Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

It’s taken me a long time to get my PDF pattern organization and storage to a place where I feel it really works for me. For a while I kept them in a folder on my computer, but when I got a new computer they moved to an external drive…which I never seemed to have with me when I wanted to print a pattern. I would then scramble back through my emails looking for the download link, which wasn’t the worst, but it was definitely a bit of a pain. After a lot of trial and error with different storage solutions and programs this is what I’ve arrived at that works really well for me so I thought I’d share, as well as ask you how you store your patterns!

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

Let’s start with the actual pattern pieces themselves. When working with a digital pattern that isn’t one of my own, I usually just do the print at home option because I’ve most likely decided on the spur of the moment that I need to sew this particular thing right now. Usually a few hours before I’d like to wear or use said thing.

After cutting and taping, I’ll use that pattern to sew the first garment. If I feel like I’m only going to make one of these or if there are changes I need to make, I’ll just punch a hole in the top of the pattern and hang it on a hook as is. If it’s a pattern I know I’m going to make a lot of and I’ve done any fit corrections I might need I’ll trace all the pieces out onto oaktag so that I have a good, sturdy hard copy to use over and over like I’ve done for my trusty Linden pattern above. I also like to trace these patterns out so nothing is “cut on the fold” and any pattern piece I might need 2 of I actually trace two of, like sleeves. I prefer cutting flat (which you can read more about here) because you get a much better fabric yield that way.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

I keep all my patterns on a rolling rack and the patterns are divided by what type of pattern it is. Grainline Studio patterns each have their own section, then I have my personal pattern section which includes patterns I’ve drafted for myself, Grainline Studio patterns that I’ve customized to fit me (I’m not the fit model so I need to go between sizes), as well as patterns I’ve purchased. We actually have two rolling racks completely full of patterns here!

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

As far as how I store the digital files, after much trial and error, I now keep them all in Dropbox, which is a great solution because the files can be accessed on many different computers and devices. The files are organized into categories by the type of project the pattern falls under – garment sewing, knitting, or quilting. I print the patterns via my computer since that’s where my printer is attached, but I’ve started not printing out the booklets. Instead I open them in a note taking program called UPAD3 that also handles PDFs. The program works with Dropbox so it’s easy to import the booklets from Dropbox to UPAD. The advantage to opening the booklets in UPAD rather than just reading them in Dropbox is that you can mark up the booklets in UPAD.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

Exporting from Dropbox is super easy, you just press the ‘share icon’ in the top right of the screen and select ‘Open in…’ which brings up the screen in the second photo. From there you’ll select ‘Open in UPAD’ or whatever program you’re using.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

Between my brother-in-law (a physicist & app enthusiast) and I we’ve tried a lot of note-taking programs that also read PDFs and this has been both of our overall favorite. It offers good organization and a lot of functions – you can import photos, calendars, add links, etc. It does cost $5.99 but I get so much use of it that wasn’t a big deal for me. I’ve been using it for years and when I originally got the first edition there was a free trial version, which I quickly updated from. You can see I organize my files the same way I do in Dropbox. The garment patterns are organized by pattern company which I find is the easiest way to keep those straight.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

I organize my knitting patterns slightly differently, by project type rather than designer since I typically have less patterns by a single designer. I do have a lot of Brooklyn Tweed though I usually think about patterns in terms of designer, not company. I just find this method works best for my brain, especially since knitwear designers often design for more than one company and under their own name.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

You can easily change the names of your files so that they fit with your organizational system. I use just the pattern name rather than the entire file name since it’s easier for me to find what I’m looking for at a glance and I can standardize that way. I then enter any additional information I might need or want in the future into the text box below the title.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

This is just an example of what a pattern looks like inside UPAD. I always like to highlight the size I’m using, which I find especially useful on knitting patterns. I’m a big highlighter fan in real life and obviously that translates to digital for me.

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

Taking notes is also super easy, I find that the pen option really writes like an actual pen would. One of the reasons I hated a lot of programs was that the weird robotic handwriting that would result from me writing was kind of offputting. You can use either your finger or a stylus, which I prefer. One of the reasons I’m really into using the iPad to keep track of these booklets is that when I print out the instructions, no matter how hard I try to keep them in order, I always lose a page, or the entire packet, then have to print out a new one which means any notes I’ve taken are lost. With digital they’re always there and you can back up your edited files to Dropbox. I’m also a huge fan of backing up files, to multiple locations!

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

Lucinda by Madder | The Kittens by Elizabeth Hartman

This is what two projects I’m currently working on look like in UPAD. You can’t actually alter the original PDF you’ve imported so you don’t need to worry that you’ll somehow delete or erase any part of that, which is nice, but anything you write you can always erase.

So, how do you store your PDF patterns? Print at Home or Copy Shop? Do you print out the instructions or use a computer or app to read them? There are so many different ways to use them, I’m interested to see what methods you’ve all come up with!

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34 Responses to Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions

  1. shannon says:

    This is a great system! You have made me inspired to organize better. My method, which work for me, really is awful. Since the garment I sew right now are mostly for my kids the pattern pieces are pretty small. I never print pdf instructions for purchased patterns. Both the patterns I make and the ones I buy I have tracing paper copies of the most used ones push pinned to my wall next to my cutting area. I love how organized your are!!! Maybe time for me to change things up a bit since I am running out of wall space 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been dragging my heels about trying out PDF patterns, in part because I like things to be in order; the thought of all those loose papers gave me chills! There are so many gorgeous PDF patterns I’d like to try out though, so I know the time is coming…thank you in advance for saving me hours of figuring out how to organise it all!

  3. Nicole says:

    I LOVE the way you store printed patterns. I have a two-tier clothing rack I’m going to start using (along with a ton of empty pant hangers) for that sort of thing, but I would love something slimmer. Someday I will get to elfa-ize that closet! If I could stop buying fabric and make that a priority, I would be able to do that later this year!

    The majority of my PDF patterns are stored in Dropbox as well, sorted into folders by manufacturer. I still have a few hanging out in Evernote (another awesome app), but the only downside with that is if you don’t have the notebook available offline when you’re out and about and without wifi you can’t get to your file. For both apps I have more than the basic plan, so storage isn’t an issue at all.

  4. Emily C. says:

    I store my digital patterns on Google Drive. I can then access them from anywhere. Most of my patterns I print, partly because I work all day on a computer and just get sick of looking at screens. Plus it drives me nuts when my ipad keeps turning off after a few minutes and I have to keep unlocking it.

    Pattern pieces that I’ve printed that are small (bags, toys, kids clothes, etc.) I just fold up. I keep the instructions (which I staple together so I won’t lose any pages!) and the folded up pattern pieces in those clear plastic sleeves that go in binders. The binders are then organized by pattern type. Large pattern pieces (like for women’s clothing) I usually roll up and keep in the corner of my sewing room.

    I’m also working on the kittens quilt! I just picked out the fabrics; the background fabric was delivered this morning and I can’t wait to get home and get started on it.

  5. Victoria B. says:

    I’ve been looking for a new way to store my printed PDFs! Currently they are hanging on binder clips in my sewing room. I definitely need to work on organizing them better!

    My PDFs are stored via Google Drive. I have them separated in a Patterns folder, and that folder is organized by garment type folders. Then those folders have pattern folders in them with the PDF pattern file along with the instructions that load right on my iPad. It’s easy to use on my phone as well.

  6. Janie says:

    I am definitely going to check out UPAD. I have been looking for a pdf reader/notetaking program for ages. I used Evernote when it first launched, but now I think it is annoying.

    My pdf patterns (knitting and sewing) are stored on Google Drive in nested folders by category. I also have a spreadsheet on there as an index. The patterns are organized in the spreadsheet by category, but there are also columns for designer and tags. It is searchable, so that way I can find all garments with “zipper” and “woven” tags easily. I like Google drive because I can look at the instruction booklets on my computer, phone, or tablet, but I do wish I could annotate them.

    I 100% copied Sarai Mitnick’s physical pattern storage idea with the comic book boxes and transparent sleeves/backer boards. My comic book boxes are ~2 feet long, organized by garment type, and each sleeve has a line drawing on the front.

  7. Alexandra says:

    I love your system for storing the already-printed patterns! I keep the paper copies (print at home) in legal envelopes which is alright, keeps it neat but its not very accessible

    I keep my PDFs in a google drive sorted by brand! I can open the PDF instructions on my tablet and phone. I also use evernote as a sort of catalogue I can scroll through when I’m lacking inspiration, I keep info about the pattern (eg material requirements and notes I’ve made) and photos of the garment, either my own or else from the website! Each is tagged with brand, garment type, and whether or not its queued or completed!

  8. S.Denise says:

    I just re-organized my sewing space last night! I swear nothing rejuvenates like re-organizing my fav space in my home. I have all my printed out patterns in a binder organized by clothing type. For the larger prints, I’ve folded loosely, put in a big ziploc bag, three hole punched the bag just like the other patterns and filed accordingly in the binder with the pattern name written in Sharpie on the bag. For electronic organization, I like to use this app called Sewing Kit and also Evernote for pattern and fabric catalog purposes.

    Oh! Emily C. — if you go on your iPad to the Settings menu, then under General choose Auto-Lock, you can change the delay time to whatever time you wish or choose “Never” and your pad’s screen won’t turn off/lock while you’re in the middle of something no matter how long you go without touching it. I hate that too. 😉

  9. Katie Emma says:

    I basically have the same approach as you! – Store everything in Dropbox, organized by designer for sewing and type of project for knitting. I use GoodReader for knitting patterns so that I can highlight and add notes, but really like the look of UPAD. I generally just open the sewing booklets from Dropbox on my iPad, but I probably should be taking notes on patterns I plan to make multiple times!

  10. andrea says:

    What is oaktag? I’ve never heard of it! Weird!

  11. jjdyson says:

    Wow, thanks a million, this post might just save my sanity.

  12. Linda says:

    The tIp on using UPAD is priceless – I, also, use Dropbox and haven’t been taking notes from pattern instructions, just opening them from Dropbox and it’s annoying when I go to make it again – or want to highlight something. Thanks for the tip!

  13. bechem says:

    Awesome system! I use Dropbox/iBooks on my iPad but I like the idea of adding notes through upad. Great suggestion!

  14. Cara says:

    Hi Jen, I’m as organised as you when it comes to my sewing space.

    I store my tracings (on baking paper) of paper and pdf patterns in an A5 brown envelope with a sticker on the front stating which pattern and size the template is for – these are the same size as paper patterns so look good on the shelf!
    As for my printed out pdfs, i store the glued up patterns in a large A3 see through wallet, and store the pdf versions on Google Drive.

    Clear sewing space, clear sewing mind!

  15. Madeleine says:

    Interesting system, I might give it a go. I do something similar in Evernote – I have a separate Notebook for each category, and create a new note for each pattern. I store photos and diagrams in there as well as any instructions and my own edits. I can also annotate PDFs in there. The only drawback with it is that the free version only let’s you add a certain amount each month, so some months I upgrade to store more. The nice thing about it is that as soon as I open a notebook, I can see at a glance all my patterns, and the search and tagging feature is quite useful. It also syncs to my phone and iPad, which is useful if I am suddenly inspired in a fabric shop, it only takes seconds to locate the pattern and amount of fabric needed. In terms of general storage (not pattern related) people seem quite loyal to either Evernote, Dropbox or Google documents.

  16. Love this. I’m hoping to have a dedicated sewing space within the next 6 months and I’m gathering all sorts of organisational tips as I’m bored beyond tears of being unable to find stuff. This is something I can implement now. But I’m curious…where can I lay hands on those “header sheets” that you hang at the front of the pattern. I’m sure there’s a technical name but I’ve no idea what it is!

  17. Sophie hines says:

    you are a sewing wizard.

  18. Keren says:

    Your pattern racks are very impressive! So tidy and lovely. I keep my digital patterns and all digital documents on google drive. Google drive syncs to and from a regular folder on your computer, and it is also accessible through a browser. Most convenient and simple interface ever. When you receive an email in gmail with an attachment, you have a button that says “save to drive”. It’s just the best. I know people who use dropbox, but I just don’t. I use flickr for photos (because of the huge amount of space you get for free, and because they keep the original and not just a smaller version), and google for everything else – both auto-synced. I like to think that if my computer / smartphone caught fire, I wouldn’t lose any piece of data.

    As for physical patterns – I haven’t been sewing much lately, mostly knitted. I usually print out the pattern when I’m knitting it, then recycle the paper once I’m done.

  19. Sundari Carmody says:

    I wish I could have a hanging rack, at this point though space is an issue. So I use Google Drive/iBooks for PDF patterns, and store hard-copy in large envelopes in a box – not great. I’m thinking I want to get a Muji solution to this. I’m slowly trying to move all my art project files (install photos, essays, etc) into either Google Drive or Dropbox. Still undecided.

  20. suellenriese says:

    I use my iCloud account and also save them into my iBooks. I love your idea for hanging you sewing patterns that you will be using a lot on a hanger…

  21. amcclure2014 says:

    I liked the sound of Upad but it doesn’t seem to be available for Android. I need to sort my PDF patterns…

  22. Sharon says:

    Great post – thanks for sharing! What kind of hooks do you use to hang the patterns, and where can you purchase them? Thanks again.

  23. Rena says:

    I use dropbox too but I like the app GoodReader to manage the files on my iPad as it is a great file manager and can open a number of types of files as well as unzipping zipped files.

  24. Amy says:

    This is fantastic. I don’t use an iPad very much but I tested a lot of pdf apps and this one sounds great! Also glad I’m not the only one who traces two of everything! I like cutting flat, too. Sadly, the patterns start taking up more space.

  25. jojokanner says:

    I don’t have an i-pad, but I do have a MacBook Air…just wondering if I can use Dropbox on it??? I’ll play with it. For NOW, I have a dedicated folder on my desktop with all my patterns/instruction booklets. I never print the booklets, choosing to just leave it open on my desktop for quick reference, if needed. I copy all of my Copy Shop versions of patterns on my flash drive on an “As Needed” basis and head on over to Office Depot for a large format print job. The paper they use is pretty heavy, so I don’t need to trace these patterns off. To make it easy for the employees at Office Depot, I just put the goodies I want to print in an “Office Depot” folder. As for the paper patterns, I hang them all with clothespins on a clothing drying rack in my laundry room…I hang the patterns and related fabrics+notions on the front side so they are easily visible. TNT patterns hang in the inner rods for quick access. Giant sheets of Copy Shop patterns hang on the back rods until I have time to print them out. If I really like a tweaked print-at-home pattern, I trace it onto Swedish tracing paper that is almost like fabric and very easy to work with. *Special Note* Do NOT use plastic clothespins, which are too harsh on your paper and fabric…Use the old fashioned wooden clothespins.

  26. leahescapesnyc says:

    Interesting! I also use Dropbox for my knitting patterns, the physical print outs of those I store in a large binder, categorized by project type. My sewing patterns I have been storing in a file box. I too am going to look into UPAD, I dislike having to print out so many papers (and store them!)

  27. Brigid de Jong says:

    I haven’t tried UPAD, I’ll have to look it up. But I did get knitCompanion (for knitting, obviously) and I love it. It has counters for rows and stitches, and a line you can move to keep track of the row you’re on. I haven’t used all the features yet, but it seems to have everything I need.

  28. Thanks for sharing your methods! I’ve never used UPAD but I love that you can mark up the pattern without printing.

    I use Evernote to organize and back up my pdf patterns. I also use it as a pattern library by adding photos of my printed patterns organized into type. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about it actually (you can find them by searching Evernote on my blog). I store the printed pdfs in three ring binders with plastic sleeves. I have to fold them to fit them in but I don’t have space for hanging.

  29. Gina B. says:

    All my patterns, PDF or otherwise, get their own ziploc bag. I write the name and designer/mfg on the edge and in the front and I also put either the envelope or a printed photo of the item on the front. I slip them into hanging folders in a filing cabinet. All patterns – printed or otherwise – are already cut and ordered by piece number and ready to go at this stage.

    For the instructions, etc., I print out the ones I’m working on and put them in a good old 3-ring binder with its own index tab. After I’ve done it, I switch it to another binder that is only for patterns I’ve sewn, along with any notes or observations I’ve made.

    Since I only work from home, all the computer files are in a folder titled Sewing and each file either under the designer’s name or another category such as “Duffle Bags”.

    This has worked well so far.

  30. H.R.H. Queen Grandma says:

    where do you get the pattern “cardboard?”

  31. Lodi Srygley says:

    Oaktag is used by teachers everywhere. You can find it in large sheets in teacher supply stores and catalogs, many of which are online.

  32. Rachel says:

    What are and where do you get the string/ hooks for hanging the patterns? I would love to do this. . .

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