#41: Using Sewing Patterns More Sustainably

Check Your Thread
Check Your Thread
#41: Using Sewing Patterns More Sustainably

Sewing patterns are often the starting point for those of us who make our own clothes. In recent years we have witnessed an explosion in the amount and the variety of sewing patterns available to us. Plus, developments in technology and the sewing industry have resulted in patterns being available in different formats. Then, once we’ve bought a pattern in a particular format, there are options of how to use it. At CYT, our goal is to enjoy sewing whilst conserving resources and reducing potential waste where possible. So in this episode we unpick what choices we might make when buying and using sewing patterns and why.

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Sewing patterns currently come in five formats: 

1) the traditional patterns printed onto paper, 

2) as digital PDF files that require printing out, 

3) as projector files that gets projected directly onto the fabric,

4) as sets of instructions or measurements that guide you to draw the pattern directly onto fabric or

5) printed overlapping on large pattern sheets in pattern magazines and books. 

Buying and Using Paper Patterns More Sustainably:

Find out where in the world it’s produced. That might impact the retailer you choose to buy it from. 

Consider becoming a member of #teamtrace by tracing off the pieces before hand onto more paper first rather than jumping straight in and cutting out your size. On the surface it seems like you’re using double the materials, but by giving yourself space to test out fit and alterations on the practice go, you are likely to be preserving more resources overall. 

If you plan to make any alterations, or suspect you might need to make any alterations in the future, tracing first rather than cutting straight is the absolutely best choice. You can play around on the traced off pieces and always have the original version to refer to. Or if your alterations don’t go to plan, you can trace the pieces again and start over. Tracing is also necessary if you want to retain all the sizes. You may wish to make another size for yourself or someone else in the future. Plus, by tracing off your pieces and keeping the original pattern uncut, it means that when you no longer want it, it can be passed on to another person, at a sewing swap perhaps, or by donating to a charity shop or thrift store. 

If you cut into the original, and later find you need the uncut and unadulterated pattern again in the future, you’re going to have to buy the whole thing again, pattern, instructions AND packaging. Which would mean double the environmental impact of the original pattern. And if you do cut into the original you’ll be rendering it pretty much useless once you’re done with it. 

Therefore, if garment sewing is a passion for you, and something you can see yourself doing for a number of years, I’d recommend buying a large roll of recycled paper suitable for pattern cutting and tracing. But if you don’t fancy investing in a roll of paper specific for the purpose, rolls of large format printer paper, wall paper and wrapping paper can also do the job. 

Using PDF Sewing Patterns More Sustainably:

Only print out a pattern when we are actually about to use it in case your plans change. You might end up not wanting to make the view you printed out, or you end up not making it at all and that will have been a waste of energy, paper and ink. 

When you do print out your PDF pattern, there’s no need to print out the instructions. Instead, view the instructions directly on your laptop, tablet or phone. 

Whether you’re using an A0 print out or A4/letter pages that have been stuck together, you can also choose to trace the size you need and retain the original printouts. As with paper patterns, this will save you the time and hassle of reprinting and sticking together pages if you wish to make alterations to the pattern and may need to refer to the original, or if you want to save the rest of the sizes for the future. 

Printing and Using A4/letter PDF Sewing Patterns:

Check what pages you actually need. If the pattern offers multiple views, i.e. there are different style variations within the pattern, take some time to work out which pages you need to print out for the one you want to make to save you paper and ink. Some pattern companies will detail which pages you need to print out depending on the sizes or styles you require in the instructions. But for others, you might need to figure it out for yourself. 

Check if the PDF file includes the LAYERS FUNCTION!!!! This will save you a lot of printer ink over time. To find the layers function, when you open up the PDF document usually in a programme like acrobat reader, check if there’s a logo on the left hand side that looks like a stack of squares. If it doesn’t show up as you open the file, you can find it by selecting view in the tool bar at the top, then show/Hide, then Navigation Panes, then Layers. If your pattern has that function, you can deselect the layers you don’t need by clicking on the tiny eye icons, and all the lines of the sizes you don’t need will disappear from view. Make sure you don’t deselect the pattern information layer though, because that contains all the writing and any markings are common to all sizes. 

What paper are you using? If you can, I’d urge you to buy recycled printer paper. It’s only worth it for recycling services to collect paper and recycle it to make new products, as opposed to sending it to landfill, if there’s a demand for products made from recycled paper. We need to be keeping as much stuff out of landfill as possible. 

Also related to paper, if you work in an office or other work place that regularly prints stuff out onto A4 or letter sized paper, is there a source of waste paper you could tap into?

Similarly, if you live with kids, or work with kids, or have a friend or family member with kids, their stream of artwork might also provide plenty of pages you can print your patterns out on the back of. 

Stick the pattern pages together with glue rather than sticky tape so the patterns can be recycled when you’re eventually done with them. I use a thin layer of my kids’ PVA craft glue. Let your pattern dry before cutting out the pieces. Sticky tape is obviously plastic, which deems every page it touches unrecycle-able. Try to buy PVA glue in larger quantities and decant into smaller containers with a lid like empty jam jars. 

Printing and Using A0/Copshop PDF Sewing Patterns:

Only get your pattern printed when you are ready to actually use it in case you change your mind and your sewing plans to avoid wasted resources. 

Check which pages you actually need. If there are different views included in the same pattern, or different elements, hopefully they will be grouped as such so that you can avoid printing entire pages if necessary. 

If the pattern has the layers function, an A0 printing service can also deselect the unnecessary lines which will save on ink. I also think it makes cutting out your pattern a lot easier if you’ve not got so many lines to confuse you. Check in advance if your pattern has the layers function, and if so, check which size or sizes you require, and ask them when placing your order to only print the necessary sizes.

If you’re getting your files printed by an A0 printing service, use a local service. Or if there isn’t one within your local area, at least one in the same country. You might choose to ignore this if you’re getting another physical product sent to you at the same time and the price of printing is reasonable though.

If you are using a postal printing service, batch your order so you’re getting a few patterns printed at once to save on postage and packaging. 

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