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Tracing off patterns – easier way?

kjp | Posted in General Sewing Info on

Ok – this may sound like a really simplistic question, but here goes.  I’m doing much of my sewing from Burda WOF.  There has got to be an easier way to trace off patterns than what I’ve tried.  So far, my best method is to use tracing paper on top of the pattern outline sheet and trace in pencil.  Then add seam allowances with the double tracing wheel I just purchased.  I tried to do it in one step – with the paper on the bottom and tracing paper in between, but it didn’t work very well – came out uneven. 

My thought for a better way is some kind of double tracing pen/pencil with ink, so I can trace and add seam allowances together.  Since my sewing instruction was using commercial patterns, I’ve never seen what others do to trace off patterns.  So – does anyone have a painless method to do this???  I hate this part of the process, but the burda patterns seem to be worth the effort!   


  1. ShannonG4d | | #1

    When I did the international patterns article, I traced a LOT of patterns.  They are a bit challenging sometimes, but  I do have a method that I think is faster and easier than what you are doing.

    Put the paper UNDER the pattern.  Trace it with the pinpoint wheel, using firm, even pressure.  You then remove the pattern sheet to find a series of pricks in the paper.  You may then add the seam allowances and cut out the pattern.  I generally don't add seam allowances at this point, preferring to do alterations to the pattern first for personal fit.  I may also trace the pattern onto my test muslin, adding the seam allowances at that time.

    If you are using a double tracing wheel with sharp points, you will be able to trace your seam allowances at the same time as tracing the pattern.  This might be a good idea if you prefer to have seam allowances at the beginning of the process.

    I actually found this method to be a bit more accurate than putting the tracing paper on top. I was less likely to have the paper slide around, as the pinpoint pricks held the paper together lightly until I peeled them apart.  It's not foolproof, but it's MUCH easier on the eyes!

    Shannon Gifford

    1. kjp | | #3

      Aha!  I was trying to sandwich the colored tracing paper between my pattern and my tissue/paper.  Definitely wasn't working!  I think I'll try tracing with my olfa mat underneath.  I have lots of gorgeous fabrics for tshirts from emmaonesock and burda wof has some great patterns in the past couple of issues.  Since they're stretch, I'm not doing many alterations, just length and blending sizes for the waist.  Speed is of the essence!  Think I need to get a roll of freezer paper, too.  The tissue I'm using probably is not the best choice.  karin

      1. SewNancy | | #8

        I also don't like to add the sas when I trace the pattern.  I always have to alter and it is easier to alter without the sas.  Also, I don't add the same size sas to all seams.  I like to use 1/4"  for enclosed seams, such as neck and pocket, no trimming.  I also can tape the pattern pieces together instead of pinning and I don't get pricked.  I then cut it apart to use.  I have never tried using the double pointed tracing wheel the way Shannon suggest and I am going to do that for my nect project.


        1. kjp | | #9

          I agree with the seam allowances, depending on the project.  I also use different seam allowances, especially where I will serge.  What I really want is a little elf to do all my altering and cutting!

        2. rekha | | #10

          Nancy, how do you test your muslin without seam allowances?

          1. SewNancy | | #12

            I add sas for a muslin, but I test the paper pattern first, often on my dress form. 


          2. rekha | | #13

            One of you in this forum suggested that the dress form didn't quite give as good results as one would by draping on the body to check for fit. Do you find that?

            Edited 4/19/2005 9:00 am ET by rekha

          3. SewNancy | | #14

            Yes and no.  I found that fitting the armskye is not really possble, or at least I can't. But, you can see the back better and the if it hangs evenly.  I made one with duct tape and it is pretty accurate and really pinpoints the areas of fit that are hard to see otherwise.  Part of the problem that I have had is interpreting the wrinkles.  But, Kenneth Kings method that was in Threads article is very helpful and his pants moulage goes into it further.  It works best on a muslin, not a paper pattern but it gives the best method for translating adjustments back to the pattern that I have seen.


          4. rekha | | #15

            >>Part of the problem that I have had is interpreting the wrinkles

            I got hold of Fitting your figure by Threads, which is a collection of some past articles but I wouldn't do without this book now. Nancy Zieman's article in it analyses the wrinkles and when you look at the pictures you wonder why you weren't able to interpret them yourself. Apart from which it has articles on grading patterns; I absolutely love it. Look at the description in  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/156158083X/qid=1113920599/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/102-0634716-6499308?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

  2. Zoelee | | #2

    When cutting out your pattern use a olfa cutter with the attachment which allows you to add the seam allowance as you cut. 

    1. kjp | | #4

      Thanks!  I've done it that way, too.  Seems to work pretty well.  Going to give Shannon's method a try today. 

    2. SewNancy | | #7

      I had one of those and the attachment broke.  Do you know any source for purchasinga new one? 


  3. Elaray | | #5

    Shannon's method sounds great and I plan to try it . But, I use the Pivot and Slide technique to add width to the bust and waist of my patterns. I mark the pivot points and adjustment lines directly on the pattern, lay the tracing paper on top and trace it off -- the hard way -- pivoting and sliding as I go. If there is an easier way to make adjustments while tracing off the patterns, PLEASE SHARE!

    1. kjp | | #6

      What I do may not work for the bust area adjustments, but definitely works for waist and hips.  Burda WOF has multisized patterns.  Since they are very consistent in measurements, this makes it easy. 

      For a top:

      I choose my size based on Bust measurement. 

      Then compare the waist measurement to my own (I'm usually a little bigger) and find the correct size for my waist. 

      I trace the two sizes onto my tissue. 

      Then I "blend" the two sizes using my french curve. 

      I have to make length adjustments as well, which I usually make by sliding the pattern.  I usually do this after tracing the pattern, because I have a hard time following the lines.  I make my length adjustments before blending the sizes.

      This works very well for small adjustments and simple patterns without many shaping darts. 

      Note that this is a short cut!  If the adjustments are larger or more complex, it probably won't work.  Also, if I'm making a first garment using this method, I cut 1" seam allowances at the cb or sides to allow for adjustments.  I've been using it for years for pants and skirts since I have more ample hips, though my waist is starting to show my age lately. -grin-

  4. JennyNZ | | #11

    I have been using Burda patterns for over ten years.  I would only purchase commercial (tissue) patterns once a year now, over the years I have developed a method for Burda that works for me.

    I must note that I grade the patterns up as I'm in between the standard and the plus sizes.  This is because there is more variety in the smaller sizes and the plus sizes  that I have tried don't come up as tailored as I like.  (I also enjoy pattern making more than sewing).

    I use light weight non-fusible non-woven interfacing to trace with as it is cheap and it doesn't rip like tracing paper.  It also is easy to pin and shape over my dress form.

    Using ball-point pens (felts bleed) I start by drawing lines through the corners of all sizes so that when grading I can make sure the intersection points remain the same, I use the same principle for adding the seam allowances.  This results in accurate pattern.

    Burda patterns I have found to have consistent sizing, i.e. I can trust that I can make the same adjustments to each pattern and they will always turn out the same.

    Another trick is to make a gingham check mock-up, because if it looks good in gingham it looks really good in other fabric.  It also helps in adjusting when you don't have a helper too. 

    I am now building up quite a collection of master blocks using these methods.

    Good luck with Burda, it is well worth ppersevering

    1. kjp | | #16

      JennyNZ wrote:  must note that I grade the patterns up as I'm in between the standard and the plus sizes.  This is because there is more variety in the smaller sizes and the plus sizes  that I have tried don't come up as tailored as I like.  (I also enjoy pattern making more than sewing).

      I tried one plus sized pattern from Burda WOF this winter.  I am also between sizes (on the bottom) and small boned.  I found a remarkable difference between the regular styles I've made and the plus ones.  I am sticking to the regular ones for the same reason.  Although I need to grade up a little, I have found that I like the fit of the more tailored patterns. 

      1. ShannonG4d | | #17

        I completely agree with the discussion about Plus size WOF and "standard" WOF.  I don't like as much ease in my garments as is given in the Plus patterns.  I will say that I find the Burda Plus patterns to be more accurately graded in the shoulder/neck area than some other companies' plus patterns. 


        1. kjp | | #18

          I agree with the shoulder/neck grading.  I have a very comfy & loose sweatsuit (made as a muslin from stretch velour $1./yd sale).  Too loose for my taste, though! 

  5. bel | | #19

    I just spent our ANZAC day long weekend tracing and drafting patterns. A couple of things that might be useful - firstly, hubby owns a huge light table (about 80cm x 110 cm) with pretty powerful flouro lights inside - a luxury for tracing patterns, even ones on opaque paper (try holding a bit of paper to your computer screen - you can still see the paper backlit). Can be confusing if the pattern is printed both sides. But it beats my older method of taping the pattern and the tracing paper to the window!

    He has a smaller one too that he made when he was a student - it wouldn't be hard to make one of these (it's basically just a timber box with a ply back, with fluoro light tubes mounted inside, and a cord and a switch on the outside, with a groove that holds a piece of thick opaque glass or perspex level with the top edge of the light box).

    Also, I just recently got hold of some Reynolds freezer paper - I've seen it mentioned in US articles for years, and recently found my local sewing shop selling it for quilters. (There's no equivalent that I know of here in Austrtalia) It cost me $13.95 AUD for a roll! (that's at least $10 USD). I envy all of you that can buy it with your groceries!

    It was a great success as a seam allowance guide - after tracing/drafting and cutting out the patterns (I use large offcuts of map printing paper that I can get from work). I cut 3cm wide strips of freezer paper, folded down the centre, and matched the fold with the outline of the pattern. Then ironed it on to the pattern clipping both edges to within a mm or two of the fold each side where it needed to go round bends. On outside curves (where the clipped paper opens up) I just welded another strip of paper right over the top and cut around the outline. Presto! Seam allowances!

    I even 'spot-welded' the waxy seam allowance edges around the outside of the pattern onto the fabric before cutting out some pants for my daughter - magic! No pins, no weights!

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