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The Definitive Guide for Assembling PDF Patterns and How to Hate it Less

Posted by Betsy C on

What are you: Team printed or Team PDF?

For some, PDF patterns are cringeworthy. I get this, know this, and feel your pain. It can be a lot of work and an extra step that stands between you and your piece de resistance. 

But, perhaps you are one of the few that find this task to be just part of the process and you relish the intricacies and detail work of assembling the layout ...weirdos...JK:) 

I think most of us fall at the halfway mark. Either way, sometimes we just gotta give in and get it done so we can get to the good stuff! 

For those here in search of general Q&A about PDF's, scroll to the bottom

I'm spoiled rotten by the fact that I can literally hit the print button and get a full size copy. But believe me when I say that I know the PDF assembly task well because for every SBCC pattern, I print out each size range and do a double check that everything looks good before it hits your inbox. It's a task that has become manageable because I've perfected a few tricks over the years to make a PDF pattern come together in no time flat. 

Step 1: Supplies

Gather all supplies at once and have them at hand. 

  • Tape - I love Magic Tape because it peels apart the easiest if the alignment isn't just right. Tip: get yourself a tape dispenser that will hold the tape in place so you can just grab and rip. Anything that you have to keep picking up and pulling off a strip is too fiddly. I know this is a small detail, but we're talking efficiency here to get this done quick. 
  • Scissors that can cut a few sheets of paper at once.
  • A gardeners kneeling pad. If the floor is the only space available to accommodate the largesse of a PDF pattern a kneeling pad will help the cause.
  • Clear packing tape (1 1/2"). This is my secret weapon. More on this below. 

Step 2: Make stacks for each horizontal row. Rows for SBCC are considered all consecutive sheets that go across horizontally and usually consist of about 6 sheets of paper. Please refer to the printing layout guide on each pattern that shows how many rows and columns. 

Step 3: For the top row, trim off the right side. Tip: if you can put all the sheets together and trim as a stack it will be a one-and-done. 

Step 4: Take the center rows and trim the top edges and right sides. 

Step 5: Take the bottom/last row and trim the top edges and right sides.

Let me take a moment here to interrupt: "To trim or not to trim," that is literally the most asked PDF question I get. It makes a difference, really! If you are trimming off these small amounts from a PDF then you are losing little bits of length and width on your pattern that could be the difference between perfection and meh. So, bottom line- do not trim the bold lines. Align them together. 

Back to it....

Step 6: Assign everyone in your household a place. Movement= papers flying around. Seat the spouse in front of the TV, give the kids the iPad, and corral the critters. 

Step 7: Start by placing the 1st page (the one that has the scale box) down. Take page 2 and lay it on top of page 1 so the diamonds align and the correct numbers correspond. Take a small piece of tape (about 1") and join the two pages at this diamond. Repeat this process until you reach the end of the row. 

Step 8: Place the center rows. Place the 1st page of the next row down on top of the first page, directly below it. The diamonds should match and the letters and numbers should coordinate. Place a piece of tape at the top edge of the page at the diamonds and at the side. Repeat for the rest of the row. 

Step 9: Repeat for remaining rows, including the bottom row. 

Step 10: Do a double check of alignment for all the lines. If you are using Magic tape it can be peeled carefully if necessary to make sure everything looks flat and smooth. 

Step 11: My favorite trick! Get clear packing tape (about 1 1/2" wide) and pull off a long strip. Apply to the first overlapped edge (horizontal or vertical, your choice). Repeat this for all seams. Sometimes I will even do this to the back. It makes for a sturdy paper pattern and you can always use this for tracing only what you need then rolling it up as a tube for storage. 

Now you should be all good to go for sewing! Either cut it apart or use this to trace the pieces. 

Want to see me in action? Here's a quick clip of my order of operations. (Note: for this, I trimmed the sides and bottom of the PDF. It still works, but resulted in having to do a little more work). 


My Movie 4 from Betsy on Vimeo.


Pretty easy, right?

How to Hate PDF Patterns Less

Trust me when I say- get a system in place and it will be manageable. Think of it as a task that, God forbid, you would have to do all day long. What would you do to make it into an assembly line that works for you? Once you get this flow going it's easy do a couple of PDF's in one setting. Sometimes we need these kind of mindless projects to zone out on. It's still not going to be your favorite things to do, but let's not hate it as much m'kay?

I do encourage you to make it your own. 

Q: What is a PDF pattern?

A: A PDF pattern is a digital downloadable version of a pattern that has been formatted into segments that can be printed on your desktop printer and then aligned and joined together to form a complete layout. You will not be able to take these to a copy shop or service for printing. For this service you would need to select the "copy shop" option. 

Q: What software do I need to use to print my PDF pattern? 

A: The most common program is Adobe Acrobat. It is free to download. Simply install the software then click on the PDF pattern to open. Select "print" from the top toolbar

Q: How do I print my PDF Pattern?

A: From the top toolbar of your PDF reader, select "print."  A window will open up. In this window, check that the scale is set to 100% and select the little box that says "Actual Size". Click "print".

Q: What size paper are your PDF's formatted for?

A: SBCC PDF Patterns are designed to be printed on either US Letter (8 1/2" x 11") or A4 (2 x 29.7cm). This just means there is some trimming involved because of margins that can accommodate both sizes. 

Q: How do I tell if my PDF pattern has printed correctly? 

A: On the first page of all SBCC Patterns there is a scale box. I recommend to print only page one first to check the scale. The numbers indicated should match to your measuring. If it does not, please go back and re-check your print settings that "actual size" is selected. 

Q: Am I able to use the "layers" option to select only my size to print for SBCC? 

A: Unfortunately not at this time. I am currently in process of making sure all SBCC patterns have a copy shop version so this is my priority right now. However, it is something I would like to do in the future. 

Q: Do I need to trim off the bold lines that separate each segment of the pattern or leave these as part of the pattern?

A: Please leave the bold lines as part of the pattern. Do not trim off as these tiny increments may affect the pattern shape. 


Any other tips, questions or concerns? Drop them in the comments below. We can all learn together and I'll keep updating this post as SBCC evolves. 


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  • I have only printed out 1 PDF and it never lined up properly so i can use it. I did print it out at 100%. I was asked to pick a size for this pattern and I didn’t. I have narrow shoulders and thought I could use the small size and for the shoulder and then change the pattern to fit the rest of me. Problem is no matter how I tried the pattern never lined up so I could put it together. By not picking my size did the pages not line up correctly? What could I have done incorrectly?

    Barbara on
  • Hi! I’d like to add my special “cheater” tool…I confess upfront that I cannot cut a straight line with scissors (always use my rotary cutter to cut ALL fabric)…SO I use a paper cutter (those single blade slider ones from the business supply store (I’m in Canada so not sure which are US stores to name)-BAM, straight lines super fast to trim. It’s changed my life, that wonderful tool…and I now I look forward to that closer to instant gratification sewing!!

    lynl on
  • Hi Betsy, I have conquered this pesky task.. By going paperless and using a projector plus layered a0 patterns and projector files! There is a very fast growing group of us doing this. Please tell me that your new a0 files are or will be layered?

    Deborah Feldman on

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