My tips & tricks for tracing Burda Magazine patterns

Tracing Burda Magazine patterns

This was supposed to be the perfect sewing weekend. My husband is away indulging in his time consuming and expensive hobby – karting, so I had the house to myself and absolutely no chores, plans or obligations to take me out of the house. Or rather, I had plans: to spend as much time as possible sewing! I need to make a dress for a wedding we’re going to next weekend, so I needed to get going.

It is now Saturday evening and I have not sewed a stitch. Why, you might ask? Did something come up, did you get lazy? No, actually, I have been doing sewing related things until 11 last night and from 9 AM this morning. And still haven’t cut out my dress.

And the reason is TRACING!!! I am using a Burda Style (the magazine) Special Vintage, but this goes for any Burda magazines. It’s a lovely design, but has 12 pieces and it took me hours to copy them out!! I could have finished the whole blinkin’ dress in that time!!

So, instead of a regular blog post, I want to talk about this most dreaded activity, in hope that we can exchange ideas/tips/tricks and it might go better next time…

For those who have yet to be exposed to this most dreaded of chores, this is what I’m talking about:

Tracing burda patterns (2017) #01.jpg

It looks like a spaghetti bowl, right?

Each magazine comes with 2 large sheets (or 1 depending on the number of patterns), printed on both sides, with the pattern lines in different colours superimposed one on top of each other. Each sheet is labeled with letters. You then have to copy the pieces belonging to the pattern you want to sew.

Now, why would you subject yourself to that?

When I first started sewing in Romania in 2009, the reason was simple. There really was not other option. Burda style magazines were the one and only source of patterns and you just had to go with it. In 2017 in the UK, only masochism could be a reasonable explanation. This and the fact that it’s actually super economical to get a printed magazine for £5.99, rather than downloading one single digital pattern for £3.99. And I quite like my little Burda mag stash, I still have some I got in Romania ages ago and now and again I find a few patterns that I want to sew.

However, if you decide to go for it, there is method to the madness. Here is how to get started (Burda also provided these instructions in every magazine)

Find the pattern you like in the line drawing summary. In the monthly magazines, they will have numbers, in this example, they have names.

Tracing burda patterns (2017) #06.jpg

Find the design number in the instructions pages and there will be a box with the type of line corresponding to the each size, the sheet where to find the pattern and the colour, as well as the number of pattern pieces.

Tracing burda patterns (2017) #05.jpg

Having found the right sheet, locate your pattern pieces by looking at the numbers on the edges. If you follow a number straight up, you will see the same number on the corresponding pattern piece.

Prepare for tracing

As this is a multi-size pattern, it often gets quite jumbly and hard to follow. So I like to highlight the size I am planning on tracing. I had originally tried highlighters, but noticed that they tend to bleed through the other side (the pattern sheets are really thin). So I had the idea of using wax crayons. I think you can use coloured pencils if you have them. I like the wax crayons because they are soft and don’t scratch the thin paper, I can easily rub off the lines with an eraser and I can sharpen them with a regular pencil sharpener to get an accurate tip.

Tracing burda patterns (2017) #02.jpg

This can also be used to blend between sizes if you need to.

As to the actual tracing, I use two methods quite interchangeably, depending on my mood or if I had run out of one of the other required materials.

Tracing method 1 – from the top

You will need transparent tracing paper, like drafting paper, Burda tracing tissue or any other type of paper you can see the lines through. I once used Marks & Spencer flower tissue from an Autograph bouquet, it worked like a dream. Swedish tracing paper or the perforated non-woven fabric that is used in upholstery for chair bottoms.

N.B. Burda Magazine patterns do not have seam allowances. So before you start tracing, make sure you leave enough space around the piece you want to trace, as you will need to add seam allowance.

Place the sheet of paper on top of your pattern piece and start tracing. I use a ruler to make sure I keep my lines straight, especially for long lines like centre back, sleeves etc.

Tracing method 2 – from underneath

You will need craft paper, or brown wrapping paper, or any other sturdier type of paper. You will also need a surface that will not scratch, but is also a bit squishy. The rotary cutter mat is perfect, but if you haven’t got one, use some fabric you don’t need, like an old sheet folded in 2. Make sure it’s not too soft though.

Place your sheet of paper underneath the pattern sheet, again making sure you leave enough room to later add seam allowances as above.

Then use a serrated wheel to follow the lines of the pattern all around. Because of the swishy surface, it will leave dotted imprints on the craft paper, which will form your pattern piece.

Adding seam allowances

Some people prefer to leave the pattern without seam allowances and just add them on the fabric, but it’s very likely I will forget, so I make sure to add mine to the pattern pieces.

A few methods here as well.

  • The old school one – using a ruler, a seam guide, a measuring tape etc, just follow the lines you have traced, which in effect are your stitch lines, and add a second set at the required distance, which will become the cutting ones.
  • The DIY one – using two pencils, tie them together with an elastic band. I also add a third, smaller pencil upside down, to achieve the 1.5 cm distance. This works better with the tracing from the top method, as you are doing both lines at the same time. A pic here.
  • The gadgety one – you can purchase a little ribbed plastic cylinder with a magnetic end and a rubber band. You can see a video on how to use it and you can order it here. Placing the band at the required distance will allow you to cut the seam allowance as you cut out the pattern piece. It works great on straight lines, but I have a bit of trouble with tight curves. Maybe I just need a bit of practice. But definitely one of my favourite methods.
  • Another gadget you can use is the Clover double tracing wheel. It does what it says on the tin, it’s like the serrated pin wheel, but it has two wheels and you can adjust them depending on the seam allowance you desire. Here’s a video of how it works. I really like this for the bottom tracing method.

To finish it off

Make sure you have copied all markings and pattern information for each piece.

When you are finished, check against the list of pattern pieces in the instructions to make sure you copied them all. I also like to cross of the reference numbers as I go along.

Write down the info on each piece, including issue of the magazine and the design number, size you cut out, seam allowance you added, how many pieces to cut in fabric and lining.

Tracing burda patterns (2017) #04.jpg

***************

Whew, that was a long one!

This is my two pennies’ worth of tips & tricks I picked up along the years. Have you got any other ones that can make my life easier? Also, do you trace other patterns other than magazine ones? I personally try to avoid it like the plague and just cut out regular patterns and make any adjustments on them. I’m really lucky that I usually don’t have to make serious alterations, like FBA/SBA. Anyway, what’s your view on that?

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38 comments

  1. Another tip – trace onto vilene or smartfab (I don’t know if you have that – it’s a soft, woven type of paper that can be used for costumes) and then you can use these pieces as a toile too, unlike tissue or tracing paper which doesn’t have the same flexibility around the body.

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  2. I love Burda too. You get so many patterns for a fraction of the price. On top of that I bought 5 kg of sheets of paper (50x70cm) that is ordinarily used for wrapping products in shops, but also happens to be relatively transparent. Thanks to saving money on patterns and tracing paper I can buy more fabric 😉

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      1. Oh cool, I’m originally from Romania (though I wasn’t sewing too much back then) and one of my best friends is Polish (but she lives in Austria).

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  3. Thanks Alex – I have been put off using the burda magazine because of the tracing issues but it would be a much more affordable option – more pennies available for fabric then. I have also seen a magazine called Ottobre (??) in Sainsbury’s recently but when I went back to buy it there were none there. Have you used this magazine? Thanks for your blog.

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  4. My goodness, Alex! I can’t imagine how tracing this dress would take more than half an hour. Is your tracing paper not thin enough? I just set a timer to check how long it took me to trace a five piece top and I finished in just under five minutes. I put the tracing paper over the pattern sheet, use pattern weights in strategic places and trace with a medium soft pencil. I prefer working with real stitching lines so after cutting out the pattern pieces I use waxed paper and a tracing wheel to transfer the pattern to the fabric. Since the stitching lines are marked you can cut the fabric freestyle with any amount of seam allowance you like, adding extra where you might need it, thus allowing fitting on the go. Fast and accurate!

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      1. In The Netherlands tracing is standard procedure as we have easy access to pattern magazines like Burda, Knipmode and La Maison Victor. Therefore it’s easy to buy transparent tracing paper in large quantities, and rather cheap. It’s probably 30 gram/m2 or less. If you’re ever visiting, ask for ‘patroonpapier’!

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  5. Brilliant tips here. I trace patterns a lot – all of them. I find I need to make lots of adjustments as I seem to be a weird shape and like to make myself a customised version which I can re-use. I have used highlighter before, but you’re right that the paper is too thin and it goes through to the other side – wax crayons sound like a good idea. But perhaps I should invest in a tracing wheel. And I do like the idea of the method used by sewfitted of tracing onto plastic film.

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  6. Oh Chris, queen of Burda! I should have just come to you right away :). I was being particularly accurate, colouring, tracing, cutting out with seam allowance and then measuring the SA with my ruler and making corrections, as it’s a difficult dress. I am usually much more slapdash, but it still takes quite a bit of time. However, I have to add SA to the actual pattern pieces, I think I can’t trust myself to use them without, because I forget and end up cutting out the fabric without it (ask me how I know!). Thanks for commenting and reading such a long post!

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    1. I am going to write ‘’Add SEAM ALLOWANCE” and tape it to my fabric or scissors or have it dangling in my eyeline or something similar as I often remember for one or two pieces but then forget…..aarrgghh. Probably should just add it to the pattern pieces but will probably forget.

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  7. I hate tracing and cutting out but I love Burda patterns… my tip? Have something engaging on TV, a cup of tea and lots of nibbles to get through it as painlessly as possible!! 😉

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  8. I have a slightly different approach. I mark the pattern I want to trace either with a sharpy or pencil. I then tape the entire sheet to a window. Tape pattern paper over the pattern. Using the daylight from behind, tracing is simple. I add seam allowances once all the patterns pieces are on the table.
    Another trick I just picked up. As I trace all my patterns. Is use the very flimsy plastic foil they use to pack flowers in. It is really cheap, and in the Netherlands it lays with gift wrap paper. I cut pieces of plastic, place them on the pattern and trace the pattern with a ballpoint pen as they do not smear. I trace without seam allowance. I cut around the pattern, not really neat, but within the normal seam allowance. Then I tape the plastic to sturdy IKEA coloring paper (also cheap, comes on a roll). Then I add the seam allowance. Because the plastic is taped to the paper, all markings are there, and because the seam allowance is added afterwards, it is easy to just tape the edges.
    Biggest advantage, the plastic is very static, so it does not slip and slide while tracing. Second advantage, my pattern is now on sturdy paper, so accidental tears are not likely, and pattern adjustments are much more easy.

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  9. I always trace nowadays. When I was younger I made the mistake of cutting out expensive full price Vogue designer patterns to my then size but never got around to actually making them. Later when I did want to use the patterns my body had changed shape/size. But I no longer have the larger sizes I now need. So I’ve learnt to always trace. It’s also insurance in case my pattern alteration goes wrong – I would have the original to go back to & start again. Also it allows me to sell the original patterns if I no longer want/need them & recoup some of the pattern costs.

    I find that because Burda is able to keep cost down with these must-trace patterns (& instead invest in aspirational pattern photos) I buy a lot more of them than the Big 4 patterns. I treat the magazines like any other fashion magazines.

    Tracing from the pattern sheets is probably no more torturous than printing & taping the digital version! And for maths-challenged me it’s probably still easier than Japanese pattern magazines where you have to draft to instructions based on a sloper that you also drafted to instructions! 🙂

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    1. I really don’t mind doing PDFs at all, and I now print most of them in copy shops anyway, so that’s even easier. I never traced regular patterns, but maybe I should :S… Thanks for commenting!

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      1. Which copy shop do you use & how much does it cost? I actually don’t mind PDF patterns either – even if I have to tape together A4s. I even trace the taped A4s! Obviously a glutton for punishment 🙂 But it would be great to find an affordable London copy shop.

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      2. I use a company called Hobs, in Marylebone. It’s close to my work, but they have other shops all over London. I think it’s £3/sheet or £2.5+ VAT. They are super quick, I got most prints same day.

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    2. draft to instructions based on a sloper that you also drafted to instructions….what kind of horrible ordeal is that? I like to sew for fun and relaxation (although it doesn’t always feel like that) so not sure that I shall be tackling Japanese pattern magazines anytime soon – thanks for the heads up on that one!

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      1. I’m guessing their culture & educational system make this no big deal. It gives you lots of custom fit patterns for a cheap price. I find what’s more of a barrier for me is their baggier/oversized conservative aesthetic. They used to have a mag called So-En that featured well known Japanese designer patterns – like Vogue Designer Patterns. Sadly they’ve turned into a straightforward hip fashion magazine. From what I can gather – I don’t read Japanese – the sloper in these mag is developed by their famous fashion university Bunka. There isn’t gazillion measurements involved, just some simple math in metric cm. Actually Pattern Magic books use the exact same system While the book does have cheater standard sloper, there’s instruction for drafting to your own measurements. The avant-guarde designs then is derived from the standard or your customised sloper.

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  10. wow, 6 hours? if it would take me that long to trace one pattern, i would never sew anything 🙂 luckily, for me it’s not nearly that long.. maybe that’s because i sew almost exclusively from burda patterns for years, so i’ve done the dreaded tracing part for couple hunded times and got used to it :D..
    i never add sewing alowances (prefer to add them while cutting my fabric), never highlight pattern lines on burda sheets (unless they’re printed in red, as someone above me said, or unless i have to drew my own lines if i’m blending between sizes).. as long as you use transparent paper, you can see the lines just fine.. another trick i use sometimes: when the lighting is good, i tape pattern sheet to a big glass doors, and tape my tracing paper over it, that way i can even trace red lines without highlighting, and i find it easier to do all the tracing while standing, instead of my more regular kneeling on the floor method 🙂 also, every once in a while, i devote an entire day to only pattern tracing, and trace up to 10 patterns that day.. it’s like a very good workout, and requires couple of coctails as a reward once it’s finished, but i find it very usful 🙂
    it’s a different story with vintage burda patterns though (original kind, not the reprints), as those sheets are insane, they’re often all printed in the same color, on much smaller sheets, but there is like 5 times the amount of lines compared to those on a picture above.. i passionately hate tracing those, but every once in a while i fall in love with one of the designs, and go trough hell to get them

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    1. Ok, maybe the 6 hours include faffing about and tea breaks :). I like that idea of doing a tracing bootcamp, especially when going through a sewjo low period. I have so many designs in magazines that I acquired over time and I am always put off because I can’t be bothered to trace them. Thanks for your tips!

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  11. I trace everything, even envelope patterns. I prefer the underneath method and for Burda I add my seam allowances on the pattern afterwards with the two pencils method. I really must get a double tracing wheel. I’m quite quick these days though. What I really like about tracing is that I can work out how to make up the pattern as I go, which makes the sewing stage faster. I also sometimes make separate pattern pieces for interfacing, and double up smaller pieces that would normally be cut on the fold. I always struggle to align those properly as half pieces. Anything to make the fabric cutting stage easier!

    I hope the sewing goes well.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Catherine! I have almost finished adding the changes from the toile back to the patter, and now heading to cutting the real fabric. Hoping to make good progress today, the wedding is next Sunday *worried face*!!

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  12. Goodness, you must create the most beautiful tracing if it takes you that long. I hate tracing too (everybody does, I’m sure) but I’m a bit more slap dash so it’s a lot faster. For what it’s worth I save time on the following:1. I don’t colour in the lines on the pattern sheet unless I really don’t manage to see them through the tracing paper (red is the hardest to see I find).
    2, I don#t add seam allowances unless its a pattern I know I will make regularly. I use a rotary cutter to cut out and I align the 1/2 inch marking of my quilt ruler with the pattern line and cut along the 1/2 line, thus getting 1/2 inch seam allowances. On round pieces I make a few marking in chalk and then cut. I expect the pattern you mention would take about 90 minutes to trace und cut out (the paper, not the fabric). It’s still tedious, but not as tedious as it turns out for you.

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