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Tutorial: How to use Swedish tracing paper to trace a pattern

Swedish tracing paper is a wonderful material for copying pattern pieces. Although it is called “paper,” it is actually a nonwoven interfacing with a smooth enough finish to write on. There are many great reasons to work with a copy of your pattern made from this material rather than using the original pattern itself, and I covered them in a previous post.

Today, I’m offering up a tutorial on how to use this wonder sewing notion.

Swedish tracing paper

Swedish tracing paper is transparent and sturdy enough that you can write on it, sew it, tape it and pin it. It also drapes much better than pattern tissue, so some people use it for quick fitting, rather than making a muslin.

Tools needed:

❦ Pattern of choice

❦ Swedish tracing paper, available from many online retailers

❦ Scissors

❦ Pencil

❦ Tape. I’ve read that paper medical tape works well on Swedish tracing paper, but I haven’t bought any yet, so I use regular cellophane tape.

❦ Optional but helpful: design ruler (also sometimes referred to as a French curve)

Technique:

1. Cut out all your pattern pieces and iron on low without steam to remove wrinkles as you would normally do. Swedish tracing paper comes on a roll, so it doesn’t generally have wrinkles, but this may depend on how carefully your supplier prepared it for shipping.

2. Tape a pattern piece to your work table, keeping the tape outside all the pattern lines, if possible, so the tape can be removed later without damaging the pattern. If you don’t tape the pattern down, it will shift during tracing. Guaranteed.

Taping pattern to work surface

Tape your pattern to a work surface that will not be damaged by tape. Mine is a laminated cutting table, so the tape pulls right off.

3. Cut out a piece of Swedish tracing paper a little larger than your pattern. Tape it to your work surface over your pattern without getting tape on the underlying pattern tissue. Since Swedish tracing paper comes on a roll, it has a tendency to curl. It works a little better if you face the curl down when you tape it. The tape will come right off the Swedish tracing paper later.

Taping the Swedish tracing paper to the work surface.

Tape the Swedish tracing paper to your work surface. Note how you can see all the pattern details right through it.

4. Use a good old No. 2 pencil to trace your pattern, including all lines and markings. (I’ve had good success doing this freehand, but see Step 5 for another option.) Also, write down all pattern information such as company, number, size you are tracing and hem allowance.

Tracing the pattern.

Trace the pattern. A slightly dull pencil makes a nice line.

5. If freehand is challenging or you’d like to ensure smoother lines, use a design ruler. It has an edge for straight lines and another for curved. The curved edge is created in such a way that it will fit a variety of curves, depending on which part of the curved edge you use. Just move the curved edge around until you find an area that lines up with the curve you are trying to trace. You won’t always find a perfect match, but since this tool is used by pattern drafters, you often will. For those lines that don’t have a perfect match on your design ruler, you will have to freehand.

Design ruler

A design ruler is handy if you prefer not to trace everything freehand.

6. Pull the tape off the Swedish tracing paper. It comes off easily and can even be saved for use on the next pattern piece. Carefully pull up the original pattern and cut off the tape.

7. You now have a perfect copy of your pattern that is ready to use for cutting out your material. If you make a muslin to check fit, any changes you need to make to the pattern are easy to do — and undo — with the Swedish tracing paper copy. Your original pattern pieces are left intact. This is especially helpful for:

❦ Vintage patterns, since they cannot easily be replaced;

❦ Alterations you haven’t done before, since they may take more than one attempt to perfect; and

❦ Multi-size patterns, since it isn’t always easy to determine which size to use.

When you’re working on a copy, going back and tracing the original again is always an option.

Original and copy

The original and the copy made on Swedish tracing paper.

For me, the next step in sewing is making a muslin to check the fit, which is always an adventure. I appreciate the flexibility to mess up — sometimes more than once! — that Swedish tracing paper gives me.

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