Tracing Tips for Darker Fabrics & other Hints
All of Eye of the Beholder Quilt Design’s patterns are created with our Trace, Baste, Snip & Stitch process. The first step, after pre-washing, ironing and cutting your fabrics, is to trace the design onto the wrong side of the background fabric. Generally, we suggest using a light background fabric. Light backgrounds to darker tops give a strong value contrast, making the pattern designs stunning to see. Light fabrics also make it easier to trace the design because you can see the pattern through the fabric.
Good light is always essential to seeing what you are doing. Even with light background fabrics you may want a lightbox. Don't have one? Tape everything to a big window on a sunny day. Nature's lightbox.
But sometimes, you just want to use a medium or dark background fabric…like I have with versions of our flowers and the borders for Victorian Flower Garden Quilt IV.
Before I get into how to trace onto darker fabrics, I want to share a tip about tracing (drawing) smoothly on fabric.
Drawing smoothly on fabric
When tracing, you want to press the fabric down with your free-hand. Once the fabric is pressed down onto the pattern it becomes more visible through the fabric. It also stabilizes the grain of the fabric so you can trace more accurately without the fabric swimming. I’m constantly re-positioning my left hand, my free hand, and holding the fabric down as I trace.
Darker fabrics can pose a problem.
It can be a challenge to see the pattern design through a medium or dark fabric, and thus easier to get distracted by the fabric’s design when you are tracing.
For darker fabrics I almost always use my lightbox or a window.
I’m fortunate that I have a very bright lightbox. I got it at Jo-Ann's Fabrics about 20 years ago.
When teaching workshops, I've noted that some quilters' lightboxes are not very bright. It has made it difficult for them to trace because they are struggling to see.
Mine has a separate light which can be moved to give me brighter light right where I need it. The light is actually an under-the-kitchen-cabinet light.
For tracing the pattern design onto my fabric I usually use a mechanical pencil. Recently, though, I've been using the new Frixion gel pens. I know there are mixed reports about these pens. The design disappears with heat, but can re-appear with cold. I don't think I would ever mark the top of a quilt with them. However, as we are tracing on the wrong side of the background, and that will never show once your piece is quilted, I have not worried. I love how they glide very smoothly on fabric.
Sometimes the mechanical pencil or gel pen is not the best option. On truly dark fabrics, I found two things worked well for me: a white ceramic pencil, similar to a mechanical pencil, and Chacopy tracing paper.
Chacopy Tracing Paper
I first used Chacopy when I sewed clothes. My Home Economics teacher introduced me to it in 8th grade. We used it to transfer pattern markings for darts and notches onto our fabric. Clover puts out packages with 5 different colors. It comes in 10” x 12” sheets. Recently I have found it online at Nancy’s Notions. (Chacopy on Nancy's Notions website)
Here’s an example of tracing a pattern onto the same fabric with a frixion gel pen and Chacopy tracing paper so you can see the difference.
Tracing with Chacopy
When you use Chacopy, you need to lay your pattern and fabric down differently for tracing.
- Lay your background fabric down on your work surface with the wrong side facing up.
- Lay your pattern piece on top of the background fabric, aligning hash marks with your finger-folding. Pin baste. Don’t pin in the middle.
- Slide the Chacopy tracing paper, waxy-chalk side down, between your pattern piece and the fabric. You will have to move the Chacopy around to trace the whole pattern as it is smaller than the pattern/ fabric pieces.
- Use a stylus, pen or mechanical pencil without lead, to trace all of the pattern.
- Trace the design, pressing down firmly as you trace.
Other tracing Hints for our Victorian Flower Garden patterns.
Black & Cross-hatched shapes
When you look at the pattern pieces, see picture to the right, for the flowers you will notice that some of the designs are solid black, and others are cross-hatched. (For more insight into our patterns, see the blog Our Patterns...Photographic Negatives ).
The black shapes are your stems and leaves and you will reverse applique them. The cross-hatched shapes are your blossoms and you will applique these.
When you trace the design onto the wrong side of your background fabric trace the outline of everything, the black and the cross-hatched shapes. You do not, however, need to trace all the cross-hatch lines. I put an “x” inside these shapes when I'm tracing. This distinguishes what I will later applique from what I will reverse applique.
You also don't need to transfer the hash marks onto your fabric. They are a pattern marking that tells you where to line up the finger folds of your fabric with the pattern, ensuring that the pattern design will be centered on the background fabric.
Making Sunflower, 3 of 9: an example
When basting, begin by basting only what will be reverse appliqued: the stems and leaves. After you have finished sewing the stems and the leaves, you will use the remaining tracings to baste on your blossoms.
Next, lay your blossom fabric right side up on the front, covering where the blossom design is traced on the back. Pin-baste. From the back, baste with your No. 7 sharp needle and thick thread on the lines of the blossom designs.
So, its time to get to tracing your pattern. Happy Quilting!
For more great information on marking fabric, check out the article "On Your Mark", by Carol J. Fresia in the July 2016, Number 185 issue of Threads Magazine.