How to make tracing sewing patterns as painless as possible

Inevitably the first time you open up a sewing pattern magazine, you pull out the pattern sheet. The first thing that strikes you is all.the.lines. If you go cross-eyed, know that it’s happened to the best of us.

So let’s talk about how to trace sewing patterns without going blind, plus some basic tools that’ll get you through the process.

Tools for tracing from sewing pattern magazines

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Paper for tracing sewing patterns

tracing papers
medical exam paper left, soil separator cloth right
  • medical exam paper –this will keep you in the pattern paper game for a really long time for a fraction of Swedish tracing paper’s price
  • Soil Separator cloth: another paper alternative. Home Depot has the best price, and it’s usually in the store in the garden department. It’s transparent, super wide at 36″, and durable.
  • Swedish tracing paper: this is nice, but if you trace a lot of patterns, it’s pricey per yard. Honestly the soil separator is almost as good and significantly less expensive
  • clear vinyl or shower curtains: completely transparent and extra strong! You might have to look to get a good price/yard. This wins the cool award! I learned this one from Helena of Clothes Making Mavens.
  • Tissue paper: super cheap, and readily available.

Tools for adding seam allowances

  • Double tracing wheel: these things are cool! Trace along your traced line and the second wheel will make a perforated line to cut on at the same time. Adjust seam allowance width from between 1/4″-1 1/4″.
  • Prym parallel tracing wheel: This looks interesting, though I haven’t tried it. The idea is that it traces with chalk while you trace along your seam line with the wheel. Cool in theory!
  • My favorite tool that Olfa stopped making: This works like the double tracing wheel, but it’s a little guide arm for your rotary cutter. So you trace and CUT at the same time. It’s brilliant, than all the sad faces when Olfa stopped making it. I’ve wasted so many hours of my life trying to find another one on Ebay or other places.
  • ruler: lacks the nifty factor, and definitely slower than the above choices, but it won’t let you down.
olfa rotary cutter guide arm
When they discontinue a really handy gadget 🙁

How to trace a sewing pattern

First, get your sewing pattern magazine. Flip to the page with all the models on it so that you know where to go.

Next, find the pattern number and the page where the instructions are.

Once you’re there, locate the pattern sheet and the color of the line you’re tracing.

This jacket for my son is “sheet C, blue line” for example.

Remove the staple from to remove the pattern sheet from the middle of the magazine, then find the sheet that you need.

Look at the diagram in the instructions. How many pieces are you tracing, and what are their numbers?

Next, look at the bottom edges of each sheet. The pattern sheets work just like a map grid. Find a number and move up or across along that same line to find the pattern piece number you need.

From there, place your chosen tracing paper over the pattern piece. I like to use pattern weights along the edges of a piece so I can clearly see where it is. You can also use a highlighter to outline what you need to trace.

For the love of all that is good and holy, trace in good light! If you need to do a big pattern like a coat with a million little pieces, give your eyes a break after 25 minutes or so.

how to use sewing pattern magazines: traced pattern pieces
Label everything!

Be sure to leave enough space between pattern pieces to add seam allowances.

When you’ve traced all your pieces, add the seam and hem allowances. Be sure to mark the pattern #, magazine issue, size, and pattern piece number or description on each piece. That way you won’t get confused later.

When you’re all done, fold the pattern sheet up the same way you unfolded it. It’s just like folding a map! Store traced patterns in large envelopes like manila folders or plastic portfolios.

Sewing magazines worth trying out and where to get them

You can buy all of these magazines straight from the source. They can be bought as single issues in many cases or as a subscription. I tend to preview magazines on their websites and buy them as single issues.

You can get creative here and buy them on Ebay, Amazon marketplace. I’ve even bought many from the classified ads on Patternreview.

It should be noted that many are in different languages not just English. The diagrams will tell you everything you need to know in most cases. In the rest, you can have some serious entertainment with Google translate.

List of Sewing pattern magazines

Here’s a good list of pattern magazines that offer patterns for women. I also noted the magazines with patterns for men, and sewing magazines for children’s clothing where applicable.

BurdastyleGerman magazine, but available in several different languages. Burdastyle’s US site you can download patterns individually as PDFs. Finding a link for the newest issue/where to subscribe can be a little dicey. Link is to a UK site. I often preview an issue on the Russian Burda. Patterns mostly for women, with a few children’s patterns in each issue and occasionally men’s patterns.
Ottobre DesignFinnish magazine. They offer great basics with excellent details. Instructions are clear, though brief. You can use these for years to come. Ottobre Woman has issues for women, there’s a kids’ version with patterns from baby-tweens, and a Family issue with patterns for men and older teens as well as women. The kids’ version does hands down the best job of balancing girls’ styles with boys’ styles. If you’ve ever thought that boys patterns are seriously lackluster, Ottobre will prove you wrong!
My ImageDutch magazine published by Made by Oranges. I personally love their photography–it’s very real life! You can buy individual patterns or the whole issue online. Definitely beginner friendly.
B TrendyA kids’ pattern magazine also published by Made by Oranges. Fun trendy styles for girls, although it looks like they’ve expanded to include some stuff for the guys too. Boy Mom win!
La Maison VictorDutch magazine. Like Burdastyle, they have individual patterns for sale on their website, though you can pick up a copy of the magazine at these shops in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. Patterns for women + kids
La Mia BoutiqueItalian magazine: super chic styles!
ModellinaMore Italian sewing goodness!
PatronesA Spanish sewing magazine. So.much.fashion. The only downside is that every pattern only comes in 3 sizes, so you might have to do some extra work if you fall outside a given range for a pattern. Definitely stalk the Ebay for spare copies.

So that should get you started with sewing pattern magazines. If you’ve not tried them, I hope you’re feeling encouraged to embrace the trace!

I need more sewing tips in my life! Check these out:

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6 Comments

  1. I much prefer pattern magazines for all the reasons you mention. I have 20+ years of Burda style in my stash, and know exactly what I need to do to fit. It’s a great resource when I want to make something, and can almost always hack or Frankenstein what I want. I suspended my subscription in April because it was getting repetitive, and not enough patterns in each issue I wanted to make, when their individual pattern downloads are so cheap. I also just discovered Indies last year and am trying out staples in one’s with cup sizes. Only a couple even come close to covering my size (regular 10/40 with G/H bust), so still lots of adjustments. Mostly Burda is easier, and having to double handle seam allowances really bugs me.

    • I find myself always looking through my magazines before I go and buy another pattern. Very often I can find something similar or within hacking distance of what it is that I want to make. I’m with you too on the consistency in Burda. It’s so nice to know exactly what you need to do to alter a pattern. In some ways it’s wonderful that there’s so many indies to serve every body type out there, but there will always be that little learning curve with every company since everyone’s draft is slightly different.

  2. I do love my sewing magazines but hardly turn to them. The tracing is often much faster than printing and taping, especially since I usually end up tracing my printouts anyway!

    I love that olfa tool. My mom has one – I don’t understand why they discontinued it!

    • I know–what was Olfa thinking?!!! It’s the best little gadget. It’s so true–I end up tracing a lot of PDFs as well because the paper is so bulky and difficult to alter.

      • VERY dangerous post Elizabeth! ($ links $) I’m definitely on team trace, and my hand is raised 🙂

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