Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tracing Patterns from a Japanese sewing book - a mini-how-to

One of the tops (maybe even two) for my Spring Top Week contest entries is from a Japanese pattern book called Sweet Dress Recipe.

I thought it would be nice to post a mini-tute on how to trace patterns from books like these (as well as others like Ottobre). I remember when I got back into sewing last year, suddenly the sewing world has exploded with patterns that come in books and need to be traced. I'd never done it before. It was intimidating, I'm not gonna lie.

But it's really a very simple process, so here you go.

First, you need to buy the right supplies. I bought the Dritz package of tracing papers at JoAnn's, along with a few tracing wheels, and some pattern cloth/paper from a local specialty fabric shop. Gridded pattern paper (which actually feels more like a fiber) is awesome for this sort of thing, too, but I haven't seen any lately. The best product for tracing patterns is called Swedish Tracing Paper. You can sew on it, which means you don't need to make a muslin to check if your pattern is going to fit properly!

Next up, unfold the gigantic pattern page. In the Japanese books these can be extremely intimidating and confusing. Most designs are numbered or lettered, so get your eyeballs up super close to the paper and start looking for those numbers or letters. You can see how many criss-crossy lines there are in the Sweet Dress Recipe book! Ottobre books color-code their patterns which makes it about 10% easier. Not a whole lot, but a little.

I have another Japanese book I traced and its pattern page wasn't nearly as crowded and crazy as the Dress Recipe book.

I got out a highlighter and when I found one of the pieces I needed, I outlined it so I could find it later. One of the problems with these patterns is I didn't understand the sizing. The Dress Recipe book appeared to have two sizes - 9 and 11. I cut the eleven because I figured I could take it in later. The other book had S, M, L, which is easier for me, I'm an L!

As you can see (or maybe not), I did all of this on my mom's kitchen island. You just want a relatively firm surface where you can spread out the pages.

Then you put your pattern paper on the bottom, tracing paper in the middle, and pattern pages on top. With your tracing wheel, starting sawing back and forth along the pattern lines. For the best results, use a little motion like you're trying to cut through a stubborn pizza crust. You want to lay down a fairly clear line.

I always like to weigh down the corners of the gigantic pattern page from the book with something heavy, so as I'm sliding the tracing paper around underneath (tricky because you can't let the top or bottom layers move at all), your pattern and your tracing stay exactly in place.

This is what it looks like when you're finished. I was using the red page out of the Dritz package for this one.

So here are some examples of tracing gone wrong. Remember all those criss-crossy lines? Well, even when I told myself over and over to follow the right lines, at one point I got ahead of myself and traced the wrong line.

I went ahead and traced the right line and told myself NOT to cut the wrong line. So then oops I cut the wrong line because I forgot about what I'd told myself. That's ok, I taped it back together and cut the right line.
Anyway, that's that! You've traced your pages, you cut them out of the pattern paper, and now you can cut out your fabric. Remember, none of the Japanese books and most of the European books do not include seam allowances, so you have to cut your own. I typically cut a half inch, but that's up to you.

More on the shirt I'm making from all of these tracings in a future post. I better get back to my machines!

**Post-edit - Tina has a good point in her comments. An even easier way to trace a pattern is to get translucent paper and lay it over the page, then use a pencil. That's how I trace or copy commercial patterns, but with these books the lines are so confusing and criss-crossy that I find it easier to use the dastardly wheel. With the Ottobre patterns, the wheel does leave marks on the paper. So far these Japanese pages have been very hardy and haven't been dotted up at all. It also helps when you trace on a harder surface. Carpeting tends to poke holes in the original page with the wheel.


  1. I have to be honest, I really don't like thise tracing wheels. They have a tendancy to rip and tear pages that I may want to keep. Don't get me wrong, I do have (and use) a tracing wheel, I just think there are better options.

    Personally, I like to use just regular old tracing paper and a pencil. I got a large roll at Dick Blick art store for like $15. I've heard others that said they got a roll of the exam paper from their doctors office. Eventually, in ten years when the roll I have runs out, I might try the doctors office thing.

  2. Thanks for the tips! But honestly those Japanese patterns still overwhelm me with all those lines! Maybe someday I'll get the courage to try one!