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Whether marking paper patterns for cutting or marking fabric for sewing, it’s important to have different fabric marking tools in your sewing kit.
Most tools are interchangeable, but sometimes the fabric type or marking needed (like marking multiple fabric layers) requires a specific marking tool.
Want to learn the ins and outs of fabric marking?
Follow along as I discuss the different types of marking tools in sewing and what to use when!
15 Different Types of Marking Tools for Sewing
Before using tools that leave marks on fabric, test on a small piece of fabric or in a seam allowance.
When sewing, I typically choose the simplest (but still adequately accurate) fabric marking tool.
There’s not necessarily one “best” marking tool in sewing, but having a few different options allows you to pick and choose the best for your project.
Now, below is a compilation of my favorite marking supplies to learn about!
I’ve included notions for marking patterns, marking fabric from patterns, and transferring markings from the wrong side of the fabric to the right side.
1. Tailor’s Chalk
Those little rectangular or triangular wedge pieces of colored chalk made in the US for over a hundred years are still popular and useful, especially for alterations.
While you can find tailor’s chalk in many different colors, the ones I use most are white, yellow, blue, and pink.
A piece of tailor’s chalk will last a long time (I have lots of little nubbins of chalk and soap slivers, for that matter), but over time the sharp edges dull, resulting in wider marks and decreased marking precision.
Thankfully, you can sharpen the chalk’s edges to make fine lines again. Or, duller tailor’s chalk works well enough for marking long lines on fabric when precision isn’t paramount.
I also use newer pieces of chalk to mark pattern details like stitching lines, pleats, fold lines, darts, alteration lines, and even buttonholes and button locations.
One big advantage of this notion is the low price of tailor’s chalk.
Also, chalk can easily be removed from your fabric with a small brush or your fingers with a good washing.
However, a con is getting your fingers dusty if you don’t have a holder and purchase poor-quality chalk.
Lastly, if you’re unsure about care instructions or material makeup of your tailor’s chalk:
- Don’t iron over chalk and accidentally set its dye in the fabric.
- Steer clear of marking the right side of fabrics if your wedge is wax-based and thus not easily removed.
2. Chalk Wheel
Chalk wheels have a small plastic compartment filled with colored, powdered chalk that comes out when drawing with the wheeled base.
Typical colors are blue, white, yellow, and red, and they can be interchanged easily or refilled.
I love my chalk wheel for marking embroidery blanks, but I also use it to mark sewing lines and, in a pinch, darts and hems.
Chalk wheels are easy to use, work in both directions, and chalk removes easily when dusted off or exposed to water.
Cons of this method include:
- Because loose chalk is so easy to brush away, it can accidentally be removed with too much handling.
- Some fabrics experience drag when marked, especially if you push too hard.
- Chalk wheels don’t show well on fabric with nap or pile, like faux fur.
3. Chalk Pens
Both chalk pens and wheels dispense chalk in a thin, precise line and have the same sphere of use.
However, since many chalk pens have a smaller “dosing wheel” than chalk wheels, they can mark steeper curves–like free-motion quilting lines–more efficiently.
4. Fabric Chalk Pencils (Tailor’s Pencil)
Instead of lead in the center of a tailor’s pencil, there’s a thin line of colored chalk in this sewing marking tool.
One big perk of pencils is that their very fine tip makes more precise lines than chalk wedges when sharpened. As such, chalk pencils are great for fine details like darts, pleats, collar pivot points, and buttonholes.
Marks brush away with a small brush on the opposite side of the pencil’s point.
A big pro is a pencil will last years, as you can continue to sharpen the pencil until it’s no more.
One big con is a too-sharp (or too-dull) pencil tip could snag and drag on specific fabrics.
5. Quilting Pounce Pad
Well, there’s one more type of chalk marking tool worth considering, and that’s a pounce pad.
Loved by many quilters, pounce pads help expertly transfer stencil markings from quilts to fabrics before free-motion quilting with your sewing machine or longarm quilting machine.
6. Tracing Wheel and Tracing Paper
Tracing wheels look like mini rotary cutters and are used for marking pockets, buttonholes, curved lines, and straight lines like pleats, tucks, and darts on fabric.
There are two types of tracing wheels:
1. Serrated or Spiked Edge Wheels
Serrated edge wheels transfer markings as a dotted line.
My Dritz tracing wheel on the right in the above picture is my most-used tracing wheel. The spiked wheel on the left in the picture is more of a pinpoint tracing wheel, which I use to mark paper or cardboard.
2. Smooth Edge Wheels
Smooth edge wheels create smooth lines and work better on textured or delicate fabric that can be snagged with serrated teeth.
In addition to transferring markings, these can create nice creases in fabric.
Tracing wheels require dressmaker’s tracing paper, which is colored paper containing a special pigment (either chalky or waxy) for transferring.
In my experience, the old-school wax tracing paper works SO MUCH BETTER than today’s wax-free papers. So, check estate sales for the good stuff.
I got my wax paper from my grandmother when she quit sewing, and I will eke every bit of use out of these absolute pieces of gold.
To use a tracing wheel and dressmaker’s tracing paper, carefully lift the pattern from the fabric where you need to mark.
Then, slip the paper between the two layers. The colored side needs to face the fabric.
Finally, roll the tracing wheel along the pattern pieces.
Cons of tracing paper and tracing wheels include:
- Depending on the transfer paper type, marks can be difficult to remove (always mark the wrong side of fabric, especially with wax paper.)
- Marks may not show up on intricately-patterned fabrics.
- Serrated wheels could damage delicate fabrics, like silk or sheers.
- Serrated wheels can also damage paper patterns, as the wheel teeth punch holes.
There are many pros, though:
- You can mark multiple layers of fabric if you set up your carbon paper correctly or purchase double-sided paper.
- This is one of the speediest ways to make long, continuous, and curved lines.
- There are multiple colors, like white, blue, and red, so it’s easy to find a usable color.
7. Fabric Marking Pens
Fabric marking pens are temporary and can be erased by exposure to one of three things: air, water, or heat.
In terms of function, fabric marking pens are similar to chalk pens. They’re used for marking straight lines and transferring other notations.
They are pretty accurate (depending on the thickness) but can accidentally be set permanently if pressed.
The big con of fabric marking pens is they’re not great for marking dark-colored fabrics. (Typical pens colors are blue, pink, green, and other dark colors.)
Here’s a brief breakdown of the three pen types.
1. Air-Erasable Pens
Air-erasable fabric marking pens disappear after exposure to air.
Different brands of pens have varying time frames–from minutes to days–before the ink disappears.
Some manufacturers of air-soluble pens also make theirs water-soluble so you can remove them sooner rather than waiting for time to pass.
Just remember, these are not a good solution for projects you plan to mark and stash until your sewing motivation returns. The marks will be gone by then, and you’ll have to repeat the process.
2. Water-Soluble Fabric Pens
These are my favorite marking tools for machine embroidery blanks.
They write easily and are removed with water. A simple spritzing from a spray bottle is all that’s required, but you can also place the marked fabric under the sink or in the washer.
Now, because these require water to disappear, they can only be used for washable fabrics.
Also, I accidentally ironed over a few water-soluble lines I used when sewing a dress for my daughter, and that set them. I recommend removing the lines before pressing.
3. Heat-Soluble Fabric Pens
Also, every once in a while, I’ll use a heat-sensitive ink pen like the Pilot Frixion gel pen.
While these erase when ironed or heated, I’ve seen reports in quilting groups that the ink can become visible again in the cold. So, be careful!
8. Tailor’s Tacks
Tailor’s tacks are a traditional and reliable way to transfer markings, especially for single-point positions (circles and dots). Think button placement and markings that need to be transferred through more than one layer of fabric.
I like to make my tailor’s tacks with doubled 30wt sewing threads in a contrasting color. Some sewists use embroidery floss also.
To create a tailor’s tack, take two thin stitches through the pinned pattern piece and all layers of fabric, leaving a small, loose loop of thread on the top.
Then, snip the top loop, remove the pattern, and carefully pull apart the stitched fabric layers until you see the interior thread.
Cut this thread between the fabrics, leaving thread pieces on the two sides of the fabric, which will act as your marks.
And on a fun note, my grandmother gave me her 1970s Betty Ann’s Tailor Marker, and I love using it to make tailor’s tacks for nostalgia’s sake. Using a needle and thread might be easier than threading up the Tailor Marker, but there’s just something lovely about vintage sewing pieces.
9. Basting or Thread Tracing
You can also consider marking your fabric on the wrong side with your favorite method and then stitching over that line with a long-length basting stitch (hand or machine.)
This will transfer the marking to the right side of the fabric.
Basting is best for long, linear marks and works for fabrics that won’t be damaged by needle holes.
10. Scissors, Snips, or Pattern Notchers
If you have a sizeable seam allowance, you can also mark notches, fold lines, dart ends, dots showing the top of a shoulder, and centers with small snips from your scissors.
When cutting notches, cut one snip for each triangle you see on the pattern.
I also have a pattern notcher to create notches in paper patterns and slopers, but I use it infrequently.
11. Hera Marker
The Hera Marker is a newer addition to my sewing room and is becoming a fun way to mark fabric, especially quilts.
You can also use this tool with tracing paper to transfer marks to fabric.
12. Clover Fabric Folding Pen
Another recent favorite find, the Clover Fabric Folding Pen is filled with a unique solution that marks fabric and helps you make folds iron-free.
It’s not as much a marking tool for sewing as it is an aid for hemming, applique, quilting, and more.
For example, if I want to fold a hem, I use this marker and a ruler and draw a line 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric. Then, I fold the fabric up at the drawn line.
Next, I make my last line 1/2″ from the fold and fold again. No need for an iron!
Pins can transfer markings (like dots and dart points) from patterns to fabric or from one side of folded fabric to another.
To accurately use pins for transfer, mark the wrong side of the fabric with chalk, a pen, or your favorite sewing marking tool.
Then, stick a pin through the marking to effectively transfer the location, so it’s visible on the front of the fabric.
Pins can also be used to mark spots along a pattern line.
If you use a type of sewing pin with a thin head, you can pull a pattern right over the pin without disrupting it.
Then, connect the pin locations with a ruler and marking pen or another utensil.
Important note: Avoid using pins to mark fabric if the punctures could permanently damage the fabric. And, sew immediately so you don’t lose the marking pin or injure yourself when you take the fabric back out to sew.
14. Household Art Supplies: Crayola Markers and Pencils
I’m not above marking projects with my daughters’ washable markers when I’m in a pinch.
For items I plan to wash anyway, this is an easy, inexpensive way to mark as the marker disappears after the first wash.
Also, ballpoint pens and pencils are great to use when making adjustments to patterns or tracing pattern pieces.
Don’t want to mark?
Use an iron to press a crease for plates, darts, or other fold lines into fabric before sewing.
Things to Mark on Fabric or Patterns
Marking may seem like such a small thing compared to the actual construction of a project, but it’s a crucial part of skillful sewing.
So, what things do you need to mark when sewing?
1. Sewing Pattern Symbols
After you’ve cut a pattern piece, before removing the paper, you must transfer relevant pattern symbols and markings (dots, circles, notches, dashes, lines, etc.) to the fabric.
Examples of these garment construction and positioning details include:
- Dart lines
- Fold lines
- Pocket placement details
- Zipper placement lines
- Gathers and pleats
- Pattern center front and center back or any other fit-related markings
Phew, what a list!
While you don’t need to immediately mark buttonholes, button placement notations, or hemlines (because these can change as you sew and fit garments), I still like to transfer them for reference.
As a note, most marks should be made on the wrong side of the fabric. This way, you can still see them while sewing but not on the final piece when it’s turned right side out.
Exceptions to the wrong side of the fabric rule include buttonholes and pocket placement marks, which must be transferred to or made on the right side of the fabric.
2. Pattern Adjustments
If you need to alter a paper pattern to fit better before cutting fabric pieces, you can adjust and mark the pattern itself or trace the pattern and alter the copy.
If you mark a muslin to improve fit, you can then transfer or note any markings and new measurements on the original pattern.
And, that’s all I’ve got! While sewing takes skill, even beginners can create professional-appearing projects by marking precisely, cutting accurately, and measuring perfectly.
Let me know if you love any other sewing marking tools I missed!