Sewing Tools

A Slow Sewing Project: Tracing and Cutting Tools

Last week I posted about my latest project, Simplicity 7031.

Sewing pattern Simplicity 7031 in size 14 1/2. View 1 is a knee-length shift dress with princess seams and bell sleeves. View 2 has short sleeves. There is an optional tie belt. It is described as a "Jiffy dress 3 main pattern pieces; easy-cut easy-sew." View 1 is shown in a green floral print and view 2 is shown in pink or blue. The background is a painterly blue floral fabric.
Photo by author.

This week I worked on tracing off my pattern and cutting out my fabric. I always trace off my vintage patterns to reduce handling and better preserve the originals. I use Wawak’s Dotted Marking #15 Pattern Paper. It is an expensive purchase up front but it lasts for ages. I bought mine in 2020 and feel like I have hardly made a dent even though I trace off patterns all the time. It is 500′ long (~166 yards) and you can get it in 36″ width or 48″ width. I would recommend the wider roll, however, as some pattern pieces are too wide for the 36″ wide one, which is what I have, and that means taping bits together.

Photo by author.

I find tracing doesn’t take too long because you don’t have to follow grainlines and you can nest your pieces better to be more economic about your paper use. Cutting out, however, always takes me a long time. One of my most indispensible sewing tools for this is a clear quilting ruler. To get my pattern piece on grain, I line one end of the ruler up with the selvedge, and then position the pattern piece so that its grainline aligns with the ruler (see below). Mine is a Dritz. I’ve used lots of different models of quilting rulers, but this one is my favorite so far for garment sewing. I find the blue color easier to read than red (another common color on quilting rulers) and I like the big numbers and bold lines that mark out the 1″ increments. The hole at the top also makes it convenient to hang. You can use the smaller holes to mark out evenly spaced things like buttonholes or pleats, or to draw a circle by pivoting it.

Photo by author.

I also want to take a moment to discuss pins. They tend to get overlooked, but where would a sewer be without pins! Using the right kind of pin is pretty life changing. I sewed for a long time before I realized that there are different kinds of pins. I remember using really poor quality ones that would have burrs before I used them, or how they would cause pulls in the threads of my fabric because they were too thick.

Photo by author.

First, pins have different types of heads-tiny metal ones, big plastic ones, glass, and my current favorite, the flat plastic ones which I buy from Clover (see above). I find the tiny metal ones (“dressmaker’s pins”) hurt my fingers and are too fiddly when I am having a day where my manual dexterity is less than stellar. I also just learned about one called a fork pin, which look like they might work even better than my flat head ones. Second, pins come in different diameters. You can get really thin ones for working with silk (I use the Dritz Ultra-Fine Glass Head ones), and in textile conservation we use even thinner pins which are actually entomology pins (the kind stuck into bugs in museums). If you’re not sure what size pins you are using, Wawak has a free printable guide so you can hold yours up to it for comparison. I try to keep my pins sorted into different containers, which I label with the size and type.

Now my pattern is all cut out and ready for the edges to be serged!

Photo by author.

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