There are lots of reasons why you may want to make a temporary mark on fabric. You might need to: mark around a sewing pattern before cutting it out, draw on a freehand design to embroider or quilt, show where certain stitches will go, transfer a motif to the fabric, mark out a buttonhole or dart or place specific pattern symbols.
Depending on what your requirements are, there are many methods for marking fabric. You can learn about the most popular ones along with the tools and equipment needed. Knowledge of the different techniques allows you to choose the most suitable one for the sewing task that you need to complete.
Water Soluble Pens and Markers
Water soluble marker pens have been a long time favorite of mine for marking fabric. The ones that I buy have a very nice shade of blue ink which I find very easy to see on most of the fabrics and felts that I use in my crafting. Because they have a fine nib, they are very accurate at drawing out a design or tracing around a template or stencil.
They are easy to use, fairly inexpensive and ideal for many occasions. The main downside is that it does takes time to remove the ink when you no longer need to see it which is why I try to use it on the back of a project. However this is not always possible and especially if you are needing to use it for surface designs and stitching.
These Pens are an Essential Part of my Sewing Tool Kit
Another downside is that while these pens work great on many lighter and medium shades of fabric, they don't show up well or at all on black or very dark shades. They're great but they are not a complete solution.
I love them mostly due to the accuracy and that they are as easy to use as a standard pen. I have one that comes with an eraser nib that quickly removes the blue ink as you go over it.
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Tracing Wheel and Dressmaker's Tracing Paper
This method is more commonly used for marking out sewing patterns for clothes directly on to the fabric. The tracing wheel is small and normally comes with a long handle for you to hold. It works a bit like a rotary cutter except that you only want to mark your material with this and not cut through it.
It works by sandwiching your fabric, tracing paper and pattern together in layers. You place your fabric right on the bottom layer, your special tracing paper over this with the colored chalk side facing the fabric and lastly have the pattern that you want to trace on the top. You then roll the little wheel firmly over the pattern to transfer the colored chalk on the special tracing paper on to the fabric ready for cutting.
It is a proven method that has been in use for many years although it is a technique that feels awkward to use at first. It is mostly used in dressmaking where it is very useful for marking out clothing patterns. A downside is that you still end up with colored chalk lines that you need to remove.
There are different options with tracing wheels. You can get smooth ones but I find that the serrated blades work better at transferring the markings from the dressmaker's tracing paper.
Tailor's Chalk, Chalk Pencils and Pens
Tailor's Chalk has been around for many years and I still have an original piece that belonged to my grandmother. Modern variants of this simple looking chalk triangle are pencils and markers which are easier to hold and keep your hands clean.
These chalks are widely used for pattern drafting in sewing and you can get them in different colors such as white, pink, yellow and blue. This means that you can see the marks made on different color fabrics. The white one is especially useful for marking on very dark shades of fabric like black.
I am not a big fan of these chalks for a few reasons. Sometimes you have to work back and forth with them to make a line that you can see well enough and it’s not as precise as using a water soluble pen. Often the markings are a little off which could throw any important measurements out.
The old-fashioned Tailor's variety also used to rub off on my hands and clothes so that was another strike against that one. Now you can get them as pencils and pens which means that you are able to make more accurate marks. Either way, the chalk makes a temporary mark that you need to brush away once you no longer need it.
The Clover Chaco Chalk Liners come in a cute range of colors. White should be especially useful for marking on very dark fabric colors such as black.
Templates to Cut Around
Of course, sometimes you can get away with not needing to place any marks on your fabric at all. Now I have rotary cutters and a self-healing cutting mat, it is very easy to cut straight around special quilting rulers and templates. Place the fabric on the mat, lay a template on top and run the rotary cutter carefully down the side of the template to cut the fabric to shape.
You can quickly and easily cut out pieces that you need and have no markings to erase afterwards which is a winning scenario in my opinion. This technique works very well with quilting and there are many quilting templates such as squares, triangles and hexagons that you can get hold of.
You can also do something very similar by pinning thin paper pattern pieces directly on the fabric and then you simply cut through the pattern and fabric in one go. You can use scissors with this method or a rotary cutter. It is a great method because it is quick, easy and leaves no mess on the fabric to clear up after.
Find Marking Techniques that Suit Your Style of Sewing
As well as the methods that I have already outlined, you can also use an old-fashioned procedure called Tailor's Tacks. This is marking the fabric with a contrasting color of thread and then removing the thread when it is no longer needed. You can do the same thing using pins which are very easy to remove.
There are lots of ways that you can mark fabric for cutting, sewing, embroidery or quilting so it pays to take time to consider which methods may suit your style of working best.
Image Credits: The introductory image belongs to the author, Marie Williams Johnstone. All other images (unless watermarked with the author’s name) are product photos from Amazon.