Drafting Your Own PDF Sewing Patterns – An Overview

UPDATE: I’ve launched a course that covers all the information to use Illustrator to make PDF patterns. It’s the course I wish I had been able to find when I was starting; you can find out more about how to make sewing patterns here: 

How to Create PDF Patterns for Sewing


Now back to the original post. 

Twice this week I’ve been asked about how I go about making my patterns, so I thought this post could be an overview with a lot of links to resources for anyone interested in learning more.

There are two basic parts to making PDF patterns. The first is pattern drafting, and the second is pattern digitizing. So let’s start with drafting.

I’m self-taught as far as drafting patterns. I started with this book How to Make Sewing Patterns

Though it’s old (the 1970s photos are fun) it is thorough in explaining how to measure your body and draft slopers, then create patterns from them.

Later when I got into blogging, I discovered Ikat Bag. LiEr covers a lot of what those drafting books cover, sometimes in much more depth, but specifically for children (which fashion books don’t usually consider). Check out her drafting series here.

As for digitizing, well that’s another learning curve. This tutorial from Sewing in No Man’s Land explains the basic process of scanning and digitizing a paper pattern using Photoshop (regular version, not elements).

My process is a lot like the one explained in that tutorial, but I use Adobe Creative Suite 5 (CS5) and iWork Pages (for Macs) to write my patterns. This is partly because of my background – working in a school where I was friends with the technology teacher, I learned to use Illustrator and Photoshop way before I started blogging because they were great tools (and available at school) to design show posters for the plays I directed. Pages is super easy to learn and export documents to PDF format; I use it to write the pattern instructions, and then I use Adobe Acrobat to combine those with the PDF file from Illustrator.

The other reason I use Illustrator is that the more I learn about the software (and there is a pretty steep learning curve) the easier it gets for me, and the more shortcuts I have figured out. For comparison, the Toddler Blazer – the first pattern I wrote – took me weeks because I was learning the specifics of using Illustrator for patterns. Last night I created a draft for a shirt and graded it to 8 sizes within a few hours.

The best resource I’ve found for using Illustrator for pattern drafting is the series of videos produced by Ralph Pink. In particular, this one, which takes you step-by-step (it’s 45 minutes long) through drafting a bodice in Illustrator – without drafting on paper first! – is great to see the process. And this one rocked my world with the shortcut to adding seam allowances.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now, short of producing my own tutorial series on how I do what I do. Which is a possibility in the future, as I’ve found that this information is hard to find (hence my attempt to compile it in one place for you) and has gaps that I’ve learned about and solved as I go. But I’m still learning too, and before I teach something I want to make sure I’ve mastered it.

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  1. says

    This is really interesting to me Melissa! PR&P definitely changed the way I feel about following patterns and freed me up to change everything I wanted to change. But those books look great for going to the next step. Thanks for sharing all your resources!

  2. says

    This is just the sort of information I am looking for – I’d definitely love to read a series on it. I am just trying to work out how to digitize my first pattern. I’m using Inkscape though as I’ve never used the Adobe products and can’t justify the big expense. I was wondering – do you only scan one size and then do all the grading on the computer? If so, would you have a paper copy for each size to refer to for measurements? Thanks so much for sharing all of this.

    • says

      I tried using Inkscape but couldn’t figure out how to do things quickly that I knew how to do in Illustrator. It ran very buggy on my Mac and froze up a lot as well. But I’ve heard others rave about it. I know Illustrator is very pricey (you used to be able to buy it separately, and now you can only get it with the CS bundle, boo!) and I could only afford it because I’m a teacher and qualified for a huge discount. As for grading, probably the most accurate way is to do all the grading on paper and scan each. I am working on a quick way to grade children’s clothes directly in Illustrator (I used it on the shirt I drafted the other night) that I might share in the future, but it’s still in the testing phase for me right now and I’m not positive about the accuracy, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing just yet.

    • says

      Thank you for answering my question – that’s really helpful. I have used Inkscape a bit for a few things, but yes, it has got a bit buggy with a large file. I’m getting more comfortable with it now though. I will have to see how I get on with it for patterns.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for this post, Melissa! You answered so many questions I’ve had about pattern making. I’m not anywhere near trying out pdf patterns myself, but it’s something that I might consider in the future. Thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge.

  4. says

    Thanks for posting this. I have been wanting to make some patterns from outfits I made my daughter as a child. I may have some questions as I read more.

  5. says

    I started reading your blog back during when you were in American Crafter and I am really enjoying what you have to offer. I love sundresses and I also have a 3 y.o. boy to sew for, so your series this summer are right up my alley. Just wanted to say thanks for all your hard wrok!

  6. says

    Thanks so much for all the info. I have Photoshop and have tried using it before, but I’m just not that familiar with the program yet. Hope I can figure it out eventually!

  7. says

    I didn’t find this boring at all. I’ve been checking our pattern making books from the library but I am still in the mixing up patterns or working something up from something premade. :) Very insightful!

  8. says

    Thank you very much for this information! I’ve been sewing for a long time, but I’ve never been comfortable trying to make my own pattern because I just didn’t think it would come out right. This really helps me with my confidence.

  9. says

    I have been procrastinating having e-patterns of my elf drafted kids wear patterns which ihave been sewing with for 6 years now… Just because i couldn’t digitize them in a professional way and had no clue as to how to go about them … Now I have got an insight into this and am seriously looking forward to your tutorial series on the same…that way I will be able to share all those wonderful patterns which are stored in my files as of now . Many thanks in advance :)

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