Keeping my patterns organized

organizing your patterns
This post was originally part of Pink Castle’s Spring Cleaning series. I’m bringing it home today — thought you might enjoy seeing how I organize my patterns!

When you’ve spent as much time using sewing patterns as I do, you realize that if you don’t figure out a decent pattern-organization system quick, you’re going to have a problem on your hands (in the form of a very messy pile of pattern pieces). Today I’m here to share my “system” with you. Maybe you’ll find it as handy as I do!

file cabinet

My system is pretty simple: I use file folders and a file cabinet. I label each folder with a sharpie (I used to use a label maker, as you might be able to see from the picture, but that ended up being tedious), and it goes in the file cabinet. I have two file drawers, one for my children’s patterns and one for my women’s patterns, which includes purses and bags. All the patterns are alphabetized by name, so they’re easy to find.

patterns on top

I also keep a few hanging file folders on the top of the cabinet for the patterns that are currently in use. It’s necessary to “weed” this one out occasionally and put the files back in the cabinet, but overall, it works great. Let me give you a few examples of how this works for me. All of the patterns I own fall into three main groups:

1. First there are the digital, or PDF patterns. I’m a pattern designer, and most of the patterns I sell fall into this category. PDFs get stored in a folder on my computer, but to be useful, they have to be printed out and taped together.

pdf patterns 1
When I’m done using it, I just fold up the PDF pattern, still taped together, and put it in a folder, and store it in the cabinet.

pdf patterns 2

2. The second type of patterns I own is traditional print patterns in their envelopes. I’ve been buying these kinds of patterns all my life, so I’ve got a bunch. These get stored in a plastic tub, but the file folder system works for these, too, as I’ll explain shortly.



3. Finally, there are patterns from books and magazines. These have big pattern pages in the back with all the pieces nested or overlapping each other. I use the file folder system for these types of patterns, too.


The thing all of these patterns have in common is that when I want to use them, instead of cutting them apart, I trace them. Whenever I want to sew something from a pattern, I first make a tracing of the pattern pieces so that I don’t have to cut into the original pattern sheets or print-outs. Not only does this save me a huge amount of paper and ink with PDFs; it also keeps my pattern sheets from books or envelopes in great shape.  Whenever I need a pattern piece, I take it out and trace the size I need. Where do the tracings go? You guessed it: into folders in the file cabinet!

tracing paper

I make all of my tracings from Swedish tracing paper, which is sort of like a non-fusible lightweight interfacing in that you can cut it, you can sew on it (think tissue fittings without the danger of ripping), AND you can press it! It’s transparent, so it’s really easy to trace a pattern outline in the size you need. Swedish tracing paper makes really nice lightweight pattern pieces that are easy to fold and store in my file folders, and if they get wrinkled, I can just press them flat again with my iron in a split second. (Three places you can find it: WAWAK, Organic Cotton Plus, and Amazon).

Big butt tracing

Whenever I need a pattern piece from ANY of my patterns, I trace the size I need from the original pattern with Swedish tracing paper. It’s really important to label the traced pattern with the size and name, because after a while those tracings all start to look the same. The tracings get put in a file folder, labeled with the name of the pattern, and put in the cabinet.

sew lib 2

When I want to use a pattern from a pattern book? I trace the size I want from the pattern sheet, then fold up the tracings and put them in a folder in my cabinet. I store the pattern sheet in the back of the book it belongs to on a bookshelf.

sew lib tracing

And when I use my traditional print patterns, I trace them, too (why destroy those nice tissue sheets when they can be reused for other sizes?). Those tracings? You guessed it, they go in the file folders, too.

print pattern tracing

And that’s really it! Questions? I’d be happy to answer them in comments.

12 thoughts on “Keeping my patterns organized

  1. Very useful and helpful. Also, thanks for mentioning Swedish Tracing Paper; I did not know about it.

  2. Yes, that paper info is quite helpful. I had never heard of it until today. I’m going to get some soon. Thank you!

  3. Hi Rae! Thanks for sharing — It is great to see how other people tackle organization! I have a question: I am a tracer, too, so I always have problem of storing both the original pattern and the tracings. So here is my question: where do you store the pattern instructions? With the tracings or with the original pattern? Thanks!

    • Hi Jilly!

      It depends — if the pattern is a PDF printout, I store the instructions in the file folder with the tracings. If it’s an Oliver+S print pattern or another printed pattern, I usually store the instruction fold-out with the pattern in the bin. The downside is that the instructions aren’t with the pattern pieces; but sometimes I have more than one file folder for one pattern (like if I have multiple tracings in different sizes and want to keep them straight), so knowing exactly where the instructions are is a plus.

      One thing about my own patterns is that I can usually do them in my sleep — except for little details like seam allowance and the length of an elastic waistband. For those, I try and write that information on the pattern tracing itself (example: cut 19″ of 1″ elastic for waistband, SA = 3/8″)

  4. I’m blessed to have a sewing table made from a 9-drawer dresser–the tabletop (a large piece of plywood) overhangs the back of the dresser by about 12 inches (enough room for my knees) and is supported with L-brackets. This side is where my machines are. All my patterns are stored on the other side in the nine drawers by type (women’s, children’s, purses, aprons, etc). I really like your idea of using a hanging file system for patterns that are currently in use. Much better than having them in a pile on the sewing table! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thanks for this post. I am just starting to use sewing patterns again after several years of focusing mainly on knitting so it’s good timing for me.

  6. Perfect timing! Tackling my craft area has been on my to-do list for a month and I was thinking today is the day! All my pattern pieces are loose and in a messy stack.

  7. I love Swedish Tracing Paper too! However, I’ve yet to find the ideal pencil/marker/tracer-ma-job. What do you use!

    PS: Love that use Bristle-blocks – heavier than a Lego and easier on bare feet 🙂

  8. This post is fantastic! I live in a city apartment and my space is tight… I think you just helped me save my sanity. Many thanks!
    PS – my readers are loving your Washi Dress! Some of them said they are going to try it. Will share the pictures they send once they start coming in. 🙂

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