How to Alter, Trace, and Use a Multiple-Sized Pattern

Designers working with sewing patterns
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The economic and easy way to alter a pattern is to buy a multiple-sized pattern in one envelope. The economic aspect only works if you trace off the pattern size you need and save the original pattern for future use. Patterns for children are much more economical if you can buy multi-sized patterns and use the larger sizes in the future as the child grows.

A multi-sized pattern is much easier to make minor sizing alterations. As you trace the pattern you can gently go from one size to another by following the lines for the various sizes. For example, to alter a pants pattern and have a size 12 waist and a size 14 hip, you will watch the hip line of the pattern and gradually change from the size 12 waistline area to the size 14 line in the hip line area.

Be sure you are keeping the changes even on all the connecting pattern pieces. Since many sizes are printed you can see exactly how the changes are made for various parts of the body. Knowing when to move the seam upward, outward or over is resolved by following how the sizes change on the original printed pattern.

Using Patterns

Whenever you are making an alteration and you are unsure of the results, it's worth the time to make a scrap copy from an old sheet or that bargain bin fabric that you wonder why you bought it. Whenever it's possible, use the same type of fabric as the fabric you will be using for the garment to get the full picture of how the pattern will drape and hang in the finished garment.

If you are not going to use a stretch fabric on the final garment, don't use a stretch fabric to test the pattern. The fabric stretch can make a big difference in how the pattern will fit, even if you don't "think" the trial run is stretching the fabric.​ Pay attention to the grainlines on the pattern piece. A bias-cut will hang and fit much differently than a garment that is cut on the straight or crosswise grain of the fabric.

Most of the new multi-sized patterns have dotted, dashed, and solid lines to indicate the lines for the various sizes. These lines can be hard to see when you are trying to trace the lines. If you run into a visibility issue, use a bright-colored pencil on the pattern lines to make them more visible.

A large single-pane window or door also works as a lightbox for pattern tracing. Simply tape the pattern to the glass on a sunny day and place the tracing material over it. The sunlight allows you to see the pattern details better than if you were working on a tabletop, making tracing the pattern much easier.


There are many material options for tracing a pattern:

  • Newspapers will often give away or sell the ends of their unprinted newspaper rolls. This gives you an unlimited length of tracing material. Printed newspaper can be used but it can be very difficult to see the pattern lines under the newspaper print and the ink can rub off onto fabric.
  • Gift wrapping tissue is another option. Most dollar stores carry large packages of gift wrapping tissue. Watch for clearance sales after holidays to pick up a variety of tissue colors. Tape pieces together for larger pattern pieces.
  • Pattern tracing interfacing material, with a printed grid, is available in the interfacing section of your local fabric store or at most online fabric stores.
  • It is not recommended to use fabric as pattern material. It can warp and fray, leaving it a different pattern when you go to use it again.

There are various ways to make a pattern easier to trace.

  • Always press the pattern so it is smooth and flat before you begin to trace it.
  • Highlight the lines you want to trace with a color pencil or fine tip marker.
  • On a sunny day or with light outside, use tape to tack the pattern on a large window and then tape you tracing material over the pattern. This makes it much easier to see the lines you want to trace.
  • Place the pattern on a light color floor or table so there is a contrast with the background while you trace the pattern.

Be sure to trace all pattern markings that you will want to transfer to fabric. Once you know a pattern fits well and you are sure to use it again in the future, you will want to preserve the pattern. Lightweight fusible interfacing is the perfect way to preserve a pattern. Be sure the paper pattern is flat and smooth before you fuse the interfacing to the pattern. Any time you don't know what to buy with a percent off coupon, be sure to think of pattern tracing. Using money-saving tips make multiple sized patterns even more economical.