13 February 2015

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons


Can we talk tracing techniques, please? Tracing sewing patterns is one of those subjects that will either seem really obvious to you or will leave you perplexed and wondering if you’re doing it right. Most people haven’t traced anything since primary school! Since it’s something I get quite a few questions about, I thought it worth covering dans le blog…

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

Firstly, why might you need to trace a sewing pattern? There are lots of reasons. To keep the other sizes on a multisized pattern intact for later if you intend to slice through it when cutting out your fabric. To have a copy that you can play around with, whether to make fitting adjustments for your individual body shape or for design hacking purposes. To use a pattern from a magazine or book, which are usually printed double-sided and overlapping to get lots of patterns in while keep the price affordable (as is the case in Love at First Stitch). To preserve the original pattern, particularly if it’s printed on delicate tissue, or if it’s a vintage pattern that future generations might enjoy one day.

That’s why – but how do you trace a sewing pattern? Here are a few tips that I find useful…

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

1) Prepare the pattern

If you’re using a multisized pattern (such as T&TB patterns), you might find it useful to highlight your size first to help you see which lines to trace. Go over the lines in a coloured pen, and don’t forget the markings such as notches, grainline arrows and gather points too.

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

2) Choose your paper

There are no rules on what paper to use for sewing patterns, so choose what works for you. You can try tracing paper, baking paper, lightweight flipchart paper, spot and cross paper, or even Swedish tracing paper, which is a stitchable material great for making toiles. I like to use big rolls of this 60gsm printer paper - it's not quite as translucent as tracing paper but I find it less slippery to use. I also find it can help to put a piece of blank white paper under the pattern to hide any distracting markings on the cutting mat.

Alternatively, you could use a non-translucent paper, such as parcel paper – lay the pattern on top, trace over the lines with a tracing wheel, then go over the indentations with a pencil.

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

3) Keep it steady

To get an accurately traced pattern, start by making sure the pattern itself lays nice and flat. If it’s crumpled, give it a press with a cool, dry iron to smooth it out. Lay your tracing paper on top, and secure everything down with either tape or weights (as you can see, I use whatever I have to hand as “weights”!). I’d avoid using pins here as they can make the paper rise up a little and thus change the shape that you’re tracing.

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons
Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

4) Join the dots

Using a light pencil so you can erase any mistakes, start by quickly dotting the corners and every couple of cm or so on any curves, all the way round the pattern. Add in the markings, such as notches, gather points and grainlines. Check the paper hasn’t shifted and that all your dots and markings are in the right place. Now join up the straight lines and corners with a straight ruler, and join the dots on the curved lines with a curved ruler (or a steady hand if you don’t have one). Once you’re happy that your lines are accurate, you can go over them in a pen if you like – a finer pen will keep the pattern more accurate.

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

5) Transfer all the information

Finally, label your pattern pieces so when you find them a few months down the line under a pile or random stuff, you know what they are and how to use them! Write on each piece the name of the pattern, what piece it is, the size, any fitting or design changes you’ve made to it, how many pieces to cut and any interfacing pieces you need to cut from it. T&TB patterns also include labelled seam lines and markings so you can easily see which bits go together – you may want to transfer these too to help you during the construction process.

Tips for Tracing Sewing Patterns - Tilly and the Buttons

And that’s it! What I really want to get is a lightbox to help me see through the paper even more easily. One day… In the meantime, do you have any tracing tips of your own to share?

47 comments:

  1. instead of a lightbox why not tape it to the window? (assuming it's a daytime tracing sesh - can't imagine it would work too well at night!)

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    1. Funny you should say that - I tried doing that yesterday but the window was so cold I gave up! Maybe in the Summer :)

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  2. As space is limited in my flat, I usually end up crawling around on my floor to trace out the patterns. I like to do it when it is particularly sunny outside as that helps me see through the paper, otherwise a bright little lamp tends to follow me around as I trace out the various patterns to help me see through the pattern. I used to trace through A4 paper (nightmare), and have since invested in a roll of tracing paper which has made my life so much easier!

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    1. A bright lamp is a great tip.

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    2. where do you get the roll of tracing paper?

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  3. These tips are awesome! Thanks for sharing. I'm seeing things I could have done when I traced my pattern that would have made it so much easier.

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  4. I always use the ikea paper rolls (£3 for 30m!) and carbon paper. I put the original pattern on top of the carbon paper, on top of the ikea paper, and trace everything with a Pilot Frixion pen. Once everything is traces, just ironing over the markings will make them disappear. Pattern intact, and a sturdy copy to play with!

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  5. Great post! And thanks for the links - at last there is some light at the end of the tunnel :).

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  6. I stumbled upon an awesome tip form my old boss and I now use transparent plastic to trace onto. The kind you use to protect your floor if you are painting. you can buy it off the roll in most hardware shops or in packs and it is cheap too. Use a permanent marker to trace. Its pretty much changed my life! Here's what it looks like http://instagram.com/p/y91XghTBvX/?modal=true

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    1. I've never heard of that technique before - such a great idea!

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    2. I don't think im overstating the case when I say that this has been a revolutionary discovery in my life! I would compare it to the invention of the wheel or electricity!!

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    3. This has changed my life! I found the transparent plastic at the Dollar store! So cheap and works like a dream! Love tracing patterns now!Thank you for the awesome tip!

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  7. I use a large wax tracing paper sheet (the colored kind that some people use to trace onto muslin) and flip it over upside down onto plain paper. Then I just put the pattern on top and go over it with my tracing wheel- it's easier to see than just the indentations in the paper because it leaves little colored tracks, and you can do it without a ton of light, which is nice, since I usually trace in the evenings. :)

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  8. I buy rolls of medical exam paper off of Amazon and use that to trace onto. It's generally cheaper than actual tracing paper but does the job fantastically.

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    1. I am buying the case from a medical supplies company!

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  9. I have used the fine grade interfacing to trace onto, but it can stretch a little if you are not careful. My local sewing stockist has a product called trace and toile, it's great. A non stretchy interface type material and it can be sewn as well. Paper was too clumsy and hard to source.

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  10. I use very cheap interfacing (which can be seen for toiles and cheaper than Swedish teaching paper), carbon paper and a clover double tracing wheel - the double wheels can be moved, which means you can use them to both trace the pattern, and add your own seam allowances of your choice if you are using a pattern that doesn't include them such as burda or knipmode patterns. Easy as.

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  11. I use white florist tissue paper, ordered online from a florist supplier. It comes in a flat box that stash under a bed or tanks. It's sturdy but transparent, and the sheet size is manageable. If I need larger pieces, I just tape a few together. It presses well with a cool dry iron, if it gets wrinkled. PS if taping pieces together, use Scotch Magic Tape...it can be peeled off and reapplied without tearing the paper. Just don't iron across it directly...use a press cloth on top.

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  12. I bought a big roll of construction paper for $10 at Lowes and a pack of carbon paper from Staples (also around $10). I use a tracing wheel to trace it onto the construction paper. The paper is cheaper than the oak paper used for pattern making but is pretty sturdy and long lasting. I store them just like how I would with oak paper, punch a hole with an awl and put a binder ring through the hole and hang them in the closet. This is also useful for those patterns that come without seam allowance (like Burda)--I just use a double tracing wheel.

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  13. Dear Tilly
    Thank you for such an inspiring blog. Bought your book a couple of weeks ago here in melbourne Australia !!! It's awesome. I have never sewn before but I love the fact that your book cuts out the simple but rather useless projects and takes the beginner straight to wearable and fashionable clothes. It shows respect for your reader - thank you for that.
    And now for a dumb question. Speaking of patterns, do your patterns include a 5/8 in seam allowance?
    Much love and keep up the great work
    Amy

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    1. Thanks Amy, I'm so glad you like the book :) Yes, the patterns all include a 5/8in seam allowance. Enjoy!

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  14. Thanks so much Tilly, this is really useful - in fact everything you write I find so helpful in building my sewing knowledge :-)
    Did you do tips on 'how to alter necklines, sleeves etc on patterns' on your blog, I've had a quick look through your postings, I'm sure I've seen it, but now I can't find it !

    Thanks, Janette

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    1. Hi Janette, if you look under 'Learn to Sew' in the contents there are a couple of sleeve tutorials. I'm planning to do more design tutorials so watch this space...

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  15. I never thought to use the tracing wheel probably because I would of thought it'd tear through to the pattern lol! what a great tip, I'll have to try that on a pattern I know I'll never use again, yea 'm still scared lol! thanks for all you do to push us out of our comfort zone so we can learn new things!

    Helen

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  16. Thank you for this blog, lots of very useful tips. I have used baking paper sheets for tracing patterns before. it has to be the white paper though not the old fashioned brown stuff. you can see through it well enough but I find it is better to draw on it with pencil rather than pen.

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  17. I do exactly the same thing as Rara. I bulk buy rolls of brown wrapping paper from IKEA after Christmas (last time I got them at 9p a roll). They have a faint stripe pattern in them, which is great for drafting. I roll out a piece of paper, cover it in sheets of carbon paper, place the pattern on top, then trace over with my tracing wheel. I use the double wheel if I need to add seam allowance. You then have a perfect carbon print of your pattern, which you can then copy over with a fine marker to make it clearer.

    I do like the hint of tracing your size with a coloured marker on multi-size pattern sheets. It's so easy to wander off the correct line while you are tracing.

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  18. Some great ideas here! Definitely going to look into Swedish paper. And as I'm lucky enough to have a large glass sewing desk, I use that like a light box. Placing a large hurricane lamp filled with fairy lights under it works a treat xx

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    1. And - have been having great fun with Coco tops but have had to make a little alteration to the neck. Onto third one now. .....probably need to start with another pattern! xx

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  19. I keep tissue paper from high street clothes shops and Christmas gifts for tracing patterns.Most main pieces fit onto a sheet and it is easy to join. I have a curved ruler which is soooo useful for this! My latest pattern tracing was for my Coco dress:
    http://www.carolineparadigmdesign.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/little-check-coco-dress.html

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  20. I'm a fairly new convert to tracing patterns as I want to preserve my pattern collection for future sewists. In Australia I managed to get hold of this light interfacing sort of stuff (no idea where from, somewhere in the depths of the internet, in Aust somewhere) that is transparent enough to trace through but sturdy enough to pin onto a mannequin for initial fitting. It is 120cm wide and feels like a never ending roll!

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  21. Hi Tilly,
    My friend bought me your book for xmas and I love it! As a novice that just sort of made it up before it's really helped me to engineer clothes rather than doing it all ad hoc. How easy is it to manipulate a patten? For example, if I wanted to make a full length dress and the pattern I have is for a knee length, is it as simple as the pattern length extension guide in the Delphine skirt or does it get more complicated the longer you want to make it?
    Any guidance much appreciated! :)

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  22. Do you have any recommendations for cutting mats?

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  23. Does Parchment paper work with copying a pattern?

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  24. As I have high blood pressure bending over a pattern tracing it instead Is not on so I tape the pattern to the panel door of my living room, using low tack masking tape. I then tape the paper I am going to use over it. I also use the same "desk" when enlarging a grid pattern on to squared paper.

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  25. Masking tape to door, pattern first then tracing paper of choice. I also use it when enlarging graph patterns on to grid paper, saves the back!

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  26. Hi Tilly,
    I made a light box out of a large clear storage bin with a flat lid and put some stick-on LED lights on the inside. It works really well, and it didn't cost much to make. Thanks for all the great suggestions!

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  27. I'm new to sewing, but had a small pattern so I was able to use cheap no-perforation paper towels (like the ones used in the industrial size paper towel holders). It worked in a pinch and was sturdy enough it didn't tear.

    Now that I'm using a larger pattern, I'm using your typical white tissue paper that is used in gift bags. I find it doesn't tear, but it is slippery (which I read here is something to try to avoid). I'm so glad to now read so many other ideas. I read your blog in order to find out how to secure the paper to the pattern, but seems we both have the same ideas there. Thanks for all your help and for responding to everyone's comments! Excellent pictures as well! God bless!

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  28. I have always used greaseproof paper as it is strong and very cheap

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  29. a cheap piece of plexiglass supported on bricks with a thin lamp under it a easy solution to the light table. though like you I'll be happier with a full size light table although this solution is portable.

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  30. a cheap piece of plexiglass supported on bricks with a thin lamp under it a easy solution to the light table. though like you I'll be happier with a full size light table although this solution is portable.

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  31. Great ideas! Yesterday I used some baking parchment that I had in the kitchen, but now that it's out I'm going to look for tissue paper at the dollar store. (Dreaming of Swedish Tracing Paper, but that will be at another time.) Thanks, Tilly!

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  32. I have used rolls of light coloured gift wrap that is very cheap to trace onto. I turn them over to use the plain, reverse side. I also have a glass top desk that I got at an op shop (thrift store) that I use as a lightbox by placing a lamp underneath it.

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  33. I have trouble tracing due to arthritis so if the pattern is suitable I go to a copy shop and have the whole thing done. If it's a pdf with a wide format option I never print and tape the pages. If I have to, once I finish I go get the pieces copied so I have a good master pattern! The minimal cost is worth saving my hands extra stress. As long as it's for personal use there's never been an issue

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