How to Trace a Sewing Pattern

We’re back to beginner basics this week on Sew Feminine and today we start with arguing the case for tracing our patterns. It seems as though home sewists are in one of two camps on this: they either love the organizational and preservationist aspect of tracing or they simply don’t have the time.

So why do it? If you’ve just picked up sewing, you may not realize how useful it is to make copies of your pattern. Whether you’re buying modern patterns from sources like Joann, purchasing from Indie pattern companies, or (like me) collecting as many vintage patterns as your back account will allow, making an exact copy helps a great deal.


First, these patterns are precious. They are the key element in building your custom wardrobe. And while they may seem like cheap tissue paper, over the course of a year, these seemingly small expenses really do add up. Tracing allows you to retain a fresh copy that you’ll never have to pin, tear, or spill coffee on. With a copy, you’re free to make adjustments and alteration notes right there on the copy without having to damage the the original.

In the case of vintage, some of these patterns are 80, count ’em, 80 YEARS OLD. Do I really want to handle my 1930s midi skirt pattern more than once or twice? Probably not. That baby is almost as old as my grandmother, has survived a World War, and is one of an ever depleting supply of relics documenting style and construction techniques of it’s time. Do I want to run the risk of tearing it’s delicate fibers every time I pull it out of it’s envelope? No. How cool will it be if, someday, we hand our grand-daughters well preserved collections of early to mid-twentieth century sewing patterns?

Of course this process takes time, patience, and a bit of storage space, but you’ll thank your self when you’re able to turn to the same pattern over and over again without worrying about deterioration.

Key Tools

Tracing patterns is super simple. You don’t need to invest in much to get yourself going. Outside of a pencil and a sharpie you will need a French Curve, clear ruler, and tracing paper.



Ironing Your Pattern

You want the pattern to lay flat so you can accurately mark all lines so, iron you must! Scary, I know. Make sure to set the iron at a low temperature and turn off the steam. Be sure to test the temperature by pressing a small corner of the tissue paper first. If all goes well gently press the entire pattern so to flatten the fold lines. You can also place a towel between the pattern and the iron.



My options for work surfaces are a black dining room table or a green self healing cutting mat with a grid, so I end up sandwiching my pattern between two pieces of tracing paper — one layer of tracing paper on the bottom, then my pattern piece, and then another layer of tracing paper on top. The white paper on the bottom helps make the thin black lines more visible.


Make sure to mark all seam lines, notches, grain lines, darts, lengthen/shorten and waist/hip lines. Everything. Copy all instructions indicated on the pattern piece (i.e. “Center line, place on fold”) so you are sure of what to do when you go to use this copy in the coming months/years. Don’t forget to add the brand, pattern number, pattern piece letter, and size (also for future reference).


Obviously, straight lines can be done with the ruler, however, I do a lot of free handing. Do this in pencil first, and when you’re satisfied with the quality, go over with the Sharpie. The French curve is used for the arches of sleeves, and the curve arm holes, waist and hips lines.


That’s pretty much it! Tracing patterns can be time consuming. I usually knock my tracing out in the evenings after work. With only a few hours to dedicate to sewing each night, I’ll prep that pattern and cut fabric over the course of one evening and then begin sewing the next day. Sewing is a process and I look at the time and effort put into tracing as part of the deal.


Happy tracing!



4 thoughts on “How to Trace a Sewing Pattern

  1. Great job explaining the WHY we need to do this work — before we begin to sew. Decades old patterns need protecting and we can all do our part! Awesome job with your transfer info! Everything looks fabulous!

  2. Fantastic! If I were a beginner sewist, I would have been able to follow these instructions very well! Excellent job simplifying and explaining the importance of tracing patterns!

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