If you’re a beginner sewer, you may have seen a tiny wheel that resembles a mini pizza cutter in haberdashery stores or amongst a friend’s sewing tools and wondered what it was. Well, it’s a tracing wheel and makes transferring patterns onto fabric a game changer!
When it comes to applying it to your sewing projects, you may be wondering how to use tracing wheel? I know I felt perplexed when I stumbled across one for the first time, so I decided to share with you all my knowledge on how to use tracing wheel.
In this article...
What is a Tracing Wheel?
Before we get into how to use tracing wheel, you may be wondering what a tracing wheel is, especially if you’ve never seen one before.
A tracing wheel is a tool used for pattern making which has a handle and a small wheel at the other end. The wheel has little spikes or teeth for marking, and will allow the user to transfer a pattern from one surface to another by making perforations.
In addition to transferring pattern fabric, we use tracing wheels to transfer other information such as: buttonhole and button placement, darts,pockets and much more.
A tracing wheel is a must have tool if you are learning how to make your own clothes and playing around with patterns!
Types of Tracing Wheels
There are four main different types of tracing wheels that have different edges.
Needle Point Tracing Wheel
A needle point tracing wheel has a sturdy wooden handle, and spikes on the wheels that make deep indentations onto fabric. This spiky little wheel will leave small imprints in a dashed line or dots on your fabric.
Flat Edge Tracing Wheel
You can use a smooth wheel to trace a pattern onto fabric. You can use it to add a temporary crease to your fabric which you can use as a sewing guide, marking hems, tucks, pleats and fold lines. You can also use a smooth serrated tracing wheel for crease marking.
Serrated Tracing Wheel
A serrated wheel is more commonly seen in fabric shops and usually has a plastic handle. The serrated edge is usually scalloped and will produce a slight pattern onto the fabric. A serrated tracing wheel leaves a fine imprint on smooth fabrics that can be pressed away after sewing.
Double Tracing Wheel
These are my favorite types of tracing wheels to use on fabric (I think they are genius!). These are good for saving time when you are making seam lines or adding seam allowances to sewing patterns.
The wheels create parallel lines on fabric and have adjustable width ranges to work for all your different projects.
When it comes to choosing tracing wheels, there are several variations of the handle angle, which makes it easier to find a design that works well for you.
When To Use a Tracing Wheel?
With so many different tools at your disposal it can be tough to know when to use this wonder wheel.
There are some situations where a tracing wheel will make your life so much easier, like when you are tracing pattern markings, transferring entire patterns and copying a pattern onto paper.
Transfer Pattern Markings
Sewing pattern markings such as dots and darts can be tricky to copy accurately onto your fabric. A tracing wheel tool makes the process of transferring markings and dots so much easier, and helps ensure each marking goes exactly where they should.
To Transfer Entire Patterns
For sewing patterns that don’t require any fitting or adjustments like pillow cases or placemats, you can use your tracing wheel to transfer markings of the whole pattern sheet onto the fabric and then just cut it out.
To Transfer Patterns To Transfer Paper
I always try to transfer an original pattern to transfer paper so I can keep the original intact if I want to create it again in multiple sizes, or add a few variations.
This also comes in handy if the pattern pieces are overlapping as you can transfer those pieces onto a new piece of transfer paper. Check if you need to add seam allowances to your pattern or if they are included.
How To Use a Tracing Wheel?
Here’s a good video of the tracing process…
There is definitely a tracing wheel technique to learn when you use these sewing utensils. You use a tracing wheel by rolling it over the outline of the pattern onto your fabric using carbon paper.
You can use alternatives such as manilla paper, tissue paper or even baking paper, but I like carbon paper as it leaves a lined outline on your fabric.
A self healing cutting mat helps to protect your work surface from any scratches or indents that may be made when you start rolling the tracing wheel over patterns. The mats are made from lots of separate tiny pieces of material, so the blade moves between the material instead of cutting into the unit.
A tracing wheel is the key ingredient here. It may become your best friend as it makes your pattern transferring more accurate.
Dressmaker’s carbon paper
You can usually find this in craft stores. This will print your design onto fabric or another piece of transfer paper. I recommend using a contrasting color carbon paper to the precious fabric you are using to help you see the lines clearly. Common colors are black, blue, red, green, white and yellow.
You don’t always have to use carbon paper when transferring patterns. If I am using 100% cotton fabric, sometimes I will just use the tracing wheel through my pattern, as it still leaves little imprints which you can see.
Use your choice of fabric, or transfer papers if you are tracing the pattern onto a new piece of tracing paper. When you are tracing onto your fabric make sure to hold it taut so the paper is transferred accurately. Cotton is a good starting point for transferring a pattern onto.
You need the pattern you wish to copy over. If this is your first time using a tracing wheel, I recommend a simple pattern such as a t-shirt or tote bag, while you get used to the tool.
If you need more simple patterns, I have a collection right here.
Let’s look at the steps..
Lay out the fabric on a cutting mat
To transfer markings from your pattern the first thing you need to do is lay your fabric the wrong side up on the cutting mat (you don’t want to have any marks on your fabric in case it doesn’t wash out).
A cutting mat prevents you from scratching your work surface when the tracing wheel is in motion. It also helps you to get clean perforations, instead of using a potentially bumpy or slippery surface.
Place the carbon paper wrong side down on top of your fabric, and place the pattern piece on top. Make sure that the grain line is properly aligned. Pin the pattern paper down with pattern weights or pins.
Roll your tracing wheel along the pattern piece following the correct line for our size. If you’re working with a large pattern you may have to shuffle the carbon paper underneath around, working one section at a time.
Use force when you are pushing your tracing wheel. The harder that you press down, the more visible your straight lines and markings will be.
In the beginning you may feel more comfortable using a French curve or ruler to help you get precise markings.
Trace over the pattern markings
Trace the pattern lines like notches and darts onto your tracing paper. You may have to move the pin around to get any markings that go into the center of the pattern when you use a tracing wheel.
To trace notches, use the tracing wheel to mark a line about ¼” long from the pattern paper edge into the seam allowances. For darts, use double-faced tracing paper wrong side down — you’ll only need to make the marks once, and they’ll be in the same spot on both sides.
Remove the paper
Remove the weights and pins, and then remove the sewing pattern paper and carbon paper. You should have an outline of your pattern piece.
If you cannot clearly see all the marks you have made with your transfer wheel, you can go over them with chalk or a fabric pen to reinforce cutting lines
How Else Can You Transfer Over A Sewing Pattern?
Whilst a fabric wheel is just the right tool for transferring a pattern onto another fabric, you can trace a sewing pattern over without one. Cut out your desired size of pattern you are using, and then trace around the outside of it. You can add markings and notches with regular chalk.
If you are doing it this way, be mindful to weigh down your pattern carefully at the edges and add a seam allowance or ¼”.
Tracing patterns has never been easier with this little sewing device. If you have a storage full of patterns or if you are using patterns regularly in fashion design, I do recommend finding yourself a good tracing wheel at your favorite fabric store. Once you add this to your sewing basket, you’ll never go back again!
Do you have a favorite brand of tracing wheel? Or perhaps you use a different sewing tool? I’d love to know in the comments below!