March 27, 2020

How to Use PDF Sewing Patterns: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

What are PDF sewing patterns? How do I use PDF patterns? If you’ve been using printed patterns for the entire time you’ve been sewing, PDF patterns can seem like a whole other world. But they’re actually quite easy to use! If you are completely new to PDF sewing patterns, here’s a handy guide that will fill you in on everything you need to know to get started (and maybe even fall in love) with PDF sewing patterns.

how to use PDF sewing patterns

If you’ve only ever used printed patterns, it may come as a surprise to you that the majority of the patterns purchased from the Cashmerette shop are actually PDF patterns, not printed patterns! PDF patterns are handy for so many reasons, and the online sewing community has widely adopted them, with some pattern companies even moving to PDF only (or only offering PDF patterns to begin with).

Want to design and sketch your sewing plans on a body figure that looks like you? Get your free MyBodyModel preview »

Learning how to use PDF sewing patterns will allow you to access more patterns than you ever imagined possible! So let’s jump right in.

What is a PDF sewing pattern?

A PDF sewing pattern, sometimes called a digital pattern, is, at its core, the same thing as a printed pattern. By this we mean that the garment you end with after you’ve sewn it up is the exact same as if you were to sew it up from a printed pattern. There’s no difference in the fundamental pattern itself, it’s simply a different format.

A PDF pattern is a digital version of the printed pattern. If you were to take a piece of tissue on which a pattern was printed, and cut it up into letter-sized pieces and scan them each in separately, you’d end up with a file similar to what you get when you purchase a PDF pattern.

This means that when you get a PDF pattern, you can instantly download it on your computer and print off on your home printer on regular paper. (See a step-by-step tutorial for how to do that here.) Imagine getting an idea for a garment, finding the pattern, and being able to start working on it right away—instant gratification! No need to go to the store or wait for a printed pattern to be mailed to you.

The Cashmerette Turner Dress, like all of our patterns, is available as downloadable PDF pattern.

Don’t have a printer at home, or don’t want to use your own ink and paper? You can choose send off the PDF pattern files to a copy shop to have it printed there. (Check out this post for how to print copyshop files cheaply.)

Why is it called a PDF pattern? The term “PDF” is a type of file format that many computers can open. (It stands for Portable Document Format, but you don’t need to remember that—in fact, I had to look it up just now!) It’s a fairly universal file type, and it protects the contents of the document so that they don’t shift around unintentionally.

Why use PDF sewing patterns?

We’ve started to touch on this a bit already, but let’s go through it in a bit more detail. There’s a longstanding debate in the sewing community about which is better—PDF or printed—but we think they’re both great for different reasons!

As we said, PDF patterns can be downloaded instantly. This means you can access them from anywhere in the world without paying shipping (although you may have to pay a digital goods tax, depending on the country you’re in). If a designer you like puts out a new pattern, you can buy it, download it, print it out and sew it up within a few hours—without ever leaving your house!

Need a chic dress, like right now? The Cashmerette Upton Dress is available as a PDF pattern.

Another great benefit is that you can print off the pattern as many times as you want. Has it ever happened to you that you’ve cut out your size into a tissue pattern, only to find that you needed a different size? If that happens with a PDF pattern, you can simply reprint the pattern. Lost a pattern piece, or damaged a pattern by accident? Print it out again. It’s that easy.

Oh! And PDF patterns are often a bit cheaper than printed patterns (and as we mentioned, you don’t need to pay for shipping). Of course you then need to factor in how much it costs you to print it yourself, but depending on your situation that may be less than the difference in price/shipping.

There are many other benefits to PDF patterns—you don’t need to trace them out, they don’t take up physical space until you’ve actually made them—and hopefully you’re starting to see why you might consider using them.

What does a PDF pattern look like?

PDF patterns generally come in a ZIP file, which is basically a folder containing multiple files. To access the files inside the ZIP file, you’ll need to unzip the file which is generally done by double-clicking on the file.

Inside the folder you’ve just unzipped, you’ll see different versions of the pattern: one that’s made for printing at home and one that’s made for printing at a copy shop.

Let’s take a look at the Turner Dress PDF pattern as an example. Here’s how the print-at-home file looks when you open it.

This format is designed to be printed on letter or A4 sized paper on your home printer (yes, it’s the same file which works for both sizes of paper), and then tiled together to create a really large sheet of paper.

Here’s how the copy shop file looks when you open it.

Copy shop files are formatted to print on really large paper—way bigger than what the average person has at home. But that means that more pattern pieces can fit on each page, so this file has 2 pages while the print at home file has 30 pages.

A PDF pattern will often also contain a separate file that contains the sewing instructions—you can choose to print this out at home or access digitally if you want to save some paper.

At Cashmerette, we also include a “Read Me” file with all of our PDF patterns. This file helps you know which file to print for which cup size and printing option. If you’re a G/H cup, there’s no need for you to waste ink and paper on the C/D cup pieces, so we’ve separated them all out into separate files for you.

How do I print PDF patterns?

Do you have a printer at home? Great! You can use the print-at-home files on your regular printer using letter or A4 paper. We have a complete guide on how to print your PDF patterns at home here.

Don’t have a printer at home, or prefer to use a copy shop? Getting digital patterns printed at copy shops has become easier and cheaper over time. Check out this post about cheap copy shop options (US and worldwide). If you get a quote from local copy shop for more than the cost of a printed pattern, chances are there’s a cheaper option available elsewhere

Here are some key things to keep in mind when it comes to printing:

  • Just print the first page initially, and check the sizing (see below)—that way, if it isn’t correct, you haven’t wasted a lot of paper, and you can re-try.
  • We recommend using Adobe Reader for opening and printing PDF patterns. Don’t try to print them directly from your web browser, because because they will print out inaccurately. Adobe Reader also allows you to turn off certain “layers” so that you only print the size(s) you need—we’ll get more into this in a later post.
  • When printing at home, make sure you’re printing to scale. Printers often try to “help” by resizing the contents to fit the size of the page, but that distorts the pattern! Make sure to select “no scaling” or “custom scale= 100%”, and print the first page (which has the test square on it) first to make sure it’s printing at the right size. You’ll also want to make sure you printer has the content centered on the page so nothing gets cut off.
  • Be sure you’ve selected the right file type, and in the case of Cashmerette patterns, the right cup size! You wouldn’t want to accidentally print off the copy shop version at home, or have the copy shop print the at-home version on large-format paper. (Imagine how big those pieces would be!)

I have my PDF pattern printed, now what?

First of all, pat yourself on the back. That was the hard part (and it wasn’t so hard, right?) and the rest is breezy.

Before going any further, check that the file printed at the correct scale. To do this, measure the test square with a ruler. If it’s off, your entire pattern will be off so don’t try to make do with what you’ve printed—you’ll need to re-print.

If you printed your pattern on letter or A4 paper, you’ll need to tape or glue the pages together before you can cut them out. There’s a guide in the instructions for how to do this. Here’s what it looks like for the Turner Dress:

You’ll notice that on each page, there’s a bit of margin around the grid. You may think that you need to trim all of the margins off, but we can actually do it without trimming off everything. Just trim off the right and bottom margins and you’re good to start taping!

At Cashmerette, we’ve included a light-gray grid in the background. All of the squares of the grid should be 1”. This is SUPER helpful when tiling, because it lets you see easily when your taping might be a little off. If your pattern piece doesn’t look quite right once you’ve taped it up, check the grid!

Once you’ve taped up your pieces, you can cut them out. (There’s no need to trace since you can always print out another copy, but you’re also welcome to trace if you’d like.)

If you printed your pattern at a copy shop, you can simply cut right into it.

From there on out, everything’s the same as you’re used to with printed patterns!

Final thoughts on PDF patterns

That’s not so bad right? It may seem a bit confusing until you try it for yourself, but once you’ve figured it out for one pattern, you simply do the same thing with every new pattern.

We’ll be providing more resources on using PDF patterns in the coming days, but here’s a final tip: be sure to save all of your PDF patterns onto you computer, and ideally also back them up (by emailing them to yourself, or using a website like Google Drive or Dropbox). As much as we like to think they can’t, computers can crash, and no one wants to lose their stash of patterns that way.

Are you new to PDF patterns, and have questions for us? Drop them in the comments below—we’re here to help! Or if you’re a seasoned PDF pattern users, tell us why you love them and what tips and tricks you’ve found along the way.

And if you’re ready to try your first PDF pattern, you can find all the patterns we offer right here!

15 thoughts on “How to Use PDF Sewing Patterns: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

  1. Cindy Cash says:

    I think all these blogs n videos are wonderful… they have the best information n sooooo educational… thank you for making these available for free…

  2. Mimi Routh says:

    I’m remembering that cool dude who said “Yes we can!” Or the little train that said “I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can. . .” Thank you!

  3. Ann spink says:

    How do I use the 1” Square.

    1. Ayelet says:

      The 1″ square (as well as the background grid) is there to help you check that you’ve printed your pattern to the right scale. Measure the 1″ square and if it’s not exactly 1″ x 1″, you’ll know that the scale of your printing is off.

      -Ayelet at Cashmerette

  4. Erin says:

    So helpful, thanks!

  5. Leeann says:

    I’m only used to sewing with tissue-paper patterns. I liked that if you needed to match a plaid, you could see through the tissue paper. This seems impossible with a PDF pattern printed at home. Do you print on thin paper, or what?

    1. Ayelet says:

      The paper that you print PDF patterns on is generally not thin enough to see through, unfortunately. But if you had a particular need to see through it, you could trace the relevant pattern piece onto tissue paper.
      -Ayelet at Cashmerette

  6. Wendy A Kafka says:

    If I download one size today, and then decide I needed a different size tomorrow, could I come back to the website and download the 2nd size without paying again?

    1. Ayelet says:

      All of our patterns include multiple sizes (either 0-16 or 12-32) so you’ll have access to more than one size and you can download/reprint as many times as you need. And with our Club patterns, you get 0-32 so you have access to all of the sizes.

      -Ayelet at Cashmerette

      1. Wendy A Kafka says:


  7. Nancy Isaac says:

    Is a 5/8” seam allowance included or does it need to be added?

    1. Ayelet says:

      We include the seam allowance in all of our patterns. It’s usually 1/2″ for woven patterns and 3/8″ for knit patterns, but you should check with the specific pattern that you’re using.

      -Ayelet at Cashmerette

  8. Fatima kamara says:

    The information is great! I am new to sewing. I wanted to make multiple size dress for mother and daughter. Do I trace the size and cut that? What’s a good tracing paper?

    1. Ayelet says:

      Hi Fatima, we have a video all about tracing patterns here:

      -Ayelet at Cashmerette

  9. Sassy says:

    I looked at the instructions you posted for downloading & retrieving the pdf patterns, and then putting them together. I have been sewing since I taught myself when I was 12, 58 years ago, but this just seems way overwhelming and too much trouble. Give me the old fashioned pattern that contains what I need!

Let me know what you think!