Creating Designs from Reference Material

Get Started Scrolling / Tips for Beginners

Creating Designs from Reference Material

Use tracing paper to draft your own patterns without a computer

by Toni Burghout
Pattern based on design by Ed Sibbett Jr.
Cut by Ben Fink

This article was first published in issue 34 of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts.

The simple art of tracing is a valuable skill for many hobbies and scroll sawing is no exception. If you can hold a pencil, you can trace. If you can trace, and you understand the basics of scroll sawing, then you can create a pattern from resource material.

Anyone can create something uniquely their own using reference materials. Unleash your creativity using various resources such as graphic libraries and clip art. There is no need to learn a computer software program to create your own patterns or manipulate the patterns you have to suit your personal use.

Resource Material

Resource material refers to anything that already exists, whether it’s an existing image, a photo, or clip art. You must make sure you have the right to use the resource material you select. Patterns created from resource material are considered derivative works, which means the new design is derived from, or based on, the original image. Copyrighted materials cannot be used to create derivative works. The simplest and safest way to protect yourself is to request permission from the copyright holder whenever you are creating a derivative work. Images or graphics in the public domain have no restrictions and are a rich source for reference material.

For this demonstration, I use Dover Publishing Co.’s Butterfly Stained Glass Coloring Book. Dover offers the limits for usage on the inside cover of the book. Proper credit should always be given to the original source.

Designs: Tracing the Main Subject

1. Gather your materials. You will need a pencil, fine pen/marker, eraser, and tracing paper. Tape and liquid Wite-Out or correction fluid are also helpful. Since my reference material is printed on transparent paper, I slip a sheet of white paper underneath. Cover the image with tracing paper.

2. Choose your main subject. You can use the entire image or combine individual elements from several different resources. I decided to use just the butterfly from this design, eliminating the background elements. Trace around the outline of the butterfly with a sharp graphite pencil.

3. Trace the inside components. The key to making a scrollable pattern is to determine what will be cut out and what will remain. The remaining structure must have connections or bridges to support the overall design. Work on the body and one wing, focusing on including the elements. We will add the bridges to connect the elements in the next step.

Designs: Strengthening the Pattern

4. Add bridges to the design. You will most likely need to make adjustments to keep the elements of the design connected. Look for areas that are not connected to the main design and create bridges. Envision cutting the design on your scroll saw. Here, I connect the design element at the tip of the wing with the rest of the wing.

5. Increase the strength of the design. I reduce the open space between the details in the wings. Make sure you reconnect the lines with the existing pattern lines. This strengthens the area where the wings attach to the body.

6. Remove fragile sections. The body of the butterfly has some segments with thin lines. I could thicken these lines, but I decided to delete them entirely so the body of the butterfly is one open cut. This was purely a design choice.

7. Finish tracing the butterfly. Trace the completed side with a fine-tip marker. If you want the altered design to be symmetrical, fold the tracing paper along the centerline of the butterfly and trace the details onto the other wing with a pencil.


Designs: Personalizing the Pattern

8. Finish the main subject. Unfold the paper and trace the pencil lines with the marker. Make sure all areas are connected and the pattern will be scrollable. You can use this as the completed pattern or as the starting point for a more personalized design.

9. Join two butterflies together. Cover the design with another sheet of tracing paper and trace only the outline. Position the traced outline over the first butterfly and look for areas to join the two subjects. Trace the second outline onto the tracing paper. Tape additional sheets of tracing paper in place if necessary.

10. Add additional elements. Move the traced outlines around the original butterfly pattern. Look for areas to join the butterflies together. When you are happy with the composition, trace another outline of the butterfly in position. This overlay method can be used to add backgrounds or additional subjects.

11. Finish the design. Reposition the original butterfly design under the outlines and trace the details onto each of the three butterflies. Create strong joint lines and determine which details will be included on the final design where the different elements meet. Use a fine-tip marker. Photocopy the design and reduce or enlarge the size to suit your needs.

Materials & Tools


  • Tracing paper
  • 1/4″ x 81/2″ x 11″ wood of choice
  • 1/4″ x 81/2″ x 11″ wood of choice
    (optional backing)
  • Wood glue
  • Finish of choice


  • #1 and #3 reverse-tooth blades
  • Drill with 1/16″-diameter bit
  • Assorted clamps


About the Author

Toni Burghout lives in Orillia, Ont., Canada. She and Sue Chrestensen are the owners of Chrestensen-Burghout designs.

Discuss this material on the Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts forums.

Read more tips for beginners!