As I do for nearly everything nowadays, one day I thought to look online for sewing patterns and my world changed! I stumbled upon the concept of electronic patterns by independent designers! My, my, my. Isn’t it grand!! The internet was made for this!
If anyone is ever interested in picking sewing as a hobby, now is definitely the time! Pattern selection has undergone big changes since the 70’s. And nearly all technological. I was going to say it is all convenience, but it is more like the conveniences gained from self-serve gas stations. Yes, they are more likely to be open 24/7, but honestly your manual input to the process has really increased.
To obtain patterns before humans were networked, we went down to a store to browse through commercial books. Once you made a pattern selection, you also selected a size and retrieved a physical package. Once you paid for it, a small strip was removed from the flap to show it was purchased.
Regardless, the flexibility, range of sizes, and convenience are all game changers for me. Most of the independent or “indie” pattern designers have great websites with high-quality photography. They make it easy to purchase online and it is all combined with instant gratification (if a little more work on your part).
The first thing Mum would ask is, how do I get a pattern out of the computer? So, Mum, it is a kind of electronic file called a portable document file (.pdf). It opens up on your screen and has words, pictures, diagrams or graphics all arranged so that it will look exactly the same regardless of what computer or printer it is viewed on or printed from.
When you buy a pattern in pdf, it is possible to open it and print it out, but even if you type on it, your changes are not saved. It is also possible to “turn off” or hide certain parts of the file (like pulling out certain pages from a stack). They are not visible and/or not printed. These are its layers. In fact the only thing that can be changed is the size. The file must be printed at 100% to get accurate pattern piece sizes.
There is a free program, Adobe Reader, that you download and install to read your electronic pattern files and other .pdf files.
How do .pdf patterns actually work?
After you purchase the pattern, you download and open the file from the link provided. Usually you can just double-click this file to unzip or un-compress it. Inside the folder, you will find one or two file names that end with “.pdf”. Look for “instructions” or “pattern” and double click to open.
Individual pattern pieces are often bigger than a standard 81/2” x 11” paper, so it is necessary to stick them together like a jigsaw puzzle to re-create the full-size pattern pieces. So, for the .pdf to be functional as a pattern, you need a printer. (There is also an option of sending the pattern file to a printer and then have it shipped to you.)
Inside each .pdf pattern file is somewhere between 25-30 or as much as 60-70 pages. This includes several pages containing the sewing instructions, links to further information and of course the pattern pieces themselves. Each pattern piece normally spans several pages and so you stick them together lining up the edges as indicated. Some patterns require that you trim the edges of the paper, but many cleverly overlap so it isn’t necessary. When the pattern all comes together, you cut out the individual pattern pieces.
So, you need a computer with internet, a printer and paper, a pdf document reader, a glue stick or two, and an on-line payment method you are comfortable with and voila you can put together instant pattern pieces and instructions.
Well, not exactly “voila” since it can be tedious and time-consuming to put them together and the cut out your pattern pieces. It helps if you have a large area or table to spread out across, a steady hand for lining things up and a good pair of paper scissors.
Other than the purchase and paste, these indie patterns are also different in many other respects to traditional patterns:
This is an amazing thing about every pattern I have purchased on-line to date. The sizes ranges are huge spanning easily across XXS-3XL for a single pattern. Not only does this make the pattern much more flexible, it makes grading within sizes for a single garment easier too. the size range is fixed with a paper pattern. Once you use it for a small size, it can’t be used again for a larger size. With .pdf file, just print and do up another one! Don’t underestimate this!
In the older style patterns, there is a sameness of language and use of specialized industry-specific terms. This was the same across all patterns so it was also a sort of short-hand once you understand it well. I appreciated that there was usually a standard definitions list and the text was easy to read, but really a beginner needed a guru.
In my experience so far with indie instructions, they are clear enough I suppose but some are better than others. Some use funky fonts (which can be at worst irritating) but at least there is personality there. If anything, I’m surprised the instructions aren’t better with so much room to be innovate and personalize. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was vaguely disappointed at the professional tone and sameness of them.
Personally, I have downloaded only one pattern so far where the instructions were so awful that I couldn’t finish the item.
On the upside, if sections are confusing, the process is almost always supported by blog entries on the designers’ sites including sew-a-longs where the garment is made and photographed at each stage. Several times, I have seen a link to a little home video showing how something specific is done. I have several times been lost but found the solution by going back to the website. When making one pattern for the 4th (5th?) time, I did a search for the pattern on the designers blog and found a whole round-up of hacks specific to that pattern. Fabulous!
I try to only buy from designers with these additional conveniences:
- No-trim pages!
- Overall diagram of all .pdf pattern pages
- Links within the document to jump to sections (e.g., side menu)
- Layers to print different sizes
- Links to inspirations sets (e.g, their hashtag on instagram)
In summary, in my opinion, instructions themselves on indie patterns are certainly equivalent to traditional. With the added support, they are wonderful for the beginner and advanced sewer. Having said that though, I think there is a lot of room for innovation here still.
Electronic patterns are often slightly cheaper than their own paper pattern equivalent, but not cheaper necessarily from traditional patterns. Your final cost estimate should also include the ink, paper (+ optional tracing paper), glue – storage and assembly time for the sewer. For me in Canada, I often also have to include an exchange rate.
With all the extra work involved, I initially assumed .pdf type patterns might be cheaper than they are. However, purchasing an electronic pattern online is at least the same cost as purchasing a paper pattern in the traditional way and a lot more work.
I do appreciate the skill and training needed to create these patterns (I truly do!) and there is a software cost to the designer too, photography, writing and revising instructions and the testing and release process not to mention the website hosting, web design and maintenance and secure commerce overheads for the designer. I’m not saying the final cost is unreasonable, but when I am spending so much time preparing and cutting out the pages, I feel a little frustrated.
Indie patterns do seem to be more expensive and work intensive overall. However, many patterns for women, children and men are often bundled and many designers have great sales, coupons, affiliate programs, loyalty programs and freebies.
Both types of patterns have information about fabric selection (weight, stretch, size) and recommended notions. But, again .pdf for the win due to links to actual fabrics suppliers. Also, it is possible to search patterns by fabric (ie, woven or stretch) in many online pattern shops.
Well-tested & Professional Sizing
In nearly all cases, the clothing designers I have used have many testers across all the size ranges in their pattern- and as a bonus they often post their creations for inspiration. The sizing is generally accurate in my experience. I find that some designers are better than others at sizing so I look for “curvy” friendly examples before purchasing. In the few times that I bought without seeing a good range of sizes on social media, the sizing was all wrong for my body type. Most of the instructions include tips and tricks for grading between sizes or making area-specific adjustments. Tons of great resources and support information.
When I find a pattern I like, it is easy to make many different ways and fabrics that change the look completely.
Now my Mum was a true creative and artist. She could draw beautiful portraits and figures and had an incredible sense of colour. She could look at the patterns and envision her own finished garment with her choice of fabric and colours. I just saw the rather boring looking drawings that didn’t speak to me of anything like a wearable garment.
Guess what? I’m finding that my skill here is actually improving with practice! With the use of hashtags, it is easy to find sometimes hundreds of versions of the same pattern made by all sizes, colours, fabrics and skill levels. I love this about indie patterns! Tremendously exciting to consider adding your own creations too.
Okay – to be fair there is much of a sameness across the designers that I have discovered so far. Nearly every designer has a t-shirt pattern and a leggings pattern. Except for some exceptions, even the necklines are so similar. Why or why are there so many patterns for leggings? Leggings! I still haven’t found a single indie designer that has more than one or two patterns I like. I have to keep looking for new ones to find a different kind of pattern. But, you know, the internet is a big place and I have tons of browsing to do!
Okay – this is a problem. I know that many people go the extra step and trace the pattern pieces onto tissue paper, wax paper or parchment paper and store them more easily in file folders or something similar. I haven’t taken this extra step yet and have a closet full of huge flat pattern pieces held together with a clip. Each time I look for the pattern I pull them all out and sort through them. I staple or clip the instructions together and throw them in a drawer. There are many options discussed to store the patterns, but I haven’t found anything satisfactory yet. It is getting to the point where I have to come up with a viable solution though.
Today’s electronic pattern options offer better size ranges, instructions, fabric selection, sizing options, inspiration, and variety.
The cost difference is about neutral and storage and pattern assembly is a bit of a pain or at least now part of the sewing process.
I’d say it is a clear win for modernity!