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How to trace a pattern

29 March 2008, 18:36

I often see other sewers complain about tracing patterns from magazines like Burda World of Fashion, KnipMode, or Patrones, and I thought I’d share my method for tracing patterns. I don’t have a big window, and carbon paper is just way too messy for me, so I’ve gradually come up with this method and it’s quick and easy enough that I trace out all my patterns this way – even the tissue envelope patterns.

Step 1 – Gather your materials

You’ll need a big roll of paper – I buy a big roll of (usually brown) craft paper from Staples, but you can also use rolls from the post office or doctor’s surgery paper or anything else similar. You’ll also need a serrated tracing wheel (found in haberdashery shops), a marker pen, a pair of scissors, and a few weighty objects to keep the layers from slipping around (not shown).

Step 2 – Roll out your paper

Find a nice big carpeted space and roll out your paper. You may need to weight it down to keep it from curling up.

Step 3 – Lay out your pattern

Lay your pattern sheet on top of your paper, making sure it doesn’t go off the edge or overlaps a previously traced piece. Place some weighty objects on the pattern sheet, making sure it doesn’t obstruct the pattern piece lines.

Step 4 – Trace with the serrated wheel

Using your tracing wheel, follow along the pattern sheet lines, making sure to also trace all pattern notches and darts.

Step 5 – Compare against the original

Remove the weights and compare your tracing with the original. Your traced pattern will be shown with a series of bumps (and possibly tiny holes, depending on the pressure you used!) on all the lines.

Step 6 – Write info and highlight notches

Use your marker pen to write down the piece number, piece description, pattern number, size, grainlines, and any other relevant info. Also highlight any notches, dots, or special instructions. I like to mark any fold lines with a big obvious arrow and remind myself to add seam allowances if the pattern calls for it!

Step 7 – Cut out

Use your scissors to cut out the piece. Repeat for all the pieces in your pattern.

Here’s all seven pieces from this top traced out, which took me about 15-20 minutes to do.

And in other news, since we’ve been spring cleaning today and I can’t go any further on James’s shirt until I pre-wash the fabric, I decided to attack my “big scraps” box (these are bits that are less than a yard, but too big to chunk into my “tiny scraps” bag for rags or soapnuts bags).

I was pretty ruthless and unless I could come up with a specific use for the fabric length in the box, it got added to a bag to give to a guy in my office who makes very creative refashions. I think he’ll be pleased with his haul:

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  1. absolutely brilliant idea – I had tried this method but on my cardboard cutting mat on the dining table and it didn’t work, but now I see the soft surface is the key! good on you for destashing the scraps too – I must learn to do the same

    Kristy    Mar 31, 03:12 AM    #
  2. I must admit that I am one of the tracing complainers- I think it’s mostly sheer laziness on my part. I do like your carpet method, though. Here’s hoping it motivates me to trace! I also ought to learn from your scrap system, methinks…

    Kirsty    Apr 2, 11:41 AM    #
  3. How do you handle seam allowances on patterns that don’t include them? Do you draw them in freehand before cutting the pattern pieces out? I’m curious what the best way is. Thanks!

    Jujubee    Apr 6, 07:42 AM    #
  4. Jujubee – To be perfectly honest, I just eyeball the seam allowances when I cut out the fabric, cutting 5/8” away from my pattern pieces (or more for hems). To start off I used to use my hem gauge ruler and mark the fabric every so often, but when you sew as much BWOF as I do, you gain a sixth sense for knowing exactly what 5/8” inch looks like. It may well be my one and only superpower, so I’ve got to try and use it for the forces of good.

    melissa    Apr 7, 02:50 PM    #
  5. brilliant idea. I haven’t been able to come at tracing off my WOF from Burda magazine pattern, until I read the above. I am going to go and try it out! Thanks so much.

    — stephanie    Apr 18, 05:07 AM    #
  6. Great tip. I never thought to use my needle tracer! Much better than what I’m doing!

    — mrs quickly    Apr 29, 03:56 AM    #
  7. Great idea. Because I have laminate floors, I may buy a carpet remnant to put underneath. Wonder if it will work with a beach towel?

    — Carol    May 16, 11:01 PM    #
  8. Melissa, this is brilliant! Thanks for sharing.

    — Sue Whelan    Nov 17, 02:08 AM    #
  9. Again, thank you so much! I just received a bunch of Burda magazines and had no idea how to trace the patterns. Now if I could only translate the Japanese pattern magazine.

    — barbara    Jun 28, 10:01 PM    #
  10. I love you! thanks for the idea!

    — rebecca    Aug 11, 08:06 PM    #
  11. Thanks Melissa. I don’t know if this is easier than my method, but it’s cleaner and I don’t have to sharpen pencils. I’ll have to see if big rolls of craft paper are cheaper than the tracing paper I use, which is not cheap.

    Nancy K    Oct 14, 09:43 PM    #
  12. This is a great method! No more running out of room on the cutting mat (which I use to protect my wood floor). I can just use my one rug – 6 × 9 feet will do it! Thanks for this.

    — M Kate    Feb 15, 06:17 PM    #
  13. I’ll give it a try — thanks for great instructions and nice illustrations. Probably will use properly sized throw rug on cutting table — to save my back.

    — JDpenelope    Sep 11, 11:34 AM    #
  14. I don’t like putting my fabric or patterns on the floor because they may collect dust and bits of thread that have fallen. Instead I put some folded up fabric on my table and that does the job of the carpet in tracing. It’s probably more comfortable too.

    Sabrina    Sep 12, 11:09 AM    #
  15. I used to use lining paper for this (the stuff you put on the wall under wallpaper). Cheap as chips!

    — Elaine    Sep 24, 09:18 AM    #

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