Tips for tracing a dressmaking pattern.

There are quite a few reasons you might need or want to trace a dressmaking pattern. I am busy designing and producing children’s wear patterns, I think it can seem like a short lived investment buying a child’s pattern as potentially in 6 months to a year you may need to buy it again, when they have grown to the next size.  However if you trace off the size you need you can keep the original pattern for years to come. My patterns are printed on a heavyweight paper which is much less delicate than the tissue paper that some patterns are printed on, which makes it easy to handle while you trace and easier to preserve for future use. That’s not to say you can’t trace tissue patterns, you definitely can, you just need to handle with extra care.

In the instruction booklet that accompanies my patterns I do suggest tracing the pattern for this reason, however I realised there a few extra tips that some people might find helpful so I decided to enlarge on the subject in this post.

A growing child is not the only reason you might want to trace off a pattern. For example if you want to make style or fit adaptions to your pattern it is a good idea to make a copy and rework this, keeping the original in case things don’t go according to plan or you want to revert back to use for another adaptation or for a different person. Patterns in books or magazines often have the pieces layered up on top of each other so you need to trace them to be able to use them.

Equipment wise there are a few tools that make this an easier job. Firstly it is worth investing in a pattern master or curved ruler and ruler with a right angle.  Even if you never plan to draft your own patterns one of these is a great addition to your kit. It makes life a lot easier for pattern alterations, I use mine for all sorts of dressmaking jobs too.

You will also need a tracing wheel a sharp pencil preferably with a hard lead such as 2H. I used a softer HB lead for this tutorial as the softer lead produces a darker line. I wanted to ensure you would be able to see the lines well enough in the photos. If you do use a softer lead sharpen it regularly to keep your lines as accurate as possible. Its also good to have a rubber, a tape measure and sticky tape or masking tape to hand too.

Then there is the paper. There are several options for paper, ideally you want something wide enough to use without having to join too many times. My favourite is spot and cross pattern making paper. I use this to draft patterns as well as for making pattern copies and alterations. It is one of the most cost effective papers, I now sell it in my online shop. Some people find the spots and crosses a bit distracting, in this case you can just turn it over and use the plain side. There are other options for paper you can use like tracing paper, baking parchment, plain wallpaper lining paper, printing paper and Swedish paper. If your paper is too narrow to fit your pattern piece on you can stick pieces together with sticky tape or masking tape, be careful to try and keep the paper joins flat. Masking tape is the best option as you can lift the tape and readjust if needed.

If you are using a transparent paper you may be able to place the pattern underneath and trace the lines. Place the tracing paper on top of the pattern, work on a flat surface ideally where you can flatten out the whole pattern piece without needing to move it. Weigh the paper down, I find books, magazines and the pattern master are good ways to hold the paper down but it doesn’t really matter as long as it is secure and flat. Use a ruler to trace over the straight lines and mark any curves with a dotted line, you can join the dots bit by bit using the curved edge of the ruler.

If you are using a paper which is not see-through place the paper underneath the pattern and secure in the same way as described above. Make sure you are not working on a precious service like a solid wood table ( if you have a large cutting mat you could place this below your pattern). Use a ruler and a tracing wheel to trace the straight lines, the tracing wheel will make tiny perforations through both papers. Carefully trace any curves stopping as you need to to keep the lines accurate.

Once you take the pattern off to reveal your perforated lines on the pattern paper you can redraw over the lines again using the straight and curved ruler.

Copy any markings, notches and pattern information on to your traced piece. If the grainline runs parallel to one of the lines on your pattern you can use the pattern ruler to mark this in using the parallel lines or right angle to check it is in the correct place. If not trace it through at the same time you trace the pattern.

The last tip I want to share is using an A4 envelope to store your patterns in. I use them when I draft new patterns and also when I make amendments to commercial patterns. They are large enough to fit all the pieces in even when using heavier paper. I have box files designated to different pattern types that keeps them all tided away neatly. You can draw a little sketch of whats inside and make notes about anything specific you want to remember when you are making it. If its a pattern amendment I sometimes cut away the front of the original envelope and stick it to the front of the new envelope making it easier to file along with the others.


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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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