Tuesday, June 02, 2015

OneNote for the Pattern Stash - Part 2

It's time I did a follow up to tips on using OneNote for organizing your pattern stash, because it's been well over a year since I wrote part 1 and also because I was just singing its praises over on Pattern Review. So "hello" if you're coming to my blog from there. Warning - this is a long post.

After using and tweaking my pattern library over these last 16 months or so, I've found that the system works pretty well for me, but it's not perfect. No "out of the box" system is. One thing I've learned with Microsoft tools such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc, is that they are tools and you can make them work for you but you will find some limitations if you're not using the tool exactly how the developers envision you using it, i.e., you're not using it for a business application. I remember in the mid 90's in grad school I was using Excel to plot my scientific data. Now if you know Excel, it is loaded with all sorts of tools to plot and track business data - you can create nifty pie charts and the feared (and misunderstood) pivot tables. It's not, and certainly wasn't in its early days, the best tool for making scientific charts. But I made it work, and over time Microsoft improved the capabilities in Excel and the ability to use it for scientific purposes increased as well. I am finding a similar situation with OneNote.

OneNote is a fabulous tool for collecting your random, or not so random, notes and information. I used to have a paper notebook at work that I used for note taking during meetings. It was not very efficient and I seldom went back to review it. But with OneNote I could finally organize my information, track action items, update old info, and most importantly I could search for stuff. Today I use OneNote for grocery lists, bits of stuff I want to remember like the name of a movie someone recommended, and a variety of other things. With the advent of online cloud storage and the ability to access that storage from my phone when I'm out, it also seemed like a great way to be able to keep track of my patterns and make the information available to me wherever I am. The flexibility to be able to add whatever information I want in whatever form I want makes OneNote much more appealing to me than a database, even though I'd be giving up the more rigid formatting a database would provide (for good or for bad). But OneNote is still a tool. It is literally an open book and you fill the pages how you wish.

As with any software tool, there is a learning curve. It's not uncommon to change your course of thinking after you've used the tool and discovered how best to use it. This happened with my Pattern Library as well, but it didn't change too radically and I'm still experimenting...and learning.

The following information only applies to using OneNote with Windows 8.1 and OneDrive with an Office 365 subscription, because that is what I have. I can't explain how OneNote works with Chrome or with Apple operating systems - it does work with those, I just don't have them or use them.

There are multiple ways to access (and edit) OneNote notebooks - that are online*
  1. I have OneNote installed on my laptop, which I access by going to the desktop.
  2. There is the OneNote application on my laptop, which I access by clicking the OneNote tile.
  3. I can use my browser to navigate to my OneDrive and then open a OneNote notebook
  4. I have an app on my phone that I can use to view (no editing) a OneNote notebook.
*I created my notebook so that it lives online in the cloud of OneDrive rather than on my desktop so that I can access it from my phone or another computer. Any edits I make using the application in 1, 2 or 3 above are synced so that I will always (barring any sync problems) see the latest updates.

Ah, but nothing is perfect. First of all, the OneNote editing tools are different between 1, 2, and 3. Oh, Microsoft...why does it seem like three different groups developed these applications? Probably because they did.

1. Desktop OneNote on laptop computer

2. OneNote Application on laptop computer

3. OneNote Online using browser

4. Phone application
For the majority of my editing, as well as adding new patterns, I use the desktop OneNote (1). Incidentally, that's where you end up when you select "open in OneNote" from OneNote Online (3). The desktop OneNote (1) has the most tools by far. The application version (2) is my most preferred way to view my Pattern Library, but the editing tools there are pretty limited. The phone application (4) is also good, but given the small screen size, I pretty much only use that when I'm out or only my phone is handy. I haven't used Outlook Online (3) except for recently when I was experiencing some sync problems.

Like many things in life, when they work well they're great and when they don't you get frustrated and annoyed, probably out of scale to the issue at hand. I didn't have sync problems until I decided to add more pictures to my Burda magazine section. A lot of pictures. Plus the pictures, which I copied from the Burdastyle website, where huge. I scaled them down - really just clicked and dragged to make them smaller, so I didn't change the file size. My Pattern Library notebook is about 5 GB - sounds pretty big.. Syncing takes a long time now and when our internet at home drops out, sometimes errors can occur, and they did. Therefore, I decided to make a new notebook just for the Burda magazines and move the sections to it, which you can only do from the desktop OneNote (1).

Here's another example of the different editing tools and look of a OneNote notebook depending on how/where you view it. When I added the Burdastyle pictures, they were huge, as I said. Since I added them using the desktop OneNote, I clicked and dragged to make them smaller or put them in a table, which made the pictures smaller based on the table cell size (the table tools are pretty limited in OneNote, but you have an option to make your table in Excel and then paste it into OneNote). When I looked at the notebook in OneNote Online, the pictures were huge again. I found it interesting (and annoying) that OneNote Online has a picture format option where I could set the size of the picture to a certain percentage - I could not find this tool in the desktop OneNote, despite there being many more editing tools.

I was going to write more about how I structured my notebook sections and pages, but I honestly think that you have to play with it yourself to discover how you want OneNote to work for you. You know best what's important to you and how you want your information displayed. If you run into issues, you can ask me in the comments and I'll try to answer, but you may find more information and help by searching the internet or Microsoft community help site.


  1. I am interested in storing my patterns using OneNote. The app I was using "jumped shipped" without warning. So I can't access my well over 300 patterns.

    How do you start? I didn't read the steps to get started and that would be helpful to me. I am playing around with the app but have no clue where to start. It would be helpful to me if I can get some step by step instructions and I'll take it from there.

    Thanks for your blog. I found it very interesting and love that we have similar taste...esp OCD (the Aquarian).

    1. Hi sweetDsmom - glad you found my blog! OneNote is really easy to use. Playing around with it is really a great way to get started. It really is like the notebooks we kept in school but so much better because you can add, delete and move things around and you can also search for stuff. But like with a lot of organizing, it's best if you can first plan out how you want to use and see your stuff. For patterns, think about how you will want to find things. Start by making a few pages and sections and see how you like it before you load all 300+ patterns.

      As far as basic OneNote help, there are loads of tutorials in blogs, youtube videos, and other websites. I think Microsoft does a really good job on their tutorials also: https://support.office.com/en-US/OneNote Try the "Explore OneNote Training" link on this page.

      Hope that helps!