Organizing your PDF files for Sewing & Knitting

Organizing PDF Patterns & Instructions | Grainline Studio

We originally published this post on organizing your PDF patterns back in July of 2015 but I’ve been getting a ton of questions lately on my Instagram accounts about how I use my iPad to organize both my sewing and knitting PDF files so I figured it was time to revisit. I still use this same system 2 years later so it’s definitely working for me!

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 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.

I’m currently using an Apple iPad Pro combined with the Apple Pencil and the iPad Smart Keyboard which is a great setup and what I bring when I travel for work, but you can totally use this method on pretty much any smart device. UPAD3 is an iPad only app but similar programs exist for many other ones. Essentially all you need to be able to do is import a PDF and write on it if you like to keep notes.

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 PDF patterns, I’m interested to see what methods you’ve all come up with since we last raised this topic!

39 replies on “Organizing your PDF files for Sewing & Knitting

  • Rebecca

    Thanks Jen for an interesting post. I use Dropbox as a backup for all my computer files including my sewing patterns. I love Upad as well for marking up PDFs. But specifically just for sewing patterns I use Evernote. I enter each new pattern as I order it and tag it with as many tags as I can think of – dress, stretch, Grainline etc. I have several Notebooks within Evernote including sewing patterns, sewing plans, completed projects etc. I can insert photos and links of inspiration photos etc and then photos and notes about my completed projects. I don’t have a blog so I guess this is my way of keeping a record of what I have done and what changes I have made to the original patterns.

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  • Brigid de Jong

    I have been using the KnitCompanion app for my knitting patterns on my iPad, and it’s genius. It has stitch markers and counters, so no matter how many WIPs you have you will never lose your place.

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  • Eliz~

    If I hung my printed patterns I’d need a closet for the clothes and a closet for the patterns! :o) I carefully cut mine 1 or 2 sizes larger than my size. Tape well, and fold into a manilla envelope. Labeled on the front with quick sketch. I too sort according to designer. I keep them in a basket that is quickly turning into 2! :o)
    When I download I either save as with designer name first, wearable description second. Like- “Grainlinedresssleeveless”. So if I look for a designer I look in the Gs. I do delete already printed patterns. I have (old age) printed 1 pattern twice!! agh!

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    • Jen

      Haha yeah I essentially have that. One closet at home, one rolling rack full of patterns, and two of samples. It’s a struggle for sure! I’m also not even going to tell you how many times I’ve had to print patterns b/c I’ve lost either the whole thing or pieces of it!

      Reply
    • Jen

      They’re pattern hooks – I’m thinking I’ll do a post soon about all of these tools I’ve been showing since I’ve been getting a lot of questions!

      Reply
  • Kim

    Thank you so much for the tips! I’m going to try uPAD. I have an iPad pro and a Pen that I’ve never used. I’ve always wished I could make notations on my digital files. 🙂

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    • Jen

      There are so many different apps it can really be overwhelming so I totally understand. uPad is super easy to use (I think at least) so I hope it works out for you!

      Reply
  • GyspyChikConnie

    The best way to keep track of all your patterns, plus fabric, notions and even projects is the PATTERNBOX App! You can open any new PDF pattern directly into the app. For regular patterns just take a picture of the from and back of each pattern. You have them with you right on your device. You should check out, it’s free to try!

    Reply
  • Annalisa Corum

    I don’t have an ipad but an android-samsung galaxy tab s2. I’m trying to use onenote (a microsoft program) for my knitting and sewing pdf’s. I still have lots to learn how to use the program but it seems to be very versatile.

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  • Melissa Lewis Reilly

    Great article. I’ve not heard of UPAD so will check it out. I have an O365 license and upload all my pattern files to a folder in One Drive, organized by type in sub folders, following a naming convention that includes pattern name, designer, date (LindenTop_Grainline_2016). I also print at home, and store by attaching the pieces together with a binder clip and slipping it through a hanger. I keep the printed instructions, notes, fabric samples, etc. and folded up tissue pattern pieces I’ve traced/used in a clear plastic folder attached to the hanger. I keep them all in a closet in my sewing room. I love the system for easy access and organization. Like you, keeping the digital files in OneDrive enables access from any device — BUT — when a pattern is in Zip format, I can only download from emails on my computer, which can be very annoying.

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  • lindastopp

    I store my PDFs on my Mac, filed by company. Once printed out I mark the (digital) folder orange, when the paper is cut out I mark it yellow and when a garment is completed I mark it green. I am working on several projects at a time, sometimes there are weeks between printing the pattern and cutting the pattern so this color tagging system helps me to keep track so I don’t print something twice or I can check if my size changed since printing.
    The printed patterns are all folded to A4 and put into transparent plastic covers. I put an illustration of the garment on top, including information about how much fabric and time I need to sew it. Those covers are filed in large file folders, sorted by garment types. At the moment I have three big ones I can easily flip through like books.
    If the construction is rather easy I only take notes by hand and put it into the file; if the construction is trickier I print the instructions two pages on one and front&back so I save paper (4pages on one sheet).
    I do have an Ipad and use it at home a lot, but for sewing I have to leave home to go to my workspace where is no internet, so I don’t carry the Ipad with me.

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    • Jen

      Ooh I really like your color coded folder technique, that’s super smart. I’ve definitely printed things out twice before so I may try to adapt this to my system. Thanks for sharing!!

      Reply
  • Johanna

    great topic, the rolling rack looks amazing! I live in a small condo and I embrace technology but Im also a visual tactile person. I download my pattern instructions in ibooks on my ipad but do the print at home of the pattern. I have a binder with each of my patterns in their own plastic sleeve with a label on the outside

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    • Jen

      I think that’s actually one really fun part about sewing, how you can use technology to create a tactile object, that I hadn’t thought of before your comment!

      Reply
  • Barb

    I am hopelessly behind in technology and organization – the wisdom, clarity and generosity of all these posts gives me hope! Thanks.

    Reply
  • Helen

    Really awesome post and comments. So helpful for those of us just growing our collections, helping to limit our trial and error. I learned about Evernote from you and it’s been so helpful when shopping for fabric and yarn.
    Thank you!!

    Reply
  • Beth - Sew DIY

    Great post! My system is pretty similar except that I use Evernote as a backup instead of Dropbox. I organize the files by type and for physical patterns, I take a picture of the pattern and upload it. I also use Evernote to take notes about the pattern while I’m sewing. It’s really handy for referring back to. I don’t print out the booklets either because I want to save trees and don’t want more physical things to store. If the pdf allows it, I will highlight my size and make notes in the pdf using Adobe Acrobat.

    Reply

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