It’s easy to use PDF patterns—just follow these 342 easy steps!
Just kidding!!! Really, I’m so totally kidding.
It IS actually pretty simple with only one or two little tricks you should know. Some tricks may be specific to your computer or operating system or your ability to remember your own passwords (my personal downfall), which will be up to you to sort out.
Other tricks are universal.
PDFs (Portable Document Format) are great because they can be viewed on any platform—Mac or PC, mobile or desktop, printed or viewed on-screen. And the Adobe Reader software is free to download (your computer may already have it loaded).
Some quilt books, like The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt, include a CD-ROM with the PDF patterns. In that case, you’d insert the CD into your computer’s CD- or DVD-ROM drive, access the files on the CD, and either print from the CD or transfer the PDFs to your computer. Because computer manufacturers are increasingly phasing out CD- and DVD-ROM drives, newer books are now being published with a secure URL (often a one-time-only link), which allows you to download the PDFs.
For today’s lesson, let’s assume you’re purchasing your PDF from an online shop, like our Quilting Company shop. When you purchase your PDF patterns (and this works the same for PDF versions of the magazine), you will either be given a link during check-out or will be e-mailed a link.
It’s going to vary from place to place, but usually, there’s a “My Patterns” link or tab that houses your PDFs indefinitely. You can download PDF patterns directly to a computer, which I like to do so that I can keep them all in one folder on my desktop. But it’s super nice to have those patterns available to you in your account, in case you’re at your sister’s house and an impromptu sewing day happens, or your computer melts down. You can log into your account, and get to the PDF easy-peasy.
Here’s where we get into some issues. With most PDFs, you can just hit print and OK, and everything’s great. As long as it prints large enough to read, no problems, right?
Well… Not so much, when you’re a quilter.
So with PDF quilt patterns—specifically any with an on-page template you’re meant to trace—you need to print to scale, and that’s not the default.
Let me show you how, and why.
Here I am printing directly from the web using my Chrome browser. Looks good—7 sheets of paper, OK. I confirmed that the paper is 8.5” x 11”, so good there. Printing to Jack Jack, great. (All our office printers are named after characters from The Incredibles, FYI.)
But oh, the horror! Under “Scale,” you see I have “Fit to Page” selected.
Or you might see it look like this if you download to a Mac desktop and get ready to print. “Page scaling,” it says, “Fit to Printable Area.”
When working with on-page templates, you absolutely want to either print at 100% scale or with no scaling, depending on what options your print settings offer you. You want to print the pattern as is—no tweaking the sizes.
Let me show you why this matters.
The pattern on the left is print at 100% (or with no scaling). The pattern on the right was print to fit to the page. You can see they fill the page a wee bit differently. It’s hardly discernible, but the page number and footer is pulled in more on the right-hand pattern.
Now, do you see the box on the page? It reads, “Print at 100% (no scaling). This box measures 2 inches wide by 1 inch high. Use this as an accuracy guide when printing the templates.”
It’s an industry-wide practice to include this on PDF patterns that need to be scaled correctly. Digital quilting and sewing patterns all have something similar, whether a 1” x 1” square, a 2.5cm line, or a 2” x 1” rectangle.
Let’s check it to see the difference!
First, print at 100%, no scaling…
Now, print to fit the page.
So you see that printing to fit the page leaves me about 1/16” shy of accurate. ESPECIALLY when combining pieced and paper-pieced quilt blocks, this will eventually lead to the misery of mismatched blocks, and the pattern not coming together.