In this article, you will learn the various options for marking your fabric, such as tailor’s chalk; chalk pencils; chalk wheels; dressmaker’s carbon paper + tracing wheels; washable crayons; Avery labels, and more. You will also learn how to remove marks efficiently and effectively once they’ve accomplished their mission.
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 on certain fabrics, it is never an option for interior pattern markings.
So, here is the 411 on marking tools…
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 wrong side (WS).
Rule #5: Always TEST, TEST, TEST your marking tool on a scrap piece of project fabric, so you’ll never be sorry!
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
Air- and Water-Soluble Marking Pens
I’m not a fan of the air- and water-soluble pens by Dritz — the brand you are mostly likely to find locally.
Well, they dry up so damn quickly even if when I am conscientious about replacing the cap immediately after each use.
But if you like them, it’s all good. I am still on the look out for a version of these marking pens I can fall in love with.
Just keep the following tips in mind if you use these pens:
- Air-soluble pens disappear in about 24 to 72 hours. So you will need to sew up that dress pronto double quick. No dilly-dallying.
- Heat and humidity may make the marks made with an air-soluble pen disappear even faster.
- Water-soluble pens disappear with just a spritz of PLAIN water or a gentle dab with a damp cloth.
Here’s another important thing you must remember about these pens…
Remove marks made with either of these pens BEFORE you wash or press the fabric or the finished garment. Because heat and/or detergents may permanently set the marks on your fabric!
These marking pens are best suited for marking interior and exterior pattern markings, such as notches, dots, squares, and the dart point.
Sew easy tip: Apparently, the pens from Dritz are NOT suitable for dry clean only fabrics.
Chalk comes in various forms: tailor’s chalk, lead or mechanical pencils, “on wheels,” and more. Let me share a few of the most common 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!
Sew easy tip #1: Many chalk wedges will become less precise with use.
Sew easy 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! Ewwwww!
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.
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 exterior or interior pattern markings. 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 Pen Style Chaco Liner. They make beautiful, precise, accurate thin lines on a variety of fabrics.
And if you are planning on sewing with knit fabrics, then you need one of these. Because they are less likely to pull on your knits as you mark!
They usually come in four colours: white, yellow, blue, and pink. Generally, 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.
Here’s a very cool idea…
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.
However, keep in mind that markings from chalk wheels are easily brushed away. So take care how you handle your fabric pieces after marking. In fact, if your fabric will be handled excessively during the construction process, you might just want to skip this marking method.
Sew easy tip: When your project is complete, you can easily brush away most chalk marks with a medium firm toothbrush. And you shouldn’t need to play tough either — 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) available at local big box craft 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 is nicely pigmented. The sheets are about 26″ x 39″ 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.
I got mine in yellow from Oliver + S.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind with dressmaker’s carbon:
- It usually comes in these colours: White, Red, Navy, Yellow and Light Blue.
- With real dressmaker’s carbon, the pigment is usually waxed. This means that marks are probably 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.
- Use light pressure when making your marks — you don’t want the marks to be glaringly visible!
- Finally, use white dressmaker’s carbon paper with white fabric. It will be extremely subtle, but it’s the only way to go with white fabrics!
Here’s what you need to take away with this 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)
- Needle Point (for copying paper patterns and pattern-making)
The serrated tracing wheel produces a dotted line. It is the one to turn to when transferring interior pattern markings to most other fabrics, including multiple layers and bulky fabrics.
The smooth tracing wheel produces an unbroken line. It is ideal for fabrics that are washable, delicate or lightweight fabrics, or pile fabrics.
Sew easy 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 three off-label marking tools that fit the bill:
Washable Crayons & Markers
Who else goes nuts for a new box of crayons?! Raise your hands, please!
I love that washable crayons by Crayola or Cra-Z-Art are easy on the budget, are readily available, provide an assortment of colours, and are easy to remove from skin and fabric. What’s not to love?!
Another great — maybe even better — option are Crayola Super Tips Washable Markers. These babies allow for thin, precise lines. Yes, I’m in love.
These crayons and markers are a fabulous choice when you need to transfer exterior or interior pattern markings, such as, notches, dots, circles, squares, and the dart point from your tissue pattern to your fabric!
Avery .25-inch Round Removable Color-Coding Labels 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.
Some air- and water-soluble pens come with a built-in water tips. This is so cool!
Marks made with chalk can easily be brushed away with a firm-bristled toothbrush. However, this may be too rough for certain fabrics, so test on a scrap!
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…
Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!