Friday, January 13, 2012

Gadgetmania: Rachel's favourite marking and tracing tools

Dear Readers, I am happy to introduce you Rachel of House of Pinheiro. As a Gadgetmani guest blogger, she wanted to share with you her favorite marking and tracing tools and explain briefly how she uses them. I thought it would be a great overview post on marking tools and would be happy to hear your comments or questions! Thank you, Rachel!

Marking your garments correctly is one of most important sewing steps, only second to pressing. There are many types of products available that suits different varieties of fabrics but there aren’t many differences in terms of quality by brands. It’s a matter of personal taste and need. I suggest you hold a selection and use them accordingly to specific projects. 

The following marking tools will help you transfer symbols and pattern guidelines for accurate construction.

Chalks or Tailor’s Chalk:  
There are two main formulations available (Talc-based and wax based) numerous formats and 4 main colours (white, yellow, blue, red).

The composition should be indicated on the box. If not, you can tell it by touch, as the wax-based chalk feels less smooth and break in chunks (don’t worry, they will not leave waxy residue and can be removed by heat) and talc-based is more powdery when using. The classic format is a thin wedge, which also can be found as a chalk wheel, which makes a finer line. The same principle applies to lipstick shape.

There is new fusion between chalk and pen branded as a Chaco pen and a Slim Chaco Pen (pens filled with chalk instead of inks with available refills)

Liquid markers or water-soluble pens:
Liquid markers and water soluble pens look like felt tips pen, where ink is erased in cold water. It is important to highlight that steam (HEAT) can actually make the marking permanent, so always check by testing your fabric first. These markers are also unsuitable for fabrics that show water marks, for obvious reasons. They can be found in blue, red and purple colour. An eraser pen is also available for removing markings made by any water-soluble marker.

Air-erasable pens:
According to the manufacture the marks disappear within 24 to 48 hours.

They can be removed either by brushing, erasing with a fabric eraser or by soaking in water.

Hot-iron transfer pencils: 
This pencil is used to trace a design and transfer it to the fabric using heat.

Dressmaking Carbon:  
Used with a tracing wheel, dressmaking carbon allows to trace quickly and accurately, as both layers can be marked at the same time. There are many types and colors available on the market. 
Two main dressmaking carbons types are wax-based and wax-free. Wax-free is becoming more available as many suppliers realise the demand for this type of product because some customers complained of the issue of residue left by wax-based products.

Most brands have a pack with 5 varieties of colour sheets same size (23x28cm), and the larger sheet size I found was  Burda (83 cm x 57 cm) but only provided 2 sheets.

Tracing wheels: 
The most common are the serrated and the smooth-edge tracing wheels. The serrated tracing wheel makes a distinguished doted line and is suitable for most fabrics except for delicate ones, while the smooth edge tracing wheel transfers a continuous line, more suitable for delicate fabrics or delicate paper patterns. 

There is also double tracing wheel that enables you to trace seam line and cutting edges at the same time and has an adjustable range of 10 to 30mm.

Tailor's Tacker: 
It is a small gadget that substitute the tailors tack process. It contains two pieces of chalk and a little pin through the middle that will marks both sides of fabric at the same time when twisted. This item is not very easily found.

Thread & needle: 
Mostly used to mark darts by using so-called tailor tucks. Sometimes, especially in couture, all stitching lines are thread-traced using fine thread and needle that don't leave marks on delicate fabrics.

They can be used to help mark darts in conjunction with a marker or on their own. There are not advised to be used in leather, fine fabrics or very loose knits

Best way to mark pattern notches that will allow the junction of the pattern pieces. Just nick the fabric slightly. Do the same for double and triple notches, making only once.

Iron (Pressing) 
you can use the iron to press tucks and other design features into shape. I advice you to refrain from marking with an iron as a pressing mistake can be difficult to correct.

My personal favourites are 
  • the wax chalk 
  • a Japanese white pencil for quilting  
  • Wax-free grey (non-coloured) dressmaker carbon. (sorry, I don’t know the brand as I buy then per loose sheet)
  • I also own both types of tracing wheels. 
I dislike any marking tools in colour (except my lipstick chalk yellow marker) because they tend to be very hard to remove. I personally don’t use pens because I press my garments a lot and I don’t like soaking (even if it’s by hand) at every little step and they have a tendency to reappear once dried. I also notice that the colour blue is the worst offender to get off the fabric. If you have a carbon wax emergency, I found out that some people melt the wax using the iron and use paper towers to dry it. You need to fold the item in paper and carefully heat it. It takes a while.

My final advice is take careful consideration when choosing the correct marking tool as they have the potential to ruin your project and always make a test patch.

Where to find most items:

I hope this post helped you make an informed decision on marking tools.

Image sourcing: All the products images were taken from Joann and Hancock sites and free copyright sewing database.

Great tips, Rachel! What about you, readers? What are YOUR favourite marking tools and techniques? Do you want to learn more about some specific tool or technique? If you had a post or tutorial, leave a link here and I will add it to our Gadgetmania collection.


  1. Thanks Marina, I hope your readers find it useful !

  2. Great post Rachel. The wax-free paper I use is made by Saral - it comes in different colours I have the graphite (grey) for lighter fabrics, and white for dark fabrics.

    Re: tracing wheels - I also own a sharp tracing wheel (sharp pins that is LOL! - can't remember the proper name right now), same as the one at the bottom of this pic:, they are great for tracing off RTW clothes onto pattern paper to make new patterns from your favourite garments! :)

    1. I was taught never to use tracing paper on any fabric other than muslin.

      Another method for transferring patterns is called "pouncing." You use a pounce wheel and pad and after piercing holes in the pattern, you swipe a pad with powder over it. You can Google it.

      I've never seen the chalk tailor tacking device, although it looks interesting. I was taught to stick in a pin and to mark the fabric on both sides of the fabric with chalk below the pin.

      Air-soluble markers don't always disappear on their own. You sometimes have to wash them.

      I have a hera, shown in the picture, but it takes some practice to control it. It's a very clean method.

      Traditional tailor tacking and thread tracing are excellent methods, although like everything, they take practice. Their advantage is that they don't rub out and they don't usually harm the fabric.

      In certain styles of menswear sewing, it's not a good idea to snip the notches. It can read as a hole.

  3. Hi Clare, thank for that.. I think I so a tutorial on marking RTW with those( oops don't know how they called either) ... They create holes on paper instead of lines, isn't ??

    1. yes - that's it :)

      There's a couple of great books on the topic.there’s 2 books that you might fancy to assist you in your quest:

      Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit it’s about copying RTW clothing. It’s got good reviews (see these posts by SunnyGal Studio and Sewing by the Seat of my Pants).

      Or, Patterns from Finished Clothes: Re-creating the Clothes You Love. Posts about this book: anothercreation blog, and here the same blogger compare 2 different copying methods.

  4. I'm a fan of the wax free tracing paper, taylor chalk, beeswax for hand sewing and Japanese pins. I am putting a smooth edge tracing wheel on my list of must have's.

  5. Thank you for hosting, Marina and thank you, Rachael for putting together this informative tutorial. I love this blog because those that are drawn here seek information and inspiration over effusive flattery. I have nothing to add to what has been shared, except mentioning one of my favorite notions.....

    I am currently in the middle of making a big move (cross country) and will return to the bulk of my sewing stash and core notions very soon. One thing I really miss is a tracing wheel I used with my old Burda patterns, the ones that do not include seam allowances. It is a dual-headed tracing wheel that was joined at the bottom (a 'V' shape) which allowed the arms to move like a pair of tongs or a drafting compass. I loved it because when one wheel (left side) was rolled along the pattern edge, second wheel automatically left a chalky powder marking the cutting line. It allows tracings set at different seam allowance distances (between 1/4" and 7/8"). I haven't been able to find another wheel like it.

    Does anyone recognize this gadget or own one, too?

    Thanks for the bright spot in my day...
    Back to packing...

    1. I have a dual wheel from Clover. It's not accurate.

  6. Great post. I'm tempted to buy new tracing gadgets and your post has been helpful in helping me what gadget I should try next. I'm always hesitant to try new gadgets in case i ruin the garment with marks. cheers:)

  7. This is fabulous. I seriously need to update my fabric-marking techniques - to date I have just been using tailor's tacks, but am currently putting together a Marfy pattern that needs me to having markings and point-matching lines all over the shop. I usually just write on with pen when I'm toile-ing, but I was lost for what to do when it came to the real-deal fabric. I'm off to the shops! Thanks!!

  8. My favorites are old fashioned thread tracing and a small hole punch which I use on the interfacing before it is fused to the fabric. The small hole that is left behind is very easy to see. You can use this for collars, facings, cuffs and such:)

    I am looking for the large sheets of grey carbon, does anyone have a good source?

  9. your tracing tools summary is brilliant and so comprehensive! I, myself, a chalk-addict and also like using soap ends ( my granny taught me that and those old habits die hard). But I looove all those gadgets and own half of your list, just rarely use LOL

  10. Marking correctly is one of the most difficult things for me, as I am quite impatient when making stuff. I have most of these tools, but I'm afraid to say I rarely use them. Need to up my game. Thanks Rach for a very informative post.

  11. Such a good post...especially for beginners like me!!

  12. My go-tos are the same as yours, and I love the Saral wax free paper. I've recently added the Pilot Frixion pen to my arsenal. It disappears under the iron, but I use it sparingly as I am historically skeptical of "disappearing" ink.

  13. Gecuba 3DfashionMarch 2, 2012 at 9:09 PM

     Exept clover marking tools, I like and use crayola washable fine line markers. 8 different colors - could match to almost all fabrics (exept black, of course).

  14. Correct marking is really a fun, its helps the people especially beginners to use marking tools correctly.Thanks for you time and effort.
    Uk Specialist Marking Tools Manufacturer

  15. One of my favorite non-traditional marking tools is a tag gun. It is the device that they put hang tags on clothing with. You can buy tags in different lengths and colors. Tag guns also come in regular and fine needle versions, and you pick the one best suited for the fabric type. (Test your tag gun on a scrap piece of fabric beforehand, as using a large needle tag gun on delicate fabrics can damage the fabric.)

    How to use the tags:
    You can mark longer darts by using long tags and going in and out of the fabric (similar to marking with straight pin). Or, you can just tag the darts together straight through the pattern. The longer tags are good for marking hemlines or for holding folded hemlines in place while sewing. Dots can be marked using the very short tags, simply poking the tag through the fabric once.

    If you want to cut out lining and face fabric simultaneously, then you can use the longer tags and go through both layers of fabric, temporarily locking them together so that the slippery lining doesn't slip away from the face fabric while you cut the fabrics.

  16. I'm a freelance technical designer and I make lots of muslins and test garments and quite a few finished samples during the development process. I could not complete any of my projects without my purple air drying pen. I use it on just about any light colored fabric, for darks I use any combination of powder and wax chalk, and washable pencil. On a faux Greek dress costume, I draped the final in a white polyester, made all my alteration marks with the purple pen, and it looked like it was covered in a purple print, but by showtime it was again, pristine white!

  17. I am happy to find so many useful information about the bike wheels here in the post, we need develop more strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing.
    road bike wheels



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