Traditional sewing pattern vs a Digital sewing pattern

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With the advent of downloadable digital pdf patterns the sewing landscape has changed.  Traditional sewing patterns vs. digital sewing patterns. I love how this article clearly points out the differences between the two. Great information about sewing.But when it comes to traditional sewing patterns vs. digital sewing patterns what are the differences?  I’m here to help you navigate the two types of patterns.  The truth is in the end if you follow the directions correctly, no matter which you use your get the same result.

First let’s talk about the their differences starting with the traditional pattern.

Traditional sewing pattern vs a Digital sewing pattern

Traditional Patterns

A traditional pattern is made up of three parts.  The envelope, the instructions and the tissue pattern.

The envelope doesn’t just serve as storage for the pattern, it has valuable information on the back of it.  On the back of the envelope you will see information of measurements for sizing.  The type and amount of fabric you need.  What notions you need.  It will also show the different styles of the pattern that is available.  A note ladies – don’t get hung up on the sizing number the pattern company gives you.  Go by your measurements, and not the number.  Sizing in the US is well, frankly a lie.  There won’t be a tag in the back anyway so just make the item that will fit you best.

Inside the pattern envelope you’ll find the instructions, typically made out of heavier paper than the pattern.  On the instructions you’ll also find how to cut out the pattern, as well as symbol keys and terminology used.

The pattern itself is typically made out of light tissue paper.  Be gentle, it will tear if you aren’t careful.  If you’re gentle with the pattern it is possible to reuse it several times.  You will need to cut out your pattern from the tissue paper and gently iron it (on low) to make it flat and wrinkle free.  Some sewists are amazing and can fold the used pattern well enough to store it in the original envelope, but I prefer to put the envelope, pattern and instructions in a Ziploc bag to store it.

Digital Patterns

Digital patterns share a lot of similarities to traditional patterns but have a few major differences.  The biggest is the printing process.  And this is where a lot of things can go wrong.  Depending on where you purchase/ download your pattern you might need special software installed on your computer.  Many big pattern houses ( like Simplicity) require that you download special software to print their patterns.  The software serves two purposes.  It protects their pattern copyright, and it helps print the pattern to scale.  It will usually have you print a scale test page where you can measure and make sure that what the program thinks is an inch is what is actually coming out of your printer.

Independent pattern houses tend to use a basic pdf format – so it will not need the fancy program to unlock the pattern.  Adobe pdf (which is usually already installed on computers) is all you need.  Most will also have a scale test page that you can print to make sure that it’s printing correctly.  A word of warning:  Always download and then print the pattern. DO NOT print it from your internet browser as they have a tendency to warp the scaling.

Your digital pattern will need to be assembled.  Different designers use different symbols, but in the end it’s the same, line up the symbols and tape the pattern together.  Plain old tape will work – nothing fancy.  The next step is to cut out your pattern using scissors that are NOT your sewing shears. Printer paper will dull/ruin your sewing shears, don’t let them come into contact.

One thing I love about digital pattern is the sturdy paper they are printed on.  I store mine in large plastic scrap booking envelopes.

Similarities between the two

Now no matter what the type of pattern you’re dealing with there are some similar things that you need to mind.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  Before you do anything READ ALL THE DIRECTIONS FIRST.  I can’t tell you how much heart ache, time and fabric this will save you.  You need to understand why your doing what your doing in step 3 so step 4 makes sense.  This will help you visualize how the entire piece is supposed to come together.

If you’re making a garment that comes in multiple sizes, there will be grading lines around the pattern.  You will need to determine your size and following the line all the way around the pattern – that will be your cut line.  Some sewists are great at preserving the all the grading lines on a pattern by sniping and folding, but I confess I just prefer to cut to the line I need.

Finally, I prefer to keep the pattern pinned to the cut out pieces until it’s time to sew to keep them straight.

I hope this has helped you learn about the differences between the two types of patterns.  They each have their strengths and weaknesses but in the end the result is same!

Do you mostly use digital or traditional patterns?  Let me know in the comments below.  

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Traditional sewing patterns vs. digital sewing patterns. I love how this article clearly points out the differences between the two. Great information about sewing.


  1. Thanks for that information, I prefer traditional patterns, if the company has a pattern that I like and it comes in pdf form and traditional, I will purchase it and wait for it to come in the mail.

  2. MUCH prefer PDF patterns. Don’t have to worry about losing pattern pieces and I abhor the super-flimsy tissue pattern pieces.

  3. When I use a traditional pattern I copy the size I need on teaching paper, so I still have the other sizes available to me or sew the pattern for others. I don’t think I ever have needed it again, bit that’s just my nature

  4. You give awesome advice- hopefully people will take it. Also your doll patterns are wonderful and fun to create.
    Thank you for all you do.
    In His Service,

  5. I love the digital patterns. Often because my small town does not have the desired pattern in stock. And if I wanted to cut out a different size, no biggie, I just realized print it.

  6. For digital patterns, after I print, I lay out the papers matching the symbols and holding them in place with large washers. Then I lay medical tissue paper over it, and trace the size I want. Stack the papers up and stick them in a zip lock. The medical tissue is sturdier than the printed pattern tissue and easier to work with than taped together printer paper. I only need to print my digital pattern once for all sizes and can reuse it many times in different sizes as needed.

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