Maybe because my Dad’s an engineer I’ve always had this curiosity for gadgets. If there’s some kind of gizmo that’ll make a job better or easier, I’m all over it!
Having tried all the fabric marking tools out there, I’m sharing all my favorites.
We’ll talk about what to look for in a sewing marking tool, some good options in several categories. I also have some caveats to add to the mix as well as some solutions for how to mark fabric that’s difficult to mark.
Bring on the tools!
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What makes a good fabric marking tool?
We use fabric marking tools for all kinds of things in sewing. On the outside of a garment you can use your scissors to mark notches easily enough, but for things in the middle of the fabric you need something else!
Markers, thread, chalk, tracing wheels all help mark the location of pockets, darts, zippers, and buttons and seamlines. They can even help you distinguish the right side from the wrong side of your fabric.
While there’s a huge variety of marking tools out there, the best ones have a few things in common:
- They’re easy to use
- You can use them on a variety of fabrics
- The marks disappear
Do this no matter how you mark your fabric
Certain fabric marking tools can do great on some fabrics and totally mess up others.
There’s really no hard and fast rules as to which those might be. To save you some anxiety over the prospect of ruining a project I have some advice.
Always test your marking tool of choice!
Grab a little scrap of your fabric and mark away. Run the fabric under water, use a little soap, brush away chalk, hit it with the iron.
If you still see a mark after any of these tests, use a different tool. You need almost zero fabric to test, and maybe a minute in your sewing workflow. It’s worth it to test unless you want to risk marks being visible on your final project.
If you want to be extra cautious, mark within seam allowances only or use one of the no mark methods below.
Tracing marking tools
Sewing marking tools that work with pressure are a great solution when you need to transfer pattern details to your fabric.
They’re awesome for curvy darts that are hard to transfer otherwise.
Here’s a few tracing tools to consider.
Hera markers have a sharp edge that will leave a temporary crease in your fabric. Quilters love them to mark quilting lines on their quilt tops.
The cool thing about them is that there’s no ink. You can mark all day long with your happy Hera and still mark some more without running out of marker.
As a bonus, you can use it to finger press open seams.
Tracing wheels work much like Hera markers except, well it’s a wheel.
I really love them for transferring design lines if I’m working on a colorblocking project. Often I don’t want to make separate pattern pieces, so I can simply trace on a new design line and add my seam allowance from there.
Tracing wheels are also a nice option for tracing seamlines in specific areas where you need to be precise.
Tracing wheel + tracing paper
On darker fabric, tracing wheels might be hard to see. If you want to use a tracing wheel, you can bump up it’s effectiveness with some tracing paper.
First slide a piece of tracing paper print side down under your pattern. Then use the tracing wheel to trace on top of your pattern markings. Tada! It’s perfect dart you can see.
I like this transfer paper because there’s several different colors to use.
Bonus: It’s what I use for transferring block printing designs when I’m carving a new block print stamp as well.
Marking fabric with chalk
Chalk is one of the traditional fabric marking tool of choice in tailoring. You can brush or iron the marks away in most cases and chalk is easy to use.
Definitely test chalk. Some colors will be hard to brush out, and some chalks can leave residues on your fabric.
Here’s a few different types of chalk for your fabric.
Fons and Porter chalk pencil
This Fons and Porter chalk pencil is a new tool for me, and I LOVE it. It makes ultra fine, crisp marks and the chalk is extremely sturdy. I really expected the chalk lead to break under pressure but I have yet to see that happen.
It works like a mechanical pencil, so there’s refill lead to add when you finish up a piece. There’s an eraser to erase the marks, or you can simply wash out the chalk on your finished project.
Chalk wheels are nice. They have a little serrated wheel that traces along your fabric and deposits chalk as they trace.
I have a basic wheel similar to this Dritz chalk wheel.
The Chakoner is a luxury version of the same thing. I heard this one recommended on a podcast years ago for its sturdiness. There’s a built-in brush too so you can brush off the marks after you’re done sewing.
If I had a favorite out of the bunch, it’s the Clover Chaco liner. It makes smooth clean lines. It has a screw cap that makes for easy refilling when you run out of chalk.
The only reason I don’t use this one as much as my red chalk wheel is that I mistakenly bought the blue. Blue chalk is awful on light colored fabrics!
Cool vintage chalk tool that only sort of works
I found this at a thrift store one day and the box alone was worth it. The idea is that you clamp it to a door way. Then you turn around while squeezing the bulb and it in theory marks your skirt hem for you.
I’ve never had great results with it, but…the box! It’s my favorite sewing room decoration.
The chalk will disappear under a steam iron (yay!) and people have used Colonial’s chalk since 1906!
Fabric marking tools: Markers and pens
Markers are an easy easy solution for marking fabric. They make marks that are clear and precise and they’re so easy to use.
Not all markers will wash out and some are better than others, so as always test on a scrap.
Should I use Frixion pens?
Frixion pens were everywhere several years ago. They’re not designed for fabric. They’re a gel pen that makes a fine fine point. The popularity amongst sewists came from the cool party trick they can do. What is that? All your marks from Frixion pens vanish with a shot of steam.
Boy howdy it really is cool how a shot of steam zaps the ink. But…
The marks will reappear when the fabric gets cold. Do you really want those bust dart points to show up when you go outside on a winter day?
Yes you can just hit that with steam again and you’re good, but unless you carry an iron in your purse, maybe skip the Frixion pens.
Water and air soluble markers
Water and air soluble markers are a great solution simply because the marks do wash out.
Again make sure that you test on a scrap. Sometimes heat can set the ink on some markers. Here’s some markers that I like.
Dritz Mark B Gone
The Dritz Mark B Gone is a double ended marker. One side has water soluble ink, and the other air soluble.
I like the air soluble side for things like zippered pockets where I need to mark exact placement. Be careful with the air soluble side though because marks will disappear quickly.
I’ve definitely gone through the process of fully marking a pattern with the air soluble side only to have my marks disappear before I sewed them. That is no fun to have to re-mark up pattern pieces.
I’ve always loved the fine tip on the water soluble side. It could be finer, but that’s me being picky. All my marks have always washed out with this marker.
Dritz also makes a blue version and white version of water soluble pens. The blue version is great. The white is a little bit more finicky. It shows up on some dark fabrics and not on others. Chalk is better if you’re wanting a white pen!
Clover Air Erasable
Another air soluble fabric marking tool option is the Clover Air Erasable pen.
The company says that marks disappear either by washing or in 4-14 days naturally.
Just like the Mark B Gone, I’ll advise you to sew up any details you’ve marked with an air soluble pen here long before that 4 days.
I do like that there’s an eraser on this marker, so you can rub away any marks. Options!
The one unfancy non-sewing marker that’s never let me down
It might be surprising, but my favorite marker is not a sewing tool at all.
This marker has without fail washed out of every project I’ve ever used it on. Once in a long while I’ll come across a synthetic fabric that doesn’t play nice with it, but it is the exception.
What is this most magical of all the fabric marking tools? A plain old kid’s marker. I’ve seen people use Crayola washable markers the same way, but I’m cheaper than that! My Rose Art markers have yet to let me down.
For like a buck you have a huge array of colors that’ll show up on any colored fabric. Sometimes I color code markings if a pattern gets complicated and because I can.
Tested methods for marking tricky fabrics
Some fabrics don’t do well with marking. Maybe they’re really thick, maybe they have delicate surfaces, or maybe nothing washes out of them.
Whatever the case, here are some other options for marking fabrics that don’t like to be marked.
These are all classic ways to mark up fabric. They’re slower but they’re accurate, and for special fabrics, they’re worth the extra time.
For all the pins I don’t use when I’m sewing, I’m not opposed to using them for marking.
You can use them to distinguish the wrong side from the right side. My favorite application of pins is for marking darts.
Use one pin to mark the dart point. Then use your scissors to make a tiny snip into the seam allowance to mark the dart legs. After that, bring right sides together at the legs and sew towards your point. It’s easy, clean and you’ll never have to worry about a mark at the dart point.
I’ve seen people mark darts this way with an awl. It works the same way, though I prefer the practically microscopic hole of the pin vs. the actual hole of an awl.
Thread tracing is a method where you use thread to trace of lines like center front, stitching lines and pocket placement. You’ll see this a lot in couture sewing and tailoring.
You simply use a contrast thread, and make large stitches where you need an element to be traced. Stitch out your element then remove the stitches.
Marking on your interfacing
This is one of my favorites for making welt pockets. If you have a dark fabric or one who’s surface is difficult to see, mark the pocket welt shape on your interfacing.
I usually do this with a fine line marker on the fusible side. From there you can pin on the interfacing and stitch out the rectangle. It’s really cool because after you slice open the window, you fuse the edges in place so you get a nice window.
I’m currently working on a laptop bag with this method and loving how my zippered welts are turning out!
Tailor’s tacks are another traditional way to mark things like hemlines and darts and other key points of a garment.
They’re pretty cool because they allow you to mark both sides of your pattern piece at the same time.
I’ve personally had much more luck with other methods. If you’re looking for a good tailor’s tack tutorial, here’s one.
So those are some great fabric marking tools and techniques you should try. What’s your go to method for transferring marks to fabric?
Catch some more great sewing tools
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Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.