Bypassing paper patterns altogether, tech savvy sewists have turned to projectors to cut out sewing patterns.

Photo courtesy of Tegan Mathews.

As sewist and designer Elizabeth Caven says, paper sewing patterns haven’t changed much since Abraham Lincoln was president. Cumbersome and thin paper sewing patterns can be a source of frustration for many home sewists who make garments, bags, and other three-dimensional projects.

An emerging group of industrious sewists are now projecting patterns directly onto fabric eliminating the paper all together. And this is just the beginning. The desire to combine technology with sewing patterns – from the early days of PDF patterns to today’s emerging trend of sewing with projectors to a future where sewists use augmented reality to design and create garments – is strong and there’s a growing online community behind it.

The early days of sewing with projectors

Known as the inventor of paperless sewing, Elizabeth Caven has always had an interest in merging technology with sewing. When she started sewing after the birth of her daughter, Caven realized that older paper patterns presented a barrier for beginning sewists who didn’t know sewing terms or techniques. She sought out blogs that demonstrated sewing techniques in photographs and then she jumped into digital patterns.

“I downloaded my first PDF pattern and I was just hooked,” she said. After a year of skill building, Caven started making her own designs and patterns. With a background in software and business, Caven looked for ways to make it easier for sewists to get PDF patterns and founded UpCraft Club, her former business where she developed a method of selling PDF patterns through brick and mortar stores and built a PDF pattern marketplace.

Projectors in sewing rooms can be mounted on the ceiling or can sit next to cutting mats.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Smith.

Caven soon realized the limitation of PDF patterns – they still have to be printed. “Once everything is printed, it’s not that new,” she said.

“That began my obsession with the idea and the question, What if sewing patterns were created today? What would they look like?” Caven realized the answer was that patterns would be completely paperless and started investigating how to make that possible. She purchased every projector she could to experiment, eventually deciding that she could either try to make standard projectors work for her projects, or develop one specifically for sewists.

That’s when Caven started working on KITE, an early idea for a projector and software designed specifically for the home sewist. The momentum around KITE was very exciting for many makers, but internally the challenge of developing both hardware and software in a rapid timeline meant that KITE hasn’t made it into production. “It became clear as people got more excited about the idea that it was frustrating to not be able to know exact dates for when they would have the technology in their hands,” Caven explained.

Today, Caven is starting to look even farther into the future by considering the possibility of using augmented reality for sewing. The most well-known augmented reality app is Pokemón Go, which allows users to hold up their phones and see cartoon Pokemón characters as though they are in the user’s real-life environment. Caven sees a future for sewing where home sewists can use augmented reality technology to cut, and even design, their own garment sewing patterns.

While she believes the mass market isn’t ready for sewing using augmented reality yet, Caven is delighted to see more home sewists using projectors as a first step. “It’s super exciting that people are talking about this now because I’ve been talking about this for so many years, and I can’t wait,” Caven said. “It’s going to be the thing.”

Pattern retailer Phat Quarters recently started making patterns with projector files. 

Photo courtesy of Phat Quarters.

Sewing with projectors gains momentum online

One of the most active spaces online for conversations about projectors is the Facebook group Projectors for Sewing. After its founding in the fall of 2019, the group rapidly grew to over 11,000 members. Members are active and eager to help each other, with multiple daily posts and discussions about the best projectors and how to correctly calibrate them so patterns project correctly, and pictures of recently completed garments and bags made using projectors.

Missy Pore founded the Projectors for Sewing Facebook group because she wanted to connect with other sewists who were interested in projectors. Before buying her projector, she sought out advice in other sewing groups on Facebook about the best one to buy, but realized that without a dedicated space, people weren’t engaged in conversations about projectors. After buying a projector in October 2019, she started the Projectors for Sewing Facebook group to share tips and help others on the same journey.

Because there is currently no projector made specifically for home sewists, one of the most common topics of conversation is how to make the wide variety of commercially available projectors work for sewing, and how to overcome perceived obstacles. “People would automatically assume it wasn’t going to work because they saw some obstacle,” Pore said, pointing to issues like not being able to mount projectors on the ceiling of a sewing room or struggling with technology. “People started coming up with all sorts of ways to solve mounting issues, then figured out how to make adjustments to garment patterns. It became about overcoming those obstacles for people.”

The rapid growth of her Facebook group surprised even Pore.

“I had no idea that it would explode like this. I figured that the business end of sewing would jump on board,” said Pore, who has a small sewing business and saw the benefits of projectors for increasing her productivity. “But even hobbyists are getting on board because they’re seeing that it can give them more time to sew instead of messing with all the paper.”

High Hopes Dolman by Ellie and Mac
The High Hopes Dolman by Ellie and Mac.

Photo courtesy of Ellie and Mac.

Good baby romper by ellie and mac
The Good Baby Romper by Ellie and Mac.

Photo courtesy of Ellie and Mac.

Paperbag Pants by Ellie and Mac
Paperbag Pants by Ellie and Mac.

Photo courtesy of Ellie and Mac.

Similar Facebook groups for sewing with projectors have even started in other countries, including a recent one founded in the Netherlands.

Pore says that members of her Facebook group use their projectors for more than just sewing garments or bags, using them to decorate cookies and cakes, make appliqué embellishments, and trace embroidery designs, or even to project movies to entertain their families during the coronavirus pandemic. Because people are using their projectors for more than just sewing, Pore wonders if people would want a projector only for sewing or if they’d prefer one that can have multiple uses. She also notes that sewists want to project patterns from multiple designers and worries that if a projector is designed specifically for sewists, the system might limit their ability to use a variety of patterns which are becoming increasingly common.

Designing patterns for projectors

Lindsey Essary, owner and designer of the garment pattern brand Ellie and Mac, is a leading designer offering projector files along with print at home PDF files. All of her new releases since January 22, 2020 come with a projector file, an idea initially brought to her by her company’s testing and administration team. “I had heard of this idea a few years ago, which excited me, but hadn’t seen it available until this year,” Essary said of the recent boom in using projectors to cut patterns.

For Essary, projector files are a win-win for her business and her customers. “I love anything I can do that makes my customers happy and makes sewing a more enjoyable process,” she said. “I don’t know many people who love the process of printing pattern pieces, taping or gluing them together, cutting out the pattern pieces, and then finally getting to cut their fabric. This eliminates the need for so much time and resources.”

Once sewists get past the initial cost of purchasing the projector, as well as any technological hurdles in setting them up, Essary agrees that using projectors will be a benefit to home sewists. “I feel that the money the sewist will save in ink, paper, and time will be worth it in the long run and actually end up saving the sewist money and time,” she said.

And she only sees the demand for projector sewing files increasing. “I know many pattern designers that have already begun adding projector files to their new and current sewing patterns,” Essary said. “I anticipate that most designers will be on board by the end of the year, as more customers request them.”

Laura McDowell Hopper

Laura McDowell Hopper

Social Media Manager and Staff Writer

Laura is our Social Media Manager and Staff Writer. Her work has appeared in Curated Quilts, Modern Patchwork, Quiltfolk, QuiltCon Magazine, and more. She is also an award-winning curator focused on textile preservation, an avid quilter, and a volunteer on nonprofit quilt boards. Laura believes that every crafter has an interesting story to tell, and she is committed to telling those stories elegantly and rigorously. She lives near Chicago, Illinois.

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