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Saturday, 6 September 2014

PDF Pattern Creation using Microsoft Word

PDF Patterns by eSheep Designs
All of my PDF patterns were created using MS Word...
If you've ever taken a look at my blogger profile, you may know that I am a Technical Writer (and Business/ Communications Analyst) by trade. If you've ever ventured further and taken a look at my website, you might also have seen samples of my work in documentation design.

My first exposure to personal computer word processing was through Microsoft Word. For a period of several years starting in 1986, something called WordPerfect interrupted Microsoft's stronghold, but its creators did not move with the times and ultimately surrendered that coveted top spot in word processing forever. (Those were exciting days. For example, I was there when word processors became font-capable. Oh my God — no longer did our stuff look like it came off an old typewriter!) As software capabilities advanced by leaps and bounds over the years, much of my career was spent making documents easier to read and "prettier" to look at. And all the while, I did it almost exclusively with Microsoft Office (Word and PowerPoint).

All of this is a long-winded prelude to the fact that I take issue with folks who say that using MS Word is not enough if you want to create a PDF sewing pattern for sale. I have read various opinions stating that you need to invest in document layout software in order to produce good results. (These are probably the same people who think you need a thousand dollar SLR camera to take your accompanying photos, too.)

Hot Hues Convertible Crossbody Fooler Bag Pattern by eSheep Designs
Sample pages from my Hot Hues Convertible 
Crossbody Fooler Bag pattern...
Pish tosh, I say.

My PDF patterns are completely done with Word. (Don't my sample pages here look decent? If you want to see a complete example, go to my Craftsy shop and download one of my free PDFs.) Throughout the past decade in particular, I have done all of my document layouts with Word. If you know how to use it properly, you can produce exceptionally professional results. The problem is, no matter what software you use, if you don't know how to use it, you'll get crappy results. And the more functionality a program has, the greater the chances are that you'll make a mess if you don't know what you're doing. (And I suppose the same goes for picture-taking with any kind of camera. My hubby — love him to bits and all — really doesn't have an eye for photography and it wouldn't matter what camera you put in his hands.)

The single most important aspect of MS Word that you need to master is the proper use of styles within a template. If you do that, you'll experience relatively headache-free formatting. It's much easier now than it was twenty years ago, since so many great looking templates now come ready to use. (Back in the day, we had to create our own; I still do because I want my templates to be unique, especially if I'm charging for my work.)

Check out Craftsy's latest promos...
[affiliate link]

The trouble with using Word from a blank slate is that you will invariably wind up changing fonts and sizes willy-nilly. A little planning with styles inside an established template ensures that you will always make consistent selections for font, colour and size for a main heading, sub heading, or sub sub heading. The names you give to your pattern pieces can all be formatted the same way throughout the pattern. You can ensure that all of your bullet or numbered lists will look the same. Want your logo in the corner of each page? Done. And the beauty of it is that once you've made this template, it can be saved and used for all of your future patterns. It's a one-time effort that pays back immensely, getting you off on the right foot from the start.

Oh, and take it from someone who knows: it's hard to impose a template on an existing document after the fact, particularly if styles were used improperly. (I have opted to recreate manuals that spanned well over a hundred pages rather than try to retrofit them.)

I have no idea how much some of these so-called "professional" publishing programs cost. What I do know is that most of us have access to some version of MS Word at little or no cost. It makes absolutely no sense to me — especially if someone is just testing the water with her/his first PDF pattern — to spend [a lot of] money on software. There are far more important considerations that will make or break that first effort: clarity of written instructions being first and foremost, having sufficient photos to enhance those instructions being second, and establishing a sensible price point being third.

For the vast majority of us, recommending that we use use something other than MS Word to create our PDF patterns is just silly.

Celebrate National Sewing Month (September) by entering to
win a Bernina 215 sewing machine (plus more)!
Get the details here from my AllFreeSewing post...


  1. I use Microsoft Word to create all of my pdf's too. I don't have any fancy programs. I also use Picasa for my photos. I don't have photoshop...can't afford it. I downloaded your MP3 case and your pattern looks great. In fact I could use one of these, so I will make it for sure. Thanks Rochelle!

    1. You are so very welcome, Daryl. And coincidentally enough, it was your comment from a previous post re: Craftsy that made me go back and set up the free PDFs, so thank you back! Yes, we can all make do just fine with Word and "the free stuff"

  2. Rochelle, I found your blog through Daryl and I think you are exactly the mentor I've been looking for. Can we converse please. Email me at stearnsdec@cox.net. Let's help each other.


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