I often get asked what's the best option for marking fabric?
Depending on what you're sewing you'll need a few different options in your sewing kit. In my opinion it's best to consider the following questions:
1. What's the fabric?
2. What needs to be marked?
and then test to decide which is the best tool for the job.
What's the fabric?
There's such a variety of fabrics out there, so no one marking tool will be right for every job, hence the need for a few different options.
You are going to need a few different colours so that it will show up on a variety of fabrics (if the fabric is dark you'll probably need a lighter marking pen and vice versa).
You'll also need to consider whether the fabric will hold the markings. Some fine chalk can brush off a little too easily. On the other hand some fabrics hold on to markings a little too well, particularly if it's a delicate fabric. You do not want to be left with a more permanent mark or residue on your garment. Also consider how long the project is going to take. For example air markers can be fantastic, but they also disappear on their own over a few days. This could be a problem if you tend to take things slowly.
What needs to be marked?
The type of pen you chose is going to vary greatly depending on what needs to be marked.
If it's simply a circular notch requiring a quick dot or a dart leg, then most marking pens will work.
However marking something more intricate, such as the fine details on a shirt placket, a notched collar or even the bottom of a zipper, is going to need a fine, accurate point.
Furthermore, you are probably not going to want to use your fine tip marking tools for outlining a whole pattern piece as this will tend to either blunt the tip or run out quickly. A more hardy marking tool will serve the purpose better and last longer.
This really is the most important step. You can pretty much answer all of the above questions by grabbing a piece of your fabric and testing. Never skip testing - it's always best to be safe than sorry.
These pens are great for marking straight, clean, crisp lines and they come in a variety of colours. The main body of the pen holds very fine chalk and the nib consists of a serrated metal roller. These are great for using with a ruler. Definitely test out using the metal roller on very delicate fabrics. As the chalk is quite fine check how well the fabric holds the markings too. They are best for straight lines, rather than more free-hand, curved marking.
These pens are great for clear lines that do not bleed. The nib is a fine ceramic roller which makes it particularly good for fine fabrics. The markings will disappear on their own over a few days. If you need them gone sooner, then they can be removed with water. Only use this marking pen if you know the project will be completed fairly quickly. If you are anything like me this probably isn't an option:)
A personal favourite of mine. I think they mark really well and I love how a separate pen cleanly removes any trace of marks instantly.
The pen is black so this isn't going to work on dark fabric. At times it can run slightly so isn't ideal for very precise marking. Fortunately they also do a fine tip version.
This is the old fashioned option, and I have to say it works really well. It is particularly good at clear, strong lines, for example when outlining pattern pieces or seam lines. The variety of colours means there is a usually one suitable for most projects. It is also good value as they last a while and are relatively cheap. The chalk can be sharpened to create a crisper point for more detailed marking, although this wouldn't be my go to marking tool for fine details.
These are very similar to the garment marking chalk, however they have a wax base. I find them to make slightly crisper lines than that chalk version above. Due to the wax they can be removed with an iron. When this works they are a fantastic marking tool, but it is extra important to test this one on your fabric as a waxy residue isn't a good look. Probably best to avoid delicate fabrics due to the wax base.
These pens are the best for fine, precise marking. They do not leave any chalky residue which keeps things clear and concise. The nibs are very fine which means they are great for detailed work. Think small and detailed for these, leave outlining whole pattern pieces to the tailors chalk. You can also buy replacement leads, but they are fairly pricey.
So do I really need all of those?!
There really are quite a few options on the marking pens/tailors chalk front, but by no means is it necessary to have them all. I would suggest that a couple of colours for light and dark fabrics, plus something for more detailed marking would be a good way to go.
And remember do not panic if you find yourself without the right marking tool - there are other options. Basting stitches or tailors tacks can be used without the need for marking tools. This is a good idea if you are working with particularly delicate or tricky fabrics. The downside is that this is a much more time consuming way of marking, but it could be worth it for a special project. Alternatively carbon paper and a tracing wheel can also work well.
Happy marking and thanks for reading,