Thursday, January 15, 2009

How to Digitize a Pattern

I draw all of my own diaper patterns. When I began, I drew on newspapers. I don't like those--it leaves black ink all over your hands. :) Eventually my mother-in-law was given some rolls of paper from the clinic she worked at--these are rolls that would normally cover a doctor's exam table, only they were given out for free by a drug rep. They have "Levitra Challenge" written all over them. I thought that was ironic given the fact that I'm drawing diaper patterns.

So how do I get my pattern, with all the rough marks, from my house to something that is salable?

I started out with something simple, and could be contained on one page. It is a contoured nursing pad pattern, and you can actually download it from my website:

Back then I didn't take pictures of how I did it, so I will walk you through it with the belly panel pattern that I used to convert my regular jeans into maternity jeans.

This is a pattern that I drew on my own too. I took a commercial pattern that had an old style belly panel in the front. I converted it to be more like the new style pants. So that's kind of where this pattern came from.

To start, I figured out that the pattern would cover two sheets of paper. I taped two regular sheets of paper together and traced the pattern onto them:

After this, I took the pieces of paper back apart and scanned each in individually to my computer.

Once they were scanned in (as images), I imported them into Microsoft Publisher. I'll give some tips on how to use Publisher, but this is definitely NOT a tutorial on that. If you don't know how to use it, you'll have to learn just like I did. :) Or maybe you are better equipped than I and can use Adobe.

In Publisher, I edited my page size to be 17" x 11." I slid the pictures together so it looked like the whole piece. Then I used the curve command to "trace" the lines into the computer.
(click on the image to see a larger version)

Once all the lines were traced, I could move the pictures out of the way and just work with my lines. I could then edit the points of the lines, especially the curved ones, to make sure they looked smooth. This pattern was super easy to do, but my diaper patterns took a lot more tweaking! After the lines were done, then I used text boxes, arrows, etc. to add all the other "information" that is necessary on a pattern. Using the rulers on Publisher, I drew a text box that was 1" square, made the text box have a border, so that the box can be a reference for people who print it off--you can check with a ruler to make sure the pattern is the right size. This is important for people who are making patterns to download.

Now I have a Publisher file, but what I really need is a pdf file. I used a free pdf converter that I got online somewhere (primo pdf), but the problem I found was that there were no guidelines printed for the overlap. So once you printed off two pages, you'd have no idea where to tape them together.

Using a ruler and Publisher, I set the page margins (arrange -> layout guides) to be 0.5." The overlap was automatically set to be 0.25." I realized that the page was printing out over THREE pages, which is unnecessary, so I reset my page size to be only 13.5" and readjusted the pattern to be in the center of the page. The last thing I needed to do was to add a line in just the right place that could be "matched up" when printed off in pdf format. 0.5" + 0.25" = 0.75" I measured back 0.75 from 8.5" using the rulers on Publisher and drew a small line. Thankfully, it worked! You can now view the pdf of my belly panel pattern here:

If you decide to use this, I recommend basting it in to your pants first to make sure it fits right. I've noticed that it fits a wide range of sizes, but that doesn't mean that it is perfect. You may need to extend the center back to make the panel larger or bring it in some to make the panel smaller, depending on your pants/waist size. I originally drew it for a size "medium" pattern, and it works well on that, but it has also worked well on my size 10 and size 12 jeans I've been converting. Of course, the TYPE of fabric you choose to make your panel from will make a difference, too. So experiment. You should definitely choose something that has lycra in it. It can even be an old t-shirt or cami.

Now, let's say you want to have your pattern in a print format, not digitized for download. Then you need to research printers. You have to decide how big of a page you will need for your pattern. I decided to go with a page that was 24" x 36." I found a local (Christian owned) printer who could print up to 36" wide and would charge me per inch for the length. Fedex Kinko's was a little more expensive, but still reasonable. I laid out pages and taped them together, then drew my 24 x 36 inch grid, THEN drew in the margins too. After that, it was pretty much just how I described above. I took pictures, but I can't find them for nothing now!


  1. What a fun look behind the scenes! I can't stand commercial tissue paper patterns, so I draw my own too. I've found that ugly clearance wrapping paper works great. I have some of my grandma's newspaper patterns though and I must say that is very cool. It's neat to not only have a pattern she made, but to know when she did it based on the newspaper.

  2. I finally found time to read... great job on giving an explanation on "how to"!

    Got to go... cranky baby :)