Introduction: Turn a Commercial Pattern Into a Permanent Pattern

Picture of Turn a Commercial Pattern Into a Permanent Pattern

This instructable details how to turn a commercial pattern (those awful tissue patterns) into a permanent, easily reusable pattern.  The benefits of having a permanent pattern is that they're much harder to destroy, they're easier to work with (no pinning!), and a single pattern can be used to create multiple sizes without needing to buy addition pattern packages.  Once you have a permanent pattern, you can weigh it down on your material and trace directly onto material using tailor's chalk or a pencil.

Before making a suggestion, please read through the replies that have already been posted.  There's a good chance it's already been discussed at least once.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
You will need:
  • "Weights"
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Posterboard
  • Light colored marker
  • Black marker
  • Hole punch set
  • Hammer
  • Scissors
  • Straight-edge or ruler
  • Self-healing Mat
  • Pattern

Step 2: Loosely Cut

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Loosely cut out the pattern piece.  Don't worry about being precise.

Step 3: Iron

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Gently iron the pattern piece on medium heat without steam.  Steam can damage the pattern.  Be careful!

Step 4: Weight

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Weight the pattern piece down on the posterboard.  Try to conserve space, but don't put lines on edges - give a little buffer room.

Step 5: Trace

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Using a light-colored marker, lightly mark the pattern lines by gently marking over/through the tissue pattern piece.  This takes some gentle work to keep the lines correct.  Be sure to mark all the triangles, guides, darts, grainlines, etc. for the size you are making unless you already know they are not necessary for what you are making.

Note:  The marker will trace through the pattern paper.  This photo is just to demonstrate how the ink bleeds through which is what you want.  If you look at the upper part of the photo, you will see the green marker that I used going over the pattern paper, and you can see the result at the lower part of the photo.  There's no need for tracing paper or flipping the pattern paper up and down to get the lines right.

Step 6: Retrace and Label

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Retrace the markings you made and label appropriately.  Use a straight-edge/ruler to make nice crisp lines.  It isn't necessary to mark the outside edge so long as you can easily see it.

Label the piece number, cutting instructions, size, and pattern name and number.

Step 7: Cut

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Cut out the piece and all indentations.

Step 8: Punch

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Using a hole punch and hammer, punch out the markings on a self-healing mat.


AlexaW1 (author)2017-11-28

What about saving a pattern on a fabric like white canvas or muslin? most muslin is 90-108" wide so you only need to buy half the fabric needed for a particular pattern, maybe less since everything everything is single thickness and not cut on a fold, you can mark them with Sharpie, put a tiny piece of stabilizer and make holes, and for storage it can folded. When cutting the pattern it has weight and wont be affected by a draft and lays flat on fabric you're cutting. Also, this allows for bigger projects like full dresses to have the pattern pieces saved in one piece instead of frakenstein-ing smaller piece together. If the fabric gets wrinkled you can press it back.

Katejenkins (author)2016-03-28

I hope this is ok to post. I already have my patterns but am looking for someone/a company who can cut them for me ie cut the fabric itself rather than create the patterns. Does anyone know where I could go for this?

retroronda (author)Katejenkins2017-02-16

This is something I am also looking for. I make clothing for Etsy, but have Carpal Tunnel on both sides! I need someone else to cut.

HEV16 (author)retroronda2017-07-31

Hi Katejenkins and retroronda !

I would be happy to cut your fabrics. I have a part-time job in Virginia and I am looking for this kind of opportunities to fill up the rest of my time and earn a bit of extra money.

I am not a professional but I have sewn a few dresses and skirts for myself. They came out pretty good and I really enjoyed all parts of the process.

Let me know if you are still interested and we can talk about it!

SaraP70 (author)2016-08-09

I love this. I did it and it is so wonderful to not have to cut and pin fabric around those atrocious tissue paper patterns. Thank you for this. I do have a question for you though what do you do when the pattern is larger than your posterboard?

cassiedow (author)2015-03-23

I read through quite a few of the comments, and I am sorry if I missed this. But where would you recommend buying cardboard in larger amounts. I need rolls of thick quality cardboard for my patterns because the basic sheets at the stores are not long enough.

Thank you.

ClaudiaT1 (author)2015-01-28

I read through a lot of the comments and did not find my method. I use this mainly for doll clothes and sewing projects other than human clothes, scrub hats, bags, etc. I was the fortunate recipient of several boxes ( couple hundred sheets) of xray film. Theses were outdated and could not be used and would have been thrown out. They are lightly tinted, but I can still see through them to fussy-cut. They are about 15x20 inches so work great for smaller pieces. (That's why they wouldn't be good for large clothes patterns). I just cut out the tissue pattern and trace it onto the film. I can mark all the guidelines. I store these in large plastic bags with the original pattern envelope or, if they are too large for the bag, in the drawer in one of my great yard sale finds, a drafting table. The table is solid, by solid I mean heavy, wood. It measures 4' by 8'. It is higher, great for cutting while standing. The drawer is very large but only about 3" deep. Still it holds lots of patterns for sewing, crafting, and stained glass.

OLJ429 (author)2014-08-06

HELP PLEASE. I just found this site; got all my materials and ready to copy to posterboard. But I need to sew all 3 sizes men's vests. HOW? You indicated this could be done, but if I cut along the line for one size, I cannot see how I can go back, using the same posterboard, and cut out other sizes. I'm desperate to get started but afraid to make the first cut! H E L P. And great thanks for this tute.

AngryRedhead (author)OLJ4292014-08-07

You trace one size of a pattern piece onto the poster board, move the pattern piece to a clean section of poster board, trace another size, and so on. So if there are 8 pieces for each vest and you need that vest in 3 sizes, you will wind up with 24 poster board pieces all together.

OLJ429 (author)OLJ4292014-08-06

FOLLOWUP ON "HELP PLEASE" message just sent. To reply, my email:

Eagerly waiting response and again, thanmks so much.

saosport (author)2013-02-27

Amazing. I am going to do this. I am just starting to sew and am startng to hate the pattern material.

AngryRedhead (author)saosport2013-02-28

I hate it, too, and fear ripping the paper.

maltesergr8 (author)2012-07-27

I usually copy all my at patterns to muslin, but really like the poster board.

Thanks for the excellent 'ible!


AngryRedhead (author)maltesergr82012-08-29

Sorry about the late reply!


ozmum03 (author)2010-12-27

A much easier way to safeguard much loved/used patterns is to use medium weight iron-on interfacing/stabiliser. just turn pattern over and iron on, cut out and voila.
I used to transfer patterns to cardboard but I found that storage beacame an issue and the folds started to tear after being used lots... good idea though...

AngryRedhead (author)ozmum032010-12-27

I don't fold them. I hang them in the closet or against a wall, or I store them under the bed where they won't get wrecked. Your method has already been discussed.

drewscreen (author)2010-11-10

Saral Wax Free Transfer Paper comes in 12 ft. rolls, in many colors, for about $10/roll.

Also, a low vapor altenative to spray adhesive is a product that is used in the screen-printing industry called "table adhesive" which is a yogurt-consistency paste that you spread on with a card.

AngryRedhead (author)drewscreen2010-11-10

Those 12' rolls are only 12.5" wide which would mean layering out a few of them to do a pant leg, full skirt, coat, etc., and in general, it would require more time than tracing with a light colored sharpie marker.  You can buy a dozen blue sharpie markers for $10.

Any type of adhesive on commercial pattern paper (worse than the tissue paper you buy for stuffing gift bags and what not) would be a nightmare and would likely result in failure more often than success which means purchasing more and more patterns for each piece you ruin.  The paper will likely roll onto itself and then tear if you try to pull it apart.  Putting it on the poster board and then putting the pattern on that would be incredibly difficult and would likely fail or result in so many creases and wrinkles that the pattern would be ruined.  Additionally, gluing the pattern onto the poster board would mean you only get 1 size.

drewscreen (author)AngryRedhead2010-11-10

Well, you just can't beat with Sharpie markers!

The Saral transfer paper would indeed be more expensive, and may not be appropriate for this use.

The table adhesive, however, is low tac, and is designed to temporarily hold fa bric in place, so might perhaps be useful for other projects involving positioning of fabrics.

AngryRedhead (author)drewscreen2010-11-11

I can see the adhesive being helpful in holding a permanent pattern down on the fabric, but then there's an issue of storing the pattern once it has adhesive on it especially over time and poster board against poster board being pressed against one another.

Professionals use pattern weights and tailor's chalk (or a pencil or whatever), and it's quick to mark the outline of a pattern onto the fabric. All you need are a few cans of tomato paste ($0.33/each; or whatever it is that you'd like to use to weight your pattern down) and tailor's chalk ($1; or a pencil for $0.10).

Another reason to use the pattern weights has to do with matching fabric prints. It's pretty easy to slide a permanent pattern around on fabric, but it's trickier to reposition a permanent pattern with adhesive on it - you'll have to pull the whole thing up repeatedly and carefully make sure the entire thing is pulled the way you want it for the entire pattern piece before laying the pattern on the fabric.

And then there's an issue of what the adhesive might do to organza or any of the sheer fabrics.

It might be useful if you're doing a line of solid color broadcloth dresses and need to cut out all the pieces in a day.  I imagine my mother would have loved to have had a permanent pattern with table adhesive applied to it when she was sewing a bunch of skirts and caplets for a children's Christmas chorus performance.  However, I don't know if it would be a good thing in the long-term generally.  I guess it would heavily depend on what your needs were.  Making a ton of bags with irritating pattern pieces?  Go for it.  Making a floral-print satin and organza ball gown?  Avoid it.

frogboots (author)2010-07-26

I have had good success making a permanent pattern of favorites from Pellon Tru-Grid Graph Material, a nonwoven material that resembles some kinds of interfacing. It is quite durable, and even washable! It lies flat, does not require many pins, and folds up easily for storage.

AngryRedhead (author)frogboots2010-08-05

Ooohhhhh, that looks like some good stuff to have around, and it isn't too expensive.

I think I'd probably still prefer the cardboard because there's no pinning involved, but I think this would make for a good alternative so long as the sharpie ink doesn't bleed too much.

Thanks for sharing!

frogboots (author)AngryRedhead2010-08-12

You can actually use a ballpoint pen on the Tru-Grid...tho' if you thought you'd need to wash it more than a few times, a permanent Sharpie might be a good thing for remarking notches, names of the pieces, etc.

peppermintsheep (author)2010-07-05

I've been doing this sort of thing onto butcher paper, but poster board, of course!! Why didn't I think of this??

Thank you for the great idea, and very clear instructable! Tracing the pattern piece onto sturdy poster board is going to preserve my patterns better, and the pieces will be easier to store (no more crinkled, floppy butcher paper!) :)

Huzzah for no more butcher paper!

.__. (author)2009-12-05

I am not trying to be negative at all, I think this is a neat way to preserve PART of a really simple pattern, though I don't see how this could work for moderate or more advanced projects that need accurate and specific transfer markings.  (i.e. zippers, boning channels, darts, etc...) 

How would you try and get those transferred through something as thick as posterboard?  This is a great method for preserving patterns such as totes, underpants, yoga wear, some hat wear,etc...  I think it is cute and very effective. There seems like after a while storage would be a problem.  Again my own PERSONAL preference would be not to have a stack of arbitrary shaped poster board stored against a wall in my house. 

Is there an easy way to store these?  As most of us know a lot of patterns can be big and bulky in shape.

Just another thought, I don't see how these are permanent, any friction on the side of a poster board will cause it to wear away, and if you are using a patterning pen it will do the same.  Not to mention if you are using these for quilting pieces your rotary cutter would no doubt change the shape little by little every few passes.

The more professional methods of pattern permanence are too high scale and commercial for anyone without a factory to deal with.  The method in this instructable is GREAT for TEMPORARY preservation of a SIMPLE pattern.

Thanks for sharing this with us and hopefully, soon, there will be more entries on the  storage friendly, heavier duty, and flexible method!!!

I am in no way saying this isn't a great instructable - don't get me wrong.  I just know there are more durable methods of doing this!  Have a great day and a warm christmas everyone!!!  Oh!!!  and don't forget to check out all the yummy hot chocolate recipes!!!!!

abbyholverson (author).__.2010-05-06

I do something totally similar to this for pretty exact patterns... to trace the exact measurements I use a tracing wheel with super long needle points ... this one to be exact ... . And really, I do think this would hold up against pretty heavy use if you're just careful and sensible about it. Trace around it with a pencil or tailor's chalk, and it will hold up just fine. Obviously, I wouldn't use a rotary cutter against it... but I think that's just a given. And to store, just fold them up and put it in a 10x13 catalog envelope, and when you use them again, just press the pieces flat. We used this method in every costume shop I've ever worked in, and it is pretty darn fool-proof... for simple and complex patterns. I'd even go all out and say that it's ESPECIALLY good for exact, complex patterns, because these are way easier to alter and adjust than the light junky tissue. And if you're doing a large quantity, you can trace every size and save tons of cash. Great instructable! 

AngryRedhead (author).__.2009-12-05
Those are all excellent questions.

Punching holes into the posterboard where markings must be made for lining up pieces, marking darts, etc. is the key to this.  You must mark those points on the fabric using transfer paper, pencil, tailor's chalk, wax, marker, whatever makes most sense.  In the example I used for this instructable, there are darts and points for lining up sleeves.  I've used this method for making a permanent pattern for a dress which has pockets, darts, capped sleeves, zipper, pleats, etc., and I've made patterns for all four sizes plus an additional pattern to fit my body using 1 commercial pattern.  The dress came out great, and the pattern looks the same as when I made it.

I store them in a closet with a clothing rod and hang up the pieces on a clip hanger (example photo attached), and they store in the same space as the hanger plus length and width.  I've also seen these stored on a hook where a special hole has been cut in the poster board for hanging them on the hook.  They could alternatively be carefully stored under a bed or any place where they can rest without bending the poster.  I used almost the exact same method for making the pattern as transferring it to fabric with the big exception that I don't punch holes in the fabric and don't use permanent marker - I use tailor's chalk and mark the silhouette and holes gently.  You definitely wouldn't want to run scissors or a rotary cutter around them.   In a big brown envelope, I also keep the sewing instructions and all the pieces from the original commercial pattern just in case something has gone wrong with the permanent pattern or I just need to double check it.

The pattern will wear out eventually, but the tissue paper will wear out a whole lot quicker.  I wouldn't recommend making a permanent pattern for something you know you'll only make once.  I haven't made hundreds of clothes from one of these patterns, so I can't say what the exact durability is for sure.   I've seen this type of pattern get put through the rigors of multiple sewing classes with little kids and still hold up well.  However, if you use them correctly and store them properly, they should last a good long while.  If you want something even more durable, I suppose you could use something heavier than typical posterboard (<140lb) or use some sort of sheet plastic?  Potentially backing them with contact paper would improve the durability.

Basically, this method might be right for you if you need to make at least more than 2 items, make more than 1 size, are prone to tearing tissue paper, have the space to store them, and/or don't mind spending an hour to make one, but it's probably not the right method if you need to do a commercial line and only expect to ever use/make 1 of these permanent patterns ever.  It will wear out eventually and a new one will have to be made which is probably another good reason for why I keep the original commercial pattern and would recommend others to do so as well.  I cannot think of a material off the top of my head that could be used as cheaply, easily, and readily as posterboard, use less cubic space, get recycled when done, and be more durable when it comes to making a pattern with at least some permanency.  That's a whole lot to ask for.
BonifaceJ (author)2010-04-23

Wouldn't it be easier to use spray adhesive to adhere the tissue pattern to the posterboard?  I would think you could work in small sections and use a small roller to smooth it out and it could work fine.  Might need  a second pair of hands to get right, though. 

Storage would be easy - I put everything on the walls of my craft room anyway, so sewing a simple large set of sleeves (like the artist portfolio cases) and mounting them to the wall will take less room than my BOXES of patterns, folded and torn.  

This method will work exceptionally well for the corsetry patterns that I make myself - I can make them in different colors for the different people they are fitted to!


AngryRedhead (author)BonifaceJ2010-04-23
Funny thing is that I actually considered using spray adhesive early on but decided against it for two reasons:

1.  Having worked with spray adhesive before, I know how easy it is to get glue on everything and have pieces of paper stick where you don't want them.  I could just see the tissue paper sticking to itself (tissue paper glued to tissue paper) and me tearing it when I tried to get it unstuck and ruining the entire pattern piece and then having to buy another pattern.  Plus while spraying it, you're almost guaranteed the whole thing would get tacky.  Tracing is less risky.

2.  You'd only get 1 size/variation for each pattern piece which would mean buying several multiples to finish the project.  With the example pattern I used, many pieces have variations built into them for short vs. long sleeves and banding and what not.  If you intend to only ever use 1 size/variation, then this isn't an issue, but I like to at least keep my options open.

It's pretty quick to trace - quicker than you might think, and once you get the hang of it, it goes even quicker.  Just set up in front of the TV and start at it.  It's maybe not the most thrilling thing to do, but you only have to do it once in all likelihood.

Let me know if it's helpful in making your corsets!  I'd be interested to know.
hairybaroque (author)2009-12-05

 This is a very good clear Instructable with a very practical aim. I once trained for a year in Fashion at Art College and this is basically what you end up with when you make up a tailored block, except the block is the basis for other fitted designs, and this gives permanence to one design. There's nothing to stop you adapting a pattern you like into a standard design which really fits you, so that you can base other clothes designs on it. Unfortunately, fashions and the overall silhouette of clothes, do change with every passing season! (So the shape of the parts of the pattern changes, but just buy another pattern and start again.) Using the porousness of the pattern to bleed the design through to the posterboard is a splendid idea!

Ward_Nox (author)2009-11-30

transfer paper will make the tracing step easier (most art supply stores sell it)

all you have to do is place it between the thing you're tracing and the surface your tracing it on and run over any lines with a stylus

AngryRedhead (author)Ward_Nox2009-11-30
Tracing paper isn't necessary because the pattern paper is tissue paper and the ink will bleed through the tissue/pattern paper onto the posterboard.  I think the photo I used might be misleading.  I set it up to show how the ink bleeds through but didn't consider that it might look like something else...  I'll make a correction in that step.
Ward_Nox (author)AngryRedhead2009-12-02

wellIF you use TRANSFER paper (tracing paper is something else) you can make multiple copies of the pattern

Transfr paper is what banks use for there slips when you fill them out so there are multible copies  except it's bigger and the trace is usually cleaner cause its in gray not blue

AngryRedhead (author)Ward_Nox2009-12-04
Ah, got it!  Transfer paper translated into tracing paper in my head which now explains why I was so confused when you were talking about a stylus.  Bah.  Yes, you can use transfer paper, but it gets pretty tricky when you're making a pant leg since it's pretty hard to find transfer paper large enough which means using multiple sheets of transfer paper.  I've been able to copy all 4 sizes of a pattern (the typical number) using this method and still retain the original tissue paper which is why a lighter colored marker and gentle tracing is key, and once a permanent pattern is made, there's no need for making multiple copies.  HOWEVER!  Transfer paper is certainly an option, and many people who sew use it.  I've seen it in red, blue, yellow, all sorts, and it's pretty handy for transferring the markings of a pattern directly onto fabric.

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