A lot of sewing hobbyists get their start with something small. A pillowcase in a home economics class at school, or a simple coin purse made at home under the mentorship of a grandmother or mother who learned to sew as a young girl.
As their skill grows, however, they begin to branch out. Before long, they’re re-hemming pants and fixing holes, or even making alterations to let out or bring in a seam.
And once they’ve begun making these simple alterations to clothes, they start to learn the way the clothes are constructed in the first place. This opens up the world of patterns, where you can create anything with some fabric, thread, and pattern paper.
So, what can you use as pattern paper for sewing? For sewing pattern paper, you can use the professional marked or dotted pattern paper, or you can use alternatives such as tracing paper, parchment paper, a white paper roll, or brown craft paper.
There are several options when it comes to alternatives to pattern paper that won’t break the bank. There are specific characteristics you want to look for, such as durability and flexibility, but plenty of options that fit the bill.
Keep reading to learn more about pattern paper for sewing. We’ll review what it’s used for, what qualities it needs to have, and options to use that you can find in a variety of stores.
What Is Pattern Paper Used For?
Drafting is the process of creating a pattern from scratch, taking into account the person’s measurements to design a foundation for your clothing item.
When you’re just hemming pants or taking in a waistband, you don’t need pattern paper. There are plenty of sewing projects that don’t require any pattern paper, because it’s a matter of simply measuring and altering.
The pattern paper comes in when you want to design and sew something completely from scratch. If you see a bolt of fabric at your local craft store and you know it just has to be a dress, but you don’t have a pattern for one – you can draft one on pattern paper.
Before you can start tracing out your design on paper, you must take the person’s measurements first. The whole pattern should be designed specifically to fit this person’s body. This is what’s commonly called “tailor-made clothing,” because it was made by a tailor specifically for that person.
After taking the person’s measurements, you’ll need to draft out the pattern on the paper with a pencil. Once you have the design drawn out to the right size and shape, you’ll need to cut out this pattern from the paper.
You’ll use this cut-out piece of pattern paper to guide your fabric. You pin it to the fabric, cut around the edges of the paper, then sew the fabric pieces together.
The design you draw on your pattern paper is the entire basis for the clothing. It determines the size and shape of your fabric pieces that will then come together to form the finished product – whether that be a dress, skirt, shirt, pants, or more.
It’s important to keep the use for pattern paper in mind because this will help you recognize the characteristics you need in your pattern paper. Let’s explore those a little further below.
Characteristics Of Good Pattern Paper
If you’re looking for a pattern paper alternative, it may be tempting to just grab a couple sheets of regular paper and call it a day. But there are specific characteristics to look for that will make or break your pattern.
The pattern paper is going to be drawn on, cut out, pinned to fabric, flopped around, un-pinned, then possibly have the process done all over again if you plan to make this pattern multiple times.
For the amount that this paper will end up being jostled, tossed, and poked into, it has to be durable. Although you do need it to be soft enough to pin, it shouldn’t be so soft that a pin rips the paper.
You want the paper to imitate the fabric. Pattern paper for sewing should be able to withstand moving with the fabric in whatever way is needed without becoming damaged. Fabric is naturally flowy, so the paper should flow too.
As we mentioned above, the paper should imitate the fabric. That means it should also be flexible enough to move with the fabric.
While some papers may be durable enough to stay strong against pins, it may be too strong and won’t move the way you need it to.
The paper shouldn’t crinkle and bend when you move it around. It should instead flow with the fabric, having a lightweight aspect that allows it to twist and curl without stiff folds.
3. Easy To Pin
The main point of pattern paper for sewing is that you can pin it onto the fabric, cut out your fabric in its shape, then sew the fabric pieces.
If your paper is too thick to pin, it won’t work. You need to be able to slip needles easily through the paper.
It’s also important, though, that the paper is not so thin that the pins rip it apart. The key is finding balance between durability and flexibility to really have a pattern paper that will be easy to pin.
4. Relatively Thin
With a paper that is durable, flexible, and easy to pin, it will likely be relatively thin by nature. Thick paper won’t work as well because it will be too stiff to poke pins through or move fluidly with the fabric.
You’ll also generally want a level of transparency with your pattern paper, and if the paper is too thick, you won’t be able to see through it.
Types Of Pattern Paper
Professional pattern paper for sewing can generally be difficult to find and have a higher price tag. For this reason, sewing masters have chosen pattern paper alternatives that work well in sewing.
While traditional marked pattern paper is certainly still a viable option, we’ve included our recommendations for alternative pattern papers for sewing. Each alternative has its own drawbacks, but they’ll all work well depending on your project.
1. Dotted/Marked Pattern Paper
Dotted or marked pattern paper is the traditional, professional type of sewing pattern paper. It’s referred to as both dotted and marked pattern paper depending on the type of markings printed on the paper roll.
This paper is white with blue markings to indicate spacing, either dots or numbers. This can be helpful when drawing out specific measurements but isn’t absolutely necessary, as a ruler will do just fine.
You can sometimes find it in craft or fabric stores, but it’s not always readily available. You can find marked pattern paper online here, but it’s a little more pricey compared to some of our alternatives below.
Marked pattern paper also has that transparent quality, which can be very useful when tracing an existing pattern or trying to line up a fabric pattern neatly along the seams.
Because it’s created specifically for sewing, it works great when pinned, won’t tear easily, and still moves fluidly with the fabric.
Another great advantage to dotted pattern paper is that it’s available in rolls wide enough to create most pattern pieces. Some of the alternatives below are narrow rolls, like the parchment paper that’s only 15” wide.
You need more width to your roll for most large clothing projects. The marked pattern paper we linked above is 45” wide, making it ideal for any drafting pattern.
2. Tracing Paper For Sewing
One great alternative to traditional pattern paper is artist tracing paper. You can generally find artist tracing paper in large rolls, which is convenient for those who draft their own patterns on a routine basis.
Tracing paper has that transparent quality that makes it perfect for pattern tracing or fabric alignment. It’s also durable enough to stand up to the pins without tearing, but flexible enough to move easily with the fabric.
Many experienced sewing gurus use tracing paper instead of marked pattern paper. There are several reviews for the Bee Paper White Sketch and Trace Roll on Amazon from customers who’ve used it for sewing and recommend it over traditional pattern paper.
Although it’s a little narrower at just 24” wide, it’s still wide enough to do most projects. Overall, tracing paper is a solid alternative to traditional pattern paper for sewing. If you’re looking for the best quality other option, we recommend tracing paper.
3. Parchment Paper
It may surprise some people but baking parchment paper makes a great pattern paper for sewing.
What we love about using parchment paper is that it’s easily available at several local stores, as well as being readily available online at a lower cost than craft or sewing paper. You probably already have a roll sitting in your kitchen!
Parchment paper tends to have a level of transparency that makes it great for tracing, is durable when poked with pins, and moves easily with the fabric.
A downside to using baking parchment paper is that the rolls aren’t usually as wide as craft paper. The roll we’ve listed above is a Reynold’s brand 15” roll, which is wider than the traditional 12” roll.
If you’re making smaller pattern pieces, such as clothing for children or dolls, then this won’t be an issue. If you’re hoping to make large dresses or adult-sized clothing, though, you may run into issues. You can always tape pieces of paper together, but this can lead to a lot of headache and accidental tears.
We do still recommend parchment paper as an affordable alternative for its other stellar qualities, despite its smaller width. Consider the types of projects you want to make before choosing if parchment paper is right for you.
4. White Paper Roll
Another pattern paper alternative that’s relatively easy to find is a white craft paper roll. Although it’s not transparent, white craft paper is a fantastic alternative if you’re not worried about tracing or seeing the fabric underneath.
Because it’s meant to be drawn on and worked with, craft paper is durable and works well with pins. It may be a little more stiff compared to the other options above, but is still light and flexible enough to work with fabric.
An advantage to this white craft paper as opposed to something like baking parchment paper is that it comes in wider rolls. This white craft paper roll is 36” wide and 100” long, making it ideal for any large patterns such as dresses or pants.
Overall, if you don’t need the transparent aspect of some of the other options of pattern paper, white craft paper is a solid alternative that works well in all other characteristics of quality pattern paper for sewing.
5. Brown Craft Paper
Our last recommended option is brown craft paper – also known as butcher paper or shipping paper. Brown craft paper is similar to the white craft paper we recommend above in terms of durability, flexibility, and its ease for taking pins.
Also like the white paper, brown craft paper is not transparent. You won’t be able to see through the paper to trace an older pattern or see the fabric underneath.
You shouldn’t let that deter you, though, as brown craft paper is still a great option. It can be found easily in most craft and office supply stores and online. You can get a roll of brown craft paper that’s 24” wide and 150’ long on Amazon.
We love brown craft paper for its versatility. You may think getting a roll that’s 150’ long is excessive for just a few sewing patterns, but you can also use it to pack delicate items to ship or transport, for children to color on, and to wrap gifts.
Because it works so well for sewing, even professional spaces such as costume shops sometimes use brown craft paper for pattern drafting. Its enhanced durability when compared to traditional pattern paper means it will hold up better over time.
Is Pattern Paper Necessary?
Purchasing professional marked pattern paper isn’t necessary, but if you’re going to create your own clothing, then some form of pattern paper is necessary.
We highly recommend using one of the options listed above when looking for pattern paper, but other papers such as newspaper can work in a pinch.
Just be careful when using newspaper because it’s much more thin and less durable than the options provided above. It’s also notoriously bad about transferring ink, which may or may not end up a permanent part of your fabric.
What Is The Best Paper For Pattern Making?
If you can swing it, professional dotted pattern paper is the best pattern paper for sewing. It’s created specifically for this purpose, so it has all the characteristics you need when drafting a pattern.
Plus, because they know you’re using it to draw specific measurements, it comes pre-numbered to help you draft more quickly than measuring manually with a ruler.
However, our second choice would be artist tracing paper. It works just as well (if not better in some circumstances) and only requires you to use a ruler (which you should have on-hand anyway).
Any of the paper alternatives we reviewed above will work great for pattern paper, but if you’re looking for the best option, it would be the marked pattern paper or artist tracing paper.