How do you print and use downloaded sewing patterns?
July 7, 2010 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How do you work with sewing patterns that have been purchased and downloaded from on-line?

I just don't get it. I haven't sewed anything since I was a girl guide (about 20 years ago). Back then, we bought patterns in stores. They were basically big pieces of tissue paper that you pinned your fabric to and then cut around. But it seems that doing things this way has fallen out of fashion.

I just got a sewing machine and want to get started, but this whole downloaded pattern thing has got me confused. When I receive my PDF or otherwise formatted electronic pattern, what do I do with it? Trying to tape together standard letter-size sheets of paper is something, as a newbie, I really, really don't want to do. I'm bound to mess that up. What are the alternatives? What kind of store can print the file in a much better format? What size of paper would I ask for? Do I have to request special print settings? What type of paper do I have it printed on, if I have a choice? Finally, where on-line could I just order the old school paper patterns? I can't seem to find sensible answers via google.
posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Fedex Office ( aka Kinko's ) can print PDF files. Just be sure you let them know it's for a pattern, and that the scale matters. There are a variety of paper options that they could walk you through.

This is also something that a local sign shop could do for you.
posted by odinsdream at 1:52 PM on July 7, 2010

You could also trace the pattern onto wax paper. That's what my wife does anyway.
posted by theichibun at 1:53 PM on July 7, 2010

I've used a few downloaded sewing patterns (from Burda and Colette), and did have to tape pieces together. It was sort of a pain, though not impossible, and if you mess it up at first (as I did!) you can just print it again.

It looks like you can order regular old-school printed patterns from pattern companies online—e.g. Vogue, Simplicity, Butterick.
posted by bewilderbeast at 2:04 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I need more details. bewilderbeast, when you print on letter-size and tape it together, do you still pin the fabric onto the pattern before you cut? Is that problematic?

We don't have Kinko's here. Would Staples do it? I generally find them pretty useless. Again, what size do I need to ask them to print?

You could also trace the pattern onto wax paper
What is wax paper? Where would I get such large sheets of it?
posted by kitcat at 2:21 PM on July 7, 2010

Yeah, it's not the most fun thing to do, but it's doable. Print it out, tape the pieces together, then trace the taped together thing onto that pattern paper stuff (from JoAnn or a similar place, forget what it's called...made by pelton, maybe?). Then throw away the taped-together thing and keep the nice, new version you have made. The official pattern paper will be easier to keep long term, and also easier to pin to your fabric when you're using it.

For online pattern ordering, I really like these folks.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:23 PM on July 7, 2010

I should have said -- you can avoid this entire problem by just using "regular' patterns, that is non-downloadable ones. You can go to a fabric shop, or there are tons of online places to order actual patterns that are then mailed to your home. As a beginning sewer, it might be easier to start with that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:24 PM on July 7, 2010

I have taped patterns together. It's time-consuming but kind of soothing, in that mindless way. The resulting pattern is a little stiffer than I'd prefer, but it's also really easy to redo any mistakes (if I cut the wrong size, for instance) since I can just print out the necessary pages. (And on preview, yes, you can pin the paper to your fabric if you want, or you can buy pattern weights and dispense with pinning altogether, which is what I've taken to doing.)

You can also take the PDF to Kinkos and have them print it on large-format paper. Most online patterns are no more than 35" wide so they can be printed on the 3'-wide paper. Here's a Burdastyle tutorial on doing just that.

You can also call around to a local copyshops who might be able to do it cheaper than Kinkos. If you do that, ask if they are experienced in printing out architectural prints.

Keep in mind, though, that if you have the pattern printed at a shop, you're adding quite a bit of expense.

Oh, and old school paper patterns are still available -- try Joann, Hancock Fabrics, or the websites for any of the big pattern companies (Simplicity, Vogue, etc.). I still buy most of my patterns in "old fashioned" format and only download from places like Burdastyle.
posted by devinemissk at 2:27 PM on July 7, 2010

Both of these threads discuss how to trace patterns -- these might be helpful for you:
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:28 PM on July 7, 2010

(Oh, and Staples can also do it. I'd still recommend going to a real copyshop -- look in the Yellow Pages under "Printers." They'll do a better job and be more likely to not screw it up without realizing it.)
posted by devinemissk at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2010

kitcat: "What is wax paper? Where would I get such large sheets of it?"

She gets it from the grocery store. It comes in boxes that look just like the ones for plastic wrap and aluminum foil.
posted by theichibun at 2:42 PM on July 7, 2010

Ok. It was step where you trace the taped together bits of A4 on to another, more thin and see-through kind of paper that I wasn't getting. It makes a little bit more sense now.

Is there really such a thing as 'pattern tracing paper', and would it be sold at fabric stores?
posted by kitcat at 2:46 PM on July 7, 2010

It's not tracing paper, but just blank pattern paper (I think BlahLaLa is right -- it's Pelton or somesuch). The stuff I usually see at Joann, though, is very small.

You might try an art supply shop or drafting supply store for drafting vellum or tracing paper. In fact, that reminds me that I have a roll of drafting vellum (left over from my set design days) that I've used for tracing patterns (not the printed out ones, but regular patterns that I've modified heavily). Totally forgot about that! Drafting vellum is a bit heavier than pattern paper, but also less fragile. Tracing paper will also be a bit heavier than pattern paper, but less expensive than vellum.
posted by devinemissk at 3:12 PM on July 7, 2010

Yeah: Blick Art Supply sells a 50 yard roll of 36" wide tracing paper for about $17. That's going to be much cheaper than buying little packs of pattern paper at Joann.
posted by devinemissk at 3:14 PM on July 7, 2010

If you do end up buying patterns from a store, keep an eye out for sales. Joann's and Hobby Lobby have occasional deals where patterns are $1-3. Only problem is waiting for a sale, and hoping the brand on sale that week is the one you want a pattern from.

You can also order patterns from the big name companies(Simplicity, McCall, Butterick), and there's always etsy too. I buy lots of vintage pattern there, and there are also people who seem to take advantage of the huge store sales, and then resell the patterns there for a bit more. There are also independent pattern makers like Colette Patterns selling traditional paper patterns.

Also make sure to go by the measurements on the package for sizing, and not the size you wear in store bought clothes.
posted by weskit at 3:46 PM on July 7, 2010

when I deal with PDF'ed patterns, I print them out, tape them together, and then cut it out of the paper along the lines I want for the appropriate size. I don't bother with tracing paper. Then again, I'm haphazard about transferring markings.

Burda has a setting for downloading the patterns that is for printing at copy shops. If you are using Burda, download using that option. You should, in theory, be able to send that to a copy shop in whatever way that they take delivery of files, and they will print it.

The thing to do to get started is to find a simple handbag pattern or something else small -- Etsy is great for this - and experiment with using the PDF patterns that way. Low-stakes, easy to understand. Have fun! Relax! It's not "doing it wrong," it's learning. You'll be fine.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:50 PM on July 7, 2010

I would also suggest that instead of scotch tape you cut fusible interfacing into strips and use it as heat activated tape. That way, if you ever need to press your pattern out (and you should after it has been store a while) it won't pucker and shrink like scotch tape will if an iron touches it.

If you are near a good fabric store - not Jo-Ann's* - you can get pattern tracing paper with either metric or SAE grids, as well as plain. It looks like interfacing, but hasn't the fusible backing. I like it because it doesn't tear or wrinkle as easily as paper.

*nothing against Jo-Ann's, really. I have just found that they don't have a good variety of pattern tracing paper consistently.
posted by Tchad at 3:50 PM on July 7, 2010

Get on's mailing list. They sell downloadable and will-mail-to-you patterns. They also have really good sales (which is why you want to be on their mailing list). I have ordered regular tissue patterns from them and have downloaded patterns from them with no problems. And they have a huge selection.
posted by dogmom at 5:29 PM on July 7, 2010

Hmmm... to get a decent beginner pattern, I'd find a (I hate to say it) Walmart with a fabric department. Some walmarts are getting rid of them. All patterns are 50% off all the time - at least this is true in the States. Forget downloading online patterns and taping them together. I've done it and will only do it if it's my only option - it's a huge pain - and if you're a beginner sewer, it's all complicated enough! Don't add this enormous hassle!
posted by ashtabula to opelika at 6:55 PM on July 7, 2010

I've used regular ol' tissue paper (preferably not colored dark) for tracing patterns too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:16 PM on July 7, 2010

I'm taking a literal definition of 'old school' paper patterns here:
posted by Kappi at 7:05 AM on July 8, 2010

A minor derail about the above mentioned practice of pinning a pattern to the fabric and cutting around it. That's for suckers. Hold the pattern down on the fabric with weights and trace the pattern onto the fabric. I use a Sharpie for this, but chalk would be the traditional choice. Then just cut the lines, far quicker than pinning, and you don't accidentaly snip the edges of your pattern.
posted by Jawn at 3:29 PM on July 9, 2010

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