Fabric markings: Your tips and tricks

Keef just can't make up his mind!

When I posted about how I made my fabric markings and queried whether I was using the best or most efficient methods of transferring pattern markings, I was completely unprepared for the wealth of knowledge and expertise that came my way. Y’all are machines of efficiency!

To summarise, I explained my slow-coach method of marking everything with tailors tacks, separating the fabric, snipping the threads and then slooooowly going over the tacks with chalk cos I was SCARED of losing said threads… YAWN. My life force was literally ebbing away with every rethread…

The general reaction in the comments was, to paraphrase, “*!%$ that *!$£& Joanne, get with the programme and put a pin in it”. Well, not just that. You guys also shared some fantastic tips on what tools work best for you, how you mark and sew darts, how you notch (or don’t notch). I learned more in a single post than I think I would in a dressmaking course and I hope some of you also learned some great new time-saving techniques.

I’ve done a bit of a round up of all the comments here, feel free to add even more!

Choosing your weapon

Having dissed my tracing wheel and carbon paper as fully unsatisfactory, I found a few of you do actually use this method, and it works for you. Shivani uses hers to mark up muslins; RedSilvia uses hers on everything except sheer fabric; Clare recommends using one with a cutting mat so the colour takes better and TJ says you’re better off with a bumpy (rather than a spoked) wheel to stop any bunching. TJ also gave a top tip on choosing carbon paper: wax-based for soft or coloured fabric and carbon-based for firmer or lighter fabrics.

Tailor’s chalk was one of the more popular marking tools, but it came in a myriad of forms. Standard chalk ‘triangles’ are deemed too inaccurate for some marking (although VeraVenus keeps hers sharp with a craft knife); chalk wheels are by and large approved although some have found it ‘drags’ delicate materials, The winner by far is the chalk pencil – easy to sharpen and maintain accuracy. Shivani and Mikhaela recommended getting a refillable one that comes with lots of colours for different fabrics. Here’s a link to it in case you fancy treating yourself. It’s just under £8. And for anyone who’s interested in trying something completely different, Linda recommends drying slivers of soap on radiators and shaving to a sharp edges for a washable marker!

Many of you are fairly agnostic when it comes to tools – with some naughty beggars using anything that comes to hand! Over to Elisalex! “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…” Sorry Elisalex – you’ve been outed! You may join my sewing slattern club if you wish.

But hooray! There are still some tailors tacks aficionados out there. Sorbetsurprise, Chris and Alison all use this method, although sparingly. Methinks I can probably rest up on using them for absolutely everything.

The wonder of pins

So why have I been using tacks all this time when pins do just as good a job, albeit a more temporary one. Sandy shared a great video showing how you can mark and fold darts with just a few pins. Lauren, Chris, Clare, Sandy, Symondezyn and Sorbetsurprise (and that tool-floozy Elisalex) all push pins through the pattern pieces and fabric, then separate the fabric to mark where the pin went through. Like durrr, why didn’t I think of that?

Picking your battles

So how do you guys decide what to transfer onto your fabric? Well… that depends on what’s important to you when it comes to fitting. Shivani does mark the waistline, hip and bust points on her muslins, Lauren only marks what is strictly necessary to get the job done. I guess it’s whatever works for you.

Dart attack!

I gleaned some very useful tips on sewing darts too. Sandy shared a fantastic time-saving tip: snip the dart legs in the seam allowance and mark the dart point, then simply fold the dart at the point until the legs match up. When you come to sew, do a few stitches leaving a long tail, then pull that tail towards the snips – giving you a handy guide for your dart line. Another tip from Karen was to shorten the stitch length as you reach the pointy bit of the dart to give a neater finish (and I imagine a stronger stitch too). Who knew!

Thank you

Thank you all so much for sharing your tips and tricks. It’s been unbelievably helpful. The most reassuring thing I discovered from all the comments was that there’s no actual right way to do it. Well, some people might insist there’s a right way but we’re not listening to them, are we? So it’s OK to take short cuts if they’re tried and trusted methods. It’s OK to just push back that pattern paper and draw a line instead of labouring over loops of thread. We are not going to sewing hell! Hooray!

Gracie is entirely bored by fabric marking


17 thoughts on “Fabric markings: Your tips and tricks

  1. I’ve heard of tailors tacks…but not quite understood how it worked.
    I really need to get different coloured chalk. I have chalk pencil in blue..unfortunately I keep sewing blue fabric. lol!
    I also made that fatal mistake the other day of doing all the marking..then adding the interfacing and finding I’d covered the marks.

  2. Brilliant set of posts! I have to admit to using the snips method for notches and chalk pencil for pretty much everything else! Sticking a pin through the pattern and marking where it comes through the fabric has worked so far! I do occasionally use TTs though when I’ll need those points further down the process and it’s a light coloured fabric and I therefore run the risk of losing the chalk marks!

  3. I really enjoyed your posts. I used to use a Frixion pen that disappears with heat but they are not made to write on fabric and I found it stopped working pretty quickly, while it did work it was fab though. Just disappeared when I ironed it.

  4. Very nice review of all those comments!!! I think the organization it took to do this post should easily balance out any naughty marking habits you may have LOL. It’s really true isn’t it, that there’s no ‘right way’ of marking… as long as it works for you 🙂

    P.S. Love the gratuitous kitty shots… isn’t it funny how they always end up on your fabric? I’m constantly shooing mine off my sewing table LOL.

  5. Thanks for the shout-out! I thought of one more thing I use for marking. You know when the bar of soap becomes a tiny flat sliver with sharp edges? Quick! Before it snaps in half, let it dry out and then keep it in your sewing room. The edges work just like chalk, and marks wash out easily, because they are SOAP. Ingenious, no? I stole the idea a million years ago, and I have been using the same bar of soap since then.

  6. Joanne this is a brilliant round up and a few new ones for me! Yippee I tried the dart trick yesterday, snipped the legs a bit & used the thread to mark the straight line. Genius! Thank you!

  7. Pingback: The Snowflake Quilt | Did You Make That?

  8. Know the topic is pattern marking, but for quick projects I often use what they call a ‘quick fading’ marker. Goes on purple but will disappear on its own.
    Re darts, always stitch widest part to the point then back stitch ‘on the fold’ for a wee bit but never back stitch at the point itself; then slash open and press.

  9. This too be done in the right points advised by an expert Chinese masseur.
    Juust press the button, and swat the insect at your leisure.
    What about starting up a ppot of coffee while you make breakfast together witfh your different oven.

  10. Thanks for the tips. I know this is off topic but I love the picture of Gracie you included. I must say I’m not the greatest fan of Calico’s because the majority I’ve come across have rather odd markings or Hitler mustaches that make them look odd. That said we had an almost 15 year old calico named Jemima (named after one of my daughter’s favorite characters in the play Cats, which was a calico). Your Gracie and our Jemima look like that are litter-mates. Both have beautiful markings, beautiful eyes, the same gorgeous white lions main tuft of fur, same fur length, everything. We had to help Jemima to kitty heaven a week prior to Thanksgiving due to an extremely aggressive form of cancer.Your Gracie reminds me so much of Jemima that this is the first time I have broken down in tears since the day we had to say goodbye to our baby. So thank you so much for including a picture of your beautiful little girl in your blog and thanks again for the tips; they were very helpful.

    • Oh bless you and thank you for commenting. I’m so sorry you lost Jemima – it’s awful to lose a precious member of the family, as that’s what they are. Am sure she’s looking down on you as she plays with some fairy mice or something or other! Thank you again xxx

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