Tuesday, 4 February 2014

How to Cut Fabric Without Cutting Your Pattern (Much)


Today I want to share with you my favourite method for cutting fabric to a sewing pattern - using dressmaker's carbon and a tracing wheel. Maybe some of you do this too, but it's not a technique that I hear reference to very often. In contrast to two other common methods - cutting through pattern and fabric at the same time, or cutting the pattern to your size before drawing round it - the beauty of this technique is that:

  • It keeps all sizes of the pattern pieces intact, so if you need to adjust the pattern or use a bigger size later on, you can, without having to spend time tracing off the pattern first;
  • You don't need to use your fabric scissors to cut through the paper pattern at the same time, so you won't dull the blades (so much);
  • You'll end up with pieces that have been cut more accurately than if you had cut the pattern at the same time as the fabric.

Sound good?


You will need:
Paper scissors
Pins or pattern weights (food tins work fine)
Tracing wheel - the blunt kind, not the sharp pattern drafting kind
Fabric scissors or rotary cutter
Cutting mat (if you don't want to scratch the table)


1) Roughly cut around your pattern pieces using paper scissors, an inch or so outside the lines of the largest size, leaving all sizes intact.


2) Lay out the cutting mat, fabric and pattern pieces, aligning grainlines and 'place on fold' lines as normal. Hold the pattern pieces in place either with weights or with pins. If pinning, pin about half an inch or so within your size lines.


3) Now for the fun part. Take a sheet of dressmaker's carbon paper in a contrast colour to your fabric (test them out on your fabric to see which one shows up the best), and slip it under the edge of one of the pattern pieces, with the coloured "carbon" side face down onto the fabric. Roll the tracing wheel along the pattern lines corresponding to your size, moving the dressmaker's carbon around as you need to until you've transferred all the cutting lines from all the pattern pieces. You can also use dressmaker's carbon to transfer darts, notches and other markings.


4) Remove the pattern pieces. You should have a neat outline of your pattern on your fabric. What's more, your pattern is still intact ready to be reused. Now you can cut your fabric, exactly on the lines you have drawn with the dressmaker's carbon, using either fabric scissors or a rotary cutter. Sometimes I pin the two layers of fabric together for this bit to stop them slipping apart.

Bonus tip: If you use the same pattern again and again, over time the perforations made by the tracing wheel can weaken and tear the paper, especially if it's a tissue paper pattern. I use sticky tape to reinforce and preserve the lines on my beloved patterns when they start to weaken.

So that's it! My favourite way of cutting fabric to a pattern. Does anyone else do this too?

PS. Thank you SO much for your warm welcome to the cover and concept of my book. It's pretty nerve-wracking to put something out into the world that I put so much work into, so your support really means a lot. Thanks guys!

[Soundtrack: 'Anything Can Happen' by Ezra Furman]

40 comments:

  1. Very informative Tilly, thank you. I have often wondered the proper way to use a tracing wheel, I have one but have never used it! All those teaser shots o Coco, you cheeky Miss!

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  2. hm isn't this the usual way to do it, if you use copying paper?
    I prefer to copy the pattern by laying 'architect paper' (I hope that is the right expression, it's the paper often used by architects which translucent) over it and tracing the lines. It has the additional advantage of being stronger than the original pattern paper and it doesn't crease so easy.

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  3. I also use carbon tracing pattern, but first I trace my uncut pattern on checked (1 cm x 1 cm), non-woven interfacing (not the fusible kind). That way the checks can be aligned with the important marks on the pattern (grainline and lengthen/shorten-here lines). Then I use this as my pattern : it's a little transparent, and the checks make it easier to lay your pattern according to the fabric's grainline! And this is also what I cut when I need to alter the pattern : then again, the checks make it easier to measure.

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  4. This is how I do it. I like that you added the importance of a cutting matt so as not to scratch the table. Alas, I learnt that the hard way!

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  5. This is great! I've been transferring my tissue paper patterns to interfacing so I can reuse it without worrying about the pattern falling apart, but I had no idea carbon paper for this even existed!

    I'm so looking forward to your book for more tips like this :)

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  6. ooh never done it this way. Will deffo have a go :)

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  7. Thanks Tilly! Just one more way to cut patterns - I can never have enough tips!

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  8. I had completely forgotten about this way of cutting out! I learnt it in college so many years ago and still have the tracing wheel in my sewing box (complete with old wooden red handle, how old does that make me feel!). I'll be resurrecting this next time I want to preserve pattern sizes. Thanks, Tilly!

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  9. Will definitely try this one. Thanks!

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  10. Very usefull indeed! My mom learned me to use the tracing wheel in another way, which is very usefull for transferring patterns from magazines onto something sturdier than tracing paper:

    Lay down a towel on the floor (or your table if you're lucky enough to have a big one). On that some gift wrap or sturdier paper that is at least as big as your pattern piece. On that the pattern. Then when you trace the pattern with the tracing wheel, little holes will form in the gift wrap. This way, you have your pattern on something sturdie whilst keeping your magazine in tact.

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  11. I use this all the time, though if it is a pattern I know I'll use a lot I often just trace a copy onto some heavier tracing paper instead. My carbon sheets are also pretty small and sometimes I forget to move them so I end up tracing away without marking!

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  12. Wow, this is a great timesaver. I usually trace my pattern onto craft paper and work from that as I like to preserve the original.

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  13. I am new to dressmaking, and I had NO idea about any of this! I'm off to find this "dressmaker's carbon paper"!

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  14. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing. I'm definitely still a sewing beginner, and I love your blog and all your helpful tips. xoxo

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  15. When I *first* starting sewing (self taught), I would trace the pattern onto the fabric. It just made more sense. Not sure why I stopped...

    I do like the idea of carbon paper if it's perhaps too dark for disappearing ink pens!

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  16. HI Tilly thank you for this tip, it is so useful. I have ordered your book and cannot wait to get my hands on it. I am hoping that one day I will be able to visit one of your classes and you might sign it for me. Have a fab week Tilly, lots of love
    Dorothyxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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  17. Thanks for the info, Tilly. I am a beginner and still experimenting. I find the carbon paper a bit fiddly to move and it doesn't always show up well, particularly on patterned fabric. I've been tracing the original pattern on to Swedish Tracing Paper or similar then cut out large fabric pieces using STP, rotary cutter and mat. I use carbon paper, tailor's tacks or washable ink pen to transfer smaller markings.

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  18. That's exactly how I do it ALL the time! I've realised that with this way all the sizes will be kept intact. I'd like to tape the pdf paper patterns only once please.

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  19. Great post, thanks for sharing :) I don't much like the 'pin the pattern down, cut around' technique.
    Random question: your pictures are always so pretty, apart from natural ability, may I ask what camera you use? I'm shopping around for one. Thanks :)

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    1. Aw thank you! It's funny you say that as I've been thinking there's so much room for improvement in my photos. I use a Panasonic Lumix LX3 - I'm not sure if it's still available but the LX7 is here. It's lightweight so very easy to sling in your bag.

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  20. Thank you! I was trying to remember how we did it in my grade 9 sewing class and it just wouldn't come to me. Blast from the past.

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  21. Time to start a new project!
    Loving the coco sleeve sneak peak xx

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  22. Great idea - the only thing I would add would be to do it onto the wrong side of the fabric - the carbon paper I have has a tendency to leave smears if you wipe it and can leave marks on a fabric - not ideal on something precious or light coloured!

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  23. I use Swedish tracing paper, a transperant thin paper, on which I draw the pattern and then cut.

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  24. All this time I've been tracing my patterns on Swedish tracing paper, and then I use carbon paper to transfer the markings to my fabric pieces. I can't believe I didn't think to just trace the pattern to Swedish paper to begin with! This tip will save me time in having to trace all those lines - which can get tedious when there are lots of pattern pieces. :) Thanks so much for the tip, Tilly!

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  25. I find this the easiest way too! However i have found that the markings don't always come off, so I have little red dots down the front of my white colette violet where the button markings were :( I think this is because I pressed over the markings and the steam set the chalk into the fabric, making it impossible to remove. Apart from this problem, its a very good way to mark out patterns!! :)

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  26. Thank you for sharing this! I don't do a lot of dressmaking, so I've never heard of this carbon paper. I don't mind cutting to size for me, but since my girls are growing, I often look at a more expensive but gorgeous patterns and think, "yeah, but then they'll just grow six months later and I won't be able to make a larger one once it's cut" and skip it. Now I know what I need to do! Any tips for where to buy the carbon paper online?

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  27. Tilly - thanks for this, its a great tip. But at 6 feet tall everything I make has to be lengthened....any ideas?

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  28. Yes, indeed. I was using this technique just today. I hate that the paper these days doesn't transfer very well, though.

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  29. Thanks for the tutorial, Tilly. Is it just me or does that first pic have an awesome Wes Anderson-esque vibe to it? ;)

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  30. Brilliant! I would sew much more than I do now, but patter tracing is a nightmare for me. Must try your method! Sure will make my life so much easier :) Thank you Tilly x

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  31. Many thanks Tilly. i believe you give us a much simply,methodic ways to work ,i am already your fan..and God bless your work
    Maria

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  32. Hi, just wanted to say thank you for the fantastic tutorial. It's not a method I had every really considered, but have just tried it out as I'm working with a delicate fabric and thought it might be easier for placing the dart lines - it works a treat, so simple!

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  33. If you don't have a cutting board, you can also use cardboard, like from a box or the back of a drawing pad. Although that way is much more temporary.

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  34. Clever to trace the cutting line. Decades ago, we were taught to pin the pattern to the fabric, cut, and use the tracing wheel and paper to mark the sewing lines. I also like the (new to me) suggestion to transfer favorite patterns to interfacing fabric. One is never too old to learn!
    Madeline

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  35. What do you use for tracing on dark/mixed/pattern colored fabrics? I have some lovely dark burgundy/cream crinkle check fabric (think 90's grunge!), I'm wanting to make some simple tapered trousers, but trying to work out the best way to trace my pattern. Any suggestions appreciated!

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    1. You can use white carbon paper for dark colours, or if it's mixed I simply experiment with different colours (eg. blue, yellow...) and see which one shows up the best. I hope this helps!

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  36. Are the marks from carbon paper erasable? I've heard from some that a standard pencil eraser will remove it, but I've heard from others that it is impossible to remove!

    http://whydidimakethat.blogspot.co.uk

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  37. I am extremely new to sewing so please excuse how unintelligent i may sound! :) But when you are transferring your other markings, like darts, etc., and the fabric is on the fold, how would the markings transfer to the other side? And also if the cutting layout calls for the fabric to be cut on the right side up how would you transfer those marks without them ruining your right side of fabric? Again, please excuse me if these are silly questions :) thanks for your help

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