A Starter’s Guide to Paperless Patterns

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About three weeks ago, I saw a video from ThreadFaction about using a pocket projector to display PDF patterns, eliminating the need to tape and cut out independent PDF patterns – which is by far the most time-consuming element of sewing up a new pattern! 

Because I switched to sewing to sell this year, I had been tracing separate sizes and quickly acquired a TON of rolled up printer paper/tracing paper. In the last 6 months, I’ve gone through three rolls of scotch tape, a ream of copy paper, and more than a roll of tracing paper. The second I saw this video… I knew I had to try it.

For this post, I’m going to include the two projectors I’ve tried (and links) as well as some pointers. I’ll do a follow up posts with more specifics – but we’ll call this a “starter’s guide” to the set-up that I’ve settled on. If you’ve got questions, drop them below and I’ll answer them in a follow up post!


How I Chose My PICO Projector

Initially, I triangulated the best/cheapest projector I could find. The one ThreadFaction discusses is nearly $400 – and there was no way I could pick that up on a whim. (And… I couldn’t bring myself to be patient for holiday gift-giving season, where that would also be a stretch for us!)

I purchased this ARTII projector from Amazon for about $50 because it seemed to have decent specs, would function for the purpose and with our existing tech, and the price was right! It was a bust. I used a FireTV Stick we had, I could pull things up on the projector, I could attach it to my existing tripod… but it didn’t have a built in battery and I couldn’t get it vertical enough or high enough to project (on the floor) to get the scale of the pattern right.

I don’t have a dedicated space in my house for cutting, so I float around a lot. I knew that I wanted to have a projector system that could float with me.

So… while I returned that projector to Amazon, I went back to the drawing board and researched what type of projector I actually needed. In this instance, you need something that’s bright enough to use in a dark room and something that is a “short throw” projector – which I learned is the ratio of the distance between the lens and the surface and the size of the picture. A short throw projector means that you can be closer to the surface – and this is typically what’s sold for in-home use, although some have smaller ratios. (See image below from AtmosFX.com)



After doing some reading, I decided that I needed a better-quality projector but still something below $200. I had looked at everything Amazon had to offer… and still hadn’t found the perfect fit.

I decided on a few minimums I did need: 

  1. 100+ Lumens
  2. Some sort of wireless capability (screen share, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc.)
  3. “Pocket size” (as close to phone/tablet size as possible, like the ThreadFaction one)

I searched big box stores, office supply stores… I tried to find somebody who had one in stock that I could go experience and look at, but everything seemed to be online only. Then, I found a small-ish company from Massachusetts that had closeout prices on a few different models of projectors, Displays2Go. Their reviews were horrible, but it looked like they’d gotten new management recently and so I decided to take a chance. I paid for Fed-Ex 2-day shipping and and PICO Pocket projector showed up on time, without any problems. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: This was a closeout price on a PICO Pocket Projector. I have no idea how long this price will last or how much stock is available.

It checked all the boxes. It had screen mirroring built in, it was small, and it had a battery. It’s only 100 lumens, but for the price I couldn’t beat it. I ordered this gooseneck phone holder (which is the same one that ThreadFaction had recommended) and it took me awhile (maybe an hour all together?) to get it where the stand would consistently point the projector down onto my table. I used my sewing board to check that the display was square – and then I loaded up my first pattern.


The Catch

So, as some of you know… this set up was working brilliantly. Because this specific projector only mirrors with a particular app, the functionality was a little clunky but I was happy with it. I was having to isolate layers and saved optimized PDFs to help the process go smoothly, but otherwise, I was swimming along.

…and then Apple happened.

My iPad updated overnight and the next morning, my whole set up failed. I couldn’t get the app to open a PDF anymore. I was incredibly frustrated. After talking it over with my more tech-inclined husband, he concluded that I shouldn’t have been able to mirror the way I was in the first place and that we could either roll back my iOS or find another way. So I again, set out a way to make my set-up work.


Using the PICO Projector to go Paperless

We have a FireTV stick, so plugging that into the HDMI port in the projector was my next attempt. So far, it’s been a success! (The biggest drawback is that the projector doesn’t put out enough power to sustain the FireStick, so I have to run that power cord separately eliminating my fully wireless set up.)


I am using a screen-casting app called Screen Mirror (mostly because it’s free), but it times out from time to time, so I may end up switching to something paid. Now, these have all been details about the budget-friendly way to do this – using the tech we already have available… (although this season is probably the best time to pick up some new gadgets!) However, there are some steps that will be the same regardless of the set-up:

Once you have the display of the projector squared up, you use the screen mirroring app to display the pattern. Since I have an iPad, it was easy to load up the pattern on the screen mirroring app and place it on the stand, but you could presumably use any tablet/phone. (You could even plug in an HDMI cord to your computer.) You will need to use copy shop/A0 files because the pattern pieces are already assembled.

From there, you check the size of the test square to ensure the scale is correct. Adjust until the test square is the appropriate size, then you can move the image around without changing the scale.  

I quickly learned to use the rotation lock, so the iPad didn’t resize the file after I’d gotten the test square set. I started with a pattern that I already had taped/cut, so I could make sure that the scale was in fact correct. (And what I actually discovered was that my taped pattern was slightly off!)

Next, you trace or cut the piece.

I have a set of Frixion pens (any fabric marking pen will work) that I used to trace the pattern piece. The children’s pattern I started with was simpler because the whole bodice of the dress fit on the screen. The adult cardigan pattern I tried next had a bit of a learning curve because once you have traced (or cut) the first part of the pattern, then you have to shift the image on the iPad to show more of the piece. In this case, I used pattern weights as a place marker to align with a marking on the pattern piece (say, the size legend) to ensure that in moving the fabric and the pattern piece, I didn’t make a mistake.

Since my cutting table is also my sewing table, when I was done I simply took the set up down and put it back on the shelf, which made me feel much more organized and accomplished than wrangling large sheets of paper ever has!


So What?

I really do think this could be revolutionary. Much like fancy professional machines and miles of custom fabrics, it’s not in the budget for every home-sewer… but I do think this is fantastic investment for those of us who are drowning in patterns or who struggle to find the time to tape, cut, and sew because of all the other demands on our time.

The Rundown: I’m using a PICO Pocket Projector from Displays2Go, my iPad, a FireTV Stick, a screen mirroring app on my iPad and the FireTV, as well as a PDF viewer app on my iPad.

There are definitely models with far more functionality out there – but for a mid-level closeout that ultimately cost $125 (and a week to figure out!), this model was perfect for me. There is definitely a learning curve, and if you have the funds to get a fancier one, I would definitely recommend a projector with more built-in functionality like the one on ThreadFaction. However, I’m incredibly happy that I’ve found a method for diversifying the amount of patterns and sizes I can sew up in a week!

Like I said before, this is just a starter’s guide to get this information out into the world quickly/ Drop questions below and I’ll try answer them in a follow up post!



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