Sewing Essentials: A Guide to Fabric Marking Tools

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Quilting, Sewing | Comments


Whether you sew garments, quilts, accessories or home decor, you will find that some projects require you to temporarily mark the placement of closures, darts, pockets, appliqués, stitching lines and other design elements. Sometimes a pin or a small snip in the seam allowance will do, but you often need more precise markings that won’t disappear too quickly but also won’t scar your fabric forever.

After many years of sewing, I still feel overwhelmed by the abundance of marking tools on the market. Which ones work best for different fabric marking needs?

Here is a guide to the pros and cons of some common fabric marking tools.

Marking Tools for Sewing

Note: Always test ANY marking tool on a scrap of your fabric first to see how it reacts and how easy it is to remove. Even “disappearing” inks may not completely disappear on certain fabrics or colors. I have found that no marking tool is ever 100% consistent.

1. Water soluble or disappearing ink pens

Pros: Precise lines; easy to mark small dots or circles; bright colors show up well on light fabrics; marks typically disappear completely with a light blot of water, touch of the iron, or with time

Cons: Sometimes disappears too fast; marker tips can dry up quickly; marks can bleed or spread; sometimes reappears after initial removal

Disappearing Markers

Disappearing Markers

2. Ceramic lead pens

Pros: Makes thin accurate marks; comes with different colors of refillable lead; erases or washes away easily with water

Cons: Expensive; fine tip breaks easily and sometimes drags on fabric; less effective on thick or textured fabrics like wool or felt

dritz tailor's marking set ceramic lead

dritz tailor's marking set ceramic lead

3. Tailor’s chalk

Pros: Leaves smooth lines; good for marking thick or textured fabrics; usually fades and brushes away easily (which is sometimes a con, depending)

Cons: Easily breaks, dulls and crumbles; must be regularly sharpened; can fade or brush away too quickly

Tailors Chalk

4. Chaco Liner Pens

Pros: Leaves a very thin, precise line of powder; rolls easily and doesn’t drag on fabric; comes in a variety of colors; never needs sharpening

Cons: Expensive to purchase and refill; colors can be hard to remove from fabric initially and may need thorough wash

Chaco Chalk Pens

Chaco Chalk Pen

 5. Tracing/carbon paper and tracing wheel

Pros: Ability to mark both sides of the fabric at once if you sandwich fabric with the carbon paper; each packet comes with a variety of colors to use with light or dark fabrics; easy to mark long lines, curves or corners while copying a template or pattern exactly

Cons: Carbon can smudge the rest of your fabric (or your hands); lines sometimes don’t transfer clearly unless with heavy pressure; less visibility of where you’re marking because the paper covers the fabric

Carbon Tracing Paper and Wheel

6. Bar soap slivers

Pros: Already available in your home (or free from hotels!); easily glides over all fabrics

Cons: Leaves residue so should only be used on washable fabrics; can leave uneven smudges; limited colors

Soap as Marking Tool for sewing

7. Tailor’s Tacks or Thread Basting

Pros: Won’t stain so is safe for delicate or white fabrics; can mark both sides of fabric at once; colors are unlimited (depending on thread stash)

Cons: Takes longer and is more tedious; thread may pull out of fabric while handling

Tailors Tacks and Thread Basting

Tailors Tacks and Thread Basting

8. Hera Marker (or any sturdy plastic tool like a point turner)

Pros: Won’t stain; creases both sides of fabric at once; never needs replacing (unless lost!)

Cons: Less effective on synthetic or stretchy fabrics that don’t crease well; may leave “shine” on fabric

Hera Marker Crease

9. Wax

Pros: Glides on fabric easily and leaves clear lines; won’t rub off or brush away unless pressed with an iron

Cons: May not completely remove with iron; may stain lighter fabrics

 

Have you tried all of these tools or more? What are your favorites?