If you sew, you'll occasionally need to make a temporary mark on your fabric to note the placement of design elements like closures, darts, pockets, appliqués or stitching lines.
Sometimes a pin or a small snip in the seam allowance will do the trick, but other times you need something more precise that won't scar your fabric (or your soul) forever.
Deciding which marking tool to use can be fraught, but it doesn't have to be: we've pro-ed and con-ed it out, so you'll know exactly what you need.
Always test any marking tool on a fabric scrap to see how it reacts and how easy it is to remove, as even "disappearing" inks may not completely disappear on certain fabrics or colors.
1. Water Soluble or Disappearing Ink Pens
Pros: Precise lines; easy to mark small dots or circles; bright colors show up well on light fabrics; marks typically disappear completely with a light blot of water, a touch of the iron or over time.
Cons: Sometimes disappears too fast; marker tips can dry up quickly; marks can bleed or spread; sometimes reappears after initial removal.
2. Ceramic Lead Pens
Pros: Makes thin, accurate marks; comes with different colors of refillable lead; erases or washes away easily with water.
Cons: Expensive; fine tip breaks easily and sometimes drags on fabric; less effective on thick or textured fabrics like wool or felt.
3. Tailor's Chalk
Pros: Leaves smooth lines; good for marking thick or textured fabrics; fades or brushes away easily
Cons: Easily breaks, dulls and crumbles; must be regularly sharpened; can fade or brush away too quickly.
4. Chaco Liner Pens
Pros: Leaves a very thin, precise line of powder; rolls easily and doesn't drag on fabric; comes in a variety of colors; never needs sharpening.
Cons: Expensive to purchase and refill; colors can be hard to remove from fabric initially and may require a thorough washing.
5. Tracing/Carbon Paper and Tracing Wheel
Pros: Can mark both sides of the fabric at once if you sandwich fabric with the carbon paper; each packet comes with a variety of colors to use on light or dark fabrics; easy to mark long lines, curves or corners while copying a template or pattern exactly.
Cons: Carbon can smudge the rest of your fabric (or your hands); lines sometimes don't transfer clearly unless with heavy pressure; it's harder to see where you're marking because the paper covers the fabric.
6. Bar-Soap Slivers
Pros: Already available in your home (or free from hotels!); easily glides over all fabrics.
Cons: Leaves residue so should only be used on washable fabrics; can leave uneven smudges; limited colors.
7. Tailor's Tacks or Thread Basting
Pros: Won't stain so is safe for delicate or white fabrics; can mark both sides of fabric at once; colors are unlimited (depending on thread stash).
Cons: Takes longer and is more tedious; thread may pull out of fabric while handling.
8. Hera Marker (or Any Sturdy Plastic Tool Like a Point Turner)
Pros: Won't stain; creases both sides of fabric at once; never needs replacing (unless lost!).
Cons: Less effective on sewing tricky fabrics, like synthetic or stretchy types that don't crease well; may leave "shine" on fabric.
Pros: Glides on fabric easily and leaves clear lines; won't rub off or brush away unless pressed with an iron.
Cons: May not completely remove with iron; may stain lighter fabrics.