Tracing sewing patterns is my least favorite sewing task. There, I said it.
Tracing sewing patterns is a tedious, and I almost always lose steam on a project during pattern tracing.
But, I am a committed member of Team Trace (vs. Team Cut That Stuff Out). By tracing sewing patterns, you preserve the original pattern, which is important if you’re working with a printed pattern (vs. a PDF, where you can print copies). You also have the option of tracing off additional sizes.
So that’s why I trace. But, I don’t have to like it!
Here’s a look at my ride-or-die pattern-tracing tools, some intel on sewing tracing paper, and finally a dive into my process. I hope you come away with some useful tips — and if you have useful tracing tips for ME, I hope you leave them in comments! Thanks in advance for reading and sharing your two cents.
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Tools for Tracing Sewing Patterns
When I’m deep into pattern tracing, you’ll find these tools next to me.
Pencil: Sharper is better. I prefer a pencil to a pen or marker so I can easily erase my mistakes.
Eraser: Gotta love a big, fat eraser.
Bright light: So you can see through your paper, of course. I have a full-spectrum floor lamp.
Tracing paper: See below for my opinion.
Tracing table: I have a glass-top desk and work site light that work sublimely. Check out my sewing room tour for all the details. In the past I’ve taped patterns and tracing paper to a big window, and I’ve also traced on my kitchen counter top. (Related: There are lots of decent light box options out there, should you be interested.)
Weights: Hold your pattern and tracing paper in place. I also use weights to keep my tracing paper roll from rolling off the table.
Craft knife: I employ an X-acto for cutting out the traced pattern pieces.
Cutting mat: The surface on which I use said X-acto.
A Word on Sewing Tracing Paper
As I researched this post, I discovered a lot of sewists were internetting for info on sewing tracing paper. Here’s what I use for tracing pattern paper and my thoughts on other tracing paper for patterns.
I use Blick Studio tracing paper on a roll (pictured below). It’s not inexpensive, but it’s smooth, not too lightweight, and easy to draw on (and erase from). I also like going to the art supply store to buy it because it makes me feel like a cool, artsy kid.
I’ve also used Swedish tracing paper, which is somewhere between tracing paper and a dryer sheet in texture. What’s great about Swedish tracing paper is that you can sew it, so it can act as a (woven) muslin. A word of caution — it’s not drapey, so take that into consideration if you’d like to use it as a muslin for a drapey fabric.
Medical paper — the kind of paper you see on the padded table at a doctor’s office — also is popular for tracing sewing patterns. It’s inexpensive; at the time of this post’s publication, a case of 12 21-inch-by-225-feet medical paper rolls was $41.68. My concern is that medical exam table paper is not designed for tracing. It’s not as transparent as tracing paper, probably not great for erasing, and tears easily. But the money savings, guys!
Technique for Tracing Sewing Patterns
Here’s my process for pattern tracing.
1.) Make It Smooth
If you’re using a printed pattern (i.e., not a PDF pattern), give it a gentle press with a dry, low-heat iron to smooth most wrinkles.
2.) Weigh It Down
I arrange my tracing paper atop my pattern, taking into considering how I’ll need to move my hand, arm, and body as I trace. Once I’m happy with positioning, I place my weights (they’re washers, pictured above). I use more weights than I probably need to prevent shifting. This also is important if you must step away from tracing.
3.) Dash It All
When tracing sewing patterns, I don’t create a solid line. Instead, I draw a dashed line in the interest of speed and hand fatigue. Think about it: If you draw a dashed line (vs. a solid line), you’re likely drawing half as much! Mind = blown.
4.) Make Your Mark
First I trace an outline of the pattern piece. Then I go back and add notches, darts, etc. Then I make sure I’ve properly labeled the pattern designer, name of pattern, pattern piece type (e.g., front, cuff), letter or number of pattern piece (e.g., A, B, 1 — important because instructions often refer to pattern piece A, etc.), and how many and what type of pieces to cut (e.g., cut 2, cut 1 interfacing). Speaking from experience, it’s a MAJOR bummer to be assembling fabric pattern pieces and realize that you didn’t mark any notches. #rage
5.) Cut It Out
In the words of Uncle Joey, I then cut it out, with an X-acto.
Over to you: Are you Team Trace or Team Cut That Stuff Out? What’s your fave tracing tool or tip? Comment away, my dears!
P.S. Here’s the previous Sie Macht post, should you be interested: 53 Gifts for Sewists: The Ultimate Guide to Gifts for Sewing Lovers.