tracing vintage patterns

If you like to sew with vintage patterns, you know they can be quite fragile in their original state. Or maybe the pattern you have in mind is not quite the right size and you need to grade it up or down and need it in a form that you can cut up. I thought I’d show you the method I use for tracing my vintage patterns. This tutorial shows was done with an unprinted pattern, but I’ve added comments when needed to adjust for those with printing (rather than perforations of unprinted).


You will need a few supplies: paper (you can use inexpensive banner paper from the office supply store, exam table paper, blank newsprint, or Swedish interfacing), ruler and/or yardstick, pencil, fine tip marker, paper scissors, pattern weights (I use large metal washers from the hardware store), pins (for printed patterns only), and a flat surface (in this case, a cutting mat).


Begin by ironing all the pieces on the lowest heat setting for your iron, without steam. If in doubt, test on a piece of paper first to make sure your iron won’t scorch the paper. You need to iron out any wrinkles or deep folds in the pattern pieces so they’ll lie flat. Just be careful not to tear the pieces.


Lay the paper on a flat surface. Arrange the pattern pieces on top with pattern weights atop to help straighten the pattern and keep it flat. If the piece has a straight edge (such as the one pictured with the center-front edge to be placed on folded fabric), you can lay that alongside the straight edge of the paper to reduce one more edge to trace.


Begin tracing around the edges of the pattern with the pencil. I tend to sketch around curves and uneven edges, and make dash marks every 8″-12″ along straight edges that I can fill in with a ruler after the pattern is removed.


Be sure to mark all the circles, notches and diamonds! When transferring a dart marking, I indicate those with small dots and connect them later with a ruler for a complete dart shape. If you’re tracing a printed pattern, I tend to pierce through the pattern and paper beneath with a pin to indicate a pattern marking. After the pattern is removed, I go back and add the mark with the pencil or marker.


Remove the pattern piece and fill in any spots with the ruler/yardstick. I also indicate all darts and grainlines at this point too.


Finally fill in the pattern information: company, number, size, piece and quantity to be cut with marker (if this is a final piece; if you’re using it to grade the pattern, you don’t need all the information). I also like to include notes on seam allowances, darts, hem depth, etc. on the pattern piece. Now you can cut the pattern out and start on the important thing: sewing!

March 10, 2010 · 33 lovely thoughts
posted in tutorials · tags: ,

Jill March 10, 2010 at 07:49

Just brilliant, Casey. Thanks for this. It’s like you read my mind. I’ve only recently begun buying vintage patterns with the hope of making something from them and this issue of fragility definitely was apparent when I got one of them in the mail yesterday. This helps so much!!

Anna Allen March 10, 2010 at 08:08

this is great, casey!! thank you!

Eva Girl March 10, 2010 at 08:20

This is great – can’t wait to get started!!! Thank you for sharing this : )

Toria March 10, 2010 at 08:46

Perfect timing on this post, I bought my first vintage patterns yesterday and was wondering how to use them without destroying them! Thank you for a great post

meaghan March 10, 2010 at 09:04

this is genius Casey! No wonder your creations always turn out so perfect, you’re such an organized, excellent crafts-woman!
This is an amazing tutorial!

Sarah March 10, 2010 at 09:27

I should be doing this with my vintage patterns, I just haven’t got the time! I feel so horrible about not treating my patterns with a little more care. Have you ever tried FIDM’s grading pattern scale? One of my classmates has it and none of my co-workers knows how to use it…it looks rather interesting as an alternative to pattern re-scaling.

Mugsy March 10, 2010 at 09:43

Wow, thank you for all of the information! I must admit, I was feeling so inspired, I went ahead and blew a few dollars(*yikes*) on a French Curve ruler – I just couldn’t resist, silly me :) Now to put it to good use…
Y’all have a fantastic Wednesday!

Pavlina March 10, 2010 at 10:02

hmmm, I always put my tracing paper on top of the pattern, never my pattern on top of the tracing paper. I do a lot of pattern tracing. I usually trace the kid’s patterns (I always tell myself that I’ll need it in a bigger size when I sew it again), and I trace weird, one of a kind patterns, I trace all print out patterns and my delicate vintage patterns.

Magpie Jen March 10, 2010 at 10:09

Another great post, Casey! Thank you for sharing your sewing tips.

I’m with Pavlina, I like to trace with the pattern beneath so I’m not running along the edge of the pattern piece itself, it’s easier for me to see where to mark darts and other markings that aren’t along the edges, and you don’t need to pierce the printed pieces.

To do that, I like to use clear plastic sheeting – like vapor barrier that you can buy in big rolls at the hardware store. It’s transparent and a little tougher than paper, so you could use it as a mini-muslin mock-up without it tearing as much as a tissue muslin.

It all works though :-) . It’s just great to trace them.

Katie March 10, 2010 at 10:37

I wish I had waited to start my pattern until today.
I ended up using an old sketch pad (the sort where the pages are glued in at the very top as opposed to a spiral.) While it was very easy to trace (I laid the paper over the pattern and because of the type of paper I had no trouble seeing the print) it was a pain to tape all of those together, especially when I had to splice to scale it up.

On that note- I was making a 1948 simplicity pattern and per the measurements given for the size, I needed to scale it up 4″. I did so and it ended up being 4″ too big. I’ve made it now at the exact size provided and it fits perfectly with room to spare at the bust (quite a feat with me.)
Do vintage patterns typically have ease built in?

kat March 10, 2010 at 15:03

thank you for posting this! i have a vintage robe pattern that i’ve wanted to use for my fiance…just found some neat flannel plaid for it and was wondering what the best way was to get all the folds out of the pattern pieces, etc.
will definitely be marking this for later!

Le Tasché March 10, 2010 at 15:07

Thanks for the tip with the metal washers. The orignal pattern weights are so expensive here in Germany and also not available in every shop. I will shortly pop in a DIY store.

Bree March 10, 2010 at 15:55

Well, rats, if only I were a sewer! You have SUCH talent and I love your blog. I just found it today.

Love, bree

Rosie March 10, 2010 at 18:43

Thanks for the advice! I’ve been wanting to trace some of my modern patterns lately, so I don’t have to commit to a size, and I very much plan on following pretty much this process.

Esz March 10, 2010 at 22:30

Great tutorial thank you :-D Would you use the same method for creating a pattern from a vintage dress?? Or do you think that would need a separate tute??

See I have this gorgeous Swirl dress that is so pretty and fits me so nice…however the previous owner loved it a lot too and the fabric is so thin and worn it’s fraying in places. I’ve been told that I should carefully pick it apart making notes along the way and taking note of the grain, and make a pattern that way. Which is probably right of course but I’m a total novice and it’s probably outside of my capabilities!

Dixie March 11, 2010 at 11:02

A friend of mine uses Tyvek when she can get it. It’s the paper-fabricky stuff they use to line houses before the siding goes up, or to make tear-resistant mailing envelopes. Someone she knew was doing home renovations and she managed to buy some off of the contractor.

We used to use a paper that was like dollar-bill paper, but thicker, to wrap surgical packs to be autoclaved, when I worked for a veterinarian. I keep meaning to ask how much that stuff is (it comes on a big roll) and how I might get some. It would be great for patterns.

Jesslyn March 11, 2010 at 14:03

Great tutorial – as always!

There’s a blog award for you on my site today!

Biz and Heather, aka Bizy Janes March 11, 2010 at 14:16

Sounds simpler than I thought! Thanks for sharing your tips!
~ Heather from Bizy Janes

beth lemon March 12, 2010 at 10:59

Thanks for this. I am diving into my first vintage pattern this week (not counting some super cheap patterns I got for my toddler at a yard sale). It’s one thing to cut up a 10 cent pattern but quite another when you pay a lot for it.

Why haven’t I seen this blog before? I love it!

Karrol March 12, 2010 at 14:11

Hi Casey! Been reading your blog just a few weeks now and it’s very inspiring. I have a ton of vintage patterns and love using them – always tracing them first! Just wanted to say this was a really great tutorial. I always tell people to gently iron the pieces on LOW with NO steam, and was glad to see you do the same. I buy rolls of pattern paper from and usually put the vintage piece under to trace, as you can see through the paper I use. But your way (over) works great for paper that is opaque.
Nice job!

AE March 13, 2010 at 03:14

I like the Tyvek idea, I’ve noticed damaged rolls at a serious markdown at the home improvement store…plus you could probably “baste” them with painter’s tape when you’re working on a major resizing. Lately, I’ve been using newspaper endrolls. A lot of papers that still print in-house will give them away if you ask pretty please.

And yes, to the one asking about ease in vintage patterns…just look at the models from the eras in question. You’ll usually notice that the fashions were designed for women with a bit more hip and bust than is fashionable today.

angie.a March 13, 2010 at 08:34

I use a roll of tracing paper I get from Dick Blick. It’s not that expensive for how much paper you actually receive, and it lasts a long time! I’m on my 2nd roll for the past year, but I trace aLOT. Not only vintage patterns, but my Burda magazine patterns have to be traced too (and Ottobre).

Anne March 13, 2010 at 10:17

Awesome tutorial!! I linked to it on Craft Gossip Sewing:


Becky March 13, 2010 at 13:55

I wandered over from Craft Gossip and I am so glad I did!

The idea of tracing patterns to preserve and use them has been on my mind. I even bought a huge roll of pattern paper. Your directions are going to help me finally get off my hiney and just do it already!

Your blog is beautiful!

Thank You!

ctb March 15, 2010 at 12:04

Timely & useful advice! I have a very large collection of vintage patterns crying out to be used.

FWIW, I was taught to make little dots every 1/4 inch or so when copying pattern curves – & to make crossmarks @ the corners, then ‘true’ the lines w/ rulers, hip & french curves. Coloured pencils are helpful when correcting a line, so you know which is the new line. You can also use a notched dressmakers tracing wheel to mark the paper (if you’re using paper) & dressmakers carbon paper for darts, etc.

Tasia March 15, 2010 at 22:34

I’m so glad I found this! I just bought my first vintage pattern but haven’t used it yet, partially from fear of damaging it.
This guide is totally easy to follow, love that it’s complete with pictures. I was wondering what other people were doing and now I know! I’m adding this to my bookmarks for reference, thanks for sharing your tips!

Karen July 9, 2010 at 19:31

I usually put the pattern underneath as well. If it’s not a vintage pattern that I use a lot (my kids clothes). I will iron fusible interfacing to the backside. It makes them nice and sturdy to use again & again.

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