Use the proper marking tool for your fabric.
There are so many choices when it comes to tracing a pattern or transferring markings to fabric. It is best to use a tool that is suitable for the fabric you are working with, but the most important thing is to always test your pencil/pen/chalk on a scrap of the fabric before starting your project. There is nothing worse than making a lovely white dress only to find that those pink pencil marks can’t be removed no matter how many times you wash it! Trust me. Even if you’ve never had a problem before, you don’t want to push your luck. The worst stains always seem to happen on the most important projects: christening gowns, party dresses, wedding clothes, that special quilt you spent months piecing. Tears are usually involved. Along with a few choice swear words.
So…Choose the best option, read the directions carefully, and test it to make sure it is completely removable.
You’ve been warned. Ha!
Disappearing Ink / Mark B Gone Fabric Pen – One of the most popular fabric pens; I’m sure most of you probably already own one. The disappearing ink becomes invisible a little too quickly sometimes, but the marks from either end have always washed out well for me. Unfortunately, these pens tend to dry out rather quickly, so it is good to have a back-up handy.
Tailor’s Wax – Essentially this is a crayon used to mark fabric. Great for marking changes on a muslin, but the marks can be hard to remove. The idea is that the wax will melt away under an iron, but that isn’t always the case. Best on wool fabrics.
Water Soluble Pencils – A colored pencil made to wash easily from fabric. These are kind of hit or miss. The brands with harder “leads” need a lot of pressure to make a mark, which can stretch the fabric out of shape. The softer versions often shatter on the inside and you waste the entire pencil trying to sharpen a nice point. Nice for heavier fabrics like canvas or denim.
Tracing Wheel and Paper – Basically colorful carbon paper. Great for transferring paper patterns. Curves can be a little difficult sometimes, and the marks will be very faint if you don’t use enough pressure. Good for thin fabrics or paper.
Ballpoint Pen – There is almost always one of these within easy reach. Sometimes it washes out, and sometimes it doesn’t, but if you are only tracing around the edge of a pattern that shouldn’t matter. Works on most fabric that don’t have a nap.
Sharpies – I have a whole stash of these, so I use a different color each time I do a fitting on a new muslin. No one is going to see it but me, and the lines won’t fade or wipe away. They are also great for tracing patterns onto fleece since they leave a much bolder line even when dragging through the nap. The larger ones tend to bleed on natural fibers, and you should always make sure the mark is dry before cutting out your pattern. Some of my shears still bear the colorful marks from wet ink.
Washable Markers – I use the Crayola: Super Tips. These are almost the same as Sharpies, except that the marks wash out. Sometimes.
Not as good on fleece though since the ink tends to smear around on synthetic fibers rather than dry.
Tailors Chalk – Flat pieces of square or triangular chalk. They are great for marking straight lines like hems on darker fabrics.
This version in the plastic holder has a small metal V attached to the lid that can be used to sharpen the edges.
Chalk Sticks – Just plain stick chalk like you used in school. It can be used with a large sized pencil sharpener to produce a very sharp point. You do have to sharpen it constantly, but at 50 cents for a whole box, the savings are worth the effort.
Soap Slivers- I know it sounds a little odd, but these are awesome for dark fabrics, and since it’s soap you know it will wash out!
If you don’t use bar soap regularly at your house, try a mini hotel soap instead.
This last one I was just introduced to this past week, and I must admit they are pretty amazing pens!
Can you still see the mark below?
There is a very faint hint of residual ink even after I rinsed the fabric with water, but I’m sure that would be completely unnoticeable on a printed or colored fabric. The funny thing is that the pens sorta work like color changing doll hair. If you freeze the fabric, the mark will return faintly, and if you leave the pen in a hot car, the ink will turn clear. If you own one of these, I know you want to go experiment now!
A few other options that I don’t personally own:
Chalk Cartridge Set
– Thin sticks of chalk in a holder. The chalk comes in many colors, and keeps a sharp point, but there seems to be some question as to whether or not the marks can be removed easily. (or ever in some cases!)
– A trace wheel inside a small box of powdered chalk. As you roll the wheel along your fabric, powdered chalk is deposited along the line. Since the chalk is laying on top of the fabric rather than pressed into it, the dust brushes away very easily.
Soapstone Marking Pencil
– A piece of soapstone comes in a stick like chalk, and is held in a similar holder. It’s supposed to make a faint white mark that is easily wiped away, but they are becoming difficult to find, so I’m not entirely sure how well they work.
Chalk Pounce Powder
– Mainly used by quilters; This is essentially a small bag filled with chalk powder that you tap against a stencil. The chalk is forces through the negative spaces and leaves an image behind when the stencil is removed. They always remind me of the little rosin bags used by bowlers and pitchers to keep their hands dry.
Are there any that I’ve missed?
What is your favorite fabric marking tool?
Do you have a horror story you’d like to share?
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