Sewing Notions – Tissue Paper Patterns

Leslie Wright

I like to imagine the intricate robots with their delicate fingers, that must work on the principles of static electricity, folding tissue paper patterns with absolute precision. This origami magic is clearly not the work of human beings. I have to imagine it that way so that my self-esteem doesn't plummet and take my sewing mojo with it.

Tissue paper patterns are a pain. A sort of necessary evil. I haven't met anyone who admits to liking them. There are a few people that I've met who actually refuse to sew based solely on their hatred for the stuff. Sewing is way too much fun to give it all up because of a frail piece of paper. You just have to find a way to manage it that works for you. I have tips and ideas. Some of these are strategies that I use. They are by no means a definitive list but they might help you find a way to tackle that tissue.

The very first thing you should do when working with tissue patterns is to unfold them and iron them flat. Use a low setting without steam. Moisture can make the tissue soft and cause distortions or rips. Any folds or wrinkles in the paper can significantly affect the fit of the final project. It's best to get rid of them before you even start.

There are a lot of reasons to trace a pattern. Most patterns require some form of alteration to get it to fit just right. By making a copy that you can alter you preserve the original in case you need to go backwards. It could be that you want to preserve the pattern so that future sewists can benefit from it. This is often the case with vintage patterns. But even contemporary patterns will one day be vintage. Tracing your pattern can also be a way to avoid working with the tissue. There are a lot of options where substrates are concerned. There's tissue paper, tracing paper, medical exam paper, parchment, etc. I like to use tracing paper on a roll. I like the transparency and the rigidity, and I rarely have to tape pieces together to accommodate a pattern piece. It's not necessary to trace off your patterns. Sometimes it's easier or makes more sense to use them just as they are. Tracing patterns can take time and it might make more sense to buy another one if the need arises.

Whether you traced off your pattern or cut it out, the tissue will likely have to make it back into that envelope one more time. The best advice that I can give about this is to find the lines. There is always a dominant fold. It travels from one side of the paper to the other without a change of direction. This is the first fold. If there are several parallel folds matching this description then it's an accordion fold. If you keep at it this way, the paper should fold back into the human version of the robot fold: tidy and small but perhaps not impossibly accurate.

Alternate Storage
I seem to keep my patterns separate from the pattern envelopes and instructions. I like to browse through the original envelopes for inspiration but getting the pattern pieces out is a different step in the sewing process. I don't mind if they're in a different place as long as they're clearly marked.

Large Envelopes
Sometimes the frustration stems from trying to get the paper to fold into such a small rectangle. Folding them to fit into a larger envelope could be the answer. Colour coding them, in this case by pattern company, makes it easy to sort through the pile.

Maybe you just don't want to fold them at all. Rolling the patterns into tubes could rid you of ever having to fold tissue again. Keeping all of the information on the tag makes it a snap to find the one you're looking for. If you have a spot to store them this way, this could be the ticket.

My favourite way to store patterns is to store them flat. After tracing them off and marking them well, I clip the pieces together. I have a large drawer that I can store them in. The pile is getting pretty deep and a little harder to sort through.  I've decided to keep my current pattern and the more frequently used ones on hangers.

This is an easy storage method if you have the room. Even a spare corner of your closet could work. I simply tied a ribbon to the bulldog clip that was already in place from storing them flat and hung them up. You can buy hooks especially for hanging patterns but I had this on hand so it was easy and inexpensive.

Hopefully this gives you some strategies for handling all that tissue or at least sparks some ideas for how you could create a system that works for you. Next time we'll be tackling PDF patterns.

Until then, happy sewing,

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