Before you actually get to sewing a garment, you need to transfer the pattern markings to your fabric. Properly marking the darts and sewing them as indicated can make all the difference in achieving a well-fitting garment. So what’s the best way to mark darts? Here are three popular options.
Method 1: Tailor’s tacks
Tailor’s tacks are my go-to method for marking darts in most any fabric. Tailor’s tacks are strands of thread looped between the fabric pieces, and they remain on the spot to indicate a dot or other marking.
I try to do them in an assembly line approach, doing all the tailor’s tacks once the garment is cut out. That way, I can set my project aside knowing the patterns markings have been applied. Plus, if the pattern pieces are shifted or removed, your marks are in the right place.
Step 1: Prepare the needle and thread
To start, thread your needle with a long strand of thread, doubled as shown above. Don’t tie a knot, as the thread needs to slip through the fabric. Use a starkly contrasting color, which makes the tailor’s tacks easy to see as you are sewing.
Step 2: Pull the needle through the fabric
Use the needle to pull the thread down through the pattern, through both layers of fabric and then come up on the other side of the dot, leaving about a 2″ tail of threads on the top layer (which is visible to you).
You can do the same again, still not cutting the thread, creating a loop, If you flip your fabric pieces over, you will see the threads there making a small X, marking the dot position.
Step 3: Cut the loops
Once you’ve completed all the tailor’s tacks on a particular pattern piece, go through and cut all the loops in half. This releases the threads on the surface layer so that now the dot is indicated by strands of thread that run through both layers of fabric.
Step 4: Snip the threads between layers of fabric
Almost done — time to snip the threads, creating a tailor’s tack on each of your fabric pieces.
Pull the fabric gently apart and snip through all the threads between the two layers of fabric.
Note that the tacks on the bottom layer of the fabric are more securely fixed because they are pulled against the fabric. As long as you have about 2″ of thread, it will stay in the fabric when snipped. You do have to be a little bit careful, as there is nothing holding these threads in the fabric.
Tailor’s tacks are a great way to mark long vertical darts, as well as sleeve markings, corner points or collar matching. Once the tacks are in place, you can use chalk to mark the stitching line on the wrong side of the fabric.
For delicate fabrics that might be permanently marked or develop holes, there are other options you can use.
Method 2: Transfer or tracing paper
Transfer or tracing paper can be used with a tracing wheel to mark on your fabric. Using this marking method requires testing on your fabric scraps before moving to your actual pattern pieces.
There are many types of transfer paper available. Some are coated with chalk or wax, and they come in a variety of colors. I’ve seen a version that’s similar to the disappearing ink marking pens.
To transfer the markings, first pay attention to whether the pattern pieces are on the right or wrong side of the fabric. In the photo above, the right side of the fabric is on the outside, facing the pattern paper and the table surface. The transfer paper then goes in between the layers of fabric, and is folded so that the marking side of the paper is against the wrong side of the fabric.
Run the tracing wheel over the pattern piece to mark onto the fabric. It helps to have a firm surface, such as a cutting mat, under the fabric so that the tracing wheel can be pressed firmly. You can mark the entire dart stitching line or just mark X’s at the dots to indicate those.
On this denim fabric, I chose an orange paper, which provides a good contrast with the denim fabric. On the inside it marks the dart shape. A drawback to this method is that it can create an impression or pinholes, especially if you need to use a lot of force to get the transfer onto the bottom layer. One way to avoid this is to separate the fabric, such as two skirt back pieces, and mark each separately, which would require less pressure.
Method 3: Pin and pencil
The last method requires no special tools other than a pencil. This works best on items with small pattern pieces, like children’s clothes, toys or bags. Note that you always need to have the wrong side of the fabric visible to mark this way.
To mark the dots of a dart, you can put a pin through the pattern into the fabric, and then lift up and mark a small dot with a pencil at the point. If you’re cutting out a double layer, leave the pin poked through the fabric, turn it over and mark the other side as well.
The pin and pencil method works best fabrics with like cotton or linen that are easy to handle and where a tiny pencil dot won’t show once the dart is sewn up. You can use colored pencils to make the marks less visible based on the color of your fabric.