When it comes to sewing and making your mark, you’ve got lots of options. That’s the good and that’s the bad.
But have no fear…
By the end of this post, you will understand your marking options and be able to choose at least two marking tools that are just perfect for your needs.
Personally, one of the qualities I like to bring to my sewing is precision. I need it like bread needs butter or the sun needs the sky.
Taking the time to transfer pattern markings to your fabric will increase your accuracy and sewing enjoyment. And it will certainly result in a more professional end result.
For all this precision to happen, you’re going to need at least a couple choices of marking tools.
Because different fabrics require different marking tools. And while snip marking, for example, will work wonderfully for transferring exterior pattern markings, it is not an option for interior pattern markings.
So, here is the 411 on marking tools…
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Rules on Marking
Rule #2: The goal is to mark accurately but not permanently. So make your marks lightly.
Rule #3: Choose a marking tool that creates enough contrast with your fabric so that the markings are clearly visible.
Rule #4: With the exception of pockets and pleats, all markings should be made on the WS.
Rule #5: Always TEST, TEST, TEST your marking tool on a scrap piece of project fabric!
Rule #6: ALWAYS remove marks completely before you press or launder. Or, you may be sorry. Pressing and some detergents can cause marks to set permanently! Yikes!
Sewing: Marking Tool Choices
Dritz Air- and Water-Soluble Pens
I’m not a fan of these pens by Dritz. Remember earlier when I said I like precision. Well, fat lines are not precise, which is what you get when you mark with these babies. And the problem only gets worse with time.
Not to mention…
They dry out so damn quickly even if you are conscientious about replacing the cap immediately after each use.
But again if you try them and like them, it’s all good.
Just keep in mind that the air-soluble pens (purple cap) disappear in about 24 to 72 hours. So you will need to sew up that dress pronto double quick. No dilly-dallying.
Oh, and if it is that time of the year when it is hot and humid, marks made with an air-soluble pen can disappear even faster.
Water-soluble pens (blue cap) disappear with just a spritz of PLAIN water or a gentle rub down with a damp cloth.
These pens are best suited for marking notches, dots, squares, dart legs and the dart point.
Here’s the thing you must remember about these pens…
Remove marks made with either of these pens BEFORE you wash the fabric or the garment and pressing. Because some detergents and heat will permanently set the marks on your fabric!
Pro tip: These pens are NOT suitable for dry clean only fabrics.
Chalk comes in various forms: tailor’s chalk, lead and mechanical pencils, “on wheels,” and more. Let me share a few of my favorite forms:
Triangle Tailor’s Chalk
These are classic and the original marking tool before we had other choices. They usually come in four colours: white, yellow, pink and blue.
I like Ogrmar Professional Tailor’s Chalk Triangles. Because the three sharp angles allow you to draw precise lines. And the really cool thing about them is that they won’t leave a stain on your lovely fabric.
And that’s not all…
This chalk does not leave your hands chalky and dry! Love that!
Pro tip #1: Many chalk wedges will become less precise with use.
Pro tip #2: There are chalks that contain wax. Do NOT buy them. Because they can leave nasty oil spots on certain fabrics, especially when pressed! Ewwwwwwwwwww!
Dritz Dressmaker’s Marking Pencils
This chalk pencil comes in blue and white. And I despise them!
Now, Dritz does a lot of things right, but these pencils are not one of them. It is simply impossible to leave delicate marking on your fabric without a tug-of-war. And you know who loses: your fabric. Ugh!
And do you want to know what else…
They make imprecise markings. I know… the gall.
Clover Chacopel Fine Point Pencils
As much as I loathe Dritz’s Dressmaker’s Chalk Pencils, I love these babies.
Clover Chacopel Fine Pencils are made in Japan and come in a package of three: one white, one yellow, and one that is half pink and half blue.
You also get a sharpener and two caps with brush end. Now that’s what I call a convenient, total package.
Generally, the blue pencil works for light-coloured fabric and the white or yellow for dark-coloured fabrics.
Chalk pencils are best suited for interior markings and notches. And they can be used on dry clean only and machine washable fabrics.
Just make sure that you always brush away marks BEFORE pressing!
I love Clover Chaco Liner Chalk Wheels. They make beautiful, precise, accurate thin lines on a variety of fabrics.
But if you are planning on sewing with knit fabrics, then you need one of these. Because they won’t pull on your knits as you mark!
And they come in four colours: white, yellow, blue, and pink. I find that yellow or white works best for your fashion fabric and blue for your muslin fabric.
I bet you can guess why I love chalk wheel markers.
Did you guess that they make precise, subtle lines?! Precise lines mean precision stitching. What’s not to love?!
The other thing I really like about them is that they are refillable.
However, just know that markings from chalk wheels are easily brushed away. So take care how you handle your fabric pieces after marking.
Pro tip #1: However, if the fabric will be handled excessively during the construction process, skip this marking method. Because the chalk may rub off.
Pro tip #2: Fill an empty Chaco Liner with vanishing powder that is made for hem markers. Now, the marks will disappears when they are hit with a blast of steam from your iron. You could even refill them with baby powder for a baby fresh smell. Mmm.
Fabric Marking Mechanical Pencils
Fabric marking mechanical pencils have a super thin lead that provides a consistent thickness. This means precision. And by now, you know how passionate I am about precision.
Since you can advance and retract the lead, you don’t need a sharpener, which is nice. And they are refillable too.
The difference between a regular pencil and one specifically designed for marking fabric is that the fabric marking pencils contain less graphite. And less graphite means less smudging and easy removal.
To remove marks made with this type of pencil, use a fabric eraser or a damp cloth.
I really like Fons & Porter Mechanical Fabric Pencil.
Pro tip: You can easily brush away most chalk marks with a medium firm toothbrush. And you don’t need to play tough either — just be gentle.
Tracing Wheel + Dressmaker’s Carbon Paper
You can use dressmaker’s carbon paper and a tracing wheel to transfer pattern markings to your fabric.
I like this in theory but not in practice. It just seems like a lot of work. Plus, you have to store large sheets of dressmaker’s carbon paper. And frankly, sewing already takes up enough square footage in my small apartment.
However, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me share what I know for your benefit.
First, you need two things: dressmaker’s carbon paper (not be confused with any old carbon paper) + a tracing wheel.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:
TEST. TEST. TEST.
Dressmaker’s carbon is what the professionals use. And typically, it a mail-order item.
It is not that dinky crap (aka Dritz Wax-Free Tracing Paper) you buy at most local fabric stores. However, since this tracing paper is wax-free, the marks can be easily brushed away and are unlikely to become one with your fabric when pressed!
The stuff you buy online is the real deal — the paper that is nicely pigmented. The sheets are (26″x39″) so that it is easy for you to transfer markings from a full-size pattern without having to move a dinky little piece of carbon paper around and around and around.
You can get real dressmaker’s carbon at Oliver + S.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind with dressmaker’s carbon:
- It comes in five colours: White, Red, Navy, Yellow and Light Blue.
- With real dressmaker’s carbon, the pigment is usually waxed. This means that marks can be difficult to remove or are permanent, especially if heat is applied! So you NEVER want to use it on the right side (RS) of your fabric!
- Before marking your fashion fabric, do a test on a scrap from your project to make sure the carbon markings do not bleed through to the RS.
Here’s what you need to take away with the marking tool…
You want to use the lightest colour that will provide just enough contrast on the wrong side (WS) of your fabric. So I think it’s safe to say, leave the red alone!
Generally, yellow or white is used for fashion fabric. And navy is used for muslins (test garments).
Okay, I think that’s enough about dressmaker’s carbon. Let’s move on to tracing wheels…
There are three types of tracing wheels:
- Serrated (for all-purpose uses)
- Smooth (for delicate fabrics)
- Needlepoint (for copy paper patterns quickly)
The smooth tracing wheel produces an unbroken line. It is ideal for fabrics that are washable, delicate or lightweight fabrics, or pile fabrics.
The serrated tracing wheel produces a dotted line. It is the one to turn to when transferring pattern markings to most other fabrics, including multiple layers and bulky fabrics.
Pro tip: With sheer or lightweight fabrics, carbon paper markings are likely to show through to the RS.
Other Off-Label Marking Tools
Some prescription drugs are found to be useful for conditions other than what they were FDA approved for. And when a drug is used in this manner, it is said to be off-label.
Well, in sewing, there are items that were not originally intended for the craft of sewing, but they make wonderful marking tools.
Here are four off-label marking tools that fit the bill:
For snip marking, I love my tiny Gingher Lightweight 4-inch Embroidery Scissors. They allow me to transfer exterior pattern markings fast and accurately.
However, keep in mind that if the fabric unravels faster than you can say “cold-hearted snake,” then snip marking is not an option!
Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Crayons
I love that these crayons are easy on the budget, readily available, and easy to remove from skin and fabric.
Who else goes nuts for a new box of crayons?! Raise your hands, please!
These crayons and markers make fabulous choices when you need to make interior marks.
Sticker dots are a great option for marking fabric, especially interior marks, such as dart points, pockets, and buttons.
They are quick to use, small enough to be precise.
And you can use them on the right or wrong side of the fabric.
When choosing your stickers, make sure to pick one that is low residue. You don’t want stickers that leave too much residue behind.
You can find these at your local big box store or office supply store.
Removing marks made with air- or water-soluble pens is as easy as dabbing the area gently with a clean, damp cloth.
Marks made with chalk can easily be brushed away with a firm-bristled toothbrush. (However, this may be too rough for satin or taffeta.)
In this article, you have learned about some really wonderful marking tools.
Accurate and precise marking are the keys to professional results that yield insanely pretty dresses that are as beautiful on the inside as they are they outside.
Now, go forth and make your mark…
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