Fabric markings: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

I’ve just been putting together my second Colette Violet. The pattern calls (as most of them do unless it’s a pattern for a sack) for a number of markings to be transferred to the fabric, including darts, notches, dots and buttonholes. It led me to ponder (as I made my own markings) whether I was really using the best and most efficient methods. Is there a better way I thought, as I threaded up yet another needle after 10 minutes of groping for it blindly on my busy floral tablecloth. Note to self: NEED wrist pincushion.

Here’s how I do  it.

Darts: Marking the points (also used for transferring dots)

I use tailor’s tacks to mark dart points first. I do this by running a threaded (doubled thread) needle through the pattern and both fabric pieces once, leaving a two inch tail, then a second time, leaving a large loop about four inches. I then snip my thread (leaving another two inch tail) then snip the loop leaving what I like to call the cat’s whiskers. I then pull (gently!) the pattern off the fabric and separate the two pieces of fabric (again – gently!) and snip the joining threads in between the two pieces of fabric. This leaves me with a set of cat’s whiskers on each fabric piece.

Making tailors tacks

Darts: Marking the ‘legs’

Again I use tailor’s tacks for this, using a simple running stitch but leaving large loops on the top (this one I call the Loch Ness Monster) which I then snip. Then, as before I pull the pattern of the fabric and gently separate the two pieces until I have enough room to snip the threads in between the fabric pieces. Once I’ve done that I’m always afraid the thread will fall out so I go back with a ruler and chalk and trace along the markings, then remove the tacks.

Marking dart legs

I do all of this on the wrong side of the fabric and I use a brightly coloured thread so it shows up – usually fluorescent yellow. Unless I make a Big Bird costume at any point in the future I am highly unlikely to use this shade.

It probably takes about four to five minutes for each dart. Now, is there a quicker way? Could I omit one of these steps?


This is a little trickier so I’d love to know how you guys do it yourselves. I use tailor’s tacks to mark the centre of the button (where I’ll sew it to the fabric) according to the pattern. I go through both layers of fabric again so I have the markings on both pieces. Then on the piece that will feature the button holes I mark out a couple of centimetres (or however wide the button is) in chalk from this marking towards the sleeve side.

Marking buttonholes

I do this on the right side of the fabric. Now this obviously works, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you about it, but is it strictly the best or the most accurate way to do it? Or do you have a clever tip?


Lauren asked her readers how they notch their fabric recently and there was a lot of interesting feedback – quite a few people actually do cut little triangles outside their seam allowance rather than snip notches into it. I have always snipped into my seam allowance, but a few recent projects where the fabric frayed easily or where I wanted to finish the seams nicely (sans overlocker/serger) highlighted that occasionally it’s not the best solution (those little notches really do interfere with Tasia’s lovely instructions on turning and stitching, especially on a short seam like a shoulder seam!). A good tip I found in Lauren’s comments was to mark the notches in with a pen instead so I might try that.

I have even more questions for you!

  • Do you interface your pieces before or after you transfer your markings? I always end up doing it after because I already have my pattern piece pinned to the fashion fabric and it makes sense. But I live in fear that somehow I will lose my markings by adding the interfacing and I HATE living in fear.
  • Do you bother transferring markings such as waist lines? Anything else you always make a point of marking that I haven’t mentioned?
  • What do you use to mark your fabric? I’ve been through chalk (easily broken and not exact enough), pencils (terrible to sharpen and often don’t show up enough on fabric) and carbon paper with a tracing wheel which in theory should transfer pin pricks of colour to your fabric but which in reality never does. At the moment I’m using a chalk wheel which seems to be working ok.

Right – no more questions from me – I have a Violet to finish. You can choose to answer all, some or none of these questions accordingly or you can roundly abuse me for asking silly questions  – no offence will be taken. Onwards!


31 thoughts on “Fabric markings: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

  1. I use a tracing wheel and carbon – I wonder why it didn’t work for you? You do have to press quite hard. I love doing it – it’s so much fun and the little dots are so pretty……now I sound weird! PS Love, love, love your fabric

    • Hey Karen – I wonder if it’s down to the carbon paper I’m using…? What brand do you use if you don’t mind me asking? Yes, the fabric was another bargain buy from Walthamstow market!

    • Yeah, me too–I think mine is Clover brand and it works just dandy, in different colors depending on the fabric color. BUT I think in some cases the tailor’s tacks would be more accurate.

      Tailor’s chalk I struggle with because it doesn’t seem precise enough, but I still use it quite a bit. I’ve also heard quilting tape works well–I might try that next time.

      What brand/type of chalk wheel do you use?

      • Hey Mikhaela, thanks for posting! Hmm not sure of the brand of wheel – it’s just a standard tracing wheel with the little spokes. Think my carbon paper is Prum or something similar. Might look up that Clover chalk pencil – sounds ideal!

  2. No tailor’s tacks for me; gosh though I sure remember doing tons of those when I was younger, between family teachers & school teachers that required the markings being done that way. I don’t know why, but it was always one of those things I hated. I use chalk, and washable markers to make my markings. I found that simple washable markers work great, and so far have always washed out of my fabrics; and I’m talking the cheap washable Crayola Markers 😆 comes in many colors for different fabrics too. I am sure if I was making a more tailored item, that was not washable either, I would revert back to the old tailor’s tack … but only if they twist my arm 😉

  3. I salute your attention to detail Joanne! I must confess that I find all the fiddly markings sooooo tedious… And don’t tell anyone, but I usually just fold back the pattern paper and grab whatever I have to hand – a chalk pencil, pins, my son’s crayons, God-forbid sometimes even a Sharpie – to mark out my darts/buttonholes etc. Seems to work for me, but I would like to make a habit of being more accurate in this process. I’m doing the Minoru sew-along so hopefully the slow step-by-step pace will encourage more attention to detail on my part.

    Another beautiful looking blouse coming along, can’t wait to see more!

  4. Thanks for asking these questions Joanne – I eagerly await all the comments so I can improve my own methods ;o) I got tired of tailor’s tacks pretty fast (but I do think they are probably one of the best ways of marking) so now I chalk it all the way. My chalk is in the form of a pencil and I find it easier to use this way as it’s pretty sturdy. I’ve never had luck with the ole tracing wheel and carbon paper combo – I find the markings don’t transfer to both pieces of my fabric and I find that if I press too hard I fear that my pattern pieces will become shredded…especially vintage ones.

  5. I use a chalk pencil (mine came with loads of different colour lead – sewdirect.com stock the same brand), and usually fold back the pattern paper to mark the fabric. For straight darts, I snip at each foot and mark the point with chalk, then join them up with a ruler and chalk pencil. I usually use carbon paper and a tracing wheel when marking up muslins – some how I’m just worried about smudging the carbon transfer all over my fabric! Also I snip notches (rather than cutting out the whole triangle), and it works well for me.

    I actually do mark the waistline and hip/bust points in my muslin – I find it really useful (I’m quite tall though, so I need know where I’ll need to adjust the pattern).

    Can’t wait to see the second Violet!

    • You’re a naughty bunch you lot – pulling back the pattern to mark the fabric? It’s occurred to me but I always thought I’d go to sewing hell for that! Let me tell you that would cut a lot of time out right there…

    • I do the same thing and it works fine for me. For the dot markings I put a pin through the middle of the dot and then pull up the pattern to mark both sides where the pin is. I use either a chalk pencil or washable marker depending on my fabric color.

  6. Oh wow, you are WAY more precise than I am when it comes to marking! Haha! I stick a pin in the marking on the tissue and then pull it back so I can mark my fabric – the pin stick shows me exactly where I should mark. For darts, I pin-mark the tip and the legs, and then I use my clear ruler to connect everything together. I only mark what is necessary to get the pattern put together properly.

    As far as what exactly I use to mark – it depends on the fabric. I have chalk, wax pencils, those felt-tip-disappearing-ink pens, carbon paper with the little wheel, and a sharpie (don’t hate – sharpie is good for marking on things that never see the light of day, like horsehair interfacing in a coat!). I love the paper+wheel but most of my fabric really hates it for some reason. I think the wax pencil works best – it doesn’t rub off until you want it to, and you can sharpen it for precision – but it doesn’t work on light-colored fabrics because it is white.

    I always mark & then interface – this used to be a problem with fusible but I use sew-in these days and I mark my interfacing separately so the markings are still there after basting.

  7. Marking always seemed like a dubious subject to me when I first started, so I’ve tried almost everything to see what works for me 🙂 For darts I do a tailor’s tack at the point, mark the end points, and then just draw the dart lines outwards to the marks once my pattern has been traced. For dots, I stick a pin through both layers of fabric and mark both sides before removing it.

    I’ve used chalk, pencils, and pens, but right now i’m using a chalk wheel and it works fine for bigger lines… but i still think the pencils are the most precise. I also have a tracing wheel and carbon I’m gonna try at some point but haven’t gotten to it yet 😛

  8. We have a lot in common. I snip my seam markings, and also use bright yellow thread for tailors tacks. I use a doubled thread and put it through just the once, leaving an inch or so front and back, separating the sections and snipping, so I don’t get whiskers, just two threads at the point I want them.

    For darts, I tailor-tack the point, snip the seam, and wing it on the journey from one to the other. For longer darts like waist shaping darts on a sheath, I’ll just tailor-tack the dots and wing the rest.

    If I’m making something simple and familiar I’ll sometimes just stick a pin through the dart point right through the pattern and fabric, then put a matching pint through from the other side, then separate the two sides so that each has a pin perpendicularly through the fabric. In that case I’ll stitch up the dart quickly before I drop the pin!

    I often just snip for some of the dots too – for example the area for sleeve ease, and shoulder seam on a sleeve.

    I interface afterwards and more than once have had to really prise my yellow thread out! And I hate it that I sometimes then lose my snips.

    I don’t really tend to mark waistlines etc although it’s useful to note them on a muslin if you are assessing fit – in which case often a sharpie is a quick way to mark things up (I tend to use old sheets rather than make wearable muslins)

    I’ve literally just invested in carbon paper and a tracing wheel and will be interested to see after all these years how it works out.

  9. For darts I use carbon paper and a tracing wheel too – usually on a cutting mat rather than a hard surface as the colour seems to take better that way. For circles and buttonholes, I put two pins in from right side of fabric (if the piece is cut double or on the fold) then separate the two pieces and just mark the pin points on the wrong side.

  10. I am also in the ‘push a pin through and mark the hole on both fabrics’ school. I do use tailors tacks to mark, a white pencil for darts where I can and I used to use a pen whose ink disappeared under heat but as they are not really meant for fabric I found the pen stopped working after not many uses and I have been to stingy to buy another. I only mark darts, circles and I cut my triangles pointing out as sometimes I need to use the seam allowance if a garment is a little tight.

  11. You need to use a bumpy tracing wheel (not a spiny one) as this prevents the paper and fabric from bunching up as you wheel. Clover make good single and double versions of those. Also wax based ‘carbon’ paper for soft or coloured fabrics and ‘carbon’ based carbon paper for firm and light coloured fabrics. Also use pattern weights (or small heavy books) instead of pinning/attaching the fabric to the pattern. This makes a massive difference while tracing.

  12. The first minute of this video shows how I mark darts: http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4513/video-accurate-darts-without-permanent-marks.

    I also watched a video once (but of course now cannot find), that calls for basically no marking … just snip the seam allowance at the legs, and mark the point. Fold the dart over at the point, matching the legs, and sew it.

    In this method, leave a long tail of thread, and sew a few stitches starting at the seam allowance. Stop, leaving the needle in the fabric, and pull the thread forward toward the dart point, using the thread as a guide to where you should sew.

    • That is an awesome way of doing it! I’m going to try that too. My goodness – I could have made a Minoru jacket (which I’m woefully behind on) in the time I’ve wasted doing the loch ness monster… thanks Sandy!

  13. Hey Joanne – my carbon paper is Clover, I think I got it from Jaycotts. I’m just having a go at the Meringue skirt and used it to mark the sewing line on my scallops – it’s made a beautiful sewing line but I haven’t actually tried sewing them yet…..

    • Clover you say hmm… been hearing a lot about these guys and it just so happens that Jaycotts has a whole section for Clover (heads off to peruse) thanks Karen 🙂

  14. PS You can see the video Sandy mentioned via a link on a recent Stitchy Witch post – the best bit was that she reduces the stitch length for the bottom of the dart which gives a very neat finish to that pointy bit. Amazing what you learn with a bit of surfing when you should be working!

  15. The only technique of yours I’ve actually tried so far is the tailor’s tacks! So much to learn, so little space in my head to take it all in!

    Thanks for the interesting post and comments though – will be very useful for my next creation!

  16. I usually use carbon and wheel unless it will show on a sheer fabric. I don’t mark buttonholes because I don’t always use the button size called for in a pattern, I just use the standard rules of thumb in button positioning. I snip notches unless the fabric would ravel or run. Darts usually have straight legs so you just (usually) need to know where to start and stop. I’ll dot the end of dart with chalk or pencil and sew from my notches to the point.

    You could make yourself crazy marking everything. In the garment industry they hardly mark anything since every extra notch or punchhole is more money.

  17. Interesting post! Well for muslin toiles I mark everything with a wheel and garment ‘carbon’ paper. Once on to the final fabric for notching I either do a tiny snip or chalk mark and I only do the most necessary balance ones. I rarely pin my pattern to the fabric but usually weight it down -using anything from proper garment cutting weights to china saucers and currently a set of decorated plaster cupcakes (which make me smile)- and chalk around the outlines. I keep my chalk edges very sharp with a craft knife. Interior darts I usually just pin mark the top, bottom and middles, occasionally I trace them if they are curved or on a tricky part of the grain. When sewing straight darts I use the thread method Sandy mentions above having first put a pin at the point. Buttonholes are the only thing I ever actually thread-mark and only if something is going out to a professional buttonholer. I pin as little as possible when sewing as well…. speeds things up enormously!

  18. Slivers of leftover tablet soap can be dried hard on a radiator then shaved to a sharp edge that’s good for drawing fine lines on fabric.

  19. Depending on the fabric and what it is I’m marking is I’ll use any of these methods, I love using my white marker that vanishes for steam though!

  20. Depending on the fabric, I use a clover chalk pen or a tracing wheel and paper but I want to switch to tailors tacks. I snip into my seam allowance for notches and since I usually serge seams and line my garments, so it’s not a problem when I snip for curved seams, etc.

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