Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pencil Skirt Draft & Sew Along: Tools and Supplies

Like with any other art or craft activity, it is very easy to get excited about tools for pattern drafting. There are so many of them out there, each better than the other. How can you resist buying a hip curve, a T-square, an L-square a Fashion Ruler, a Pattern Master, a French Curve, a clear ruler, a 2-inch clear ruler, a 4-inch clear ruler, a metric ruler... - the list is endless, with all these tools designed to draw a simple line...

The good news is you can actually draft an accurate pattern without most of those (even though having a small variety can be quite convenient). So, here is my list of essential tools that you will find useful for this particular particular pattern drafting project. If you are having difficulties sourcing some of them, post on our Flickr discussion board, hopefully someone can help with resources outside the US.


I love alphanumeric drafting paper - it has a very useful 1 in. grid that speeds up the process of drafting. However, you can also use a regular white or unbleached paper, preferably on a roll. Just make sure it is not too thin and can withstand multiple tracing. Also, it is nice when you can see through just a little, so you can see the markings underneath if you have to re-trace a pattern. For paper without grid it is nice to have a wide transparent ruler with a grid, like those patchwork rulers - it simplifies drawing perpendicular and parallel lines.

For tracing, I like using sketch paper roll (18 in. wide or wider), such as Bee Paper White Sketch Roll, 18-Inch by 50-Yards- it is semi-transparent and wide enough to fit most of the pattern pieces. I prefer to buy paper on a roll, which eliminated the need to iron out the creases, and is also more economical.


graphite pencil - I prefer softer ones, such as 2B or even 4B (keep them sharp), or a mechanical pencil (softer lead is more visible, 0,5mm is a good width)

two-three color pencils (for pattern correction and outlines)

Sharpener: any sharpener with a shavings container to keep things tidy

Sharpie, or any other permanent marker, for drawing final pattern outlines

Eraser: this Staedler Mars Plastic Eraser is nice as it is soft and does not leave a trace.


Transparent (acryl) ruler, 2 in. x 18 in (or 5 cm x 45 cm). There are similar ones in Europe, available on the UK Amazon site. This is a great ruler to have for pattern drafting, it allows you to draw parallel and perpendicular lines without trouble.

French curve is quite useful, but you can do without it if you are not afraid of drafting curves free hand. Actually, practice drafting curves and lines without a ruler - you will gain confidence and steady hand after only a few attempts.

Tape measure comes in handy not only for taking measurements, but for measuring and truing curved lines.

Yardstick is optional, any longer ruler would do in fact. The problem with many yardsticks in the US (I don't know for the rest of the world) is that there are not accurate (check them against a good drafting ruler and you will see what I mean). However, they are straight enough to draw a long line.


The bare minimum are fabric (far left) and paper (far right) scissors. On the picture above, you see my essentials set. I also like the 4 in. tailor point scissors (center left) for clipping, small cutting, removing basting etc - very versatile. Serrated scissors (center right) are especially good for cutting slippery fabrics (silk lining, for example).


Adhesive tape - regular transparent adhesive tape for office needs.

Tracing wheel with serrated edges, like this Clover Tracing Wheel one. Invest in a better quality if you use it a lot - I have to replace my cheap one after only a few months of use - it started making annoying squeaky noise.

Double Tracing Wheel (for adding seam allowances) is optional, for marking seam allowances. I prefer doing it with a transparent ruler.


Muslin, or unbleached cotton (calico) - you may need up to 6 yd. (6 m.) of it depending on the width. We will be making a muslin for a straight skirt and for the final skirt with a flounce, so this is a minimum. I usually buy entire roll at Jo-Ann's, with a 50% coupon. In some countries it is difficult to find muslin, so in this case just buy cheap cotton, preferably without print and not too dark so you can see markings.

Carbon paper - the waxed type is better, especially when you work with muslin, because markings are bright and don't fade. But, if you don't have access to it, use wax-free paper, or a permanent marker to transfer the pattern to your muslin.

Pins - my favorite type are the silk pins with glass heads, or any fine pins.

Pattern weights - professional weights can be quite expensive, so you can improvise and use cans or anything heavy as an alternative

Needle, thread, sewing machine

A zipper for the skirt muslin - any old zipper will do, this is meant for fitting.

That's more or less all on tools. Tonight and tomorrow I will upload a post on patterns and measurements. Please, ask questions and share your tips!


  1. In the crash pattern making class I took, the teacher, a former professional pattern maker in New York, told us to use the plain side of the pattern paper. I'm not sure why; I think she said she liked the printed side only for markers (layouts with all the pattern pieces used in production sewing).

    I personally would want a hip curve and a French curve. Everyone I know who sews has a Dietzgen # 17.

    I have the Clover double tracing wheel and I've seen a teacher use it, but an excellent tutor used it with me and said it was inaccurate. I prefer to use a clear ruler to add seam allowances.

    Swedish Tracing Paper can be nice to use further along in the process before the muslin. It's a translucent medium that can be marked, pinned and shaped and, I've read, sewn. It is expensive, so you don't want to use it until you've developed a good shape on the pattern paper.

    Certain types of brown kraft paper might be usable as well. I received a bunch in a delivery and kept it. It's important, as you said, that the paper have a certain body. But it also needs to be somewhat supple because you have to crease it to create the darts.

    At the very end of the process, if the draft (pattern) is a success, some people may want to transfer it to a medium-weight oaktag, which can be hung on a pattern hanger. It is also possible to transfer it to a clear or translucent plastic medium. Those are ways of memorializing the work for future use. It's also much easier to trace onto fabric a pattern that has hard edges.

    FYI: Paper can be ironed (a revelation to me when I took my first real sewing class.) If you have a sharp pair of paper shears you can rip the paper along the grain, which is much faster and cleaner than cutting for straight cuts. But your shears or scissors must be sharp.


  2. Where do you find your waxed transfer paper? I've looked everywhere for it, and the best I manage to find is graphite paper (in the painting section of an art supply shop), which is multiple times better than that horrible wax-free stuff that Dritz tries to push on us tracers, but still isn't as sharp/accurate. I found gray, white, and black graphite paper, and it does ok, but I'd still love to find some really good waxed stuff...

    Also, I'm sure I'm the last person to figure this out, but I put clear packing tape on the back of my tracing paper before using it, and it lasts FOREVER this way and doesn't shred--such a miracle!

  3. Marina, thanks so much for doing this sewalong. I'm joining! I have most of the supplies. I'll be collecting them and buying what I need soon.

  4. I use Ikea's Bomull unbleached cotton as muslin. it's great and cheap (since there's no Joann's coupon in Europe)

  5. Thanks Marina.
    I've only just bought a double sided tracing wheel so I can now use it instead of just winging it. I'm a fabric hacker at best XD

  6. I use heavy duty washers from a hardware store (50-75 cents each) instead of pattern weights. They are much cheaper and smaller/easier to store, too.

  7. Anonymous 12:54 PM:

    I'm sure Steinlauf and Stoller, Sil Thread, and Fashion Design Books in NYC have wax tracing paper. Amazon also must have some sources.

  8. You might want to mention what kind of zipper to buy, if it matters. Not everyone knows the difference between a regular and an invisible zipper, or that a special foot is often helpful in installing the latter.

  9. A spikey needle tracing wheel can be helpful. If you need to transfer changes to the other side of a pattern, you fold it, use the tracing wheel, open up the paper and trace over the points with a pencil and curve (sorry, you really do need one. :-) ). It's a much cleaner method than using wax paper, and sometimes you don't have a sheet or feel like pulling it out.

    If you ever want to transfer changes from a completed draft to oaktag, using the needle point wheel is a good way to get started. You can also use it to make a copy of a commercial pattern you want to keep intact.

  10. The link for the tracing paper is not working, could you please give me the correct link. I really need good tracing paper for Burda patterns and know you know what is best!

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