Organizing your PDF files for Sewing & Knitting
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
I've tried a lot of note-taking programs that also read PDFs and this has been my 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!