An Alternative to Tracing Patterns: Photocopy!

This might seem a bit random but I thought I’d share an alternative to tracing vintage patterns! (Remember this post on tracing vintage patterns to preserve the originals?) I know that it’s a good thing to do in theory, but in practice I usually just want to sew already!

I came across these photos from the making of this dress, and debated whether this was interesting enough to post. I decided yes, so here you go!

As I unfolded the pattern pieces, thinking of how careful I was going to be in tracing them off so the delicate originals would last longer, I thought of a lazy way out good alternative! (It only works on small pattern pieces, but every bit of time saved is more time to enjoy sewing…)

First, you’ll need a photocopier.

Carefully unfold the small pieces and arrange them face-down on the photocopier glass. Smooth out any wrinkles or folds.

Press copy, and voila!

Double-check the copy against the original, to make sure it printed out correctly.

Nice, eh? It works better if the pieces are pressed first. Next time, I’d give them a gentle press with a dry iron to make sure they don’t copy with creases in them.

Even better if you can trick the photocopier into copying on ledger-size paper! (For us that’s twice the size of a regular Letter-size page.)

What do you think? Easy and fast, right? The sooner we trace (if we do decide to trace) our patterns, the faster we can get to the sewing! Although not many people have copiers in their homes so you’d have to bring the pieces to work, the library or school, and hope no one is looking as you start photocopying vintage pattern pieces.

The most important thing if you do photocopy patterns is to make sure they come out exactly the same as the originals, same dimensions, no wrinkles, no shrinkage.

Oh and one other thought – save the scrap paper cuttings for alterations, notes, etc. Perfect for when you’re adding length and you need to insert paper between slashes of the original pattern!

Have you tried this before? (Has everyone been doing this and I’m just discovering it now?) I thought I’d show you in case you were wondering if it was an acceptable way of preserving the patterns, but didn’t know who to ask. I did it, it works, and I only had to trace the large pieces – front, back and sleeve. I saved the time it would take to trace six pieces!

What do you think, is it a reasonable alternative to tracing or a lazy way out?

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

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65 Responses to An Alternative to Tracing Patterns: Photocopy!

  1. Mia January 18, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    ooow!…. It’s a simply and a great idea!!

  2. Sewing Princess January 18, 2013 at 6:48 am #

    OMG this is a great idea! Why did I not think about this before???? Thanks Tasia! Do keep sharing any new tricks!

    • Vanessa January 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Exactly what I was thinking! Why the heck haven’t I been doing this already?

  3. Maggie January 18, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    I think it is a great alternative! I hate to admit that I actual like tracing patterns sometimes, but this means I will have just the large pieces to do. I think I can live with that :) Thanks so much!

    • carolinascallin January 18, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Maggie – What do you trace your patterns onto? I’m using clear plastic, but the rolls are always wrinkly.

      • lou January 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

        Hello!

        Carolinascallin – just thought i’d chime in… to trace, I use either Freezer Paper (from the grocery store – the advantage of this is you can iron it on and is great for knit or slippy fabrics which may shift when pinning/cutting) or a great product from the local fabric shop called E-Z pattern, which is lovely and soft and lasts much longer than a paper pattern.

        Photocopying is a great idea !

        ^__^

      • Maggie January 20, 2013 at 11:50 am #

        Sorry, I didn’t see your question until today!

        Right now I use this sketch paper, which you can get at Staples for pretty cheap, http://www.staples.com/Staedtler-Sketch-Paper-Rolls-Yellow-12-inch-x-50-Yards/product_658910 by the roll. I use the yellow as it is a little easier on the eyes, but they do have it in white as well. The only complaint I have with it is that once I fold up a pattern after use, it is a little harder to iron flat. It can be done, but not without a little elbow grease ;)

      • Brenda December 17, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

        try butcher paper/ that baking cookie paper might do… wax maybe…

      • Ruby December 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

        I have used tissue paper. If it is a large piece I tape them together. I know it’s
        been a while since your post.

  4. Sew Little Time January 18, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    why has this never occurred to me before? don’t have a copier at home but we do have a scanner and i could scan small pieces! thanks!

  5. Seattlerain January 18, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    This method sounds great, though I think it will only work on small bodice pieces for me.

    I tried this with using freezer paper as my copy paper. I thought that I could be super lazy and iron the pattern on once I had it on grain. The problem I had was that the ink smudged all over my hands and I had to wait another 24 hours to let it set before even attempting anything. And larger pieces like skirt pieces wouldn’t fit on the standard home copier, but luckily that is less of an issue.

    If anyone has any tips on using freezer paper, I’d love to hear it!

  6. Rachel W January 18, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    Ooh, that’s a great idea! I hate working with tissue AND tracing, so anything that bypasses that is good with me!

    I just started tracing some of my most-used pattern pieces onto bits of manila folder and poster board. Wouldn’t it be great to photocopy your pattern pieces right onto card stock?

    • ruthie March 5, 2013 at 4:20 am #

      Hi Rachel,
      I do the same thing, only I use oiled stencil “board” – it’s about the same thickness as a manilla folder, but it’s oiled, so it’s really durable. Also it’s what I could get; we are a lot more limited in the products we can buy here (I have to carefully ration my freezer paper because I can only get it once a year at the Knitting & Stitching Expo!)
      I sometimes photocopy patterns and then adhere them to the stencil board with spray glue. Not quite as handy as copying directly onto the board, but pretty close! :)

  7. Jenny January 18, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    I feel a little silly for having not thought of this before–and we have two copiers here at home even! Thanks for making my sewing a little bit easier :)

  8. Shannon January 18, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Brilliant!

    I wonder what kind of crazy stuff copyshop employees see. I bet they have some tales to tell!

    • LIttlejen January 27, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

      I work in a copy shop, and believe me when I tell you, patterns would be among the least crazy things we see all day. :)

  9. Seraphinalina January 18, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    It had not crossed my mind, but I do have a book that requires photocopying the patterns to enlarge them. Granted that’s for stuffed animals not clothing so it doesn’t really matter if it’s increased to 200% exactly.
    Neat idea.

  10. Salma January 18, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Brilliant idea!

  11. Amanda January 18, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    If you take your pattern pieces (uncut) to a copier place (like FedEx) they can copy onto plot paper. It’s on huge roles. So, then you might only have to cut the original pattern tissue along one pattern piece or not at all. Very handy. My local sewing shop has a copy shop close by that they use when making adjustments to patterns. It is against copyright to do this to share with others, but it is legal for personal use. Unfortunately, depending on the person working the shop they may tell you that they can’t copy for you due to copyright in which case politely explaining that it’s for your own personal use to make pattern adjustments for yourself usually works. The only downside is that copy shops don’t have irons available;-)

    • Tara January 18, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Ooh! Good tips!

  12. Amanda January 18, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    GENIUS! If only I had a huge photocopier like that.

  13. CarmencitaB January 18, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    I have used it, when I know I will alter the pattern.
    It’s great!

  14. Rachel January 18, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Wow, that would certainly save time and headaches! I always assumed sewing patterns were subject to the same copyright laws as other printed material!

    • Amanda January 18, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      They are – which is that you can copy for personal use if you use own the original work. For instance, if I own a recipe book I can photo copy recipes to write on in my kitchen or avoid spills on my nice book.

  15. Kristonlion January 18, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Genius! I’m now looking forward to work this weekend! ;)

  16. Linda January 18, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Wow!! Just what I needed right now!!

  17. Michelle January 18, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    They’re going to hate me at Staples. I can see myself spending an afternoon copying some patterns I’ve been waiting to make, because I wanted to properly trace them before starting. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Nothy January 18, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I love this idea…

  19. Burke January 18, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    I actually did this with some Cambie pieces like the bodice to make the straight neckline. It works really well! And they’re thicker/more sturdy than the tissue but less hassle than tracing.

  20. Caroline January 18, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    This actually crossed my mind this morning, as I was working on cutting out bow ties for my Etsy shop. I thought “I should photocopy these patterns so I always have a clean one to use when these get too full of pinholes…. “

  21. Tina January 18, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Thanks, Tasia for this great tip! I’d call it an ingenious idea. I love how we sewers all have different ways of doing things to meet our needs, and it is also great when we share with others what we have tried & works. I tell my sewing students “there’s always more than one way to skin a cat”, to which they all scream eewwww Mrs. Spear don’t say that!
    Thanks for the great time saving idea which I will put into practice the next time I want to trace a precious pattern in order to preserve it for multiple uses….like the Renfrew!

    • Tasia January 23, 2013 at 11:14 am #

      This cracked me up – I can totally picture your students going ‘ewwww!’ So funny.

      You’re right, when it comes to sewing or making anything really, there are always many different ways to approach the same problem!

  22. Lara January 18, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    What a simple, but fantastic idea – I think I’ll be staying late at school with a secret stash of patterns in order to get this done! x

  23. Katrina January 18, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    I have been copying my smaller pattern pieces on my home copier for a while. I have also used the large copiers at a plot shop before, both for vintage patterns and modern. In my experience, the delicate vintage tissue is too fragile to be fed through the large scanners by itself, so it is best to tape the whole tissue to a large piece of sturdy paper before feeding it through the scanner. If you could find a plot shop with a huge flatbed scanner you could avoid this step. For modern patterns on normal weight paper, you can just run them as is through the scanner. I have done this for patterns that have the pieces printed all over each other (like Gertie’s) so I can cut out one of each piece instead of tracing. Since my husband has one of these printers at his office, it doesn’t cost me anything to run the copies :)

  24. Truly Myrtle January 18, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    I think it is fabulous idea! And surely, way more accurate?

  25. Tara January 18, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I’ve done this before for small craft projects, but not for garment projects yet. I will definitely consider photocopying for those patterns that cram so many overlapping pieces onto a single sheet. I also like the tip about going to a copy shop and asking for large roll copies.

  26. Heartofstone January 18, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    OMG you are brilliant!!!! I have never traced a pattern and instead I cut and fold, but this is the best idea EVER!!!! Thanks Tasia :)

  27. Zena January 18, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    FYI, some copiers are set to automatically shrink slightly (even though it says 100%) to ensure that all text from the original makes it onto the copy. (I think most copiers are unable to print right to the very edge of the page.) It’s probably a good idea to test the copier before copying all of your pieces. You could copy your ruler and then compare to make sure it hasn’t done anything odd size-wise.

    • ruthie March 5, 2013 at 4:36 am #

      That’s a great tip Zena, thanks! Definitely something to keep in mind. A quick test before you copy is a great idea and could end up saving a lot of time.

  28. Vanessa January 18, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    My poor pattern is ripped up so badly.I just traced it pattern last night (onto a manila folder) because it is now my prized pattern for a corset. I’ve had to do three mock ups to get this perfect. I didn’t even think to copy it. Thanks a million. Will be doing this on heavy stock for the other patterns. :-)

  29. Lorinda January 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    I have not done this so much for full size garments, but I have been doing this for quite a while with doll clothing patterns. I like to go ahead use some of the scraps for doll cloths and I find it is easier to pin up a doll garment (16/18″ dolls) at the same time I have my clothing fabric ready to cut. It does not take much extra effort and I store the doll clothing “kits” to sew when I am between larger projects. The original pattern pieces don’t get lost, I don’t have to work on the doll clothing right away and I can use up little scraps of fabric that are not really suitable for quilts because they are fashion fabrics like wools, rayons etc. Plus if you sew for a child/grandchild you have items you can finish quickly for gifts or if you sell doll clothing in an etsy shop or craft show you have saved yourself some time and money.

    Now I am going to start doing this with facings, cuffs, collars and other smaller pieces on full size garments. Thanks for the reminder / time save tip.

    One other thing I do sometimes is place a layer of tissue paper between the original pattern so that as I cut out a pattern I create a copy to use so I can keep the originals stored. Taylor’s tacks help mark the tissue so there are minimal marks to add like the straight of grain lines.

  30. Qui January 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    great idea! I never thought of this but will give it a try. I have a small copier at home, perfect for facings at least (those little pieces are the most annoying to trace for some reason)

  31. Tam January 18, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    What a fabulous idea for small pattern pieces – I, like many of you, feel a little silly for not having thought of this before – brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing the idea. Sometimes the simple things are like light bulb moments! Happy creating all. Cheers from Victoria, Australia!

  32. laura January 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    I was going to do a blog post on this soon. I got the idea from Lynda Maynard’s latest Craftsy class. You can do bigger pieces at specialized photocopying shops. You want one that copies in size A2 (A-line skirt, simple darted bodice). You’ll need size A1 or A0 for larger pieces but any shop that does A2 will probably do that too.

  33. Lora January 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Ladies:

    This is why I love this blog…full of great ideas. Tasia, for one so young, you definitely have it happenin’ where it counts.

    Lora

  34. Sarah January 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    This is a great idea! I’ve used the photocopier to grade up scaled corset patterns from books, but never for just straight pattern copying. Normally I don’t like working with patterns on thick paper, but now that I’ve gotten a rotary cutter and mat, it’s actually easier.

  35. Hanny Bobbins January 19, 2013 at 1:29 am #

    What a great idea! I have visions of all us seamstresses around the world surrupticiously stuffing pattern pieces in to photocopiers when the boss isn’t looking!

  36. Lindy January 19, 2013 at 5:31 am #

    Just in time for the next project– a 1930′s style peplum jacket and skirt/dress. Although the photocopy suggestion seems good and lots of readers are liking it, I would rather iron each piece with iron on interfacing. It makes the pieces flexible but non-tearing, they have a bit of “tooth” when laid on slippery fabric (I am cutting rayon) so they do not slip while weighting or pinning, storage of the pattern is easier when it remains soft & pliable.They can go into a 1 gallon storage bag or a transparent shoebox– that’s what I’ll use. Since I have to iron the pattern pieces flat before cutting, the stiffening with iron on interfacing does not add a step or a trip to a photocopier who has a large enough bed to copy larger pieces. Amanda, your photos here only show the facings or small pattern pieces. What about wide & long ones?

    I do rather fancy that suggestion about going to FedEx and getting them copied on a grid. that lines the large pieces up. But then you have big sheet of stiff paper to store and also avoid tearing.
    Amanda and sewers, this is just an alternate suggestion to consider.
    Love you blog and your fresh creative ideas.

    • ruthie March 5, 2013 at 4:34 am #

      I don’t like to fold my patterns. I clip all the pieces together (I use a clear pocket like you would put into a folder or 3-ring binder for the small pieces) and hang them in my wardrobe. Skirt hanger with clips are good, or you can just put binder or bulldog clips onto the hanger. If all else fails, you can pierce a small hole through the pattern (mine are copied onto thick stencil board, about the thickness of a manilla folder) and use thread to tie it to the hanger.
      They actually take up less space this way by volume because essentially they are being stored “flat.”

  37. Caroline January 19, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I also find the photocopier — and sometimes the large-format copier at the copy shop – to be invaluable in sizing patterns. Sizing for fit people according to height works pretty well this way – and I use it for hat sizing, too. Other size adjustments according to weight need to be done case-by-case, but I just thought I’d share this thing I sometimes do. Sometimes something is just overall a bit too big or small, and the copier helps.

    Of course I save all my paper scraps to use as note sheets, and the rest gets recycled. :)

  38. Chris Lucas January 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    If only we were allowed to use the photocopier at work I’d be photocopying like a mad woman lol

  39. Nina January 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    I’ve been doing this for a while. I have taken modern patterns to a local architectural reproduction place and had them copied on the large format copier so that I can make my alterations on the heavier paper. I LOVE IT.

    With vintage patterns, I trace them then take the tracings to the place above and have them print them on bond paper for me. I trace nearly EVERY pattern I use.

  40. Nina January 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Oh – one note of caution – FedEx Kinko’s is EXPENSIVE. It will cost around $30 to copy one pattern. But if you go to an architectural plans copy place it will cost about $2. Ours is a couple of towns down the highway, but worth it.

    I have NEVER had any issues with copyright warnings at any copy shop. Partly because of fair use but also because pattern blocks can’t *be* copyrighted. This link goes into great detail on the topic: http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml

  41. Carla January 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    OMG best idea I’ve encounter…. I have a small all in one, but i guess it will work for the small pieces…. any way time saver and all I have to worry is the big pieces!!!

  42. Keren January 21, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    how didn’t I think of that???????????????? :-O

  43. Tasia January 23, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I am so glad you liked this idea, and didn’t call me out for being super lazy! :)

    Good points about copyright. As many of you mentioned, it’s OK to copy the pieces for your own use, like printing out a PDF pattern or photocopying a recipe so your cookbook doesn’t get dirty. What’s not OK is copying it for distribution or copying it to sell it.

  44. LIttlejen January 27, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Regarding copyright infringement and copy shops (from a person that works at a copy shop named in one of the above posts): if a pattern is marked as being copyrighted, you can still ask the employee to copy it by asking to sign a copyright permission form, or you can copy it yourself using the oversize machine if it is in the self-serve area of the store. Don’t worry, an employee can show you how to use it. It is pretty dang easy.

    That basically absolves the retailer from any responsibility for copyright infringement. I would not rely on the link that Nina posted (http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml), no offense to Nina, of course. Even if the material posted on that site is true, getting into an argument with a copy shop employee over pattern copyright is just going to be embarrassing and will probably make you look a little crazy. We have pretty strict rules about how to work with copyrighted materials.

  45. Serenity January 28, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    I wonder what would happen if you enlarged the pattern a bit with the copier…..

  46. missjoiedevivre February 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I did this recently so I could give a copy of a pattern to a friend. I just rolled up the tissue for the larger pieces and copied it in sections, then taped the sections together. I do wish I’d pressed it first though as the slight crinkles introduced errors. Luckily the smock style garment could cope. So definitely iron. And remember that some copiers don’t copy to the edge of the glass either, find out the borders so you don’t end up with little missing strips between sections. It’s annoying, trust me!

  47. Linda Steaples February 5, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    I am just chiming in here. I trace my patterns brown wrapping paper from the post office,but I buy it at the dollar stores near me it is so easy to work on and it comes in big rolls…
    just me

    • ruthie March 5, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      Ooh brown paper is a good idea, thanks Linda!

  48. Carol August 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Great idea but I do something different. I use iron-on facing…the sheerest that is available and only buy when on sale. The patterns last forever!

  49. Victoria December 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Brilliant idea – thank you! (Now I just need some time….)

  50. Alena June 18, 2014 at 12:44 am #

    Great idea, I just made it yesterday when I need to copy several pattern pieces which are needen in mirror and I found out that some comy machines are able to mirror the image so it’s more comfortable.
    And when I make my own paper I alslo use brown wrapping paper since it’s more durable than the tissue paper.

  51. Sydney July 5, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Be careful if you copy photocopies. I don’t think photocopies are actually 1:1 copies. Each one is minutely larger or smaller, in some cases, than the original. The difference is usually okay if using the original photocopy, because it is minute. However, if you copy the photocopy, it’s going to be minutely off from the photocopy. Each successive copy gets more out of tolerance. So, what I’m saying is, if you are going to make additional copies, make sure they are from the original pattern piece. You can test it yourself by making copies of copies of copies, etc. I had a land surveyor, who officed down the hallway from me, make copies of a pattern on that humongous paper in his copier. Worked like a charm.

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