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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Friday, January 15, 2021

Projecting your sewing

Well where do we start?


I remember when the only patterns I used were selected from big books, extracted from metal drawers, and driven home. 

I remember when I subscribed to BVM and browsed patterns online and then ordered them to be sent by mail. At the time I thought this was incredibly convenient and progressive.

This was before the world of .pdf patterns. 

I love .pdf patterns. 

I love access to new designers. Yes some of the indies are random drafters, but some are excellent. It has been worth the trouble of sewing up a few dudes to find some lines, like LoveNotions, I can count on.

In addition to the range of patterns that I can now access in .pdf, I also love the convenience. I really like being able to source a pattern just when I want it, just when I am ready to sew.

In theory this on demand access was supposed to mean I wouldn't stockpile as many patterns. Of course the opposite has been true. There isn't a pattern sale on this earth that doesn't get me clicking "add to cart" in that dangerous hour before bedtime.

There is a downside to patterns in this format too of course. 

Once downloaded the patterns have to be printed out before they can be used. This has meant either taping together letter sized sheets, then cutting them up into pattern shapes or even tracing over the print-outs, or sending the file to a copy shop, and going over in the car to pick up the big rolled sheets.

Not exactly convenient or incredibly fun.

And of course these big, large carbon footprint, patterns take up a lot of room.

I have many boxes and baskets of patterns stored like this in my sewing room, or rolled up in a corner, practically to the point where I am tripping over them:


I was become overwhelmed entirely by my pattern collection.

As a result I decided to try projector sewing.

The idea is simple.

You open up a pattern on your computer in the large copy shop or AO format or a "projector file". The computer/laptop is then connected, by cable or wirelessly to a projector that has been mounted above a table or even the floor and is able to project the image of the pattern onto that surface.

A projector file is basically a copy shop size version of the pattern with a grid layer of squares on it. This grid is measured and checked to makes sure the pattern is true to size and if it isn't, adjusted. 

Once the pattern is true to size  you can either trace the image onto paper (economically because this is not a tracing on job not a tracing over job and you can use any large paper to do this) or lay your fabric directly under the image and cut along the lines you see - no pattern or paper involved at all.

I have done both.

The advantages of projector cutting are obvious: 

1. No printing, taping, and cutting or driving to the copy shop and paying at least as much as you paid for the pattern to get someone to do the printing for you.

2. Money saved, time saved, energy (global and personal) saved.

3. It's super fast, particularly if you project right onto the fabric and cut. Even more so if you are one of those folks who cut with a rotary cutter. 

4. Pattern storage is simplified. Mine are on the Cloud.

The challenges are also obvious:

1. There is both software and hardware involved here. Until this all gets refined to more sewist friendly products you are going to need:

  • the right kind of projector and a way of connecting it to your computer/laptop. I found excellent advice on this FB group.
  • the projector has to be a significant distance  from the surface to project the large shapes of the pattern. For most projectors this is about 5-6 feet or 2 meters. There are some more expensive projectors that can throw the image from closer, but for the majority of projectors have to be mounted on a ceiling. This isn't a job you can do with a glue gun or tape. You have to be drill comfortable yourself or have someone who is who owes you, or even better loves you. The best place for my own projector right now is on my living room ceiling. When my niece and nephew finish renovating their house and vacate our basement, and I will move operations down there but in the meantime here is my living room ceiling (only you would do this, says my daughter):

2. There is some fiddling around to do to make sure the pattern is being projected accurately. This isn't actually very hard. For projector files this process is one of measuring the squares and making sure they are the size the should be (usually 1 " or 5 cm) and then changing the image size % as necessary until they are. Here's my screen with the image percentage adjusted to 21.1% which gives me a perfect match between the grid and my ruler:

Note the grid is a layer in Adobe. Once  the image size has been adjusted to be exactly right you can turn the grid layer  off so those lines are no longer projected -just like you can turn off the layers for different sizes in normal pattern printing.

Also, if you have an older pattern or one that doesn't have a projector file, no problem. Just find the registration box, that little box you are meant to check and measure before you print, and work from that:

It really only takes a few minutes to get things adjusted.


I have a folding table I can use under the projector for patterns and also use the floor. I have written down the different percentages for each pattern company for these two projection distances so I know I will always have an accurate pattern. It is actually easier to work on the floor for me because I don't have to worry about the weight of large pieces of fabric hanging off the end of the table.

Right now I am using the projector most often to quickly trace patterns onto brown paper. 

I have a lifetime of working with paper patterns, so once I have them I can use them quickly. Also I still like the paper for adjustments and still like a paper version of a pattern I suspect I will be using multiple times. 

Tracing along the projected lines onto paper is a crazy time saver compared to printing, taping etc,

I have also projected directly onto fabric and liked that too. The only issue is that until I take the time to learn a free program called Inkscape so I can arrange the pattern pieces so they are in a good position for on the fabric layout (the pattern pieces in most files are not laid out for economical use of fabric) it is necessary to move the fabric around under the image to place the pattern pieces. In some cases I find this a bit slow because I had to fuss around with grain. It might also be possible that I haven't fully adjusted to the weirdness of moving the fabric to work with the pattern, rather than moving the pattern to fit the fabric - like I have for decades and decades.

As to cutting you just cut away, but bear in mind that the fabric layers are not pinned. Pattern weights of some kind really are a necessity. I take some care to slide my scissors not lift them and the fabric but that isn't hard.  Folks who cut with a rotary cutter and mat might be even more efficient.

So that's it.

I am definitely a fan of projector sewing.

To me it is well worth the hassle, and some expense, to get this going.  But to my mind the return in time and money saved from then on makes it worth it.

Confession though. 

I actually had the set up done by my tech savvy husband. As a result he knows more than I do about the hardware side of this. I think I am going to ask him to do a guest post on how we did our set up for you.

Watch for that post shortly.


bytinbit said...

Thanks for this interesting post, also I'd be highly interested in that technical report by your husband! I've switched to pdf patterns with ease, it's great for tiny apartments and has high re-usability, my own technical solution reduces taping time too (basically let the computer assemble letter-sized pages automatically). How well is the projected pattern visible on lighter/darker fabric? And what do you do if the pdf pattern is only available in letter/a4? You'd still have to "stitch" it together digitally, isn't it?

LisaB said...

I’ve not seen this before. Very interesting! Don’t you have to deal with blocking the projection when you trace or cut?

JustGail said...

Dear coffee, please take effect soon! I read proTecting your patterns and saw the 1st photo of cat & dog, and remembered all the times our cat sat on the patterns and ripped them when he decided to scramble off.

Then I realized it was proJecting your patterns - a whole different topic. I had no idea there was such a thing as projector files, and the thought of all those sheets of paper through the printer and taping together are why I've never tried PDF patterns. I can't even get a one page quilt block pattern to print out at the right size, never mind a garment pattern.

Thanks for showing how you do patterns this way, I look forward to reading you DH's technical details.

Hen said...

Hello, this might be interesting for you, too: pattarina.
It is an app, with which you see through your smartphone camera the lines of a pattern piece on your fabric. You only need to print (or buy) an "anchor" first. The range of patterns available for this is still limited, but more designers are starting to offer their patterns. I want to try this out soon! Anyway, here is the website
I like your book and your blog by the way.
Cheers from Germany,

Anonymous said...

WHOA!! Thank you everyone for these very exciting ideas! I am thrilled with the smartphone app. This is a hard moment but the fertility of software development is just so exciting, it makes up for it a little.

Erika Otter

Barbara B said...

Thanks for this post Barbara. I have read about using a projector and have wondered how the heck you know that the size is correct". You have cleared up that little bothersome problem for me. :-) Barbara Briant

Anonymous said...

I too saw proTecting vs proJecting and settled in for some cute dog and cat antics. Not that the technical discussion wasn't interesting but I still think Miss Daisy and her co-conspirator got short shrift.


paloverdeblooms said...

I've been following the spread of pattern projection for the past year and still see no solution to the fact that I have to trace the pattern. I cannot conceive of projecting onto fabric. I'm short. I have a very full bust. My waist is 2 to 3 sizes smaller than my hips which are a size larger than my high bust. I have to shorten leg length, arm length, and 2 or 3 places in the torso. Whether I trace a printed pattern, a taped pdf pattern, or the lines of a magazine pattern sheet, the fact remains that I am still tracing to paper so I can make adjustments and muslins. I can't see the benefit for me in adding in technology that I have no good place to set up and that will not save me time. (As for pdf patterns, sometimes I tape and sometimes I just put the individual pieces of paper under my yellow tracing paper, trace the bit of pattern, take the sheet out, and put the next sheet down to be traced—no taping. I'm still tracing though.) Anyway, at this point, projection isn't any more useful to me than Spoonflower's failed Sprout patterns printed onto the fabric were.

Bunny said...

I am in the same situation as the previous poster. My body requires numerous alterations. I do them almost blindly the minute the pattern comes out of the envelope or is taped together. Then comes the absolutely needed muslin for further tweaking. I tend to work in more detailed designs that require a bit more attention than a lot of the simpler shapes of many indies. I also love to do "pattern work", totally reinventing layouts for best usage of yardage as well as just creative play. I can spend an entire delightful afternoon, creatively playing with pattern pieces and how I can rearrange, make shorter or longer, maybe ease a lot more here, add a cuff there, all working flatly on my big work table. My hands are in heaven as the folds of fabric respond to my creative ideas. Eventually I decide on a final fit and design and a trip back from heaven to the kitchen to make dinner. I could care less about projectors, just not my type of sewing. For those leaning that way, I am anxious to see where this works out five years up the road for us creatives.

MAM said...

Barbara, this doesn't concern projector patterns but your review of the Ever Sewn sewing machine. I was intrigued with your review, which to me seemed very positive. I was a Bernina fan for many years 930, 1130, 1230 - until I bought a lemon with the 1630, which nearly made me give up sewing completely! I am currently using a BabyLock Ellure+, which I like but don't need. I think I used the embroidery unit a few times when the grandbabies were little but haven't touched them since. It is being serviced and now I am switching between the Featherweight and a Kenmore I bought 50 years ago. I really am toying with the EverSewn - sparrow 30S. I'm not sure which one you test drove but I suspect it was a more expensive model. What do you think? I'm mostly sewing clothing, I have those 2 machine and a Baby Lock serger - I'm thinking a basic machine that will last me for the rest of my sewing years - I'm 78 and not interested in embroidery and a machine with a price tag similar to a car!.. Just bought your book and having fun reading - why didn't you write this 50 years ago for me? ;-) Martha Ann Murray

Building for a living and a life said...

MAM yes I did have the top of the line Eversewn and have been happy with it. Very easy to use, my oldest granddaughter's favourite.