit into many areas of technique so I usually search by a general description of what I want to make, rather than just looking through the categories. If a seller has used key words or tags they should all come up in your search.
Pay attention to the skill level
Another important consideration is to check out the skill level. Most guides will rate the project as beginner, intermediate or advanced. I always read the description thoroughly to see if any special skills are needed to complete a project. Sometimes they will say what sort of machine stitches you need to be able to do, if you need to insert a zip or do any hand stitching like tacking or embroidery. If you are in any doubt about your ability I would email the seller before buying, most will welcome questions to help potential customers decide on a suitable pattern. No seller wants a buyer to be disappointed and not able to complete a project.
Check what measurement system is used
If you prefer to work in centimetres or inches this is another consideration to check before buying. Many US sewing guides are in inches only whereas most European seller will use centimetres. It can be very time consuming converting a guide to suit your preferred method; I know I have done it several times!
See if it has photos
I prefer to use sewing guides that are illustrated with photographs, not only can you see the designer actually making the item I find it can help when comparing your work with how it should look at any particular stage. Diagrams are helpful for pattern cutting and layouts of pattern pieces but they don’t generally give as much detail as a photograph can.
How to print and store the patterns.
If you only have basic PC skills it can sometimes be a little daunting when you first buy and download a PDF guide. Most websites will give you simple to follow instructions on how to download your chosen pattern. One thing I would recommend is to create a folder on your laptop or PC where you can store all of your downloaded patterns, give it a name you can easily remember like ‘Sewing Patterns’ and each time you download one save it to the same place, they are much easier to find that way. Remember that a PDF file can’t be amended or written over as it’s a protected document so you won’t have to worry about accidentally typing over parts of it. Most PDFs are designed so that you can work from your PC and you only have to print out any templates you need to cut out the fabric. If you print out the whole document you may find it easier to follow but this can sometimes work out expensive in coloured ink.
Any sewing guides that I print off I keep in a clear wallet folder with samples of fabric that I’ve used and sometimes a picture of the finished item. I always add notes in pencil too so you remember any little tips that helped me make it. It’s nice then to browse through like a book for inspiration.
Some sewing patterns will include full size printable pattern pieces which have to be printed on your home printer. If the pattern pieces are larger than an A4 sheet of paper you will need to print several sheets and cut and tape them together before using. Most of these larger designs will include dotted lines or markers on the printing so that you can line them up and join them accurately. Some small templates will easily fit onto one sheet so these are very easy to print and use. Most pattern pieces will be drawn on the document actual size so check your printers setting to make sure they will be printed the correct size, usually 100%. Many patterns have a test square on them that you can measure to ensure it has printed at the correct size.
Making your own templates
Some sewing guides will give you measurements to draw and cut your own paper patterns, usually when they are a square or rectangular shape as in a cushion cover. This will possibly require large sheets of paper or card which can sometimes be expensive to buy but I use a roll of spare wallpaper or lining paper. The wallpaper templates can be used over and over again before they need to be redrawn. A large ruler or acrylic sheet with ruled lines is invaluable for drawing any pattern pieces. Take your time to measure well and add any notes to the template as you go along i.e. pattern piece A, B, C etc, any dots or markings, how many you need to cut out etc. I also write the name of the finished project on each one, this may seem obvious but the number of times I’ve come to use a pattern piece and I’m not totally sure which part of which pattern it belongs too, especially when you start to build up a collection.
Check the licence
If you are considering making items to sell you must check if seller permits you to do so. Some designers are happy for you to make items and sell as you wish; some don’t mind you selling as long as you credit the design to their shop. Some state that you can only make the items for personal use. You must always respect the sellers’ conditions as these can be legally binding. If you are in any doubt contact the seller for clarification in writing. Some sellers are happy to licence their sewing guides for you to use in sewing classes to teach others, this is usually done by either a one off payment with unlimited use or a set charge for each time the pattern is used for a class lesson. Either way a legal agreement is usually drafted and both parties will sign it.
See what materials/equipment you will require
Most pattern listings on websites will tell you how much fabric and what sewing equipment you will need. It’s always helpful to know what types of fabric will give you a good finish and if there are any special notions needed for example, a certain type of binding, a particular needle for your sewing machine etc. If it’s the first time you are using a new sewing guide and you have expensive fabric I recommend first using some recycled fabric, it does take time but there’s nothing worse than making a mistake on expensive fabric. Remember ‘measure twice cut once’ it’s so true.
I hope these hints and tips have been helpful to you and you have lots of fun now you know how to use pdf patterns.