Posted on

PDF Sewing Patterns: An Environmentally Friendly Solution and “How To” Tutorial

I’m encouraged by how passionate people are about their sewing patterns; not just the style and fit of them, but how they are packaged as well. Before venturing into the pattern making business, I gave considerable thought to what my product was going to look and feel like. I chose to go the way of electronic PDF files for a few reasons. 

Primarily, I chose this method for environmental concerns. I hate the paper waste of pre-printed patterns. As a user of commercial patterns, for many years before I became a pattern maker, I have purchased my fair share of them, most of which have never been opened. I have accumulated quite a collection which created a storage problem. So, I bought containers to store them in, and then the containers needed to be stored, etc. I think you see where I am going with this!  I find that PDF patterns are easier to file and sort electronically, making for better record keeping of what I own. I keep my files in “cloud” storage (I use Dropbox). 

Having them electronically filed keeps me from buying duplicates, as I can quickly search and find out if I already own a particular pattern. Additionally, it provides for easier and more savvy fabric shopping. I can call up my folder for dresses, for example, on my electronic device, pick a pattern and review it’s yardage requirements while I’m in the store. No more guessing what I might need! If I had decided to go the way of printed patterns, I feel I would have been contributing to the problem, as I see it, of paper collections.  There is a lot of waste in that.

Let’s take a minute to think about the waste: the ink and paper that would be used to print patterns, the cost of producing, shipping, selling and storing them in multiple fabric store venues and in my studio, and then the time and money it would take to put the patterns into more paper, envelopes, and mail them to the end user. And, lets not forget the unlikely possibility that they might not sell (tongue and cheek here!) and end up in the landfill.  But this decision is not met without adversity; however, there are those who have not yet tried to print and assemble the home printer ‘tiles’, some who have and are just not fond of the process, and others have not yet found an economical way to have the large format PDF file printed for them. Today, I’d like to address of few of those concerns.

I produce two types of electronic files. Both are included with your pattern purchase. One of them is in a large format, intended to be printed at your local printing company, and the other is formatted in 8 1/2 x 11 inch “tiles”.  These “tiles” are intended to be printed on your home printer, and assembling them should be easy after you ensure your print set-up is correct. So, here we go with the tutorial portion of this blog!

Large Format: What You Need To Know

  1. Unfortunately, not all printing companies are priced the same. Be sure to shop around and find the most economical solution for your needs. The file you receive from me is a 36” wide PDF.  (The length will vary pattern to pattern depending on the number of pieces in the pattern.) You should be able to email the PDF file you receive from me to your printing company and ask for pricing before committing to the job. In doing this, you will be able to shop around from the comfort of your home and not only save yourself a bunch of time but also from any costly surprises at the time of checkout.  In seeking out business printers, don’t forget to ask your local blueprint and banner printing companies too! Often I find they have much better pricing.
  2. Ask for black and white, not color printing. There is no need to pay the extra expense unless you want to. The file you receive from me comes as a nested, multi-sized set. The sizes are broken out in color and in different line styles.  The line styles are different enough so that you will easily be able to identify your desired cutting line when you get it home.

Home Printer Tiles: A Step-By-Step Tutorial

Follow the steps in the order provided below, and you should be on your way to easily printing out your tiled PDF pattern!

  1. Open the PDF file with Adobe Acrobat and find the page containing the 4 x 4 inch test square.
  2. The 4 x 4 inch test square is located within the pattern. You can easily find what page it is on by looking at the included pattern layout map first. (In the example below, the test square is on page 14 of the pattern tile layout map.)
  3. Scroll to the page containing the test square and then select File > Print from the task bar.
  4. When the print dialog box appears, select the “Current Page” checkbox. In the “Page Scaling” checkbox, select “None”, or, if you see the “Page Sizing & Handling” section, select “Actual Size”. 
  5. Print out the test square page only.
  6. Using a ruler, check to ensure the printed square measures 4 x 4 inches. It’s important to get the test square printing out the right size before printing out the rest of the pattern tiles. 
  7. If the square printed out 4 x 4 inches, do a little happy dance and then go ahead and print out the entire document at this time. 
  8. If the square did not print out 4 x 4 inches, you will need to refer to your printer user manual to see if your printer has a preference that my be over-ridding your print dialog box.
  9. If the idea of getting any more technically involved at this point is irritating you, like it does for me, then may I suggest this is a good time to go visit with a friend and use her printer instead 🙂
Assembling the Tiles
  1. Prepare your assembly space and put on your favorite TV show, Podcast or music selection. This will take about 30 minutes to complete.
  2. On a large surface area, and using your pattern layout map as a reference, layout the first row of tiles in the order they need to be assembled.
  3. For the first row, you only need to trim the left sides of each tile. When trimming, do not cut off the guideline.  Hint: It’s easier to align properly when you align and stack the guidelines on top of each other before taping in place. 
  4. For the remaining rows you need to trim the left and top sides of each tile. Again, be careful not to cut off the guidelines.
  5. While keeping the tiles in the correct order, trim them all before beginning beginning assembly. 
  6. Once all of the pages are trimmed, continue referring to the pattern layout map as your guide and begin at the top. Then, in a left to right motion, align and tape the tiles together. You do not need to use a lot of tape for this assembly. You just need to secure the squares together with a small piece of tape in each corner and one in the middle of each guideline. 
  7. When you reach the last tile and have it secured, I recommend you trace the pattern pieces with your favorite tracing paper. The taped-together home printer paper pattern tiles are a little tough to deal with on fabric.
  8. And now you are done! Another happy dance at this point is entirely appropriate here. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I am always happy to hear feedback and help in whatever way I can. You can email me at any time at And, you can view and purchase all of my digital patterns, including my newest release, the Tammy Top, at my Etsy shop:

Happy Sewing!!
Owner/Designer, ZigZag Designs