There is no exact science in sewing – you usually do with what you have. But when there are options galore, maybe you will make an informed and convenient choice with this list of marking tools.
The three caveats you need to follow when selecting a marking tool for your fabric in sewing – one is, it should not be a smudged mess; The second is it should not permanently stain/mark the cloth. The other is that, it should be visible clearly as you sew.
1 Tailor’s Chalk
Tailor’s chalk is specially made for fabric marking and comes in a number of colors – no, it is not the chalk that is used in school blackboards, once upon a time, for the uninitiated. This chalk is thin and very easy to use and convenient to hold and is gone with a wet wipe or wash.
The marking might fade very fast with the slightest touch- that is a disadvantage. These chalks are fragile as they are thin and may crumble as you mark and make a mess. Buy good quality ones in many colors.
Choose a color in contrast to your cloth.
2 Chalk pencils
Much better than triangle shaped tailor’s chalk- buy chalk pencils with a little wax in it – it doesn’t come off easily like the regular chalk but goes off completely when washed. It is available in many colors and can be sharpened and leave accurate lines on fabric. What more can you ask.
There are also pencils available in which you can change the leads.
A chalk wheel is a commercially available product that makes a line of powdered chalk on the fabric. This is usually washed or brushed away easily.
3 Fine soft lead pencil & other markers
Everyone has a lead pencil at home and I think every other sewist use their pencil to mark. Kid’s washable markers are a great option too, if you have them. They wash away easily.
4 Marking pens
These are very easy to use – the kind of thing which sounds too good to be true. Some just fade away, some disappears only with a wash. Some promise everything but are just horrible – fades away before you have even used the line and some leave stains.
The inks of some pens may not disappear to your horror though it claims so in the label so test on a patch of cloth before using it on your final fabric.
Fade-away markers seem to be good in writing but as already said, some of them may leave stains. So be careful about using them to mark something on the surface of the fabric other than on seams.
Wash away markers should be washed immediately after the sewing is done or they may also stain.
The ink in these pens disappear on their own or with a cold water wash. Never use hot water as it may set the color. And also never press with a hot iron before the marks have faded or washed.
5 Tracing wheel
A pizza cutter like marking tool which makes small dotes in its wake. If used above a carbon paper the tracing wheel creates a visible dotted line.
You will keep a carbon sheet in between the pattern and the fabric. Now trace over the lines of the pattern with the tiny wheel. The lines will get traced to your fabric as small dots with the color of your carbon.
The marks will go off with a wet rubbing; easy to see and not so easily removed as chalk. Test before using, of course as carbon may not go off completely from some fabric. And you cannot use it on dry cleanable fabrics and those which stain with water spots like silk or clothes which may not be washed before use.
The disadvantage is that the mark made is difficult to see if used alone so it cannot be used on see-through or printed clothes. Use cardboard underneath to protect the other side of clothes and surfaces.
This refers to using needle and thread to make running stitches as the markings by hand sewing.
It is the best method for marking darts and where you need the marks on either side of the fabric. What you do is mark with a chalk on one side or use a tracing paper and wheel to make markings on one side, then hand sew the line.
The disadvantage is that it is very difficult and time consuming
7 Bar soap slivers
A sliver of bar soap is used to mark fabric. It is cheap and you will have it at home always.
The disadvantage is that it is very difficult to see the marks on light colored fabrics. It can’t be used on dry clean only fabrics.
These are made using scissors;Small snips are made at appropriate places where you intend to mark something – it is used only in the seam allowance.
Do not over do it otherwise it can weaken the seam
You can DIY the commercially sold pouncers – just make a chalk powder filled muslin bag. These are used when you have a lot of surface stitching like embroidery and you will be working quickly. These pouncer bags are used with stencils, in embroidery. You can see other methods for transferring embroidery designs on to fabric here.
10 Tailor Tacks
These are small individual ties or stitches that you make joining fabric pieces where marking in any other way is impossible. You can use a contrasting thread to make small stitch without knotting the thread. Learn more about the tailor tacking stitches here
The disadvantage of this method is that if you leave them without final stitching, the stitches soon come loose
There is a special marking tool used in large scale garment manufacturing – it is called a hot notcher – used to make small (but visible ) notches on multiple layers of fabric at the same time with great precision and without anything shifting.