One of the lesser-known occupations followed by women is that of tracing plans prepared by draughtsmen.
It should be stated at the outset that the work is not highly remunerated, which is the case, unfortunately, with so much women's work; but there are compensations which make it worth consideration by a girl who has the necessary qualifications for it.
The work does not require much knowledge of drawing or painting, certainly not from an artistic or aesthetic point of view, because tracing is more or less mechanical; but it is necessary to be very neat and accurate in the handling of drawing materials and instruments, to have a correct eye for the forms and sizes of objects, fingers that are not "all thumbs," and to be painstaking. The work looks easy, and reminds one of our pleasant childish amusement with tracing-paper, a pencil, and an outline picture, but much patient care is required over minute details, which must be absolutely correct to scale if an engineer or builder is to work satisfactorily by the plan. This means that patience is essential in the learner. Many girls think that what looks so easy can be quickly mastered, and when they discover their error, they give up.
Of course, the possession of good eyesight is essential. Tracing offices are in cities and towns where work must sometimes be done by electric light. A suitable office, by the by, has plenty of window light, and faces north.
The girl who thinks of doing tracing work should be fairly well educated, because in a busy office all kind of plans come to hand. An experienced employer of a good staff lays emphasis on a knowlege of French and of the metric system as being most useful. Post-offices, it would appear, are not the only places where living encyclopaedias are required! A certain tracing firm was once astounded by a client's request for "One tracing, and please write it up in Arabic." One can picture the depressing feeling of ignorance among the poor tracers!
It must not be imagined that because the plans are chiefly engineering in character - electrical, geographical, mining, locomotive - or architectural, that work of more human interest never comes in.
The writer was recently shown a plan which much interested a staff - the genealogical tree of a family dating back to the reign of Henry VII., into which an infusion of Royal blood had come. The "tree" was delivered to the office in portions, as the client discovered his pedigree, and the instalments were awaited with interest as they linked on to historical events.
There are also plans for leases to be traced, and others for important railways to be laid in India, Uganda, or North Borneo. Sometimes a client has such faith in the tracing office as to require his drawing to be corrected there; but that work is, of course, not within the province of the tracer, though some unreasonable clients do complain that "tracers don't know what they are tracing." This is hardly to be expected from the ordinary tracer, yet it is the girl who cares to know, and uses her brain while her fingers are busy with her instruments, who rises to the top of the office, and is best fitted to open one for herself.
The time required for learning depends on the girl's aptitude. If capable, at the end of six months she would be able to use her various instruments and trace easy, straightforward drawings. The usual premium asked for that time is ten guineas.
As to the place of training, some of the best tracing offices refuse to take learners, because when there is a rush of work - and work, like the proverbial rain, often does come in rushes - a learner cannot be entrusted with it, yet she occupies the desk-room which is needed for a competent worker.
The best plan is to make from a directory a list of the offices employing women, and apply at the most promising. Instruction is to be had at technical classes and at polytechnics, but employers of staffs say that such classes do not afford opportunity to seeing a variety of work, the time given for study is insufficient, and the student's work lacks finish.
Good instruments are essential to success. They include compasses of various kinds, dividers, ruling-pins, T-squares, fine knives or retoucher's knives and disc erasers, though it is impressed on the learner that mistakes must not be made.
The tracing is done through transparent tracing-cloth, or tracing-paper, pinned over the original drawing placed on a large drawing-board on a high, sloping desk. Sticks of Indian ink make the best medium for tracing, as this ink gives an opaque line which can yet be varied in density, though various bottled Indian inks are used.
French chalk is used to remove the grease from the tracing-cloth. Either tracing-cloth or tracing-paper must be stocked and bought in rolls; the latter is the cheaper, but the former most used.
One most essential point in a tracer is that she should be a good printer (of letters, not type), or, as we say, a good "writer-up" of her tracing. She may be neat and accurate with her instruments, but unless she can write her tracing up she will never "stand alone," as it were.
The usual office hours are from 9.30 to 6, though in one office, where only competent workers are engaged, they finish at 5.30. But, whatever the hours, it is advisable for the girl to get into an office where high-class work is done; such, for instance, as Stevenson & Co.'s, at 25, Victoria Street, S.w.