How To Use Digital Sewing Patterns Posted on 21 Mar 11:44

Let’s start with the most basic question. What is a digital sewing pattern and how does it work? 

Sewing patterns come in two formats: paper and digital. You might recall your mother or grandmother unfolding a large piece of tissue paper, laying it out on the kitchen table and either tracing the pattern pieces for her desired size onto a second piece of paper or cutting them out directly. This is a paper pattern. Digital patterns result in the same pattern pieces, but are downloaded onto your device(s) as a PDF file and printed from home!

While assembling your digital pattern does require an extra step, there are SO many benefits:

  • The option to print only the pages you need for your size and version saves paper and space on your table.
  • Instant gratification of a downloadable file lets you get started on a project the moment inspiration strikes.
  • Often they are less expensive than paper copies because you are not paying for professional printing, packaging or postage.
  • And you can use and reuse your digital pattern as many times as you like. No more losing patterns, if say, the dog eats it.

So, let’s talk about the details…


Step 1: Download & Save

When you purchase a digital sewing pattern from a PDF (Portable Downloadable Format) file will be emailed to you. In this email there will be a direct link for you to download your file. It will look just like the screenshot above. I recommend saving this file right away to a memorable place on your computer or device. I have a file on my desktop for Sewing Patterns and I organize them by type of pattern (dresses, tops, pants, kids…).

Some downloads contain only one PDF file which includes the written instructions and pattern pieces. Others will contain a zip file, which includes multiple PDF files, involving separate PDFs for the written instructions and pattern pieces. If the pattern has different versions, you may even find a file for each version. Additionally, you may find that some patterns include a copy shop version of the pattern pieces. (More on this in step 2.)


Step 2: Print

You are now ready to print your pattern!

Whether you choose to print from home or at your local print shop, the most important thing to keep in mind is properly setting the print scale. After you choose File>Print and the print dialogue box opens on your screen, be sure to select 100% Scale or Actual Size (depending on your printer settings).You do NOT want to Scale to Fit. 

Also, make sure you are printing on the appropriate size paper. Many designers will publish their patterns so that they can be printed on either Letter size (8.5”x11”) or A4. North America most commonly uses letter size paper, while Europe most commonly uses A4.

Before printing the entire pattern, print the page that has the test square and measure the box to confirm you are printing the proper scale. Speaking from experience, this will save you a lot of time and tears. 

 A few additional recommendations you may find helpful are print your pattern in “draft” version. This will save you on printer ink. Also, print only the pages you will need for your pattern. Often, I view the instruction pages on my ipad, which saves me paper and ink. Many patterns are now made in “layered files” which means you can select the size and or specific pattern pieces you want to print at that time.

It is possible you have also received a Copy Shop version of your pattern pieces. If so, you have the option of sending this wide format document to your local print shop saving you the time of taping it together.

Be sure to request it is scaled at 100% before printing and double check by measuring the text square before you take your copy home. You can also request the thinnest/most inexpensive paper available.


Step 3 : Trim

The pattern pieces will print with a border around all 4 sides of the page. You will need to trim off the necessary borders in order to assemble the pattern pieces, but by all means, you can save time by only cutting the top and left sides of each page. You can even skip trimming the top off the first row of pages and the left side off the first page of each row. Note: some designers are now making trimless pattern pages, meaning there is no border to trim. 


Step 4: Assemble

It’s now time for assembly! In short, you are going to tape your pages together to create a master copy of the pattern pieces just like the large sheet of tissue your grandmother used. Each designer may have a slightly different marking system to show you how the pages fit together. Here are a couple of examples:

Farah of Mingo & Grace numbers each page. The pattern pieces fit together by following her numerical order as seen in the diagram included in the pattern. Be sure to aline all of the markings and pattern lines. 

Others will have an alphanumeric system which will help you line up the correct pages next to each other. 

When in doubt, the pattern will always include brief explanation to help aline the pages together. 

As you tape the pages together be sure to cover any cut lines, as well as the intersections where four corners meet. This will make sure you don’t have any wild flapping parts, which tend to tear more easily. From here, you can tape every few inches across the seams of the pattern pieces. 


Step 5: Trace & Cut Paper Pattern Pieces

Once all your pages are taped together, you can either trace your desired size of each pattern piece onto tissue paper and cut them out OR you can cut out your pieces directly from the printer paper. If I have printed just my specific size, I cut out my pattern pieces directly.

If you trace your pattern pieces, don’t forget to transer all markings (notches, grainlines, dart lines, etc.) onto your tracing paper. I always write the pattern name, size, specific pattern piece, and special instructions on each piece as well.


Step 6: Cut Your Fabric

You can now use your pattern pieces to cut out your fabric just like you would any other pattern. You will want to follow the layout guidelines included in your pattern so that the grainline runs the correct direction on each piece. This is really important for the proper the drape and fit of your garment.


Step 7: Time to Sew!

Let the fun begin! Now follow the written instructions in your pattern to sew up your project!