This post was originally written (by me) as a reply on a thread about Projectors in the discussion forums. I figured I might want to refer people to it later, and it’ll be much easier to link to here.

I’ve had a projector in my sewing room for about a year now, so I thought I’d share my experience with it. Grab some tea, this might get long.

My setup
I bought a fairly cheap projector off Amazon for about $110 (Canadian, including taxes). It’s called: Portable Mini Projector with 5G WiFi and Bluetooth, ACROJOY 1080P Supported Movie Projector with Tripod & 240″ Display, Outdoor Video Projector Compatible w/ TV

I also bought a mounting system from Amazon, but it did not allow me to have the projector pointed directly downwards. I returned that, and my partner used some plexiglass to build me a box for the projector which mounts to the ceiling and has cut-outs for the lens and all the controls/inputs. I tried using Bluetooth to connect my laptop to the projector, but it was glitchy, and also the resolution possible with an HDMI cable connection is better than via Bluetooth. So now I have a power cord for the projector snaking across the ceiling in one direction, and the HDMI snaking across the ceiling in the opposite direction. My ceiling is just 8’ high – I am in a basement room.

I have a sewing table that raises and lowers (with a manual crank) from IKEA. It is 160cm long x 80cm wide. With the table cranked down to “sitting” height (not its lowest but pretty close), I’m able to make the projection area basically equivalent to a large Olfa cutting mat. This does mean I cannot project an entire pants leg at a time, but almost any other regular garment piece is fine.

My laptop and external monitor is on the other side of the sewing room (that sounds far away but it’s maybe 5 feet between the table and the bookshelf where my laptop resides). The projector cable goes into an “HDMI splitter” which is connected to the HDMI port of my laptop. So what’s on the external monitor and what’s projected are the same thing. I use a remote mouse and keyboard (Bluetooth) so I can move those over to the sewing table and control the display while looking down at the table. There are some quirks with the HDMI connection so when I turn off the projector, the external monitor display goes black, but I just unplug and replug it in and it works again.

Each time I set up the projector, I double-check the scale. There is a “Squares and Rectangles Calibration” PDF file available free for download in the Projectors for Sewing Facebook group. I project that onto my cutting mat and use the size lines, and the scale function in Acrobat Reader, to ensure my projection is scale-accurate. Towards the outer edges of the projection there may be 1-3mm distortion, depending on if I am leaning on my sewing table, because it’s not completely rock solid. This is a risk I’m willing to take. I now have a marking on the leg of my sewing table that correlates to needing a 47.2% scale factor on Acrobat Reader. I still double-check every time.

Projecting & Cutting
If the project is pretty simple, I’ll project onto a single layer of fabric and cut along the projected lines. I use large stainless steel washers to weight down the fabric and prevent it from sliding around. (If I put my fabric on a cutting mat, it grabs the fabric a bit, but even without the mat, I have a canvas-covered sewing table which stops the fabric from sliding).

I make sure that my fabric grain is aligned with the edges of the projection area or the cutting mat, and then check the grain line on the pattern against my fabric.

For slightly more complex projects, or if there might be grading or needing to shift the fabric and pattern around for larger pieces, I will use a chalk wheel to trace the projected lines onto the fabric before I cut.

I use a variety of methods to transfer markings – chalk pencil, grease pencil, sometimes a freakin’ Sharpie. Projecting onto a single layer of fabric, with the wrong side of fabric up, makes this very easy. If I’m projecting in double layer, I have to pinch the marked spot on the edge of the fabric with my fingers, then lift it and apply the mark to the wrong side of the lower layer.

Many pattern companies are now providing projector patterns, which provide spacing in between the pieces AND show the full shape of pieces instead of a half-piece with “cut on fold”. Also, projector patterns typically have all pieces aligned with the same grain line (usually absolute vertical). I can rotate the view on Acrobat Reader if I need to see a piece in a different orientation, but going off onto diagonals isn’t good because it does become harder to align grain.

If there are darts to be marked, I can trace them on with a marking pencil if I’m doing a single layer. If I project in double layer, I’ll put transfer paper underneath the fabric and use my tracing wheel.

What Do I Use It For?
I do a lot of different kinds of sewing, and the projector comes in handy some of the time. If I am making something like a t-shirt or hoodie where there’s plenty of wearing and design ease, especially if I’m sewing for someone else, then I will choose a standard pattern size and use that without adjustments. I can also grade between two sizes quite easily with both size lines projected.

I have also done a couple of design projects in Affinity Designer software, starting with a drafted-to-size pattern block that I import (from various sources, more below). I used the software to slice up the pattern block pieces into different shapes and colour in the pieces to test out colour-blocking ideas. Then I projected the new pattern, because I already knew it would fit.

Finally, if I am planning to do a fitting muslin, I will project onto Swedish tracing paper OR recently onto a craft polypropylene (which cannot be ironed, heads-up), and pin or baste that together to check the fit of things. While I can do some basic pattern mods in software (lengthen/shorten, raise armhole) quite easily, a FBA is still a bit more complex than my software skills and I’m faster doing it on paper.

What don’t I project?
Anything where I already have a functional and fitted paper or tissue pattern, obviously. I have printed out pants patterns lately, instead of fartin’ about with moving the pattern piece and fabric around (I’ve also projected leggings patterns and it works fine). Frankly, with the cost of tape, paper, and printer toner, I think it may be cheaper to project onto polypropylene, then use that as my pattern instead of printing a paper one. Also, polypropylene or Swedish tracing paper are much better for fittings anyways because they drape better than printer paper.

Benefits: Reduced Waste
This week I projected a tailored jacket pattern onto polypropylene and found that instead of leaving a lot of space between the pieces which turned into waste, I was able to rotate the polypropylene and “Tetris” the pieces very close together. This reduced waste, which made me a happy gopher. Because polypropylene has no grain, I could put the pieces at any orientation I wanted. I have to contend with my eco-guilt about using polypropylene instead of paper. It’s worth noting that while it took me about 30-45 minutes to trace out the pattern, it would have been about the same time to print and cut the pattern, or to trace a pattern from tissue. While I used to just cut out patterns from their original tissue, I now prefer to trace to leave the original intact.

Benefits: Speed
In those instances where I project directly onto fabric and cut the lines without tracing, the projector speeds up my process SO much. I can now produce a t-shirt or hoodie or joggers in about 60-90 minutes. I like to “batch project” at times, because when I have the table lowered down and the tools at hand, it’s super quick to cut out 3-4 of a pattern, even in different sizes, without printing to paper first.

As mentioned, some pattern pieces are too big to fit into the projection space for my setup. If I spent more money on a short-throw or ultra-short-throw projector, this would be a non-issue. I tried out an ultra-short-throw, but it was another piece of furniture in my already crowded studio space. My projector is on the ceiling, out of the way, but ready to turn on with the remote control.

It’s not going to replace ALL the patterns I sew with, but it has certainly saved quite a few trees and rolls of tape.

There was an initial cost as mentioned, $110 for the projector and probably about $25 for the materials to make the mounting box. We’re a DIY household so that worked but you’d otherwise have to shell out for the mounting equipment. Affinity Designer software was about $250 if I remember correctly, but that’s a full purchase, not a subscription model. It has been enjoyable to learn the skills, if time-consuming.

It really incentivizes me to sew from patterns rather than expanding my creativity and skill with draping. But it doesn’t remove that opportunity entirely.

OMG you read all this way?!?!?

The projector is a very useful tool in my sewing studio, and with the ability to trace from the projector onto a muslin medium like polypropylene or Swedish tracing paper (or newsprint even), I can still use it when I plan to make a lot of pattern adjustments. It gets me from the designer’s original intention to a workable pattern for myself in about the same time (or less) as/than printing a PDF or tracing a pattern.

By suelow

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