Tissue Should Be For Noses

Modern patterns (in an envelope) come invariably printed on the finest of tissue papers.  Finest in sturdiness, not quality.  Look at that tissue paper wrong, and you may well be making another trip to the fabric store to pick up a replacement.  When I was first learning to sew a few years back, I thought this was the only way you could go.  And it was one of the main reasons I hated making new things.  Cutting out the tissue paper pieces and then trying to cut around them was incredibly challenging.  Especially before I had a work surface to lay everything out on.  And what if you cut out your size, and then, heaven forbid, you want to make a different size later?  Again, off to your LFS you go.  Very frustrating and a definite impediment to actually sewing a garment.  I don’t think tissue paper is going away.  The Big 4 (McCalls’ Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicty) as well boutique designers like Colette and Sewaholic likely will never be able to afford to print their patterns on muslin or card stock or even printer paper.  (Well, the home sewer probably couldn’t afford it if they did.)  But that shouldn’t stop us from doing so!  Here are some ways I have dealt with the hated tissue issue:

Avoidance aka Print-at-home Patterns

Everyone has been raving about Colette’s printed patterns and the finished pieces I see all over the blogosphere are simply gorgeous.  But, at ~$18 a pattern, I decided to test the waters first with their free Sorbetto pattern.  Y’know, can I follow their instructions and make a decent garment?

It was my first time printing a pattern on a printer, cutting it out, and taping it together.  I really thought it would be impossible to do, but it worked just fine.  And guess what? It was also infinitely easier to cut out the pattern, because it was printed on regular printer paper.  Not the flimsy tissue paper I was used to.  Not many of my go to designers offer print-at-home options across the board, but I think this is the future of patterns.  Colette added this option to their summer collection, and the waist cincher I am making came as a PDF!  When it is an option, I will probably opt for this.

Tracing via Carbon Transfer

If you don’t like taping a pattern together, don’t have a printer, or just prefer traditional tissue paper, there is another way to preserve your full pattern.  I’d tried tracing patterns before using carbon paper made specifically for sewing.  I think it was Clover brand.  Let’s just say, it was a disaster, and I quickly returned to my cut and trace with pencil method.  Then I bought Sewaholic’s Cambie dress pattern, and I quickly realized this was not going to work.  For one thing, the pattern was on the spendy side.  So the alterations I planned to make needed to be spot on right out of the envelope, or I was going to have to shell out more money to re-buy it.  Not practical.  I went to an art store and bought some Saral transfer paper.  It comes in 5 colors and the roll is large enough that you should be able to trace a few garments (at least) before replacing the roll.  I roughly cut around the pattern pieces, and then used the Saral to trace it onto the fabric.  It worked like magic!  As I gazed down and saw those little grey lines on my black fabric, and did a happy dance of joy.  I will be using this method to transfer markings to fabric when tissue is involved.  Caveat: they say the grey is the most versatile color for transfer.  If you tend to sew grey things, get a second color.  I was quite sad last night squinting at my grey lining fabric trying to make out grey pattern lines.  I actually cut the hem wrong because of it.  Sadface.  Luckily it’s just a lining.  I picked up a roll of the yellow, and I am glad I did!

Reinforced Patterns

After my first Sorbetto, I knew I would be making a few of these tops.  They’re so easy to make, flattering, and amenable to nearly any woven fabric.  After making several alterations to the pattern, I decided it was time to immortalize it.  I happened to find poster board at Walgreen’s for 99c a sheet, and the sheets were large enough to accommodate the pattern.  It took a little effort to transfer the markings, but it was a great choice.  (Probably could have used the Saral if I’d known it existed.)  I can easily run a pencil along the thicker edges without the pattern moving.  My favorite immortalization method.  Here is the technique applied to the Sewaholic Cambie!

Now, I should say that I have been entertaining the idea for a while of transferring one pattern in particular to interfacing.  I bought a very thick piece from Joann’s to trace Butterick’s OOP 6884.  I’ve made 5 pairs of bloomers, so it was time to preserve the pattern before it disintegrated.  I had no desire to troll the web (again!) to find the pattern in my size.  The interfacing was quite a bit pricier than the poster board, but it worked.  It also can be rolled up for storage.  It’s a little awkward, however, to trace the pattern pieces because the interfacing is pretty thick.  It should be my preferred method, but I can’t imagine spending so much money for each pattern I’d want to trace.  That money will be going to actual fabric, thank you very much.  If you have the money, though, I would recommend at least trying it out.

I have also heard talk of ironing interfacing to the back of patterns.  I’ve never tried this, as I am staunchly opposed to iron-on interfacing.  It’s not that it’s a poor choice.  I just can’t seem to get good results using it.  Always buckles, bunches, or folds on me at the worst time.  So, if you have interfacing pressing skills, this may be an option for you.


I am by no means an expert, but these are some shortcuts I have discovered through trial and error that help you get to the fun part of sewing faster and with less effort.  There’s an initial time suck, but then you’ll be cranking out item after item in no time!  If you have other tips for dealing with flimsy tissue paper, I would love to hear them!


Confidence Gathering

When someone first begins sewing clothing, they’ll likely start with an easy pattern.  Something simple with a few pieces, little to no fitting, and gathers.  If you’re learning to sew on your own without the help of YouTube or a live human being, however, gathers can be a source of frustration and confusion.

“Why can’t I get these gathers to look decent?  Ack!”  What should take you two hours has now taken several, because you just can’t figure out how to do it well.  It’s bunched up over here, flat over there.  And then your thread breaks, and you toss the whole mess out of your line of sight.  Ask me how I know?

Everyone tells you gathers are so much easier than tucks or darts, but after a few more projects, darts are practically your BFF and tucks have saved a sleeve cap or two.  Gathers, however, still strike fear.

Confession time.  I have modified not a few patterns to avoid gathers.  But I decided that as a 1-year old seamstress, it was time to master this beast.  Of course, I took to my newest sewing guru to find tips.  Gertie never disappoints.

The Cord-Method basically eliminates the thread issue and gives way more control in the gathering process.  The whole method involves zig-zagging a wide stitch over a thicker piece of crochet cotton or cording.  You then pull on each end of the cording to gather the edge to the desired width.  You slide the fabric along the cording as necessary.  Everyone says it’s magical.  And it is, sort of.

The trouble I had my first go-round was keeping the crochet cotton in the right place.  It wanted to migrate, and so did the fabric underneath.  I didn’t pin it, so perhaps it was my own fault.  On 4-5 occasions, I sewing over the crochet cotton!  I was trying so hard to steer the cotton in the right direction, but it had a mind of its own.  So, I stopped sewing, pulled the errant threads from the cotton, and repositioned my edge.  It was annoying to say the least.  I had my machine on its widest setting.  I was also sewing really slowly, so I’m not sure what else I can do.  If I’d had two sections instead of 4, it probably would have been much more successful.  That said, it wasn’t half bad!

Stay tuned for pictures of the finished skirt!