Tracing and Marking

Friday’s entry on cutting brought to mind an annoyance I experienced over ten years ago when I hired a small sewing contractor who didn’t have much experience. This is somewhat related to a previous brief tutorial I wrote on marking and cutting. Specifically, this entry is about the proper method of tracing patterns onto fabric, or even paper.

First of all, never use sharpies to trace patterns. Please. It makes the patterns ugly and dirty looking (photo at right). While it’s not technically wrong (caveat noted below), it lends the impression one is careless in their work if they don’t care what it looks like. I wish my house were half as clean as my patterns are.

The biggest reason not to use sharpies is because you may need to have those patterns digitized and the dark line obscures the cross hairs on the digitizing puck. The pattern shown below isn’t too bad but just imagine if the tracer-outer had used a 1/4″ wide marker. Somebody last week said they interviewed a “pattern maker” who used a 1/4″ wide marker -to draft (!) and mark.


The given Sharpie color you chose can make things worse. Even if your patterns won’t be digitized, the pattern maker will have difficulty lining up the pattern edge with the ruler -particularly if you use red Sharpie because the pattern rulers we all use are red. Red on paper edge + red ruler lines =invisible. Between the bleed of red ink and a ruler line, we can be off as much as 1/8th inch. Maybe 1/8th doesn’t sound like much until you multiply the hazard of four pieces coming together, amounting to a magnitude of 1/2″ inch.

The only solution to digitizing a pattern that’s been traced with a sharpie is to retrace the pattern onto paper and digitizing that. It’s not insurmountable but like I said, it is annoying. Still a third reason not to use them is that it makes correcting an edge difficult if you can’t see your corrected pencil line. Fresh sharpie bleeds through the back side of the pattern.

When it comes to tracing tools, you have a couple of options and will likely need a variety. I use chalk wheels, tailor’s chalk, wax pencil and ball point pen. I most often use white wax pencil. On leather, I use ball point pen (with a tiny nib). Some fabrics don’t lend themselves well to tracing with a sticky medium like wax so I’ll use tailor’s chalk. Polar fleece is a nightmare to trace. It doesn’t like anything but the chalk wheel seems to be the best for that. It is difficult to get right at the edge with the chalk wheel so I use it sparingly.

Tracing procedures
You should never hold the pattern piece down. It should be well weighted. The reason is, for most effective marking, you will push against and into the pattern piece which will cause it to shift. This is most likely if you’re using a chalk wheel or tailor’s chalk. This is another reason I prefer the white wax pencil. In marking with the wax pencil, you don’t push against the pattern piece but rather, mark equally on the pattern edge and the fabric (below). This works with tailor’s chalk too. The angle in which you hold the pencil also matters. It is best to mark at an angle as shown below.

Do not hold the wax pencil straight up and down (shown below). Because the pattern edge is slightly higher and there may be the slightest pile making for a bouncy marking, the pencil won’t outline the edge precisely. In the photo below, you can see a visible gap between the pattern edge and the “fabric”. Actually, this isn’t fabric but a pink index card so if a perpendicular marking has this effect on paper, you can only imagine the results in actual fabric.

And don’t forget to review this previous entry on cutting and marking if you haven’t already. All of the above effort will be for naught if you don’t.

Related:
The 7 minute cutting test
The 7 minute cutting test pt.2

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