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


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!

Pay day sewing treats for me

Ooh isn’t it nice when you can treat yourself to a few wee knick knacks  you desperately want need? I paid a little trip to John Lewis at lunchtime today (oh WHY have they put the haberdashery beside the children’s toys, WHY?) to pick up some sewing fripperies essentials. I just thought I’d share them with you:

Gadgets 'n' gizmos

Item 1: A seam gauge

I’ve wanted one of these for ages. What can I use it for? I don’t know yet but I’m going to find out. Doesn’t it look immensely anachronistic? It’s practically surgical!

Item 2: Proper hooks and eyes

Because I’m sick of bending the rubbish pound shop ones I currently have when I rip them out of their string-tied packet, and because I currently appear to have two eyes for every hook. I think the cats have developed a taste for them. They sure love those glass-headed pins…

Item 3: Rivets/grommets/eyelets

What the heck do you call these little fellas? In any case I’m going to make some fabulous belts next year (hopefully) so I’ll need me some reinforced holes to poke the thingy through.

Item 4: Button box

This rather ugly little compartmentalised box is going to transform my ragbag of thrifted and gifted buttons into a colour-coded haven of orderliness. That is the hope, dear readers. The reality will be three colour coded buttons in each bit and an overflowing ‘spare’ bit. But we dream.

Tonight I’ll be working on the second of my mystery Xmas presents. After wrestling with the first one, punching the wall, re-reading the instructions 100 times and then working it out myself (note to Butterick – please make your ‘easy’ patterns easy to understand for beginners?) the second is proving a cinch. Hope to share the results with you next week after I present them to the unsuspecting recipients.

I’ll also be wearing mostly leggings tonight as I make my first ever croqui, as recommended by the Colette Sewing Handbook which I’m steadily working my way through. (I keep re-reading bits as it’s so.damn.good.) You wear tight fitting clothes like leggings and a vest top, take a picture and then trace around your outline so you get a realistic view of your body. You then use it as a template for designs and inspiration. Ali from Wardrobe Reimagined has just done it and it looks like such a good way of working out whether you’ll suit a particular style or just coming up with ideas and sketches for future projects. I may share, if the results aren’t truly dreadful…

What are you up to this week? And have you treated yourself to any new sewing gadgets or gizmos. Ooh do share – I love a gizmo.