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The Complete Guide to Tracing Sewing Patterns
Tracing sewing patterns is an essential technique for sewists. While it may seem tedious upfront, tracing offers many benefits that make it worthwhile. This in-depth guide covers everything you need to know about tracing patterns, from why you should trace to tips for making it easy.
What is Tracing a Sewing Pattern?
Tracing a pattern means making an exact copy of each pattern piece onto tracing paper or another material before cutting into your fashion fabric. You carefully trace around the outline of each piece, marking the size lines, grainlines, notches, darts, and any other important features. This preserves the original pattern intact.
Why Trace Patterns Instead of Cutting Them?
There are several compelling reasons to take the time to trace rather than directly cutting into your pattern tissue or printed pattern sheets:
Preserve Original Pattern
Tracing maintains your original pattern in perfect condition so you can use it again for other sizes or views. This is especially useful for printed paper patterns you’ve purchased.
You may need to blend between sizes to get the perfect fit. Tracing makes this easy since you have full pattern pieces to work with.
Make Pattern Adjustments
Tracing is essential if you need to make any adjustments to the pattern for your body shape and size, like a full bust adjustment. Having the full pattern piece makes this possible.
Avoid Overlapped Lines
You can trace just the size(s) you want, avoiding confusing overlapped lines from other sizes.
Sturdy Tracing Paper
The tracing is easier to work with compared to delicate tissue paper pattern sheets prone to tearing.
Save Paper and Ink
For PDF sewing patterns, you save yourself the paper and ink of printing full copies if you just trace the pieces you require.
How to Trace a Sewing Pattern
Follow these steps for tracing your patterns smoothly:
Prepare Pattern and Workspace
Iron tissue patterns flat if needed. Lay out your main pattern pieces on a large, flat surface like a table or floor. Have your roll of tracing paper or alternative tracing material on hand.
Place your tracing paper over the pattern piece you want to trace. Use pattern weights, washers, or other objects to keep the tracing paper and pattern from shifting as you work.
Trace the Outline
Using a mechanical pencil, carefully trace the outline of the pattern piece. Go slowly and focus on accuracy. Trace the correct size line as indicated on the pattern guide.
Add Interior Markings
Trace any notches, darts, gathering lines, fold lines, drill holes, and other interior markings in their exact locations. Also trace the grainline arrow.
Add labels indicating the pattern name, piece name (e.g. Front Bodice), size you traced, number to cut, and any other helpful info from the original pattern.
Cut Out Traced Pieces
Once your tracings are complete, use sharp scissors or a craft knife to neatly cut out each pattern piece, following the outer traced line.
Top Tracing Tips
Keep these handy tips in mind for tracing patterns efficiently:
- Work in sections, tracing the outline in dashes first before adding interior details.
- Use a mechanical pencil and sharp eraser for crisp, easy to edit lines.
- A bright light like a lamp or sunny window makes it easier to see through the paper.
- Pattern weights keep materials from shifting and help you step away if needed.
- Clearly label all details including pattern name, size, piece name, and cut numbers.
Recommended Tracing Tools
Having the right tools makes tracing patterns smooth sailing. Here are some recommended supplies:
- Tracing Paper: Swedish tracing paper, medical exam paper, drafting paper all work well.
- Pattern Weights: Special weights or washers keep your pattern and paper in place.
- Light Source: A light box, light table, or sunny window is ideal.
- Pencil and Eraser: Mechanical pencils and erasers allow crisp lines and easy fixes.
- Scissors or Craft Knife: For neatly cutting finished pattern pieces.
- Ruler: Dressmaking rulers and curves will make the task much easier, but a meter rule or a 30cm ruler will work fine
Should You Trace or Cut Patterns?
Tracing takes more time up front compared to directly cutting your pattern pieces. However, it often saves effort, materials, and money in the long run. Tracing really pays off when:
- Working with delicate tissue paper patterns
- Using expensive printed paper patterns
- Making future versions in other sizes
- Adjusting the fit such as the bust, waist, or hips
- Sewing with specialty or expensive fabrics where wasted yardage matters
Many sewists opt to trace for woven fabrics or specialty materials but directly cut into basic cottons or stable knits. It comes down to weighing the benefits versus the time investment based on your particular project needs.
While tracing handmade sewing patterns requires extra time, doing so offers many advantages. You preserve the original pattern, customize sizes and fit, save paper and ink, and end up with easy to work with tracings. Follow the tips in this guide to make tracing patterns as quick and smooth as possible. With practice, you’ll come to appreciate the benefits of this handy technique for perfectly fitted homemade clothes.