Tracing Patterns: Options, the good, the bad, the cost

What to use for tracing patterns, cost, benefits, and suppliers

If you sew using PDF patterns, chances are you’ve debated whether to just print and cut or trace your size. And if you do trace, what do you use?! What is the easiest to use, the most affordable, what’s the BEST?

I prefer to print once and then trace.  I must admit printing and taping is my least favorite part, so I do it as little as possible.  Rachel will sometimes print and cut, mostly I think because her time is limited and if you don’t trace your size you are ready to sew more quickly. She’s also tends to just cut when doing tests for designers, since the final pattern will likely change. 

Here are a handful of options for tracing patterns we’ve used and liked. Feel free to share in the comments if you have a favorite we’ve missed!

Swedish Tracing Paper

Swedish tracing paper is available through Amazon and will cost you $14 for a 10 yard roll.  It is 29 inches wide.

This is fabric-like and sticks nicely to your fabric so cutting is easier.  Because it has a little bit more of a fabric feel it is less likely to rip or tear on accident, and the cutting lines are pretty clean. You also can sew on it, so you could make a muslin out of it.  Though I’m going to say if drape is important I don’t know that this would really be my choice for a muslin. It is transparent enough to make tracing relatively simple.

There is no grid so you can’t line up grain lines if you like to do that. This is currently one of Rachel’s favorites, though she primarily uses it for patterns that she knows are going to be used frequently or she knows she’ll be using long term, like women’s patterns.


Tracing Patterns with Pellon

If you do like to line up grain lines and stretch lines,  Joann Fabrics sells a pellon with grid, also called quilter’s grid.  You can also purchase this on-line.  It runs about $3.60 yd, or you can buy a full bolt from places like or  Prices vary quite a bit so do some research if this is the way you decide to go. Pellon also has more of a fabric feel, though it is not quite as thick as Swedish tracing paper.

Freezer Paper

Tracing Patterns with freezer paper

Freezer paper can be one of the least expensive options.  It comes in a 150 square foot roll for less than $6 and can be purchased at a big box store or any local grocery store. I’ve seen some confusion on this one. The box will actually say Freezer paper on it. You are not looking for parchment paper, etc.

Freezer paper is glossy on one side and matte on the other. The big benefit of freezer paper is you can iron it directly on to your fabric. Place it glossy side down and iron, no pins needed. It will peel up leaving no residue behind. I don’t usually iron mine, but I’ve read you can use pieces 3-4 times before they start to loose their stick.

It’s a little thicker so I’ve found it helps to have either more light or darker lines when tracing.

Kid’s Craft Paper

Tracing Patterns with craft paper

Rachel is a stone’s throw from an IKEA, and she has found a great cheap tracing paper source there! In the kid’s area of IKEA they sell rolls of manilla paper sized to go into their art easels. The roll is $5 and contains 98′ of paper.

It doesn’t come with any bells and whistles, and since it’s kid’s craft paper it is a little bit more prone to rip, but for sizes you may go through quickly or will sew limited times, it works!

Exam Table Paper Rolls

We haven’t tried this one, but if you had a good source I have heard it is a wonderful resource.  The paper is wide and comes in fairly large rolls. Again you’re dealing in light paper so the rip factor would be higher, but for the cost probably worth it. You may have to be ready to buy in bulk.

Make it work….

Of course in a pinch you can always use the tissue paper left over from last Christmas.  I have been known to scrounge through gift boxes until I found enough to trace a pattern.

Your Favorite

Any of these options will work great.  What we have found that helps greatly is if you have access to a large window. You can then tape your pattern right to the window.  It makes matching up the pages and tracing much easier, no trimming needed.  Rachel has large windows on her porch that I wish I could transport to my house, but I have found that working in a well lit room works pretty well.  Do you have any special tricks that you have found to make working with PDF patterns easier?

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Happy sewing,

Donna and Rachel



{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Mary Ann March 18, 2014, 12:50 pm

    I have a roll of white paper that my husband bought me at Sam’s club years ago for our 1st anniversary (paper is traditional) years ago. It is sold for restaurant use I think but it is much sturdier than the craft paper from IKEA.

  • Jennifer Lachman March 18, 2014, 4:45 pm

    I only trace pdf patterns when I am planning to make alterations, but I like to use interfacing. My husband built me a tracing table with a built in light and a glass top which works great for some of the smaller patterns like a child’s top, but for larger patterns I usually sit on the floor and work with the light I have.

  • Sarah Helene March 19, 2014, 10:56 am

    I appreciate the research and time to post details for papers used for tracing patterns: types cost and the BEST. I’ve used the technique of tracing a pattern on our 2 large sets of patio door. THANKS. Sarah Helene, Minneapolis

  • Ajaire March 19, 2014, 10:10 pm

    I’ve used freezer paper mainly in the past. I used to only use it if I was drafting, but lately I’ve been printing and tracing more than just printing and cutting and I’ve found the freezer paper can be a little hard to see the lines under. I bought a roll of medical “tracing paper” online and so far I’m in love. It has a sort of sticky back that isn’t sticky, but wants to cling to the fabric. Probably static? Anyway it makes cutting easier that it brings and the tracing part is much more enjoyable when I can see the lines. I should do the window trick. I saw a pic of Rachel doing that and thought it was such a good idea!

  • Denise March 20, 2014, 2:30 am

    I have used exam table paper for years. It holds up well and can be ironed. I am a nurse and have purchased single rolls from the hospital for $2/ roll.

  • Diane @ Vintage Zest March 25, 2014, 2:57 am

    I love that window trick! Personally, I use the same IKEA paper because it is so inexpensive. 🙂 Also, congrats because you are featured on this week’s Do Tell Tuesday link party and have been pinned to our features board! Feel free to grab a button and link up this week too. 🙂

    Diane @ Vintage Zest

  • Rolla September 17, 2015, 4:11 pm

    In Norway, I just use regular baking paper or pizza paper. You can buy it in sheets or in a roll. Since, Norway and Sweden literally care most of the same products, I was wondering if Swedish Tracing Paper was nothing more than baking paper. In groceries stores you will find it in light brown or white.

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