Monday, May 7, 2012

What the heck is a PDF and why you might like them...

Today I'd like to talk a little about PDF's. With the digital world quickly catching up to the world of print, the term PDF comes up more and more often.

For those of you not familiar, a "PDF" is just a type of file, (like jpeg, tiff, or png ) and stands for "Portable Document Format." It's essentially an image file like any other you might encounter, and usually requires Adobe Reader to open, (which I might add, is on just about every computer these days).
Make do and Mend
My favorite feature of the PDF is that you have the ability, if you know what you're doing, to create a single PDF file that contains multiple pages just like a book. It's how I'm able to make my digital sewing patterns and booklets so easy to send, save, buy and print.

Originator Fashions

I like to think that I and a couple of other people sort of pioneered the PDF vintage pattern and booklet medium and now it has really taken off with more and more people realizing that they can digitize hard to find vintage paper ephemera. This is a great thing as long as we're all abiding by the rules (most of us do) but we won't get into that in this post.

The great thing is, wonderful, beautiful, rare things are being digitized and protected from decay and disappearance, and made available at the click of a button for research, education, or just pure pleasure reading.

Butterick Fashion News

I have stopped buying fashion magazines and have started buying digital vintage magazines and pattern booklets from other sellers. I pull them up on my iPad (super easy) and enjoy them with my morning coffee.

What else are they good for? Say you have a vintage 1930's simplicity pattern in your collection and you're not sure what year exactly it was created. They're not always dated so what can you do? Downloading a copy or two of Simplicity Prevue to see if you can narrow it down is one way to find out.

Simplicity Prevue
Many of you have used PDF patterns by now but I still often get questions like, "how can a sewing pattern be a PDF?"

Most PDF sewing patterns, new or vintage, are just images of parts of a pattern that, when printed and taped together, make a full sized pattern ready to cut out and sew. For example, below is a picture of the French Corset pattern that we used in the Ooh La La Pin-Up Sew-Along. I printed it at home on a normal printer and just taped the pages together.

The quality of the pattern that prints out depends on the skill and experience level of the person creating the pattern, and perhaps how good their design software is. I have downloaded patterns that were simply scans of an original, and some that have been designed with professional pattern drafting software. One is not necessarily better than the other, though the price is usually quite different.

Other digital patterns can be drafting instructions or diagrams that you can print at home and draft your own patterns from. Take for instance this pattern:

Depew 1123

To get a pattern you first print out the measuring band and miniature pattern, then use them to draft a full-sized patterns scaled to your measurements, much like the Lutterloh system.

What do you think of all of this suddenly being available in a digital format. Is it exciting? Or does it annoy the heck out of you? (ebooks annoyed the heck out of me for the longest time, I was very much a paper purist...  have since become a convert and love reading books on my tablet).
I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I still prefer to buy the actual paper pattern whenever I can. However, I love how you have taken some difficult to find patterns and have converted them to PDF. I fure sure would never have been able to find an affordable corset pattern, but your $5.00 PDF was amazing.

    Being a numbers and math person, I am really interested in trying your new patterns with the rulers. I can't believe how many awesome new patterns are in your shop! The evening gowns are lovely and I'm trying to find a way for one of them to fit into my lifestyle. The panties look like a great starter project, but I'm thinking 1121 would be a stunning dress.

  2. I'm getting used to the printing and taping process, and I guess the downloads are getting more common as the other big pattern companies join Burda with pdf versions of their patterns.
    I can attest to the fact that the patterns I purchased from you - the Pauline set - were easy to use and I ended up with some wonderful lingerie.
    I think it's a great way to preserve and share wonderful old things that might not stand up to one more trip through the mail.

  3. I'm sooo read for an all-e pattern world, you wouldn't believe!!! Postage is too expensive and my mail still gets lost (recently, 12 issues of 3 different magazine subscriptions!) I'm so happy to see more and more e-patterns available. Colette Patterns' decision to go both analog and digital sounds fantastic to me! Now if I could just find more websites that accept my Credit Card...Oh, and tapin doesn't scare me. I'm a tracer, raised on Burda and I don't even cut out the few e-patterns I have from BurdaStyle and other sources, LOL! Bring it on, I say!

  4. I love working with the pdf format because it is so practical and (nearly) everyone can use. Some special books (old sewing books) that I have bought in pdf format, I sent to a printhouse to get a nice paper book from it. In the meantime it is not to expensive anymore and as well as I like the pdf file I like to hold a real book or magazine in my hands.

  5. It is something that I am just now getting used to. Of course, your patterns so far, have been the only ones I have worked with.

    Being old school, I think learning new ways of doing things can be exciting. Being of the generation who did not grow-up with computers, but needing them in adulthood...I have learned so many new things...and trust is so much more effcient!

  6. I was at first weary of the idea of PDF. I like having the actual paper of a book, newspaper and pattern at my fingertips but I have gotten used to the new technology. Until I read your post, I didn't know they could be used to preserve old patterns. Now that is cool!

  7. With pdf patterns, what I have noticed is that the "print and tape together" versions are alot easier (for me), than the patterns that have to be enlarged with a ruler and dots (whew). It's such a LOOOONG process for me to draft those patterns that I don't seem to finish them.