Thursday, April 1, 2010

Perfect Pattern Tracing Paper: A Love Story

It's a story as old as time itself: girl meets perfect pattern tracing material, girl loses perfect pattern tracing material, girl tries to find solace in arms of one substandard flimsy scratchy hard-to-write-on tracing material after another... girl finds perfect pattern tracing material and sews happily ever after!

They (and by "they" I mean Carolyn in a recent blog post, but she sparked quite a discussion!) say that some seamstresses/seamsters are Cutters and some are Tracers.

Well, once upon a time I was a Cutter. I'd buy a pattern, cut a size 12 or 14, make any adjustments directly to the delicate tissue, and hope it worked out. Sometimes it did...

And sometimes it didn't, as with the New Look faux wrap dress that turned out four sizes too big. But alas! The pattern was cut and there was no going back to try a smaller size. If I wanted to try it again... I'd have to buy it again.

Living in NYC, nowhere near those $1.99 pattern sales, this was no small expense.

Then there's the magazine formerly known as Burda World of Fashion--tracing is NOT optional. So I was a subscriber from 2005 to 2007—and never MADE A SINGLE THING. And so, during my Knitting Years, I sold all my back issues on Ebay.

All due to an irrational fear of tracing.

I did flirt here and there with various materials, based on tips gleaned from the PatternReview message boards: regular wrapping tissue paper, newsprint, multipurpose printer paper, sketch paper, artist's tracing paper. I even ordered some mysterious "Pattern Tracing Material" from Nancy's Notions. But they were all either too flimsy or too thick, too opaque or too transparent, or the sheets were just too tiny to trace an entire pattern in one piece. It was a serious Goldilocks situation.

And then Everything Changed. I took a fabulous beginning serger class this January ("Sweating With Your Serger" at Sew Right) to learn how to use my grandmother's neglected Kenmore. And we were required to purchase and use some pattern tracing material. So along with my hideous (if highly educational) sweatshirt and my serger, I found my pregnant self lugging home a giant roll of 45" wide pattern tracing material on the hour-and-a-half subway/bus combo ride home to Brooklyn.

It was love at first trace. This stuff was perfect--easy and smooth to write on, just stiff enough, just soft enough, just see-through enough. Pretty soon I was tracing EVERYTHING--vintage patterns, BurdaStyle magazine patterns, Jalie and Kwik Sew patterns, baby patterns... I was a tracing maniac! And if I ever made a mistake or wanted to trace another size when I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight or wanted to use a pattern again for Cartoonist Baby as she grew... NO PROBLEM.

Now the idea of cutting directly into a precious pattern (or, horrors, tissue fitting!) gave me the cold sweats.

But let's get to the point--one day, my perfect pattern tracing material ran out, and I realized I had lost the label and had no idea what is was called — Cut-A-Pattern? Trace-A-Pattern? I couldn't make it back to the middle of Queens in my now more delicate condition and Sew Right couldn't ship it to me. I went back to using random bits of typing paper. I even ordered a big roll of "Do-Sew" from Nancy's Notions, but found it scratchy, flimsy and nearly impossibly to write on.

... so I asked on the PatternReview message boards and someone told me the stuff was called Bosal Create-A-Pattern and I ordered a 10-yard roll for $17.99 plus shipping from Vogue Fabrics (they call it Pattern Tracing Interfacing) and now my life is complete and this blog post is nearly over!

Of course, this is just what works for me. Others swear by sewer paper (sewer as in plumbing, not sewing). Gertie likes Swedish tracing paper. The Fit For Real People folks hawk something they call "Perfect Pattern Paper" and Kwik Sew sells "KwikTrace" gridded material. And I do have non-transparent paper with gridded lines on it for making patterns from scratch, though I never actually use it. But now that I've found my lost Pattern Tracing Material love again, I think we'll be in a long-term relationship... no wandering eyes for me!

P.S. Just in case it's not obvious, I am not in any way affiliated with this or any other sewing-related company! But in case you need to identify this stuff by sight, here's what it looks like (it also comes on interfacing-like bolts):

P.P.S. Are you afraid of tracing? Or do you have a tracing material love of your own? Or better yet--do you know anywhere I can buy this stuff in Manhattan or Brooklyn and avoid the shipping costs?


  1. I trace EVERYTHING. It's the OCD in me-- I am afraid to destroy the original pattern, especially because I'm new to sewing and have made my share of mistakes. When I took a sewing class at MAKE Workshop we cut the original up and it was sooo hard for me to do... haha. I bought some pattern paper from P&S Fabrics (near chinatown)... I can't remember the brand but it's the only pattern paper they had there, and I love it. It comes folded up in a bag as apposed to a roll, but it's LOOKS like normal pattern paper, but it's a bit thicker and stiffer, making it feel a little sturdier.

  2. Whoah typos. I published too quickly, haha. That last line was supposed to say: "It comes folded up in a bag as opposed to a roll. It LOOKS like normal pattern paper, but it's a bit thicker and stiffer, making it feel a little sturdier."

  3. Oh dear, maybe it is my OCD (under control after many years of therapy!) and not just thriftiness/caution/practicality that keeps me from cutting patterns directly!? That said, practically speaking a pattern that I altered directly for maternity now would be useless later if I just cut right into it... so I'm just being smart, right?

    I love P&S fabrics, by the way... one of the only places where you can buy Big 4 patterns in the city!

  4. I used to cut because a)I didn't know any better! and b) I wouldn't know how to fix a pattern anyway! but after wanting to sew things out of magazines (stitch I'm looking at you) and wanting to make adjustments I finally sucked it up and got some swedish tracing paper. I'll have to get some of the one you got to see the difference. I just wish any of these papers were available locally.

  5. I am a tracing FOOL. I trace everything, No Matter What. Ev-er-y-thing. It's my firm belief that pattern tissue is only good in it's pristine, virgin state. I am also very very very very cheap. So I use free medical exam table paper (which I get for free because I happen to be related to someone who can not say "no" when I ask for some). But it's super cheap to buy, even if you can't find someone to harrass- I mean, to ask politely to give some to you. It is the BEST ever (although I will allow that it's being free does color my judgement somewhat). I use about a roll every 6 months.

  6. When I started tracing I bought a roll of some sort of pattern paper from Nancy's Notions (I think). It's pretty dreadful, and I'm still trying to use it up!

    I switched a ways back to using Borden & Riley "Sun-Glo" paper, which is awesome as an art supply. I tried some for a pattern and got hooked. It's not soft, or sewable, but incredibly strong and transparent. (And relatively inexpensive.) I might spring for your stuff if I ever have anything that needs serious fitting though!

  7. Sarah, I know I said I would be faithful to my paper but... I might have to try that Sun-Glo paper! A 50 yard 36" roll is cheaper than what I paid for 10 yards!

    And I think that dreadful paper you got from Nancy's Notions is probably the Do-Sew I bought--it traps pens, bleeds, doesn't hold a sharp line... yuck.

  8. The Sun-Glo is amazing, we use it for work because it's so strong yet practically clear. (I don't think we've tried inks on it though - just pencils). I like it for a final pattern to put away after I'm done making changes, it's so crisp and...I don't know, I just love it! You should definitely try it, worst case scenario you guys have tracing paper for the next couple years!

  9. what's the diameter of a roll of it, though? I fear it might be too big to stash in our apartment...

  10. I am a cutter. I hate to trace. I have tried different tracing materials and do it when necessary. But it is not about the problems with the different tracing materials but the act of tracing. It is very time consuming, it hurts my back, it is easy to be inaccurate, etc. I like to cut right into the pattern. It is only a pattern. I get them at sale prices. They are not expensive. Even expensive ones I cut out. My time (and back) are worth the expense. So what if I render the pattern unusable for the future. The chances are slim that I will use it again. If I do want to reuse a pattern it is a rare chance that it will not be reuseable. You can always tape it or add tissue where needed. Also, I don't like heavy paper patterns. So much bulk. I like the flimsy tissue.

  11. Ann, I think your reasons for cutting and not tracing are excellent--it has to do with sewing style, of course. Some people like to make the same patterns over and over again in different fabrics and with variations--but if you'll only use a pattern once, tracing isn't worth the effort!

    I just tend to do SO much altering and redrawing and cutting off of bits that I know I'd never be able to repair a pattern if I messed up.

    Plus my size is always changing!

  12. I had no idea that NYC wouldn't have the big box fabric stores? So you can't go to Hancock's for the 99 cent Simplicity sale or the 75% off Vogue patterns sale? That stinks. If you ever need someone to get you a stash while they're on a clearance, you let me know. I'd be glad to feed the problem. I just bought eight new V patterns today at 75% off.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I never traced before this year, unless I was drafting a pattern on my own and that was rare. My mom had some leftover gridded tracing fiber (calling it paper would be a strong word), that I used and loved. I've since bought a stash of Swedish tracing paper that I love because you can sew on it, hence the removal of the dreaded muslin, but I think when this is gone I'm going back to the thin polyester gridded fiber. I'm OCD enough to love the geometry of those gridlines!

  13. Since I love Burda patterns, I trace - no choice there. I also trace Jalie patterns, and kid patterns. But I cut all of the big 4 tissue patterns. Let's face it, what are the chances that I'll go up/down a size, or - horrors! - two, before the pattern's ridiculously out of style? Zilch. I'm a compulsive measurer, so I merrily redraw size lines before cutting, and, if the pattern is complex enough, I muslin. For tracing paper, btw, I use baking parchment paper. As far as I know, I'm the only person who admits to using it. It takes pencil extremely well, is sufficiently tough, can be ironed - the only down side is that wide pattern pieces have to be stapled together, as tape won't stick to it. But the convenience of ready availability in any grocery store outweighs that, particularly as very few pattern pieces are THAT wide. And did I say, it's cheap?

  14. Oh Heather, I WISH! There is no Hancock's or Joann's on any subway line that I know of and I don't have a car. There's a Joann's on Staten Island but that's a ferry/bus ride combo. I generally order patterns from or PatternReview or sometimes I buy them at P&S Fabrics... sigh. But they are never 99 cents!

  15. All the patterns I work with are 60+ years old, so I never feel like I own them, Im just their current stop in time. I could never, ever cut a pattern unless it was in such bad shape, and even then I would feel terrible about it.

    Everything I get I trace off. Ive become a master at it. I can do an entire dress in 45 min. I also have to alter everything I make so Id rather have no emotional attachment to my 'cutter' so I can just go wild!

    Yay patterns!

  16. My absolute favorite pattern tracing material is Tru Grid by Pellon. It's 45" wide with a 1"grid. It can be pinned and basted. I usually can find it a Joanne's - although not lately :-(
    There are several on line sources if you google it.

  17. The roll is not big -- maybe just a few inches in diameter -- I'm thinking, 3"? the paper is very thin! It lives behind a chair against a wall, you'd never even know it was there. If you want a little piece to check out, lmk and I'll mail a paper swatch to you!

  18. I used to be a hardcore tracer, but I just as often cut as trace now, if it's a Big 3/4 pattern or an indie where cutting won't ruin the other sizes. It's because I'm much better at knowing what size and what alterations and having less time to do them.

  19. The retail mailorder webstore that sells Create-A-Pattern. It's called

    We sell retail and designers as well.

  20. oh my gosh, I had the same stuff, ran out and I could not find it anywhere, and couldn't remember what it was. I make camera bags and as I get bored after a couple times of making them, I change them all the time. I looked and looked online, including vogue fabrics where i got the origninal roll (at a sewing expo) but to no avail. I found your blog and bless you, found my tracing paper. You have made my day!! Ordering 2 rolls right now. have a lovely year and thank you!

  21. I don't get it. Tracing - does that mean you trace the original pattern and then cut out your traced copy? That seems very redundant. If your traced copy needs amendments, then you have to trace another copy and so on. Also, once you have the traced copy cut out, then you still have to somehow transfer that onto the fabric correct? So more tacking, marking and cutting.

    1. It's very useful. First, it preserves the pattern for future use and not all of us have $1 patterns. Second, it's much easier to pin fit a traced pattern than to fit the tissue pattern; the pre-fitting makes for a better muslin. Third, if you need more than one size you can trace off the applicable sizes, blend and true them.

      People who seek an excellent fit don't mind the steps.

  22. I like Bosal too, although my favorite is Swedish Tracing Paper, which is slightly softer.

  23. I trace off the original pattern to preserve it. Sometimes I trace only the relevant sizes (my top and bottom are different). Then I will blend and true the pieces, cut it out, and do a rough pin fit. Sometimes the pin fit shows that pattern will not fit and has to be modified. Next, I'll transfer to muslin and work from there.

    It's economical and ultimately saves time if you don't want to waste muslin and want an excellent fit.

  24. Thank you so much for this post! But I have to tell you that you've destroyed one of my favorite fantasies, wherein if I only lived in NYC, anything and everything I ever wanted would be an arm's length away!

  25. P & S Fabrics on Broadway still carries Bosal, although the rolls are smaller.


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