How to Organize Your PDF Sewing Patterns

on September 17 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips | by | with 10 Comments

Wendy from Thimblenest shows you how to organize all of those PDF sewing patterns you love to buy, print and use. Wendy keeps everything in place so she can easily find the right pattern and size, letting her spend more time actually sewing! Learn more about Wendy in her introduction, and add your tips below.

Quick access makes PDF sewing patterns a popular choice for sewists, but instant access can quickly become instant mess. With a little attention to organizing your growing collection of PDF and traced patterns (both the digital files and the physical paper pieces) you can avoid hassle and waste.

As soon as the link to that PDF pattern you just purchased pops up in your inbox, your first instinct might be to start printing, cutting and sewing (I know mine is). But a few seconds of your time now might save you a big headache later. Organize your digital files before you print something on paper that will also need to be organized!

1. Flag/tag/file your purchase/download email. Every company is different; some restrict the number of times you can click the PDF link, while others allow you to access it again through their website. Being able to track down the original email confirming your purchase may help you restore or replace a deleted or corrupted pattern file if you need to. Make sure your emails are organized so finding your purchase information is as simple as opening a folder or searching your inbox.

2. Save that file, in two places. Decide on the best folder setup for organizing and saving your pattern PDFs and save each file on your computer’s hard drive. Then adopt the same system in another format (flash drive, Dropbox, external hard drive, etc.) and save the PDF there, too!

3. Make sure you tag your file with relevant search terms that will help you find it easily on your hard drive if it gets saved in the wrong folder. Examples: PDF, pattern, skirt, Colette Patterns, etc.

4. Rename your file as needed. If the default file name isn’t something that will jump out at you as you’re skimming through a list of files, rename it to something you’ll recognize. “Empire Waist Sundress” (although longer) is much easier to recognize or more likely to jog your memory than “EWSD2014”.

5. Ready, set, print… But think about it. Print your pattern off and get ready to sew, but don’t waste ink and paper or add needless bulk to your pattern binders. Some pattern files contain a handy table of contents that tells you which pages to print for a given size and/or style. Use it! And if something like that isn’t included, you can figure it out yourself. Print only the pages you need for the size and style you’re going to sew.

Now it’s time to tame all of those printed paper patterns!


  • 2″-3″ 3-ring binder (One per pattern category– See #1 below.)
  • 3-ring tabbed dividers
  • Small Post-Its, sticky labels, or label maker
  • 3-hole punch
  • Plastic sheet protectors

1. Choose general categories based on your pattern collection and label the spine of a binder for each. I sew for a wide variety of ages, so my binders are divided by gender and age (women, boys, girls, babies, etc.). If you mainly sew for yourself, you might choose categories like pants, skirts, dresses, etc.
Note: If you’re not picky about matching binders, you can often find them in like-new condition at the thrift store (mine have been reused for different purposes several times).

2. Within each binder, alphabetize subcategories using the tabbed dividers. For example, my binder of boy’s patterns has these sections: coats/jackets, hats, pants, shirts, shorts, shoes and underwear.

3. Place all of the pattern pieces for one size in a sheet protector. Label the pattern number/name and size in the lower right hand corner of the sheet protector. Use one sheet protector for each size of a pattern to keep the contents manageable and help avoid mix-ups and misplaced pieces. File each pattern set behind the correct tabbed divider alphabetically by pattern company and then in size order.

4. When I have multiple sizes of the same pattern I color code each piece with a different color according to size. For example, if you have “Pattern 3587” traced or printed in sizes 2T, 3T and 5, mark a distinguishing color on each and every pattern piece (i.e. pink for 2T, green for 3T and red for 5, etc.) before you place them in their separate sheet protectors. You can tell at a glance if you have all of the correct-sized pattern pieces before you begin cutting fabric. This is especially helpful when you are making multiple sizes of the same pattern at the same time (for instance when sewing for siblings).

5. Once all of the sheet protectors are placed in the binder, punch holes in one copy of each pattern’s instructions and place it in front of the first size in the set. Include a copy of the pattern photos or illustrations as the top page for a quick visual reminder of what the finished garment looks like.

6. When you’re ready to sew, remove the pattern’s sheet protector from the binder and keep it near your sewing machine. As you sew, return pattern pieces to the sheet protector so that nothing gets misplaced.

7. Close the top of sheet protectors with a paper clip if you have pattern pieces that want to slide out. There are also envelope-style sheet protectors available with top flaps that fold down to secure papers inside.

Stick with your organizational system and don’t let those digital files or paper patterns get out of control. Save yourself some frustration and use the extra time for what we always want more of… Time for sewing!

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10 Responses to How to Organize Your PDF Sewing Patterns

  1. Andrea S. says:

    Wendy, thank you so much for sharing this! I used to keep my patterns in large manila envelopes, but it was getting unwieldy. I went out and bought binders and more clear sheet protectors. This system works wonderfully, and it is so much easier to find my patterns now!

  2. Andrea says:

    I keep all mine in large 8×10 manilla envelopes. Like regular pattern envelopes but BIGGER. 😀

    I make a quick sketch on the front and write the name in the top left. My sewing table is a large L shaped receptionist’s desk, so it has the perfect sized drawers already.

    Like many, I only print off the pieces I need and read the directions from the ipad.

  3. Christine says:

    I’m a fan of three-ring binders for my patterns. Instead of a label maker, I put a plain piece of paper in the front of the plastic sheet. On that, I write the date I first used the pattern, the name of the pattern, and all the sizes/variations included in a particular sheet protector. It’s a bit easier for me to work with the sheet protectors that way. As for actually organizing the order of things… Thanks for the tips, I need them!

  4. Stacy says:

    Great post! Great idea to share the patterns by category!

    Sincerely, Stacy
    My Sewing & DIY Blog

  5. Great idea. I don’t have many pdf patterns but this will definely help. Thanks!

  6. Colleen says:

    I save my pdf patterns to Google docs. I can access them from my iphone, ipad and computer. I also realized I can upload them to my kindle library. Again you can access them from anywhere. I also do this with important docs. Some things you find as pdfs, like vintage sewing machine manuals I also download to ibooks. Any of these I can access easily from my ipad which stands next to my sewing machine and I can easily enlarge or zoom into parts of the pattern. I no longer have to print and save to binders. I only print off the pattern pieces as needed.

  7. Nancy McKenzie says:

    I love what you put here! I have come to many of the same conclusions and I love my patterns. I don’t like printing all that paper though. I usually print the front picture page and the pattern pieces. I send the instructions to my IPad and read them there. Depending on what app you use, you are often able to make notes and highlights right on the file.

  8. Juliet Wood says:

    Definitely going straight to my Quilting Wishlist file to add this for when I next travel to the USA. I have many patterns for quilting, some are PDFs and others are printed out tutorials and they are all over the place, not even together. Now I know that one day I will tame them!

  9. Amber says:

    I love the idea of the envelope top page protectors! I have tried this before with regular page protectors and they just slid out. I’ve been keeping all of my patterns in a filing cabinet or filing tub, but this is nicer!

  10. Samina says:

    Great ideas, all. I’m off to find some more binders…

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