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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?