How to Organize Your Sewing Patterns

If there’s one thing that’s tougher to organise than a sewist’s fabric stash, it’s got to be your pattern collection. There are all your favourite patterns, the ones you use time and again and have altered to suit your needs, the ones you’ve used a couple times, the ones you have in three different sizes, and the ones you know—just know!—that someday you’ll get around to using.

So what’s the best way to keep track of them all? How do you know what you already have the next time there’s a pattern sale at your favourite sewing shop? And what do you do with them once you’ve got them? Never fear. Check out these tips and tricks that can help you whip that pattern collection into shape!

Decide on Criteria

The first thing to do when starting to organise your pattern collection is decide what’s most important to you. If your patterns are for stuffed toys, you might want to differentiate your patterns by type—teddy bears, rabbits, doll patterns, etc. If you make only kids’ clothes, differentiating by age might be more important than type. If you make both men’s and ladies’ wear, you might sort into two piles, and then differentiate by clothing type. There are lots of criteria to choose from, and there’s no right or wrong list to work with. Mix and match until you find what suits you. Here are a few more to consider:

  • Year of Design
  • Pattern Company
  • Time Period
  • Name of Designer
  • Pattern Number
  • Seasonality
  • Men’s/Women’s/Children’s
  • Outerwear
  • Accessories
  • Crafts
  • Housewares
  • Special Occasion
  • Fabric Type (Ex. Knits vs. Woven)
  • Customer Name (for custom drafted or altered patterns)

Use an App

The best way to keep all your patterns at your fingertips is to use an app for your smartphone or computer. That way, you won’t have to physically search through your patterns, or even be in the room with them, to check the critical information you need (like yardage and notions) when you need it (like when you’re standing in front of bolts of fabric wondering just how much you needed to buy). There are lots of apps available that are specifically designed to organise sewing patterns, and even more that are designed for general organisation, but can be used quite well to keep track of all your pattern information. Do a bit of research to see which apps offer the features and categories you need to keep track of your stash. Here are a just a few to get you started:

Sewing Pattern Buddy: An Android-only app, this one is designed to keep track of everything you might need to know, from pattern maker and number to features of the garment, and more. You can even store pictures so you know at a glance you’ve found the right thing.

My Sewing Kit: This app for iOS devices includes an entire section devoted to pattern management, but also helps you keep track of everything from your fabric stash to your sewing books, making everything accessible wherever you go.

Evernote: Evernote is a general organisation app, so it may take a bit more work at the outset to input all your pattern information. However, that blank slate also makes it perfect for customising your database just the way you like it.

Invest in Packaging

Once you’ve got your patterns digitally filed, now you need to keep them physically organised. Lots of sewists swear by using comic book storage materials, which include specially sized boxes, cardboard supports, and plastic sleeves. They’re inexpensive, easily accessible, and work great for all kinds of patterns, including ones you’ve downloaded and printed from the internet. Other sewists, though, prefer something different, like file folders, oversized envelopes, or plastic storage pouches. What you need depends on your pattern collection and how you use it, but make sure whatever you opt for keeps your pattern pieces safely together and has plenty of room for labeling and notes.

Keep Careful Notes

Speaking of notes! Any time you use a pattern, you learn something more about it. Maybe it works well in particular fabric, but is a nightmare in another, or maybe there’s now an extra collar piece included because you drafted something different. Avoid relying on your memory to keep track of all these things and keep a page (or two) of notes with your pattern for the next time you pull it out.

Add Photos

Photos of finished projects (especially your finished projects) are so helpful when it comes to choosing the right pattern. It’s even more important when you’re working with sewing clients, since a finished garment is much easier to assess than a fashion sketch. You don’t necessarily need to store physical photos with your patterns, however. Digital is a much easier way to keep track of these, and most organisational apps allow for pictures of finished garments with all your other information.

Works in Progress

Storing patterns you’re not using is one thing, but what do you do with all the pieces you are using? You don’t want to have to rummage through your collection and take them out again each time you get a moment to sew. Instead, keep all your work-in-progress pattern pieces in a basket or plastic tub, together with any specific trims, notions, or small equipment you might need when working on that project. That way, everything you need is always in one place, and it stores out of your way when you’re not working on it.

Include Your Digital Collection

Don’t forget about all those digital patterns you’ve downloaded or scanned! If you’re using a pattern organisation app, most will allow you to upload or input that data for PDF patterns as well, so your entire library can exist in one place. Create files on your computer using the same organisational categories you’re using for your physical patterns and file away the digital versions. In your app, be sure to tag patterns as digital or physical so you know which collection to search when you’re ready to use it.

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