Sewing Circle: How to cut out your size from a pattern and leave it intact

Got a great Sewing Circle question from a reader the other day! There are so many things I wonder myself, but never ask, so it's great that she wrote me with this question:

Q: Hi Suzannah, 
When you are using a pattern, do you cut out your size or do you try to "preserve" the pattern by leaving all sizes in tact and trying to cut under/around/ in order to cut your size? I am obsessive about leaving the pattern in tact "just in case..." but I am finding it more difficult as I get in to more detailed patterns. I was hoping to get some perspective from another dressmaker! Thanks!

A: Hi Michelle,
Funny question, I love it! 

I leave the pieces intact and fold back the edges along the size I'm cutting. It's worked well for me, since I've changed sizes a couple times since I started using my fave patterns a (some of them quite a few years ago ;)). I don't think there's a right or wrong way, though. Folding is pretty perfect except on the curves like armscyes--there I often snip into the curve a couple places and fold in chunks. 

This question got me thinking, though, and I took some photos of my favorite patterns and demonstrating what I mean. So here goes: How to cut out your size from a sewing pattern, leaving the rest intact!

I also should note that this is different from others of my top Sewing Circle questions, like:
So check out those if you're new to using patterns. 

Like I said, this is a very specific question, that many people (like me) have never thought to ask out loud before!

So here's one of my all-time fave patterns, McCall's M5849. (It's out of print, but Simplicity 4070 is nearly identical). I've used this pattern so many times, but because of the straight lines and princess seams, it's so easy to fold over in a straight line to cut my size. In fact, I opened it up this way--I guess I've left it folded to my size!


When I get to the notches on the folded side, I usually lift the pattern piece a little and do my best snipping triangles of the approximate size and location. It works for me.

Here's another example, and a little trickier one because of the curved armscyes. This is Simplicity 1873, a relatively new fave pattern. This is the bodice back.

(I recommend that you do this more carefully than I did.) On the curve, where it's impossible to fold exactly along the black line for my size, I snip into the pattern to the line in a few places (using paper scissors, of course--not the fabric ones I may be holding at the time!)

There you have it! How to preserve a pattern and cut out your size.

Now, how about an unofficial survey--do you cut your exact size out of the pattern, or do you fold or have some other method?!?

39 comments

  1. I always trace it onto a roll of wax paper, in my size, then fold and put away the original pattern tissue. Then I keep the wax paper pattern in my size in a large binder. It's on that copy that I slash / fold for length adjustments, deepen necklines etc.


    For my most used patterns, the tissue just wouldn't stand up to being folded / unfolded that many times, and I like the option to resell the pattern if it turns out I don't like it.

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  2. I trace! I used to fold, but when I got to any part that was curved, I would totally mess things up since I did not cut into it like you. The whole piece would shift, it would rip, and I would pull my hair out! I actually wrote a tutorial for the method I use, if you don't mind me sharing. :)

    http://www.vintagezest.com/2013/10/tutorial-how-to-trace-sewing-pattern.html

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  3. I cut on my size line under the pattern.

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  4. I used to fold, but around the armscye it got a little messy for me. Like vintagezest, I trace my patterns. It takes longer because you have to trace and cut it out, but I actually find it therapeutic.

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  5. I always fold because I don't have the patience for tracing but I think it makes the pattern a rubbish investment of money if you're constricting it to one size. This means that I can still make it for someone a different size to me.

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  6. I usually draft all my own patterns and I'm not usually very good at following a store bought pattern. For that reason, if I do find a pattern I like, I will trace it off onto dot or butcher paper and make my sizing adjustments from there. I like to keep the original pattern all on one sheet because I hate the tissue it's printed on and I don't want to cut into it a cause it to rip.

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  7. If its a big four pattern, I just cut it straight out, or use the fold method. I trace indie patterns. I'm glad you put pics of how to fold the pattern pieces - I was thinking about doing the same thing!

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  8. Hi Suzannah,

    My name is Toni and I'm with Dwellable.

    I was looking for blogs about Long Beach to share on our
    site and I came across your great story and pics of the spectacular Long Beach
    peninsula... If you're open to it, I would like to feature your story with us.
    Please shoot me an email at toni(at)dwellable(dot)com.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    -Toni

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  9. I always fold. Since I've started reading more sewing blogs, I thought I was the only uncool kid who didn't trace or sacrifice the multi-sizing in favour of cutting along the right line. Glad to hear there's others out there like me.

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  10. I always trace since sewing patterns here in Sweden are quite expensive and I want to use them again! :)

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  11. I always trace. Then I can pin the traced pattern together for a test fit before cutting out my fabric.

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  12. Thank you for a detailed answer, Suzannah! I have been wondering about how other sewers handle this... and it turns out there are more options than I had envisioned.

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  13. "Big four"--never heard that before, but after thinking about it a second, I totally know what you mean!

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  14. Thanks for sharing!
    I'm not patient enough to trace most of the time.. :/ but I should on my favorite patterns!

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  15. Wax paper, that would work! I've traced onto pattern fabric paper stuff before, but I don't usually have the patience!

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  16. I totally made this... I had extra jersey from another t-shirt mod I did and used it for your awesome tutorial! Thanks, Suzannah! Huge fan of the blog!

    http://funthingstodowhileyourewaiting.com/2013/09/25/an-applique-t-shirt-mod/

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  17. Wow, this is an amazing idea! Thank you so much for sharing - this would work wonderfully for "transitioning" between sizes for us "non-normal" gals *LOL* Sorry that always makes me laugh...can't wait to meet the person that can use a sewing pattern as-is, with no adjustment at all! :)
    Thanks again! :)

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  18. I use freezer paper to trace the size I need, so I don't have to cut the pattern ... works especially well for preserving kid's patterns so I can use the bigger sizes as they grow!

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  19. I transfer my pattern on thick foil from the hardware store. Freezer paper is available here in Germany not to buy anything, just online on amazon ....

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  20. I'm a tracer-- but this post might have just changed my mind! I wanted to let you know I'm featuring it this week on my frugal sewing site Sewistry. Here's the link: http://sewistry.com/2013/11/sewing-tip-save-pattern-sizes-without-tracing/

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  21. I love this idea! I can't believe I never thought of it.

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  22. I unfold the tissue paper and trace the size I want with a Sharpie instead of a tracing wheel. The marker bleeds through and shows up on the paper underneath, making it easier to see the lines. I dont cut into the tissue paper at all, which makes refolding and restashing it into its envelope waaaaaaay easier as well!

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  23. With over 400+ original patterns, we trace multiple sized ones, although we use lightweight fusible interfacing. It take fine line sharpies well, doesn't tear easily, is easy to reuse the pattern multiple times, it is cheaper than other pattern materials, and a great advantage is that holds really well on the fabric without a lot of pins needed.

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  24. I am a folder. I need multiple sizes because I am a non-normal size. I also do it because if I decide to put it on my garage sale, it will still have all the sizes. I have picked up patterns at garage sales and they cut their size out and it wouldn't work for me.

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  25. I've been doing this for years. I didn't know it was anything new.

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  26. I HATE tracing. This is a great idea, I never even thought of doing something like this. Great tutorial.

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  27. I bought a roll of brown shipping paper (20 yards for $5) and pinned my ridiculously thin pattern pieces on it, cut all the patterns out, drew the necessary instructions on the shipping paper and now have HEAVY WEIGHT patterns I can pin to the fabric and cut around with no fear of tearing.

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  28. Yes, that sounds so much better than the flimsy paper in the envelope!

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  29. Dana, i essentially do what you do, only i have started using the most inexpensive muslin I can find ( Walmart < $ 1.50 / yrd ). I find it easier than the paper. And I'm with you, the tissue paper the patterns are made of, is ridiculous!

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  30. Never thought about the brown paper. Oh well, when I run out of exam table paper, I will go that route. Thanks. Oh yeah. If you are framing a picture, cut out the size of the back of the complete frame of the brown paper, wet it (just run water over it lightly) blot it, and spread Elmer's glue on the back solid part of the frame. Place the damp brown paper on it, and let it dry. Tight as a drum. I know that this didn't have anything to do with sewing, but, it is another use for all that paper.

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  31. There is another way to save your pattern sizes. The fabric store sells tracing wheel and tracing carbon for tracing patterns on fabric. The carbon will not stain your fabric. I have been using this method for years.

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  32. I trace the pattern onto a cheap dollar store plastic table cloth. They are virtually see through and it's easy to see all markings. And the plastic is a lot more resilient then paper patterns. I fold any pieces that have straight lines.

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  33. That's a good idea! Bet those would last forever!

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  34. I always did cut my patterns and I have sewed since beginning of time. And never thought of clipping the pattern. Guess your never to old to learn a new trick.. Thanks

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  35. now I have done this a time or two

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  36. I purchase inexpensive bolts of interfacing when they are on sale. Then I fuse it to the back of pattern pieces before fully cutting them out to reinforce the flimsy tissue patterns. Then I do the snip and fold trick so I can use the same pattern for myself or others who might be a different size

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  37. That s the method I favor. I will check out the exam paper. I was also told to try the rice paper from the florist.

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