A Weekend in Hell, or How to Organize Your Sewing Patterns

There are many, many, many awesome posts by sewing bloggers about how they organized their massive collection of sewing patterns, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think the world necessarily needs another one. BUT! I have decided to add my 2 cents anyways because I found a lot of annoying issues with the method that I used that not many bloggers mentioned in their posts. You, dear reader, deserve to know exactly why I was so frustrated with how I organized mine so that you don’t make the same mistakes that I did! Or at the very least, so that you know what you are getting into from the beginning and can be fully prepared for any frustrations that may result!

I bought an IKEA filing cabinet for all my physical patterns last year and organized them in a simple but efficient manner- my top drawer has all my pattern envelopes divided into loose categories (bottoms, dresses, jumpsuits, etc) and the bottom two drawers have all the copied pattern pieces in ziploc bags since I trace all my patterns to keep the originals intact. I don’t have a ton of vintage patterns so I didn’t get the nice cardboard backs with plastic sleeves that many sewist opt for, I just have mine standing up in their drawer with a few tabbed cardboard dividers and it works great.

My oversized patterns (like Jalie and the designer ones from Vogue) are in an open box on top of the filing cabinet. I have been happy with the physical organization of my patterns ever since they made their way into the cabinet, but I have hated how all my physical patterns were in a separate space from my digital ones, of which I have even more. I desperately needed to find a way to have all my patterns in one place so I could easily see what was in my stash.

I knew I had two options in organizing my patterns: to 1. store them digitally, by transferring all my physical copies of patterns into a digital format or 2. store them physically, by printing out the images of all my PDF copies of patterns and storing them with my physical copies. This is a matter of preference, of course, but for me the choice was easy- digital all the way! Now I just needed to figure out what app would meet my criteria for optimal organization. My needs were:

  • having a clear image of the pattern envelope or line drawing of the pattern that I could see when I scrolled through the database
  • an easy way to catalogue different types of patterns (sewing/knitting/crafting) and a way to create more categories within those groups, like socks, sweaters, hats, etc. under KNITTING and pants, dresses, tops, jackets, etc. under SEWING
  • a way to tag each pattern with key terms like “vintage”, “casual”, “red carpet DIY”, “summer”, etc.
  • search function for tags and sewing company names
  • a way to add notes about the pattern if necessary
  • access to the app from more than one device (I want my patterns available on both my phone and iPad)

I did a bit of research on the interwebs to get a better grasp of all the fancy ways people organized their patterns and found that most people used one of three apps: Dropbox, Evernote, or Tap Forms. There were other apps that came up, including one specifically developed for sewists and their pattern cataloguing, but the app was defunct by the time I found it, no longer available to buy or use. The Dropbox option seemed interesting to me since I already use Dropbox for sharing and sending big files like audition tapes and photos for this blog, but I didn’t like the interface for the app and it’s not really designed for organization. Dropbox’s main use is for storing files and sharing them easily, so it’s search functions were pretty rudimentary, it didn’t show photos or a cover image of the files that were stored depending on what device you were using, and it was generally a bit clunky.

Tap Forms came highly recommended by the Colette blog, but when I researched it, it cost $16.99 for the premium version, and I thought that was just too high a cost for something that I wasn’t going to be using frquently. For the record, I have the utmost respect for app developers and I see no problem paying good money for something that I will use often that will make my life easier, but I knew I wasn’t going to be using the app more than a few times a month, so after perusing the app details in iTunes, I passed on it. This decision ended up sort of biting me in the ass later, which I will get to shortly.

Evernote seemed like a much better fit for me for several reasons. Firstly, it was free, but I also liked that it was so popular. Much like Tap Forms, it showed up in my research as an effective way to catalogue all sorts of collections, from recipes and writing to sewing patterns, but it also seemed like the app that I was most likely to use in other aspects of my life. The interface was very intuitive, and without reading any tutorials or instructions I was able to quickly figure out how to create a “note”, put it in a “notebook”, and create “stacks of notebooks”.

A notebook stack with a list of notes inside

For my purposes, I created a note for each pattern, and I used the name of the pattern as the title of the note, for example “Waffle Patterns Cookie Zipper Blouson”, as seen above. The notebook that this pattern went into would be called “Outerwear”, and the stack that contained this notebook was called “Sewing Patterns”. The app basically allows you to create categories and sub-categories that you can easily see at a glance and move around. Adding tags for each note is easy, and the app stores each of the tags you use so that if you start typing a previously used term, the whole tag pops up automatically (see below).

Tags

In the beginning, everything seemed to be going smoothly, but that didn’t last long! The first issue I ran into occured after I had catalogued about 10 patterns. Suddenly a message popped up in the app saying that I had already met my monthly allowance of data entry and that if I wanted to input more I would need to upgrade to a premium account, starting at $3.99 a month. I thought it was free!!! I can’t blame this on the app because I clearly had not paid attention to the fine print that said that the free subscription was only allotted a certain amount of space in the app per momth, but I was still very annoyed. Even if I had read that part of the description, I probably would not have known how much space that actually was (I don’t know a GB from a MB from a TLC). Turns out, it’s about enough space for…10 patterns. I briefly considered switching to the Tap Forms app since it also cost money and in the long run seemed like it might be cheaper than paying a monthly fee, but I had already familiarized myself with the Evernote format and I didn’t want to turn back after getting such a good start. I begrudgingly upgraded to the premium account for Evernote and had entered maybe two more patterns when I ran into my next (and most frustrating) problem with the app.

When creating a new note in Evernote, my first step would be to

  1. type in the name of the pattern,
  2. create tags for the pattern,
  3. take a photo of the pattern envelope and then
  4. take a photo of the back of the pattern envelope with the sizing, yardage and technical drawing.

In the beginning I was using my phone to complete these tasks, which was quick and easy- each note took about a minute or so to complete. But as I started to scroll through the notes I had created, I realized that the second photo I took, the one of the back of the envelope with the pattern details listed, was showing up first. Evernote has a sidebar on the left side of the app that allows you to scroll through your list of notes, and if the note contains images, that’s the information you see first. It’s one of the things I was attracted to most about using this app to categorize my patterns: when I click on the Notebook for dresses, a get to scroll through each pattern’s image, which feels just like flipping through the actual envelopes. So you can imagine how frustrating it was to scroll through 5 patterns with images of vintage dresses that are followed by 3 patterns with photos of envelope backs. I couldn’t figure out why the wrong photos were showing up since I was making sure to take the photo of the front of the envelope before I took the one of the back, and uploading the photos to the note in the same order. I searched in the app for a way to set an order to the photos used in a note, like if there was a way to designate one of the photos as the “cover” image, to no avail.

 

see how in the upper lefthand corner the top image is of the pattern BACK instead of the pattern front? I DON’T LIKE THIS!

Finally I did some googling and found out that this was an issue that many users had with Evernote, and apparently it was designed to operate this way. Evernote doesn’t give you the option to order your photos in a certain way, and it doesn’t matter which photos you upload first- the image with the largest amount of data automatically shows up first in the note. So to get around this, I needed to make sure that my first photo was the “largest” file and my second photo (the back of the pattern) was smaller. I tried taking a photo very close to the pattern front, filling the frame of my camera lens, and then taking a photo further away of the pattern back, but this only worked about half of the time. Sometimes I had to take a photo so far away from the pattern back that I could barely read the writing in the image, and even then there were many times when that photo was still larger than the pattern front photo. I rigged a backdrop for the envelopes, thinking that a blank background would make the image “smaller”, but that didn’t seem to work either. I tried many different things to figure out how to keep my second photo from being too big, and sometimes they worked, other times they didn’t. It made an already laborious task take even longer, taking photo after photo and cropping it repeatedly to try and get it to be the right size for the note. I couldn’t believe that I was now paying for an app that I initially thought was going to be free and putting in all this extra work into it when I also thought it was going to be easy. There were SO many swear words being thrown around my craft room as I stood at my cutting table for hours, capturing each pattern piece on my iPhone. Eventually I started using my iPad which made it easier to see what the camera was capturing and made the work slightly more manageable, but dealing with the app was still a pain in my ass. I couldn’t turn back at this point though, because by now I had logged in about 50 patterns and I didn’t want all my time to have been wasted.

Documenting all my physical copies of patterns, despite Evernote’s poor design, was the easy part- next came categorizing all my PDF patterns, and I knew that was going to take even more work. Instead of using a phone to capture the images for these patterns, I just opened them up in my Notability app (which is where I store all of my PDF instruction booklets) and took screenshots of the pattern and the pattern details, which I then had to crop perfectly so that the design image would show up in the note first. It was much easier to get these photos in the right order since I was working with screen images instead of actual camera images, but it still took extra time.

A quick note on Notability- it’s been the app I use to store and view my PDF patterns on my iPad ever since I knew what a PDF pattern was. It would have been awesome to use it exclusively for storing and viewing all my patterns, but it is missing a lot of the functions I was looking for in an app, like tagging search terms and viewing the pattern designs easily and quickly. Like Dropbox, it’s great at it’s main function but doesn’t do much for me beyond that.

After all my downloaded PDFs were logged in, the next order of business was to collect all the patterns that I had NOT downloaded yet, essentially a slew of Seamwork designs that I accumulated when I had a subscription to the magazine. After I downloaded them onto the portable hard drive where I keep my patterns, I took each pattern’s screenshots and put them into Evernote with the appropriate information. Lastly, I had to hunt down the images for a bunch of Burda patterns I had purchased years ago (I don’t sew often with Burda patterns, but years ago when I first discovered the online sewing community I caught the Burda bug and bought a bunch of patterns that I quickly learned I wasn’t quite skilled enough to complete…yet). The Burda patterns took a long time to log in because there are no images that come with their “instruction” booklets, so I had to use their weird, date-specific pattern names to find the design on their website before I could screenshot the image. I omitted use of the yardage requirements for the Burda patterns since they don’t give much information or have the sizing included in the instructions, and I filed the photo, the name of the pattern and the “instructions” into my Notability app before putting the necessary information into the Evernote app as well.

And then I was DONE.

All in all I spent about 16 hours or so over the weekend on both my phone, my iPad, and my computer, which was another reason I liked the Evernote app- you could access your account on a computer as well as your portable devices, which made typing the information for each note a lot easier. Halfway through the process I realized it was faster to take the photos/screen shots of the patterns with my phone or iPad, create a new note with the images, and then type the information for each note on my computer. Thankfully the app synced quickly between all my devices which made everything run more smoothly. By Sunday morning when my project was finished, I had logged in 220 patterns, which is not a lot by many sewists’ standards, but felt massive to me, considering how long each pattern took to get documented.

Once I was done, I knew that, unless a sewing angel sent me a gigantic haul of patterns to keep, I would never be logging in that many notes at once again- I don’t buy patterns that often, so I would only have a few to add to the app every couple of months. This meant that I might not need to pay for the monthly Evernote premium subscription since I didn’t need all that data. I double checked with google to make sure I was correct, and I was; the premium subscriptions allow you to upload more data than a basic (free) account, but once that data has been uploaded, you don’t lose it, so you can go down to a basic subscription and still have access to all your information. There are a few caveats, mainly that you only have access to the Evernote account on two devices (and I have been very happy accessing it on three), but that access isn’t necessary; in the past few weeks that I have organized my patterns, I have only used my iPad or iPhone to peruse them. The computer made it easy to type in the information for all those dozens of patterns, but for actual use of the app, I much prefer using a smaller device. So I will be canceling my premium Evernote subscription at the end of the month, and if that sewing angel does end up sending me their imaginary haul of amazing sewing patterns exactly in my size (hey, it happened, once!), I can just buy a premium subscription for the month to upload all the patterns, and then go back to a basic account when I am done.

Here is what I love about having all my sewing patterns organized:

  • It shows holes in my pattern stash- for months I have been thinking that I had the perfect blazer pattern somewhere in my stash and it turns out, I only pinned it on pinterest and I didn’t actually own it!
  • It keeps me from buying similar pattern designs by different companies/designers. Despite having over 200 sewing patterns, I don’t consider myself much of a pattern hoarder, and I would rather have one great pattern with a specific silhouette that I can make small adjustments to than 5 patterns that are variations on a theme.
  • It allows me to see exactly what I have in my stash, which makes me much more prone to sewing up unused patterns. I definitely have a lot of TNT patterns in my sewing history, but sometimes I make a pattern over and over again just because it’s familiar in my mind and I have forgotten all the other patterns I own that would also work.
  • I was very familiar with all the physical sewing patterns I owned because I didn’t own tons of them and when looking for inspiration, it was easy to walk over to my sewing cabinet and simply flip through the envelopes. I loved having patterns at my fingertips to make the experience visual and tactile. Having all my PDF patterns spread out over several devices, apps and hard drives made it impossible to account for everything I had in the same way, and if I didn’t sew something up immediately, I would legitimately forget about it. Now I can have the same experience with my PDF patterns as I have with my physical ones, and more importantly, they are all in one spot which makes looking at them and searching through them more satisfying than I ever dreamed. Seriously! Sometimes I scroll through the Evernote app not to look something up, but just because it gives me such a sense of calm and peace. WEIRDO!
  • I love that buying new patterns and cataloguing them in the app is so easy. I bought a couple patterns recently and didn’t have to put them in a pile in the corner of my craft room and wait til I had accumulated more so that I could log into my account and record them- snapping the pictures and adding the extra info is super easy on my device and it makes maintaining the database way less daunting than if I only had the option of doing it on my computer.
  • I love having access to my 220 patterns when I am not at home. When I am in a fabric store (or The Fabric Store! HA!) and I have an idea about a project but I can’t remember the yardage info, it takes mere seconds to look it up on my phone. If I see a RTW garment on the street and want to know if I have something in my stash that is similar or that could be the base for copying the look, I can look up the pattern that is most closely related to it and add whatever notes about the outfit that I don’t want to forget.

Evernote still needs to do more work on their app, most specifically allowing the user to rearrange their photos in the note, but I also think that having separate areas within the note would be amazing. Right now an Evernote note is just a blank space where you can add pictures, text, or links, but there is no organization inside of  the note- the information just sits stacked in a long column depending on what you put in there and what order it goes in. It would be so cool to have a note with designated areas inside of it, like an area to put photos (and obviously order them/caption them), and separate areas to insert text and or links. I’m sure there are other helpful ways to organize all the information within the note, but these are all the ones I can think of now that match the purposes of what I use Evernote for.

Despite all the hours I put into this project and all my frustrations with the Evernote app, I am so happy that I took on the task and completed it over a weekend instead of letting it drag out forever and ever!!!!! It really makes me feel less cluttered in my sewing space and in my brain (both of which are interchangeable, it seems) and I can only imagine that it will make my making more efficient.

If you have organized your patterns successfully and want to share how you did it, feel free to comment below the post in case readers are looking for more ideas. Although I am ultimately happy with the way I chose to organize my own stash, options are always great and I want everyone to know that there are lots of different ways of getting it done!

13 replies
  1. Corrie
    Corrie says:

    I use Airtable to store pattern info. It’s similar to how you have yours set up in Evernote but more of a database format. It’s also great because I can allow my mom to have access to it too! I could probably attach PDF files to the entries that are PDF patterns too but I keep those separate in a Dropbox folder

    Reply
  2. Saki
    Saki says:

    Ah, this is super interesting. I don’t think I’d have the patience to categorize all my patterns like that, though it sounds super rewarding! I’m not a huge fan of Evernote, and while I don’t think it’d be useful as far as categorizing patterns go, my go-to organizational app is Wunderlist. It’s mostly to-do’s, dated to-do’s, lists within lists, categories, comments, photos, etc.

    I’ve got one suggestion as far as picture size… you can upload the backs of the patterns into VSCO and choose to save it as a smaller px width than the “actual size.” It’s one extra step, but that should take care of your file size issue in the future.

    Reply
  3. Rebecca Howard
    Rebecca Howard says:

    I’ve got my patterns on Evernote as well and the choice of picture to represent the note stumped me as well. I found an article that said Evernote chooses the picture with the largest smallest dimension which I interpreted (after quite a lot of puzzling) as Evernote looking at all of the shortest side of each photo and selecting the one that has the longest of these shortest sides. I now crop my photos to make sure that the one I want has the longest of the shortest sides. It seems to work for me, regardless of the number of pixels. Which I sure wouldn’t know how to change anyway. I just crop the photos on my iPhone or ipad using the inbuilt photo app.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Yeah, I know how to crop them within the app- unfortunately the longer vs shorter sides didn’t always work for me so I had to keep taking the photos from different angles and further and further away until I found one that worked, and occasionally there were times when it woudln’t work at all and I opted to just leave the second photo out of the note.

      Reply
  4. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I use Evernote too. I did mine slowly which doesn’t seem quite as tortourous as your mega weekend of cataloging! I liked it can be used across devices too. I use it for my fabric stash too, and my seasonal sewing plan lists. It’s not perfect but I’m pretty satisfied with it for my needs.

    Reply
  5. Naomi
    Naomi says:

    I only have the basic Evernote – you can still access it from more than two devices using the web login instead of the app.
    Eg i use the app on my phone and laptop but when i want to use Evernote on my ipad i go to http://www.Evernote.com using Chrome/Safari and log in. Hope that helps

    Reply
  6. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I ended up in Evernote too when I was looking for a good way to file my patterns! I keep meaning to go back and add notes to all of my patterns about the seam and hem allowances so I don’t have to open a PDF and search for it every single time.

    Reply
  7. Tasha
    Tasha says:

    A couple year ago I was going to use Evernote to organize my fabric stash. I got 4 or 5 pieces in and lost interest lol so I didn’t encounter the problem you did. But this was very helpful as I do plan on organizing both my fabric and pattern stash when I move into my new place. I might have to see what Tap Forms is all about.

    Reply
  8. Elisabeth
    Elisabeth says:

    I’ve been wanting to do this! I tried using Evernote a few years ago and it was so cumbersome I gave up. Granted it was on my old iPhone 4 but sounds like it’s still a bit of a pain. I have Cora for my fabrics which is super easy but I haven’t finished. Now I’m all inspired to do some of that today!

    Reply
  9. Mary Roberts
    Mary Roberts says:

    Golly I thought I was the dogs bollocks when I sorted mine by garment type into pattern boxes in numerical order…but that was dog years before PDF. Big sigh and pouty face. I’ve accumulated about 300 patterns over 40 plus years of sewing maybe a sort out and re-think is long overdue….

    Reply
  10. Kristin P
    Kristin P says:

    I have my 300+ pattern collection on Evernote as well, and like you, much cursing, gnashing of teething, groaning, and emphatically slow eye-rolling took place during the process. I did not have to upgrade In order to load all my notes, but I did have to fight a pop-up prompting me to upgrade literally every 2.5 minutes. I spent a lot of time plugging away at it over a couple months… Especially cropping images of the envelope fronts and backs as well, but it finally seemed that I had managed to get all the illustrations set up as the “cover” of the note. However, even a couple years later, I sometimes open the app, and find that some of the images have been switched! And all that frustration boils up again. I love combing through my pattern stash, so that will usually assauge my annoyance, but I find that I like Evernote more for its potential than for its actual usefulness. I kind of wondered all along if I’m a crazy person for attempting to wrestle this app into submission, so thanks for the validation by sharing your process as well!

    Reply
  11. Gina
    Gina says:

    I also use Evernote and I was so frustrated by that photo thing! I started on my phone but switched to my computer, where I would go to the pattern’s webpage and do a screen snip of the main pattern image, the line drawings, and the yardage info. I just zoom my screen in and out to make the screen snips smaller or bigger to ensure that the main photo is the first one in Evernote, and this works reliably for me. It means I have to do everything on the computer, but that’s really fine because I’m kind of a Luddite when it comes to the phone anyway, lol. It is really baffling to me why Evernote doesn’t think this is a problem. Back when I catalogued my patterns (2 or 3 years ago), there were leagues of people complaining about this all over the internet. People clearly want to be able to reorder their photos. But I agree that it’s worth the trouble – it is so helpful to be able to see all my patterns at a glance, and I love it for looking up yardages at fabric stores.

    Reply
  12. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    This is so fascinating! I use Evernote for everything, and have been a premium user for years. I never really thought of the photo thing as an issue, but I’m realizing I use it in a totally different way. The paid subscription allows image-to-text searches, so it’s essentially a searchable database of pattern details: garment type, style, suggested fabrics, and yardage fabric. That makes the front-of-envelope picture secondary for me. After snapping a clear photo of the back of the envelope (and I’m amazed how much text even a lousy photo recognizes) I can now search for “silk blouse pattern” or “boyfriend jeans pattern” and find any pattern matches and how much yardage I need. I track my fabric stash in Evernote, too, including a quick picture of the fabric bolt end for fiber & care info.

    Reply

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