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Marking tools

It took me a long time to realize that there is no one ideal marking tool. I used to struggle with marking fabrics until I realized something: you need a small selection of tools to properly mark the variety of fabrics you’re likely to sew with.

The purpose of the marking tool is to transfer all the little notations that appear on your pattern, the ones that tell you where to cut, fold, sew, or place adjoining pieces. The pattern instructions work together with these notations to tell you exactly how to manipulate each pattern piece.

I’ll run down a few choices, most of which I use in some way or another:

Tracing wheel and dressmaker’s paper:
Dressmaker’s paper is something like carbon paper, in that it transfers markings with applied pressure. Place it between your pattern and your fabric, then use the tracing wheel to draw over the lines on the pattern to transfer them to the fabric.

Water soluble pencils:
These look like colored pencils, and come in a range of colors which are suitable for different fabrics. They should wash out of your fabric easily, but always test on a swatch to be sure.

Markers and pens:
Markers are similar to pencils. Some markers I’ve used seem to produce fat lines, and also tend to dry out quickly, but there are some wonderful fine line pens on the market now, like the one above from Nancy’s Notions.

Tailor’s chalk:
Tailor’s chalk comes in triangular pieces. You must keep it sharp or you end up with lines that are a bit too fat. It can also be slightly messy, and breaks easily. I love it for dark fabrics, because it marks very easily and opaquely! It’s traditionally white, but also available in many other colors.

Chalk pen:
I love these things! It’s held line a pen, but leaves a fine layer of chalk, and the bright colors are great for a variety of fabric colors.

Sometimes you can just use a pin to mark specific points on your pattern piece. It may seem a bit lazy, but it’s usually no less accurate. I always mark dart tips with a pin, for example.

By the way, my grandmother once told me that she would use slivers of soap when no chalk was handy. This is a very economical alternative if you happen to find yourself short on chalk or pencils!

Do you have a favorite marking implement? I always like hearing about new ones!

{images above: Ravenhill Designs, and Nancy’s Notions}

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.



October 13, 2010 #

I am with you on this post. I used to use chalk for every thing. I am now discovering the wonders of new marking devices. Pens, every time I use a pen designed for marking fabric the line is gone before I even get a chance to cut out the pattern. Am I using cheep pens? Is there a brand or something to look for? I have also had some trouble with watercolor pencils staining the fabric. Only a few colors, but it is important to test them!


October 15, 2010 #

I have the same problem with disappearing ink disappearing before I cut out my patchwork – its a matter of seconds between drawing and cutting and still it vanishes!


October 13, 2010 #

Love the tailor’s chalk and water-soluble pencils. However, I seem to always be lacking the right color for whatever I’m working on (white fabric? I can only find the white chalk and pencils!) and a new favorite marking tool of mine is metallic milky pens. The kind that let you write on black paper. I find that they generally wash out well (though I haven’t tried them on silk) and I can see them, because of their metallic sheen, on almost everything.


October 13, 2010 #

I still need to add a chalk pen to my stash of sewing tools–it’s been on my wishlist for awhile! ;)

My newest “toy” is a vintage marker I bought on Ebay over the summer called a “Tack It”. It allows me to easily mark dots and other small marks that are prevalent on vintage patterns by just placing some transfer paper under the pattern and pressing the tool down over top! Rather good for a $8 purchase. ;) I’ve been using it a lot!

My other favorite marking method, however, are good ol’ pins. I generally use those to mark the points of darts and such.

♥ Casey | blog


October 13, 2010 #

I like my soapstone fabric marker. It takes a little care to make sure you don’t break the stone, but it’s super.


October 13, 2010 #

I have a slightly different chalk ‘pen’. I’d call it a chalk pencil, really. It’s basically a long skinny piece of chalk (like pencil lead) and you put it in the pen-like holder. You can sharpen your chalk using a pencil sharpener so that it always stays sharp. Mine was only like $7 and it came with a rainbow of colors. I absolutely love it. :)


October 13, 2010 #

I was taught to use tracing paper only on muslin, never on fabric because it’s not a sufficiently clean method.

For fabric, I use:

— “chalky” chalk in various colors (some fade in 48 hours),
–wax chalk on textured wool fabric,
–air soluble markers (which don’t always fade on their own, but do wash out),
–mechanical sewing pencils by Clover,
–Chaco chalks,
–a retractable craft pen with interchangeable chalks in different colors (can’t recall the brand, but it’s red plastic; I think it’s what Liz has described; mine was $12),
–dressmaker pencils,
–a ceramic Hera
–a pounce wheel and pad.

Unless I’m sewing immediately, I usually thread trace over the transferred markings.


October 13, 2010 #

I use a pin to mark the end of a dart. I lay the pattern over the fabric, pierce the hole with a pin, and then mark just under the pin (it’s important to be consistent with all the darts, otherwise, they’ll end up being different sizes). Then I take my marking instrument of choice and draw the dart legs.

Mary Beth at ✄ Fabric U ✄

October 13, 2010 #

KK2000 is great for positioning and re-positioning things. It works with pattern pieces too.


October 13, 2010 #

Where did you get that tracing wheel? It looks sturdy. The ones I buy at the fabric store always break.


October 13, 2010 #

The tracing wheel (and other tools) are from Nancy’s Notions:


October 13, 2010 #

Ohh LOVE that chalk pen. I want one! But yikes, $19.99 shipping to me for just one? Think I’ll leave it LOL


October 13, 2010 #

I always use the little slivers of leftover soap to mark things. Since the bars are always white and unscented, this is (almost) a guarantee that things will wash out correctly.

I’ve had some chalks take several washings to come out….


October 13, 2010 #

What is the best way to sharpen tailor’s chalk?


October 13, 2010 #

Eek… not sure if this is embarrassing or helpful, but sometimes I use a skinny Crayola washable marker. Usually just with cottons, though. I don’t think I’d try it on anything silky or fancy. Otherwise, yes, I’ve got almost everything else that you mentioned :)


October 13, 2010 #

I just discovered one of the coolest time and effort-saving tool, a double tracing wheel. it let you trace your seam allowance at the same time you are tracing your pattern. And it is adjustable so you can trace add seam allowance from 1/4″ to 1″. check it out

Leah Taylor

October 14, 2010 #

Thanks Sarai, this list is great. I am surprised that use of tacking thread hasn’t appeared in the comments, that is what my mum taught me and I always assumed it is what everyone did, but obviously not!! I don’t use it for tracing patterns (that would take a long time) but for marking notches, dots etc I use a long piece of tacking thread doubled up , so when the fabric is unfolded I then snip inbetween the two layers and a piece of thread stays with each layer.

Tacking thread is thick, so nice and easy to see, but extra easy to break so you can just break it with a sharp pull, which is handy.

I prefer tacking thread to using chalk or pens because my projects tend to get started and then stopped, sometimes for months at a time!!!, so the chalk and pen can fade away whereas the thread will always be there.


October 18, 2010 #

Leah, I’m using tacking thread, too! :-) That’s what I learned from my family members and also at school. Never felt the need to use another tool… I think that once one knows the trick, it’s a pretty fast method and one doesn’t have to worry about lasting or disappearing marks.

Leah Taylor

October 14, 2010 #

Oh and that tracing wheel looks superb! I just checked the Amazon UK site and you can get it here, I am so going to order it.

Leah Taylor

October 14, 2010 #

I don’t think my previous link worked – trying again –

Paola VM

October 14, 2010 #

I love your posts… I have met many tips and tools that here in mexico you don’t found.

answering your post, my favorite tool is, like leah taylor, the double tracing wheel adjustable, you save work at the time of marking and cutting fabric.

Other tool that i love is my automatic tape measure, you don’t have to roll up your tape every time you use it, only push the buttom and ready!!!


October 14, 2010 #

Now, if I could just figure out a consistent marking method that withstands ironing and still is removable (is thread-tracing the only possibility for that?). Sometimes I also like to use a prismacolor colored pencil – but only in spots where I don’t have to remove the mark.

I recently told that the air-soluble markers (like a pink clover pen) will disappear quickly if there is a lot of moisture in the air.


October 14, 2010 #

those tacking gadgets are great for marking dots to place straps, etc.

i use water soluble cheap markers for outlines mostly, and tailor tacks or colored chalk for internal dots and stuff in a color close to the fabric color. the markers come from El Dollar usually. some day when i have a cutting table i;ll figure out the tracing wheel.


October 15, 2010 #

I use chalk or a biro (yes, it is dangerous!).


January 30, 2011 #

To touch on an earlier comment above, I also use soap slivers. If you use liquid soap so you haven’t got slivers handy you can always buy a bar and cut it. It’s cheap, washes easily, doesn’t disappear like ink or rub off like chalk, and washes out perfectly on most readily washable fabrics. My grandma, I believe, started this when she was young and there was a war on because it was economical.


October 2, 2012 #

I also use soap slivers for my job.

Kayleigh Garner

November 15, 2012 #

I use a bar of natural vegetable soap, and scrape a sharp knife over the flat part to keep the edge sharp