Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sheer Ease: Plastic Pattern Tracing Tutorial

HotPatterns 1090 Uptown/Downtown dress, traced onto plastic

     One of the things that keeps me from sewing more is fear of cutting into original patterns.  I like to preserve the full range of pattern sizes, and I've tried many different methods to transfer patten to fabric without cutting the pattern paper - paper taping/tracing, copying and piecing, dressmaker's transfer paper, folding back sizes, etc.  I recently read about tracing onto painter's plastic in the Pattern Review book, gave it a try, and was just giddy with the result.  I thought I'd share this great technique with you here.

     First, you'll need some plastic.  I got 4 mil thickness heavy-duty plastic sheeting on an 8' x 100' roll at my local home improvement store for about $35.00 (this thing will last me forever - I'll probably be sewing stuff for my grandkids and still have some of this plastic left!) .  This is the type of plastic you'd hang to protect fixtures and windows during a home renovation, so it's pretty sturdy:

     Next, iron your entire, uncut pattern tissue (for this demonstration, I used Vogue 8251), and place it on a flat, clean surface.  Place a sheet of plastic over it, ensuring that the plastic is large enough to accommodate all the pattern pieces you need.  I've found that laying the plastic on top of a whole, uncut sheet of pattern tissue is easier than trying to trace separate pattern pieces - a whole sheet is much less likely to shift under the plastic than an individual pattern piece.

     ... and as you can see, we've got several creases in our plastic.  Fix this by folding the plastic in the opposite direction of the crease, along the creaseline:

     ... and the plastic will flatten out nicely.  Next, weigh the plastic and pattern tissue down with pattern weights, household nick-naks, canned goods, whatever.  I like to position mine in locations which won't require too much moving around in order to to trace the pattern.

     And we're ready to trace with a fine-tip, permanent marker.  I've done this several times now, and find that I like to work right to left, top to bottom, to prevent my hand from smudging parts that I've traced as I move through the different pattern pieces.  I'm left-handed, so a right-handed person may want to work left to right, top-to-bottom to avoid smudging. 

     I've also found that I like to trace the outline of the pattern first, using a straight edge or french curve when possible...

... then trace the pattern markings (dart points, attachment points, grain lines, etc)...

... then the pattern piece name, size, and cutting instructions (to save time, you can just write this stuff on the plastic yourself; I like to trace it because my handwriting isn't always so good):

     This way, if the plastic shifts mid-trace, I can always just line up the outline of the pattern piece and go from there.  You can either trace the entire sheet of pattern pieces, or just the ones that you need for whatever view you're making.  On this pattern, I went ahead and traced all of the pattern pieces (not just the pieces needed for my upcoming project) because I anticipate making the other views in the future.  If you like, you can also shift the plastic and trace the pieces closer together to prevent waste.  If I mess up when tracing, I just scribble through the mistake so I don't get confused by it later.

     And voila!  We now have the pattern in the size we want, replicated on sturdy plastic.  Next, I like to cut roughly around each pattern piece, then cut the pattern lines with a rotary cutter.

     Here's the entire set of pattern pieces for Vogue 8251, cut and traced in my size:

     I make a copy of the instructions to keep with the plastic tracing so I can preserve the original instructions.  I stack the pattern pieces, longest on bottom, shortest on top, roll them up with the copied instructions, rubber band them, and place a sticky-note on the outside stating the pattern name, number, size, and view.  And there you have it!  The plastic is great because it's durable, sheer (good for matching patterns/stripes!), and can be recycled once it has outlived its usefulness.  When using the plastic tracing, you can take a hole punch or rotary cutter and cut into the plastic (such as cutting an X inside a circular pattern marking) so you can reach the underlying fabric to transfer dart points and other pattern markings.

     It currently takes me about an hour to copy one entire sheet of pattern tissue, depending on how many pattern pieces are involved (this pattern had 2 sheets of pattern tissue).  I'll get faster at it the more I do it, and it has really helped me bypass the hurdle of not wanting to cut into patterns.  Do you trace your patterns?  What material do you use?


Stacie said...

I use Swedish Tracing paper so I can sew it up for a rough fit, but I love this idea! Thanks!

Amy said...

I've never used Swedish Tracing paper before - I'll have to check that out! Thanks for stopping by : )

Deja Chick said...

I currently use Swedish tracing paper, but one of the issues I do have with it is that it is often not a wide enough sheet for me to trace an entire sheet like this example. I'm going to have to see if we Quebecer's can find this type of material (plastic sheeting) here. I already order the Swedish tracing paper through the US (they have no idea what I am talking about when I mention it here), so if worse comes to worse, I'll pick some up on my next US trip.

Thanks for a great blog!


Nothy said...

Thank you for this tutorial. I was considering using those cheap clear tableclothes from the dollar store but now I will use the heavy duty plastic sheeting you suggested.
Nothy Lane

Nothy Lane said...

They sell it at Home Depot in Ontario so I bet you can get it in Quebec. Good luck.

Amy said...

Nothy and Deja, I'm glad that this stuff is available in Canada! It's super-easy to use if you can get ahold of it. The sheet plastic is way better than the thin tablecloth plastic. The only thing you have to be careful of is not to press down too hard with your writing utensil or pull on it in any other way, because it can stretch and distort if pulled enough. You're welcome for the tutorial - thanks for checking it out!

Schaulis said...

THANK YOU! I was trying to figure out what kind of flexible, yet sturdy plastic I could use to transfer patterns. Like you, I'm very hesitant about cutting up original patterns, but this will save me the anxiety! (I usually just draft my own patterns for fear of cutting up patterns)Now I might actually get all my projects done! Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea. I've been using Pellon Tru-Grid, I like it b/c it's transparent enough to trace right thru, it has a grid and I sew it up and use it in place of a muslin. I get mine at JoAnn's in case anyone wants to know. I love your idea too.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of grid but I way prefer plastic sheeting to Pellon. Trying to find the plastic that is actually clear like I used to have. I've used plastic all my life but I'm waiting for someone to start printing a grid on clear plastic.

Tina Boles said...

Amy, what a great idea. I do quite a bit of sewing and many times have to do multiple sizes of the same pattern. This is ideal not to have to cut into my actual pattern and fear misplacing smaller pieces. Can't wait to try your technique. This is a big help thank you. Look forward to more ideas from you. Tina