Rubbing off a pattern: a tutorial

A while back I posted that I had copied a RTW exercise top by using the rubbing off method and several people asked me what this was and how to do it. A few conversations back and forth and I found myself promising a tutorial!

I have had this nice RTW jumper made from 100% super fine merino in my wardrobe for at least ten years. It is by a company called Diktons which is based in Barcelona and I used to really like their clothing. I have often thought that I would like my own version of this jumper and so this tutorial was born!

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I need to say at the outset that there are various ways of rubbing off – you can do it with muslin or other fabric or you can simply trace the outline of the garment straight on to paper, and there are bound to be many YouTube videos if you want to do it differently. The method outlined here is the way that I do it most of the time.

So, let’s begin. Make a note of style lines that you want to emulate, and also think about darts as they will need to be accommodated. My jumper doesn’t have darts so I will address how to do them at the end of the post. My jumper has a v-neck and a built in style line just under the bust. It also has three-quarter sleeves that are secured with a loop and button.


You will need some sort of soft layer on your cutting table. This could be a sheet of cork or thick cardboard, a few of those camping mat interlocking tiles, or, what I use, my trusty Knitwit gridded cardboard mat (which is now covered in pin holes). Over the top of this lay some paper. I use brown craft paper, but a big sheet of anything will do. It should be plain, without printing.

Then I draw a straight vertical line and a straight horizontal line using the edge of the paper as my guide. The vertical line is going to become your grain line or, as in this case, your fold line. Do not skip this step!


Take your garment and fold it in half very carefully, pinning along seamlines. Start with your biggest pattern piece and lay the fold exactly on your fold line and making sure that the hem is lined up with the horizontal line. The hem on mine is slightly curved but I am going to straighten it out for simplicity. However, if I want the curve I would simply trace it in. img_5281-e1528196718486.jpg

If you want to follow a sewn seam line exactly you start sticking pins through the seam line itself. The seam on my jumper is so small that I decided to follow the edge. I just make pin pricks along the edge, like so (I moved my jumper slightly to show the holes).


When you reach the armhole, just keep stabbing that pin through the centre of the seam line as shown by my pink pin here, and keep going round the neckline.


Join up the pin pricks with a pencil or pen so that you don’t lose them, and then repeat this process for the front, and one of the sleeves. I do the sleeves in two halves. The sleeves on this jumper are asymmetrical and so I folded them in half and copied each side separately using the same method.

Once I have done all the pieces I get out my various rulers and true up the lines.


Then I trace the pattern onto pattern paper. Use the tracing medium of your choice (I use tracing vilene). Add seam allowance using your usual method.

I then finish up with a pattern piece. I always immediately write what it is and what SA I have (even thought it’s drawn on there!). I also note the fold line just to make sure I don’t forget. IMG_5299

A note here about the sleeves. I have drawn them in two halves, so I trace one half on to the vilene and then flip it, line up that centre/fold line and horizontal line and draw the other half. Vilene is fairly transparent so I can see the lines through from the other side. This then gives me a complete sleeve pattern. Of course if I want a two piece sleeve, it’s automatically done! I like to notch my sleeves, so I lay them along the armscye and draw my notches on both pattern pieces.

I also double check my pattern by laying my jumper over to check lengths. Here I am checking that I have the length of the neck correct. IMG_5301

I “walk” my pattern pieces together to ensure that everything lines up before I begin cutting, and I strongly suggest making a toile before using special fabric. I am reasonably confident of my technique so this is a wearable toile. I used a piece of felted wool I bought at the Morgan and Marks sale, as it has a pretty selvedge which I cut off and used on the hems and sleeves. I then pondered the neckline and decided that the selvedge might be nice here too. I did not build in the style line across the front as there is enough going on with the fabric, but I would probably add two centimetres to the front pattern at the appropriate point and make a tuck and stitch it down.

All the selvedges were sewn on and topstitched flat and all that remained was to make the button loops. This is a very zen process and I do enjoy making them. Sorry about the fuzzy photo, it was night time and the flash was turned off. IMG_5310

If you’ve always wondered how to do this, here is a really nice YouTube video by Professor Pincushion, and this is pretty much the method I use.


Here is a comparison photograph of the cuffs. I really liked the little vintage buttons I found. I lengthened the sleeves – they were supposed to be full length but I misjudged things – ah well!


The two tops side by side showing the stylistic differences.IMG_5636

And this photo shows the original top laid on top of the new one showing that I have pretty much nailed the size and shape. IMG_5637



If you are rubbing off a skirt with darts you will notice that the edge curves inwards because of the darts. Use your pin to make the prick holes around the curve and mark the placement of the top and tip of the darts. Draw in the lines on your paper, including straight lines to show the darts. You will find that the top of the centre line of the skirt has pulled in too, so just true up that line, noting the distance between the two lines (curved and straight) and this should be equivalent to the depth of your dart. Measure the depth and length of each dart on the original garment, halve the depth of the dart and mark it either side of the straight dart line. Then draw in the dart. Check that everything is identical to the original.

Once you have rubbed off simple garments, you will find that the techniques are just the same for more complex garments. Simply fold unwanted parts out of the way and get tracing!

Now you have your pattern you can really have some fun with adding and subtracting style lines and design elements. Don’t forget to let me know if you try this, and please ask questions or point out errors!


19 thoughts on “Rubbing off a pattern: a tutorial

  1. Thank you Sue for taking the time to write this method to share with us. There are some things I’ve been wanting to trace/rub off and I will use your post for future reference definitely! The new top is lovely and is amazing how it lines up with the original. 🙂

  2. Brilliant, thanks Sue, thank you. I’ve only vaguely copied a basic top before and I just drew around it. When I copied another top it was a very old one so I cut it up and used the pieces as my pattern. I like the idea of the pinpricks making your lines.

  3. This is so timely – I have a casual top I love and want to copy – will let you know how I do! – Very thorough directions. The term Jumper always throws me – an entirely different garment in the US.

  4. Beautiful top, Sue. Thank you for sharing this tutorial with us, I love the idea of tucking the pin to create the armhole and I will use this method next time.

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