|I have over 1200 patterns. I'm not good at de-cluttering, so I call it My Collection. DH's whole family Collect something or many things, so I Collect Patterns. (Justifies all the ones I haven't sewn yet.) I need to know what I have and what I don't have when I am shopping. I had a list of pattern numbers in my Palm PDA, but that became a problem when a new pattern had the same number as one of my old ones, or if the company had more than one number for the same pattern, common practice for the ones they sell on the display racks as well as via the catalogs, or when a vintage pattern is reissued with a different number. I needed a visual record of the pattern envelopes with me, or readily searchable on my computer if I buy over the internet.
I took digital photos of every pattern envelope front. Loaded them into iPhoto. Entered a bazillion keywords under preferences that I can check off every time I load a new pattern. Examples of keywords, not in this order: pattern, company, easy, designer, dress, princess seams, summer, wrap, raglan, pants, jeans, children, full bust adjustment provided, etc. For the photo title, I enter the pattern name with the year or era as the second part of the title. If I have two patterns with the same number, such as for Vogue 2390, both Anne Klein, I can tell which one is V2390 1989, a blouse pattern, and which is V2390 2005, a suit/separates pattern. Once the images are in iPhoto, I can make smart albums based on any search criteria I want, provided I've entered the information somewhere in the photo file.
Once the photos were in iPhoto, I loaded all the images into my iPod, a classic click wheel model with many gigabites of memory. Whenever I update the photo file, I sync the iPod. If I have changed my smart albums (maybe I deleted the one for vests or added one for PJs), that is changed in the iPod photo library, too. Now I have my pattern envelope fronts with me all the time as long as I have my iPod. I try to photograph the pattern front so the size shows. With growing children, I need to know if that pattern I recall is the correct size or if I do need to buy another size when it's on sale.
After spending (a few) hours getting all the old patterns photographed and loaded, titled and keywords checked off, I went back to enter descriptions on most of them. Now it's very quick to put new patterns in when I buy them. If there is a copy of the pattern description on the web somewhere, I can copy and paste it into the description box very quickly, including the suggested fabrics, notions, and yardage requirements. I also put in notes on the ones I've made and I made smart albums for completed projects, works in progress, patterns I have sewn, line drawings, etc. I can also download directly into iPhoto a pdf of the webpage for the pattern when I buy one. I still add in a photo of the pattern envelope because the pages don't show as well on my tiny iPod screen as they do on my computer.
I can search iPhoto by text (numbers /or letters) for patterns with that bit in the description. Let's say I enter 2 in the search box at the bottom of the screen in iPhoto. All of my photos, from the album or library I've chosen, with a 2 anywhere in the title or description will be shown. If I highlight the smart album for Patterns, I will see the images for the 2's from that album only. Maybe I only want Kwik Sew patterns with a 2; highlight that smart album. If I make it 23, and all of those 2's that don't have 23 will drop out. So, if I want to know whether I have a pattern #2390, I enter 2390 into the search box and all my 2390 patterns, including the vintage Simplicity and a McCall's pattern that I forgot about, will show in the window. If I don't have any pattern 2390, nothing will come up. Or I could search by word: sk will bring up skirt, ski, skimpy, skort.
In addition to the iPod photo library of my patterns, I still keep a numeric list in my PDA. I can't search the iPod when I'm shopping, but I can search for the pattern number in my Palm device.
I am glad I did all this before I read the tip about making a binder of the envelopes and filing the patterns by number, because I might have done that instead. I would never take binders of pattern envelopes with me when I shop, and for certain I wouldn't have them if I happen across a fabric store when I'm travelling. I nearly always have my PDA and iPod with me in these situations, so my system works well for me. Also, a physical binder of the envelopes is not searchable, and I want to know all the patterns I have with a type of garment (tops), not just those I've put in that (tops) section. Or maybe I want to look at just one designer's patterns without having to look in several sections because I've put the blouses separate from the suits and wardrobes.
My actual patterns are loosely grouped in filing cabinets and one shelf of the fabric wardrobe by type: Dresses, skirts, tops, pants, wardrobe/coordinates, men&boys, girls, babies, lingerie or activewear, bags/belts/gloves, costumes, everything else. The groupings are subject to change as my needs or lifestyle change. I will probably file them by company and pattern number eventually, but I haven't found it necessary yet to do that work. I can always find the pattern I want once I know which one I want to use. Choosing the pattern is a lot easier now when I can simply scan my iPhoto database instead of pulling out all the patterns from one of the groupings.
ETA: NOTE: I use Mac OS exclusively. I have no idea if this would work with any other operating system since I've never used anything else. Originally, I wanted the photos on my iPod for when I shop, not thinking of it as a way of organizing My Collection. It has worked better than I could have anticipated for browsing and searching my patterns, finished or unfinished projects, and wishlists.
Post Script: I was curious as to how much space my iPhoto library takes up in memory on the iPod. The library is family and work photos as well as my patterns, but the hugest part is pattern photos. It is just 1.25 GB right now, so if I do downgrade to a nano or go to iPhone, it should still work to have my entire photo library with me on the go.