How to Transfer Patterns to Fabric: Tracing Wheel, Chalk, Soap, Thread
How to transfer patterns?
You have a paper pattern and now you are not sure what is the quickest and the most accurate way to transfer it to the fabric? There are several possibilities. Here’s a tutorial on how to use a tracing wheel. We are also going to glance over a dressmaker’s soap, chalk and the technique of thread tracing.
I used to work with tailor’s chalk before, but I found out that it didn't suit me quite well. Apart from the fact that it shakes easily off the fabric, so the lines and markings simply disappear, I had a really hard time taking the chalk stains off the fabric.
When you mark your pattern lines and markings with a chalk and you iron the fabric afterward (I iron a lot and you should too), the chalk gets “roasted” into the fabric and you cannot dust it off. From certain fabrics, it doesn't even wash out.
White chalk is less aggressive, so no problem there, but blue chalk is the worst. With light fabrics, it simply doesn't wash off, sometimes it cannot be removed no matter how many times you wash it.
The use of chalk has one advantage to it: it is easy to transfer sewing patterns from fabric to fabric. If you transfer your paper pattern to the fabric, for instance, if you transfer one front piece and you need another one, you simply place both front pieces one on another with wrong sides together and you tap firmly with a brush wherever you want to transfer your markings.
When you take the front pieces apart afterward, you´ll find out that the fine chalk dust from one front piece got transferred to the other so both pieces are now ready to sew. I can recommend this technique for sewing of jackets and coats for instance. As thicker fabrics are generally used for this type of garments, even if some of the chalk remains visible on the wrong side of the fabric, there won't be any sign of it on the right side. Besides, it is really the quickest way how to transfer your markings and pattern lines between paired pieces (e.g. sleeves, front pieces, collars, etc.)
The tailor’s soap is a great alternative to the tailor’s chalk. Its main advantage over the chalk is the fact that it disappears after ironing. This can easily turn into a downside – you have to keep it in mind…
If you trace all your pattern lines and markings onto the pattern piece and then you decide to iron it before sewing, all the transferred marking will disappear. It helps if you iron the right side of the fabric so that the soap trace remains visible on the wrong side, depending mainly on the material of the fabric and on how thick the trace was before ironing.
There's one huge drawback to the tailor’s soap however, virtually no soap bought at the craft supply store marks the fabric. Sometimes, the lines are very thin, practically invisible, and sometimes it doesn't leave any mark at all. The reason behind it is the fact that the soaps are sold overdried and don't leave any trace on the fabric.
I even tried to let the soap soak for a while and let it dry a little but it had no effect. And then I recalled what type of soap our grandmothers used to mark the fabric.... the regular one!
Nowadays, I only use regular soap to mark the fabric – ordinary soap we use at home – I put the last slivers of it aside and use later. So far, I haven't found a soap that wouldn't mark a fabric or, in a contrary, that would leave permanent stains on it, but the truth is that I haven't tried all the soaps on the market. What I really appreciate with regular soap bought at the chemist’s is that it marks the fabric nicely and that it is fairly visible on light colored fabrics. Also, it only disappears partially after ironing so even if I iron by mistake places with markings that I’ll need for sewing, no need to panic. All the lines and markings wash off without a trace. For me, the regular soap is the best alternative how to easily transfer sewing pattern onto a fabric.
Once we have transferred our pattern onto a fabric, we need to copy all the lines and markings to the paired pieces (that is if we cut the paired pieces at the same time – sleeves, trouser legs, front pieces etc.). There are several ways to do it.
The most complicated one is to take the cut out the piece, place and pin the paper piece on it and mark everything with a chalk or soap all over again. I use this procedure in a very specific case when I sew from a printed fabric and I need the print to be aligned. For instance when I sew a chequered jacket and I need the chequer on the sleeve to match the chequer on the front and the back piece. In this case, I don’t cut both paired pieces (sleeves) at the same time but separately because the print must be aligned as accurately as possible. That is why I transfer the pattern on each sleeve separately as I will also cut them separately.
Another way how to transfer pattern lines and markings from one piece to the other is to tap the chalk dust from one paired piece to the other. However, I only recommend this technique in the case of thicker fabrics, as I already described earlier, e.g. dark-colored trousers, jackets or coats.
Another way how to copy your pattern from one piece to the other is the thread tracing. You’ll need a special cotton thread, called tacking thread, for this technique. You may find a detailed description and a video tutorial of the thread tracing in this article: What is thread tracing.
The last technique that I will describe today is transferring your pattern lines and markings onto a fabric using the tracing wheel and carbon paper.
I recommend you to use a special, dressmaker’s carbon paper. Do not use the regular blue hand copy carbon paper; it stains and doesn’t wash off. ?
The tracing wheel is available at any craft supply store.
I have folded the fabric (right side inside) and pinned all the pattern pieces (trousers pattern in my case). I’ve transferred all the pattern pieces onto the fabric with soap and I have measured the seam allowance. I have cut out all the pieces with the seam allowance, keeping the paper pattern pinned on all the pieces. The paired pieces are folded with right side inside. Now place the whole piece on a carbon paper and trace all the pattern lines with the tracing wheel.
When you turn the second pocket piece over, you’ll see that all the necessary lines are traced on the wrong side.
Don’t forget the markings; you need to transfer them from the paper pattern onto the fabric.
And copy them with the tracing wheel on the paired piece.
This is how the used carbon paper looks like after transferring all the trousers pieces (and there were a lot of them – legs, yoke, pockets…). Do not throw the paper away though, as you can use it many more times, I’d say until it’s torn to shreds…
Today, we’ve seen together how to transfer sewing patterns to fabric. If you’re interested in other sewing tips and tricks, e.g. how to adjust a sewing pattern to fit perfectly your shape, see this article: How to adjust a sewing pattern to fit.
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Have a great time,
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