Sewing 201 (things my nana didn’t teach me): Why Trace?


I’ve decided to start a new blog series here on the SewCanShe blog, and I’m calling it Sewing 201. Why? Well I’m assuming that you already sew… no, you already love to sew. So I want to share tips beyond the basic ‘how to sew a straight line’. We already have a bunch of awesome techniques tutorials on the ‘Sewing Technique Tutorials‘ page of our site archives and I won’t repeat any of that. This little blog series will help you sew better, faster, and more like an expert. Yay! 

And… I hope that you will contribute to our Sewing 201 posts by adding your ‘2 cents’ in the comments. Let’s make it fun! 

Today, let’s talk about tracing. I didn’t always trace my pattern pieces. I used to only buy those patterns in envelopes made by the ‘big 4’ pattern companies. Since you can usually get those cheap, cutting the pattern pieces up is no big deal. (Although I would never cut any of these vintage lovelies.)


 With inexpensive ‘big 4’ patterns from the store, if you ever want to make a different size you can just go get another pattern. But what about when you start sewing from patterns like this? There’s no way you can cut out even one pattern piece from this sheet of paper without ruining all the rest. Sewing Burda and Ottobre patterns with sheets like this is what started me tracing. Now I trace almost all my patterns, even the pdf ones. Hey, if I spend an hour taping 20 pages together, another 5 minutes tracing is no big deal and then I can make it again later fast. 


So what should you trace with? I have read tons of opinions on this, and I have come to the conclusion that you should use what works best for you.

The nicest thing available is called Swedish Tracing Paper and it is a dream. It is transparent enough to easily trace through but it is soft like cloth. You can even sew your pattern pieces together with it to test the fit. The downside: It is expensive. I have some, but I save it for those patterns that I know I want to sew over and over again because the pieces will last.

What else? Once I bought a bolt of sew-in interfacing on clearance. After I figured out that I didn’t really like it (fusible interfacing rocks), I decided to use it for tracing pattern pieces. Awesome. I’ve also used ugly opaque fabric. Why not? Freezer paper works well for long pieces (like pants).

But most of the time I use dollar store tissue paper. It’s cheap, easy to see through, and handy to have on hand for wrapping gifts too.

When I’m done sewing something, if I’m not going to make it again immediately I usually throw away my traced pieces and my original pattern is still in almost-mint condition. I especially throw away the pieces if the item was for a child. I mean, by the time I get around to making that same pattern again there is a 99% chance I will need to make a bigger size. Am I right? My 10 year old grows about an inch a week, I swear. 


Here’s the nitty gritty. Use pattern weights to hold your tracing medium down. Trying to hold the tracing paper and trace at the same time will be a major headache.

As you trace, make sure you copy down all of the pattern markings. This is a very helpful exercise because you’ll ‘get to know’ your pattern as you trace the pieces and you’ll be able to very easily find all the design markings later. 


If a particular pattern piece has a straight edge (such as a fold line), you can place the edge of your tracing paper along it and eliminate tracing and cutting that line. 

All right now, give us your input in the comments… Do you trace? What tips can you share? What other topics would you like to see in Sewing 201? 



Sharing is Caring!

Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. πŸ™‚

Similar Posts


  1. My favorite tracing material is an interfacing like material with a one inch grid printed on it. I use it if I am going to reuse the same pattern. The grid is handy for grain lines and fitting. It can be ironed and sewn. I buy a bolt when it is on sale.

    1. Mea Cadwell says:

      This is also what I use. It is exactly as you said – you can sew it and iron it.

  2. I never, ever trace. I know I should, but for bigger pieces I’d have to lay it out on the floor. I wish I had space for a big cutting table! Even as I’m writing, I know I have no excuse.

    In college I had a beautiful drafting space and I guess I’m just spoiled. I know I won’t start tracing, draping, or drafting until I have a better work space. My own stubbornness holds me back!

  3. Hello! Thanks for posting this article. I’m a beginner. Unless we’re talking about a few times a year and/OR 30 plus years ago when I first learned to sew (stopped & recently picked back up) : "With inexpensive ‘big 4’ patterns from the store" is a leap of faith. Regular prices of "The Big 4" on the low end can be $12-$14.00. The average I’ve seen runs $15-$18.00 again, IF they’re not on sale. I’m learning how to trace patterns now.

    Some assume we know what type of paper to buy. Glad you listed. :-). Thank you.

    1. Joann’s has pattern sales on a regular basis. Anywhere from $1 to $4 for the higher end brand. Usually has a limit of 10.(per visit).

      1. Shellflake says:

        Yes, if you are in America and have a Joanne’s πŸ˜‰

        In Australia is $12-18 average for printed patterns, and fabric prices are even worse. You’re very lucky to get $1 patterns!

        1. Hi Shellflake (Shelly???),
          I do feel sorry for our Austrailian and European friends who have to pay so much for fabric. Wish I could fly over there and bring you a suitcase full! πŸ™‚


    2. Hi JC,
      I’m sorry you can’t get the ‘big 4’ patterns at a discounted price, but in my humble opinion… you aren’t missing much. I have had such inconsistent fit using them that I hardly ever buy them anymore… even at $1!

      Thanks for following our new series!


      1. Mea Cadwell says:

        This is why I stopped trying to use them. I draft all my own patterns now.

  4. I have old pads of marker and tracing paper from 20 years ago when I was in art school! Both work very well and are about 24"x30" so minimal taping is required. Not sure of their cost, but I am always a big fan of getting creative with the materials you have on hand! I am really looking forward to this new topic — there are tons of beginner tips and tricks out there, but not as many for the "advanced beginner" or intermediate level.

  5. darlene macdonald says:

    I started to trace last year because I too got sick of ruining my pricey patterns. I clear off my kitchen table, put on good music and go for it. I actually got the idea from Nancy Zieman, (rocking sewing guru). Anything to save some bucks!!! Thanks for the series. Love your pattern weights!!!

  6. I’ve traced a few patterns but I’m still hunting the ideal paper or whatever. Any tutorial for the weights?

  7. I’ve been tracing patterns for years. When my daughters were little, they were just a size or two apart so I didn’t want to buy two of the same pattern. I have also traced my favorite patterns (like pj’s for my husband). I use Easy Pattern which is sold at Jo-Ann’s. It’s 45 in wide, very durable, you can see through it and it doesn’t wrinkle much. I think it’s normally $1.99 a yard but it’s sold with the interfacings and usually a part of that sale, so it’s sold at 50% off a few times a year. I used to work at Jo-Ann’s and Easy Pattern was one of my favorite discoveries.

  8. I was lucky enough to score a roll of light, sew-in interfacing, so I use this for tracing. It’s great when put on the fabric, as it tends to ‘stick’ and not move around like paper would.

  9. I am a landscape designer by trade, and through my work I have an 18" roll of canary tracing paper (similar: ) I love this stuff because it’s strong enough for multiple uses yet sheer enough to easily trace all of the pattern markings. I started tracing patterns for my baby so I could reuse them as he gets bigger. Thanks for posting this useful article!

  10. I learned about tracing back in home ec in junior high. (Another class they don’t teach anymore). But I hadn’t traced very much until lately when I started making multiple baby items like bibs. I decided to use some template plastic found in the quilting supplies – comes as a 12" x 18" and some have a grid printed on it. It’s transparent which is great cause I like to up cycle materials so I wanted to be able to see designs and patterns and line them up before I cut. I had used some old clear report covers before I found this stuff. It’s great for making a template for scraps – I can cut my scraps to a usable size so I’ll be more likely to use them up. Thanks for thinking of sewing 201!

  11. I resisted tracing for a long time,but now Im not sure why.I really need to get some weights

  12. Sometimes I trace patterns. I used to work for a doctor and would take the last few feet of exam table paper that was too short to use. It’s easy to see through and fairly strong. So if you know someone in the medical profession, ask for the leftovers–never, ever used, of course!

  13. I’ve been tracing patterns for years. My favorite paper to use is what we called "doctor paper". It comes in a roll and that roll seems to last forever. It’s a nice width also. I got mine years ago from Nancy’s Notions and it was really cheap. I don’t know if they still sell it or not but it’s great. In a pinch I use cheap tissue paper. It works well, but tears easily.

    1. I keep hearing about this ‘doctor paper’ and it makes me want to sneak into a medical supply store pretending to be someone medical. πŸ™‚

  14. I just traced my first Ottobre pattern–a dress for my granddaughter–and I can hardly wait to get started. Before I read your post, I thought I had to use a bunch of transfer paper, and I was NOT looking forward to that.

    1. Yay, I love Ottobre patterns! Which dress is it? Don’t forget to add seam allowances. The European patterns don’t include them. I’m planning a post on how to do that for sometime in the next few weeks.


  15. Terry Druga says:

    Thanks for Sewing 201. I’ve been sewing for years but I continually learn new things. My most recent frustration is, how to neatly and easily fold over a piece of fabric by 1/4" and press. For instance, a purse handle or a belt might need a long, lengthwise foldover. I’m wondering if there are any tips for getting an accurate 1/4" foldover?

    1. I take a piece of stiff cardboard – like the back of a tablet or the inside piece of a bias tape package. Mark lines at 1/4″, 1/2″ or whatever width you need and use that as a template, folding the fabric over the edge of the cardboard to the line needed and press right on the cardboard. I also use this to mark hems, etc. Works great! Have been doing this since my Mom taught me 52 years ago.

  16. Valentina says:

    I see that no one has mentioned it yet, so decided to share that I usually use parchment paper for tracing my patterns. You can find it at any grocery store. I’m not sure how its price compares to other options, but I find it affordable enough. I actually don’t even buy it specifically for sewing. Since I always have a roll in store in my kitchen for baking, that’s what I grab to tear a piece off whenever I need to trace something.

  17. Selma Johanna Marais says:

    I use vitrace – soft, see-thru and since it’s fabric I can use my rotary cutter or fabric scissors

  18. Natasha Tung says:

    I used to use tissue paper (bought a huge pack from costco at christmas time one year), but I hated having to join pieces together and then I found it tore really easily. While I would loooove to have swedish tracing paper, I just use a really wide roll of tracing paper that I found on Amazon. I save all of my traced patterns in half-letter size yellow clasp envelopes — I tend to reuse sizes because I like to make clothes as gifts.

  19. Shirley Rash says:

    I use roll tracing paper for my business "hobby". I can get it at several places locally. Office supply stores and art supply stores usually carry it. It isn’t real stiff, you can see the pattern underneath easily and you get a lot for about $17 or $18 dollars. If you do a little research, you can find it cheaper, but it will probably not be as wide a roll. That would be OK if you are only tracing doll or kid patterns.I use it mainly for cloth doll patterns and doll clothes patterns, but do trace patterns for regular clothing sewing too.

  20. Lisa Lynn Lee says:

    Making clothes for growing grandkids I trace all the different sizes on the pattern and cut them out of paper. I’ve had a huge roll of white paper for years, I don’t remember where I got it and I use it for everything from tracing patterns to letting the grandkids color on it. One of the best reasons to trace patterns is then you can alter the fit.

  21. Ritz Sagritalo-Young says:

    Someone asked about 1/4" fold overs…I made a square in Photoshop, then placed a solid line 1/4" in from one edge. Print at 100% on card stock. Place on fabric, fold fabric over and iron while card stok is still in place. Viola, 1/4" ironed fold.

    1. Ritz Sagritalo-Young says:

      Oh and just keep sliding your card stock up if it’s longer than your square.

  22. Mary Ann Glenn says:

    My husband bought me a big roll of white paper from the restaurant section of Sam’s club. ( It was a first year anniversary present… Paper). It has lasted for years and I can cut off what I need.

  23. Barbara Showell says:

    Many times I will lay they weighted down pattern on top of the fabric and draw the cutting lines and markings by slipping below the pattern and directly onto the fabric. Works well with the big 4, probably not with the Burda etc.

  24. Joyce Brown says:

    My go-to tracing material is clear plastic bags!…those from dry cleaning, newspaper deliveries, those used in the packaging of boxed items, or basically any type of clear bag. They are nice and clear, sturdy, you can see really well as you trace, they fold up better than paper, and they are totally free! I use different colors of permanent markers to mark the lines and different sizes, if needed with no leak-through! This is a really great way to go "green" and to re-purpose those plastic bags! I have used this method for 30+ years and the early patterns are still as good as when I first traced them! Give it a try!

  25. Patricia Rivers says:

    I’ve still a beginner after 8 or more years off and on. I buy the rolls of tracing paper from Ultrecht art supply. I also want to hold on to my patterns as long as possible so I don’t mind tracing certain pieces of my patterns. I recently had to cut into one of my patterns because I needed the smaller size But I wish I traced it because if I needed the larger size in the future I’d have to figure out how to alter it. I just don’t want to buy copy of a pattern I already have. So for me tracing is the way to go on certain parts of the pattern.

  26. Mary Lata says:

    What is the easiest way to transfer markings onto fabric?

  27. I have always traced. I just cut out a couple patterns trying something new and will never go back. I put my pattern on my fabric then, using a rotary cutter pierced the pattern size lines I was making in intervals making a dotted line. When I lifted my pattern, I just connected the "dots". I marked my pattern using taylor’s tacks then when I’m ready to sew, I mark with a disappearing ink pen. So much easier and I can mark either the right or wrong side without leaving marks.

  28. Orma Jean Roe says:

    Sounds good to me

  29. crazy as it sounds, I use the paper from the doctors offices that is used on the exam tables. I bought a box of it several years ago and still have a couple of rolls left. Usually wide enough for most projects, just cut off what you need and go to work.

  30. I get end rolls of newsprint paper from the Newspaper office. They are $3 a roll and last me about a year. I trace the pattern with a sharpie, and I use a different color for each size. Then the sharpie bleeds through the purchased pattern onto the newsprint. It never fails, if I make a pattern and don’t trace it, then someone always wants that pattern for them in a larger size of course. If I want to use multiple sizes, I can trace it on the tissue and cut it out of the newsprint. If something goes wrong, I didn’t ruin my purchased pattern.

  31. I like to use large washers from the nuts-and-bolts section of the hardware store as inexpensive, yet effective, pattern weights.

  32. I’ve never transferred a pattern but have been recently considering it.
    This article was very helpful! Good advice. Thank you!

  33. Thanks for this new series. I’m looking forward to learning some of the new "tricks of the trade" to make my projects look a little more professional and to learn some time-saving techniques.

  34. Great tips. I usually cut mine out but recently bought a book where the patterns looks like the above. This blog is so useful!
    Also, where did you get your pattern weights? I’ve been looking for something similar myself.

    Many thanks

  35. I do trace my all of my patterns and the paper that I use is the one that doctors put on top of the examining table. It comes on a roll and is cheap !

  36. Carolina, where do you get your paper

  37. I trace. I miss the old patterns where you could just buy the ONE size you needed for a smaller price, and use it!! I too have used the Swedish tracing paper no it is great, but as you said expensive. I now use rolls of parchment paper. And I love it! A pencil or fine tip sharpie works well on it, and, if you do want to save it (like baby bubbles from heirloom patterns used to make things for baby gifts) then you never have to tr e that one again.

  38. I’m using parchment/ cooking paper … works great for me … see through enough and can last for long for reusing

  39. I track out the pieces that I know I need to make adjustments on and cut the remainder. I try to buy my patters when the are $1-3 and in some cases use them for ideas alone. Now that pinterest has arrived, I may buy less and "pin" more so I’m using my electronic boards in a more creative way. I got my tracing paper on Amazon and thought I was buying more than anyone would ever need – and not only do I love it, but my cat has become quite attached to the scraps. Trace on!

  40. I had never traced until recently. Don’t like it, just because I’m lazy. Do you have any tips for how to sort out all the lines on the pattern pieces for several garments? I find them confusing.

  41. I have been sewing since I was 12 – almost 50 years (you do the math lol). I have never traced a pattern but since reading your blog I will!! Years ago you would get several sizes in a pattern and could use it as the kids grew and the pattern was 50 cents but now the pattern companies combine the sizes on one sheet and charge $15 for the pattern!! I like one readers idea of getting pattern weights from the hardware store. Guess what I’m doing this weekend lol
    I enjoy your posts and follow you on Facebook and have created many of your projects. I’ve always said you are never to old to learn!! Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge, ideas and creativity!

  42. Rosemary W says:

    I always trace…I’m a messy cutter so I use freezer paper and then iron my pieces to the fabric…then it’s easier for me to cut. πŸ™‚

  43. Susie Baker says:

    Do you by any chance do video tutorials? I personally don’t have much time to read tutorials but I like to watch and listen to them while I’m doing housework. Plus it’s easier to understand when someone is actually explaining something.
    For tracing, I use the pattern tracing cloth sold at the local fabric store. It’s durable, easy to use, won’t crumble or wrinkle, very wide, etc..
    My two cents. πŸ™‚

  44. Wow so I just bought 2 patterns that I’ll be using to make multiple sized items from and was thinking last night the best way to create the other size patterns off of the original so I didn’t have to buy multiple patterns. I have made my own personal patterns from card stock taped together .. but working off a professional pattern I know that will be different .. I’m fine with tracing .. just wondered if anyone has ever cut the pattern pieces out Full size and then taken them to say Kinkos/UPS copy store and had them copied multiple times and then cut them down to the sizes you need ? Seems like that would work unless I’m not thinking it out completely .. ?

  45. I’ve actually recently made the decision to do the opposite.
    Tracing the patterns to save money was putting me off making the garments as it just seems to take so long so now I’m just going to cut out the size I need and buy a new pattern if I have to.

  46. Nicola Inglis says:

    i use non fusible light interfacing to trace my patterns

  47. Sally Barden says:

    I always trace patterns as they can be quite expensive. Sometimes I use the embroidery tear away stabiliser as I bought a whole roll which will last forever!

  48. I picked up a box of big washers from Habitat for a couple of dollars years ago when I first started sewing and I go to the craft store and buy artist tracing paper with a 50% off coupon reducing the cost to much of nothing. I use a sharpie to trace and write all the information. It works like a charm!!

  49. Never traced but have a couple of magazine patterns that require tracing. After reading your blog I feel more confident to give it a go.

  50. Sarah de Roos says:

    I trace pretty much all of my patterns because I use the expensive ones not from the big 4. I use lightweight sew-in interfacing and love it.
    I do have a question. I used a permanent fine tipped marker to trace my pattern a couple of times. I found that when I used my blue washable pen to transfer markings it transferred a bit of the permanent ink to my fabric. Luckily I got it out with a special stain remover for ink. What do you use to trace the pattern onto your paper or interfacing?
    Sarah in Germany

  51. Suzanne Hayes says:

    I despise tracing. With a passion. I’d rather buy the size I need, trim and be done. I just can’t stand the tedium and time consuming nature of tracing. Just hate it. LOL.

  52. brendalynne1 says:

    thank you for 201.!! One of my challenges is that I always used my foldup gridded cutting board (no rotaries for this one) on our floor. Well, this is a challenge when one is in their senior years. (cannot get back up off the floor easily)
    This is so nice to have your tutorial and opening the comments up to seasoned sewists is great. THANK YOU

  53. Love the dollar store tissue idea! I did purchase the type of pattern making material with 1 inch grid marks on it. Keeping the straight grain line on point was always a challenge, but not with the grid. Tends to be pricey, but I rarely sew fashion items anymore.

  54. I always trace my patterns on freezer paper. That way I can iron the pattern right to my fabric. No pinning for me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *