Using Tracing Paper to Copy Japanese Sewing Patterns

In my previous post, I explained how to do a quick-and-dirty trace of Japanese sewing patterns directly onto fabric. Now I am going to let you in on a better method: using patternmaker’s tracing paper. This is a better method because:

  • It’s more accurate
  • Alterations are easier
  • It’s repeatable – trace once, cut many garments
  • The paper pattern doesn’t get all chewed up by a tracing wheel
  • You don’t get chalk and such all over your fabric
  • The paper drapes pretty well for prototypes of fabric garments

This method takes time and costs a few pennies (a roll of patternmaker’s paper will run you about $20) but you’ll get loads of use out of it. I like “Sample Dot” paper, which I have only been able to find in to-the-trade fabric stores on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The paper has a one-inch grid of letters on it to use as reference points or to line up pattern pieces. It’s a nice-to-have, not must-have. Ordinary tracing paper is fine too (see Amazon for a typical example).

I especially recommend this method for Japanese sewing patterns from a book like Happy Homemade Sew Chic because so many of the book’s patterns are interchangeable – a sleeve fits a dress, a blouse, and a tunic. For other patterns, a tunic becomes a dress with some length added on. Let’s face it, with our Japanese Hippie Doomsday Cult adding more members every day, we need to think volume.

The main reason to trace directly onto fabric is time and interest. I might do it again if I am not sure about a pattern or if a pattern is so simple or a one-off.

Tracing Japanese Sewing Patterns the Right Way

Look over the paper pattern carefully to identify the lines and size you want. Circle the size numbers for easy ID. Lay the tracing paper over the pattern. You’ll be able to see through pretty well. Use a see-through ruler or a French curve to trace the lines. No freehand! Just because the end of the world is coming, that’s no reason to be sloppy.

I use broken lines for the sewing lines and solid lines for the cutting lines. Here’s a bodice with sewing lines:


Next, add the seam allowances – 3/8 inch (1 cm) is standard for these patterns, more for hems and less for areas that call for bindings or facings. These are the cutting lines:


Also mark any darts, pleats etc. Mark the grainline and label the pattern with instructions.


Then, cut out the patterns using paper scissors. You can use these patterns like any tissue paper pattern, except they’re more durable.


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