How to Use a Digital Sewing Pattern
So what is a digital sewing pattern, you ask? And just exactly how do you use one? Don’t worry, we needed some guidance at first, too. In fact, in our initial Indiesew research we found that this question came up quite often.
Digital patterns are a semi-recent phenomenon. If the extent of your sewing pattern experience was watching your grandmother perusing the pattern section at her local fabric store you are probably unaware that pattern technology has improved. Quite a bit, in fact. So let us explain.
Many independent designers sell their patterns in two different formats: paper and digital patterns. Paper patterns are just that: patterns printed on a very large piece of paper. Sometimes the pattern is printed on a thin tissue paper like it was when your mother sewed your second grade Easter dress. Today, we’re seeing more paper patterns printed on large format copy-weight paper that is folded neatly into a beautiful branded package with photos and instructions. Typically paper patterns are more expensive than digital patterns to cover the costs to print, package and ship them to resellers.
Digital patterns are sewing patterns distributed to the customer via a PDF (Portable Document Format) file. The PDF can be printed out from home or your local print shop on normal, letter sized paper. The user of the pattern then trims the edges of these printed sheets and tapes together according to the designer’s instructions. The end result is a paper pattern that would be the same size as the large format paper version. The small amount of extra effort is offset by the instant gratification of having your pattern ready to sew minutes after you purchase it online!
Today, we are will show you the steps for downloading, printing, trimming and taping your digital pattern. We’ll even show you a sneak peek of our process for tracing digital patterns so that your pattern pieces survive folding and storage.
Step 1: Download and save your sewing pattern
To access your Indiesew patterns simply click on Order History in the settings tab, navigate to the appropriate order and download from the following page.
Step 2: Print your sewing pattern
Once your pattern is downloaded, you’ll need to print the pattern directly from the pdf reader that you use. Before printing be sure to read all instructions that pertain to printing that pattern. Most patterns require you to print the pattern at “Actual Size” so that the scaling doesn’t interfere with the pattern dimensions. Also, ensure that you are printing on the correct size paper. Many pattern makers will publish their patterns so that they can be printed on letter size (8.5” x 11”) or A4 (210 by 297 millimeters). North America most commonly uses letter sized paper, while Europe uses A4.
Start by printing the page of the pattern that contains a scaling box as shown below. Measure that box with a ruler to ensure that you’ve printed at the correct scale. If that box is bigger or smaller than it is labeled, you’ll need to return to your print settings and make sure that you’re printing the pattern at “Actual Size”. Once the box is the correct size, print the rest of the pattern.
Step 3: Begin taping the pattern together
Once your pattern is fully printed, start with the second paper piece and trim the left long edge so that aligns with the first. We use a standard paper cutter to save time and ensure a straight cut , but a pair of paper scissors works great too.
As you move down the pattern you may have to trim the top and one side edge of each piece. Make sure to match up the pattern indicators for each page (if included on the pattern pieces) and tape each edge with clear tape. Always have a backup tape handy, as this process is tape-intensive and there isn’t anything worse than running out of tape in the middle of this process.
Step 5: Trace the correct size onto graphing interfacing
Now that your pattern is taped together you are ready to either trace your pattern or cut it directly from the paper. Cutting your pattern directly from this taped together version eliminates the step of tracing the pattern onto tracing paper, but it requires you to print and re-tape the pattern if you decide to sew up another size or modify any pieces of the pattern. We prefer to keep our taped-together pattern intact by tracing our size onto super lightweight interfacing. The interfacing can be crumpled up, folded, or otherwise shoved in the back of your pattern drawer and it won’t tear or permanently wrinkle.
Simply lay your graph interfacing over your pattern with the rough side down and trace the size you plan to sew.
Step 6: Cut out your interfacing
Next, cut out the pattern pieces from your interfacing or directly from the paper pattern. We use standard fabric scissors for curved lines and a rotary cutter and ruler for straight lines. Don’t forget to mark the pattern notches and dart lines according to your pattern instructions.
Step 6: Cut out your fabric pattern pieces
Lay the interfacing or paper pieces on your fabric according to your fabric instructions with the rough side down and secure with pins or fabric weights. It’s important to follow their layout guidelines so that the fabric grain runs the correct direction on all pieces. If you lay the pieces out willy-nilly, or in a manner you think maximizes the amount of fabric you have, you could be wearing a garment that doesn’t stretch correctly and can be quite uncomfortable. We’ve done it, and it’s no fun.
Step 7: Sew it up!
Sew up your garment according to the pattern instructions.
Voila! You’ve got a homemade garment that originated from a digital file. By using digital patterns you’re supporting small designers who might be unable to afford printing costs. And you’re allowing yourself a bit of instant gratification. Go you!
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