Tracing a Japanese Sewing Book Pattern the Quick and Dirty Way

If you’re going to sew from Japanese sewing pattern books, you’d better be prepared to do a lot of the grunt work yourself. This is no cushy Simplicity pattern, with its multisize tissue patterns, all marked with seams and darts and whatnot. But since you’re leading the Hippie Doomsday Cult style brigade, you are used to doing for yourself, right?

For starters, these books layer patterns on top of one another to save space. This little shot has parts of four patterns in it, each a different color:

IMG_20150404_112702467You can’t cut out the paper pattern unless you plan to only make one item out of the whole book. Instead, you need to trace these patterns, following the color-coded lines. Each pattern is multisized from about a US pattern size 4 to a US pattern size 16.

Also, again to save space, the patterns do not include seam allowances. You need to add them to the tracing of the patterns you make. “Aha!” your crafty cultist mind thinks, “Can’t I just cut one size larger than I need and forget the seam allowances?” Sure, you can do that, if you don’t mind wearing something that looks like a potato sack when you’re done. (Maybe that’s OK in your cult, but really, that’s a sorry excuse.)

There are two methods to dealing with these patterns. First, I’ll give you the quick and dirty method, in case your doomsday is imminent and you just don’t have time to do things right. And then I’ll show you how to do it a better way, which takes time but will give better results.

Quick and Dirty Pattern Tracing Method for Imminent Doomsdays


Lay out your fabric (I am using a cotton print here – more on that later) and place the paper pattern on top. Line up the grainline mark on the pattern with the selvage line of the fabric. If you’re using a print, lay the pattern piece strategically to avoid, for example, a big rosebud right on your nipples.

Between the fabric and the pattern, place a piece of pattern tracing paper in a contrasting color. Use a pattern wheel to trace along the pattern lines, like so:

You’ll end up with a bunch of dots on your fabric, like so:


These dots are the sewing line, not the cutting line – remember? You still need to add seam allowances. The book recommends seams of 1 centimeter, or 3/8 inch, for most seams. Edges with facings or bindings have a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Hems have a 1 1/4 inch seam allowance.

While adding seam allowances may seem like a pain in the butt, especially with the end of the world coming and all, it’s a good thing because it gives you style and construction options. For example, if I want to do a fancy seam like a French seam on some sheer fabric or a flat-fell seam on some seams that need extra durability, I can make the seam allowances bigger. Commercial patterns in the US typically make those decisions for you.


To add a seam allowance, use a see-through ruler to mark the 3/8 inch seam or whatever else you’d like. I like using a chalk pencil the same color as the tracing marks.

Don’t freehand these lines! Use a ruler on the straight sections and a French curve on the curves. Keep your chalk pencil sharp.

Use the chalk pencil also to add other pattern marks, such as pleats, notches or pockets.

To remove chalk marks, use a bit of water and a soft cloth.

OK, so we go the quick and dirty method down. If you have some more time – maybe your doomsday is not for a while yet – I recommend a different method using tracing paper. I’ll do a separate post on it.


One thought on “Tracing a Japanese Sewing Book Pattern the Quick and Dirty Way

  1. Thanks for the help! I live in Japan and got a Japanese pattern book yesterday. I was so surprised that the seem allowances weren’t included. At first I thought it was only to save space, like you said. But I looked it up online, and it’s actually considered more couture to mark the seam line rather than the cutting line. Apparently it allows for greater accuracy when you sew it together. Burda patterns does the same thing. Thanks for the help on how to cut it out quickly!


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