An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: PDF Sewing Patterns

Hi readers, welcome to Monday morning. And when it’s Monday that means The Absolute Beginner’s Guide. So today we’re talking about PDF sewing patterns – what are they? Are they better than an average sewing pattern? How are they assembled? For today’s example we’ll be talking about Simple Sews free Brigitte Dress pattern which I’m actually sewing right now – perfect right?


What are PDF Patterns?
PDF patterns are sewing patterns that you can download from the interwebs, print out at home (or work *wink wink*) and cellotape together. The Big Four offer all their patterns in PDF or solid-printed-in-an-envelope-form. Many indie companies such as Pattern Runway, Victory Patterns, Sinbad and Sailor, Cake Patterns, Simple Sews also offer their patterns in PDF format. Basically, PDF sewing patterns offer an alternative to hard copy patterns for customers because they are nearly always cheaper than the hard copy.

So why aren’t all patterns in PDF Format?
I think Steph from Cake Patterns said it best when I interviewed her last year:
“Even though it’s relatively cheap and easy, most people don’t want to go to the trouble of printing and assembling their own patterns. It’s a personal preference. The market for PDF patterns is really small compared to the number of people who sew. In order for me to be able to make a job out of pattern design, I need to make paper patterns.” Well said Steph.

So… Are They Any Good?
Good question – I mean if you can just order the solid thing online or buy it in a shop why would you fluff about with assembling PDF patterns? I guess the key benefit of buying PDF patterns is that you never have to leave the house! You can print it straight out at home and you’d never have to worry about the retailer running out of the pattern either. Also, totally beneficial to mistake-makers like myself is that you can reprint your pattern if you cut the pattern in the wrong size. But the best coolest thing about PDF patterns is that many indie pattern brands offer a free pattern in PDF format, such as Colette’s Sorbetto, By Hand London’s Polly, Cake’s T-shirt, Victory’s Tailor’s Ham and of course today’s pattern Simple Sews’ Brigitte Dress.


So Let’s Assemble This Pattern!

Let’s get this PDF pattern show on the road. You’ll need everything in the photo above – your whole pattern printed off, cellotape in a despencer, a pen, ruler and some scissors (not your fabric ones, unless you hate them and you want an excuse to buy new ones).

1. Lay out all your A4 sheet, check that all your pages are there. The pages will print out in order and are numbered.


2. Get your ruler and pen. Rule a line at the edge of the printing and cut off this edge. You’ll only need to do this on one side of each two pages that meet (because the other one will be underneith).


3. Line up your trimmed edge with its corresponding page. These pages overlap slightly so you’re looking to see if the edges flow in the curves of the pattern lines. When you’re satisfied with lining up your edge cellotape that badboy down with lots of tape going to whole length of the edge. Repeat for the whole pattern


4. You’re done! It’s all taped together and ready to be cut it out and pinned to your fabric


Do you use PDF sewing patterns? What’s your number one tip for using digital patterns?

5 Tips for Buying Your Next Sewing Machine

I’ve sewn with three sewing machines in my small time as a sewist – my grandmother’s 1940’s Elna Grasshopper; some awful machine from the Warehouse; and my Janome DC2015. The awful machine from the Warehouse was awful because it was about $100, new from the shop and I could never get the tension right. I just wanted to learn to sew but what I actually spent ages doing was fiddling about with the dials and swearing.

Next came the Grasshopper. This is the machine that I *really* learnt to sew on. It was good to learn on because it was very easy to use – it only had one function – straight forward stitch. But after a few years this was quite limiting – I couldn’t do invisible zippers, button holes, zigzag stitches – it didn’t even go backwards!

So then I bought my Janome. The Janome is great. It sews well every time, with no hitches. I’ve never had to mess about with tension and I can sew just about anything I want. My only limitation is my skill level, not my machine!


If you’re an absolute beginner to sewing then you may not have your own sewing machine. Perhaps you’re currently borrowing your mum’s/ sister’s/ friend’s/ neighbour’s or you picked up one that you found in an Op Shop. If you’re thinking of buying a sewing machine, here’s a few tips from me. As always with the Absolute Beginner’s Guide, these pointers are purely my views and I encourage you to offer your suggestions too.

1. Decide what your budget is and try to stick to it. How often do you/ will you sew? Do you/ will you sew for pleasure or profit? (Or both?) How much money could you part with and not feel an horrendous amount of guilt? If sewing is new to you it can be pretty hard to know the answers to these questions and you may be reluctant to spend a lot of money on a machine. Realistically, a new sewing machine will start at around NZ$250 and can easily get up up NZ$1000. There is no shame in buying the NZ$250 machine – mine was the cheapest in the shop and on sale and it is perfect for me. Cheapest house on the best street right?

2. Try not to buy too cheap. If you’re going to buy the cheapest machine in the shop make sure it’s a brand you’ve heard of. Brands like Elna, Singer, Bernina and Janome have been around for years and have built built reputations for being trustworthy and reliable. Buying a well-known make of sewing machine also comes with guarantees – that the machine will have some warrantee, there will be parts in case it needs fixing and that someone will know how to fix it.

Buying secondhand could be a good place to start if you’re on a small budget but I would caution against buying anything more than a few years old. This, obviously, means excluding vintage machines. If you’re going to spend a few hundred dollars on a sewing machine spend the money on cool features rather than cool looks.


3. Buy computerised. Again, this is dependent on your budget, but if at all possible, buy a computerised machine – it will change your sewing experience. At the beginning of this post I said that I spent ages faffing about with the tension on my Awful Warehouse Machine. Well, my New Amazing Janome Machine is computerised. This means that the machine automatically changes the stitch length and tension when I change the type of stitch to, for example, straight, zigzag or stretch fabric settings. This saves a whole bunch of time, test scrap fabrics and swearing. I would highly recommend buying a computerised machine.

4. Read the reviews on Pattern Review. Basically every pattern in existence and every sewing machine created has been reviewed on this site by average Josephine Bloggs-Type people. Once you find a great deal see what people are saying about the machines.

5. Ask to try it. You’re making an investment and you should be able to try before you buy. A lot of shops have lots of machines set up and extra staff so that you can try them out with some help. I bought both my sewing machine and my overlocker from Sewing Machine World in Onehunga. Each time they patiently showed me how the machine worked and then left me alone to play around with the machine for about half an hour. This was great customer service.

So those are my pearls of wisdom – what is your best piece of advice for a new sew-ist looking to buy a beginner sewing machine?

An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Cutting Your Pattern

I hope everyone is having a marvellous Monday today. Last week got away on me but we are back on track now! Today on An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing we are discussing how to cut out a pattern. We’ve previously talked about choosing a pattern and choosing fabric so now we’re ready for the next step. In today’s session I’ll be using Colette Patterns’ Jasmine blouse pattern as the example. I’ve made this pattern once before here.


First things first – prewash your fabric – if its made from natural fibres (wool, cotton, linen for example) it will definitely shrink a bit and it’s such a bummer to only be able to wear something once. It may pay to finish edges the edges before you throw it in the wash so they don’t fray too bad.

Next up you’ll need to find a surface somewhere in your house that is big enough for your whole piece of fabric to lie flat – I cut all mine on the floor on my knees. Pick a surface that you can commit to because you’ll be cutting your pieces all in one go.


Planning Your Layout

Now we’re ready! Unless your garment is asymmetric you’ll be folding your fabric in half (the pattern instructions will tell you which way). Now pin the edges together. This will help your cutting to be more accurate by preventing the fabric from slipping. Lay out all your pieces before you start cutting – this includes pieces you’ll need to cut twice for a lining. Make sure they all fit on the fabric and that all the pieces are going the right way they should go. This direction is called the grainline and will be indicated by an arrow.

Anchor your tissue pieces to the fabric in some way. You could do this with pins or with weights – I use glasses. If you don’t the pieces will slip and slide everywhere meaning that they won’t be terribly accurate. If you’re making something fitted this is particularly important.


Snip Snip nip

Now you’re ready to start cutting! Slowly and carefully cut out each pattern piece. Next transfer all the markings on the patterns. These include the notches (as above) and the small and large circles. I use tailor’s tacks to mark the circles but you can use chalk as this can be quicker. It’s really important to transfer all the markings to your fabric as they help to tell you how to sew your garment. For example they may demonstrate where to start gathers, where your zipper should start and how to match seams.


Don’t forget to enter our competition – simply share a photo of your cat using the hashtag #catsforcolette and be in the draw to win their next pattern! More details here! Entries now open!


An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Choosing Fabric

Welcome to the second week of my new series: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing. Last week we talked about how to choose a pattern and this week we are discussing fabric – what to look for when buying it and how to know guess what it will look as a garment. Please chip in your ideas too!

Cambie Dress

First Things First

Turn your pattern over and have a look on the back on the back of the envelope. I am going to use Sewaholic’s Cambie Dress (view A) as an example here. On the back there is a recommended fabrics sectionwhich gives a broad category, light to medium weight woven fabrics, and then specific suggestions, linen, wool blends and cotton sateen. Clearly these are only suggestions and you can use absolutely whichever fabric tickles your fancy. So what is a light to medium weight fabric? If we say likes of denim, corduroy, velvet and upholstery fabrics are heavy weight then everything else is light to medium weight. So that still leaves you with lots of options right? Perhaps too many options!


There’s a reason why some fabrics are called ‘suiting’ and ‘shirting’ – because that’s what they’re designed for! If you’re sewing a blouse you’re fabric will, mostly likely be lighter than if you were sewing a pair of trousers. When you look at a bolt of fabric what do you imagine it being? A summer dress? A pencil skirt? A coat? Go with your instincts. You’re probably right.

Cambie Dress Product

Fabric Properties

Fabric properties are things like the weight of the fabric, whether it has any stretch, whether it has a nap, how sheer it is and how it drapes. If you are an absolute beginner I would suggest a very stable fabric – that is one with very little or no stretch. Non-stretch fabrics are a lot easier to work with because they don’t stretch way out of shape when cutting (resulting in totally warped pieces) or sewing together (which can create bumpy seams and hems).

Ok so let’s narrow it down a bit more. With the Cambie Dress you’ll need a fabric that works well with the fitted bodice, can be gathered for the shoulders and will sit nicely as a skirt. Because the shoulders straps are gathered at the front you’ll need to choose a fabric that can be gathered evenly and in a non-bulky kind of way. So what do I mean by that? Well if we went with a thick or stiff fabric the gathers would be very thick to sew through and create a puffy look like a Disney princess. So a thinner fabric like a crepe would work really well.

Unless you’re going to colour block, you also need to think about how that same fabric will drape as a skirt. Some people refer to this as the fabric’s bodyDrape or body is how the fabric falls. Fabrics are displayed vertically in shops with the end tuck in the top to demonstrate the drape. Is it stiff and unmoving or will it flutter nicely in the breeze?

Cambie Dress Grey

Fabric Design and Nap

The design printed on the fabric and the nap are other things to consider for your garment. A fabric has a nap if there is clearly an up way and a down way for the fabric. This is particularly important if you’re working with novelty prints but also with velvets, plaids and stripes. It’s important because you need to have them all lined up the right way and because you will need to match them up at the seams. Matching at the seams is kinds tricky (something I’m yet to achieve at least!) so if you’re working with a print I’d recommend something really busy with an irregular design so that it doesn’t matter which way around it goes.

What’s your best tip for choosing fabric?

An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Choosing a Pattern

Welcome to my new series An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I will hopefully provide new sew-ers some with some ideas for your new endeavour – being an awesome seamstress. Every Monday I’ll post my thoughts on a given sewing topic and I encourage you to comment on the posts if you’ve got some advice too! So today’s topic? Choosing A Pattern


Start Simple

One of the big pull factors for getting into sewing is the ability to make amazingly fashionable clothes and half the cost of buying them. The risk with jumping in at the deep end though is the bitter disappointment of spending $35 on a DKNY for Vogue pattern only to discover that the garment is very complicated to put together.

The Big Four pattern companies (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s) all provide “sewing ratings” that rank the difficulty of making that pattern. There are four ratings – very easy, easy, average and advanced – so my advice would be to go with a very easy or easy pattern. You can also ask to read the instructions in the shop before you buy your pattern. Once you pick you pattern number from the look book ask the sales assistant for the envelope so you could look at the instructions while you’re standing at the counter. This will give you an idea of how many pieces the pattern requires as well as how many steps it is to complete the garment. Trust me this isn’t weird!


Choose a Modern Pattern

Starting simple also means starting modern. It’s pretty hard to miss the 1950s vintage renaissance currently happening, particularly in the field of sewing blogs. But I would caution new sew-ers against learning to sew using vintage patterns. Vintage patterns instructions assume that the reader has a lot of sewing knowledge so it’s not uncommon to read instructions like “insert zipper” or “finish edges” without enlightening you with the details. You’ll be left asking but how? Most, if not all, modern patterns break every step down.

The other pit fall with vintage patterns is that they the vast majority of them only come in one size. Nearly every pre-1970s pattern, and even some 1970s and 1980s patterns will only have one size option. This means that it can be very difficult to grade up or down if your measurements aren’t exactly the same as their sizing charts. My experience of buying vintage patterns is that I’ve only ended up sewing the ones that are my exact sizing, the rest are untouched.

If you really want to learn to sew using a vintage patterns I’d suggest using the modern reproductions of Vintage Vogue Patterns. I presume they’ve updated the instructions for the modern seamstress – perhaps someone could confirm this for me?


Try a Skirt

When you’re learning to sew the less pieces a pattern has the better. Skirt patterns usually have four pieces – the front, two back pieces and a waistband. This is important because it means it is easy to adjust if the sizing is not quite right by taking it in or letting it out down the side seams. If you sew an A line or circle skirt the only part that needs to be fitted is the waist which is even easier. Some good beginner patterns are Sewaholic’s Hollyburn Skirt and By Hand London’s Charlotte Skirt.. Next Monday I’ll be making some suggestions on choosing fabrics.

My final piece of advice on this topic – don’t go for trousers! Which patterns would you recommend for beginner sew-ers?