A selection of fabric marking tools tested on cotton muslin.

Sewing Marking Tools

One thing I quickly learned when I started sewing, is that it usually takes nearly as long to properly mark and cut out a garment as it does to do the actual sewing. And if you don’t have the sewing marking tools it can take even longer. None of the tools are expensive and most are pretty easy to find. And once you’ve developed a small collection of fabric marking tools and learned how to use them, you’ll be amazed at how much easier the cutting phase of any sewing project is!

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What Are the Best Sewing Marking Tools for a Beginner to Buy?

While If you’re new to sewing, I recommend you buy two marking tools: a blue water-erasable marker and tailors chalk. These two tools will give you the ability to mark on a wide range of fabrics and are usually easy to remove. They also don’t tend to disappear before you want them to, which can be a problem with some marking methods. I also like to have a needle and thread on hand to make tailors tacks or thread trace things when necessary.

How Do I Know What Fabric Marking Method to Use?

The method you use to mark your fabric will depend on the fabric you’re using and what you’re marking. The color of your fabric and the texture/weave will determine what marking types will show up easily without causing damage to the fabric.

For interior markings, like the match points for a patch pocket, you’ll want a marking method that can be fully removed so that you don’t see it on the final garment.

This isn’t as much of a concern with cut lines because the marked fabric will be cut off and stray markings usually end up in the seam allowance. Time also is an issue, as some forms of making tend to wear off more easily than others.

Sampling

Before diving into a project, the first thing I always do is sample my options on a piece of the fabric I’m working on. I do this by taking a small swatch of the fabric I want to use and making a few marks on it. At minimum, the marking should be easily visible on your fabric.

If the tool passes the visibility test, look at how it functions. I always look at the following:

  • Potential to damage fabric. Most marking tools are designed not to harm fabric, but sometimes delicate or loosely woven fabrics can get pulled when marked with certain tools. You’ll see right away if this is an issue.
  • Line quality. How clear and even is this line? Does this tool bleed when exposed to water from the iron or smudge when rubbed?
  • Staying power. Will these marks stay on the fabric as long as I need them too for cutting/sewing?
  • Removability. Can I get the markings out without damaging this specific fabric? Test your method of line removal. If you’re planing on using the tool to mark somewhere that will be pressed, test how removable the mark is after pressing, since the heat can sometimes set the lines. Also, how likely is it that these lines will reappear or the markings will migrate later?
  • After-sewing visibility. Once the garment is sewn, none of the markings should be visible. While cutting lines usually aren’t a problem, interior markings and sewing lines can be.

Usually, I need at least two different marking tools to properly mark a garment. For example, I love using a Frixon pen to mark the outside of cutting lines. However, those lines tend to disappear during pressing. So, I’ll use tailor’s tacks on any dot markings I’ll need during sewing and either chalk tracing paper or wax tracing paper to mark any interior lines like darts. If I can’t find a color of tracing paper that works with my fabric, I’ll thread trace those with my basting thread.

Sampling Example

Below, I’ve tested out a handful of tools that I had laying around my current work space. I’ve got two different colors of loose chalk pens, a Hera marker, a chalk pencil, a graphite pencil, two water erasable pens, one frixon pen, and a permanent micron pen. I tested them on cotton muslin, silk velvet with a rayon pile, loosely woven wool gauze, and dark grey silk habotai.

The tools all worked on a much wider range of colors than you might expect. The white chalk (both loose and pencil) showed up pretty will on the white and off white fabrics. The pens were all still visible on the dark grey silk, though I think if the fabric was a few shades darker they wouldn’t have shown up at all. The chalk pens, however, end up with a very smudgy line on the habotai because the fabric was so smooth.

It’s hard to see in the images, but the Hera marker gave a clean line on everything except the wool gauze. That isn’t surprising, however, because the wool gauze snagged on nearly every tool I tried. Only the chalk wheels didn’t snag at all (though the larger timed blue pen was pretty ok), and those lines were much fainter than on the other fabrics.

Where to Buy Fabric Marking Tools

The answer to this question depends heavily on the type of tool you’re looking for. Some, like Frixon pens are easily found in grocery stores and even some bigger convince stores. Others, like loose chalk pens are usually found at big box craft stores like Joann Fabrics or your local quilting shop. Some of the more art specific supplies may need to be bought at art stores like Blick. And a few very specialized marking tools like wax tracing paper may only be available through specialty online retailers.

Fabric Marking Tools By Type

Below you’ll find details on all the sewing and fabric marking tools I have got in my own personal arsenal or I’ve tried using in the past. I’ve linked where possible to the exact products I like, however, once you start sewing you’ll find there are endless variations of each type of marking tool. Additionally, formulas can change over time. So, a previous favorite may suddenly not work the way you think it will. Always test any marking tool on the fabric you’ll be using for a project before marking your fabric.

Fabric Marking Pens and Markers

Marking pens and markers are a great way of transferring markings onto light or mid-colored fabric. Markers, because of their soft tips, tend to create wider lines but they also drag less on the fabric. Pens have the potential to damage delicate fabrics if you press too hard because they pull more, but they also create sharp, thin lines which are great for accurate cutting.

Water Erasable Markers

One of the first marking tools I learned to use was the blue water erasable marker. These are great because they disappear fully from a garment once it’s run through the wash, have soft marking tips that don’t damage fabric, and are widely available. You can iron over them (even with steam!) without worrying about the marks disappearing. The most common variation is the the Dritz Mark-B-Gone (below), however, there also is a fine line version available.

There are a few downsides to the blue water erasable marker. They will bleed on some fabrics, making it hard to get an accurate line. This is usually only a problem on things like silk charmeuse. If you’re just marking on a plain woven cotton you’re fine. I also find they need to be fully washed out of something to be completely erased. The marks will seam to disappear if you just spray the fabric with water, but the blue ink will sometimes reappear once it’s dry. So, these may not be the best choice for fabric prone to water spots. I’ve also had problems with these pens drying out quickly in the past, though I haven’t found that to be a problem in recent years, so there may have been improvements made.

Overall, these markers are an essential part of my sewing toolbox. They’re gentle on fabric and stay in place until it’s time for them to go.

Air Erasable Markers

These are similar to water erasable markers, but they will fade over time with only exposure to air. How fast do they do this? It really depends on the exact marker and humidity of your air. I’ve heard tales of air erasable maker sticking around for years in a dry, cool closet and disappearing in only an hour or two when left in a humid car.

Most air erasable markers are also water erasable, so if your marks stick around too long, a quick run through the wash will fix things. This means, however, that air erasable markers aren’t really a good solution for marking fabrics that are sensitive to water.

To avoid issues with the marks disappearing too soon, only use air erasable markers on places where you can either easily re-mark or if you’ll be using the lines immediately. For example, these markers work fine for tracing the outline of a pattern because you’ll usually cut it out immediately after.

For these reasons, air erasable markers aren’t something I go out of my way to buy. If I have one on hand, it’s usually because it came as one half of a double sided marker. That said,

Frixon Friction Erasable Pens

These are one of my favorite marking tools to use on fabric. Frixon pens draw thin, bold lines that don’t bleed. They come in a wide variety of colors, so you can find something that shows up well on most light to medium dark fabric. They don’t dry out easily and aren’t affected by water. Best of all, when they’re exposed to heat the marks disappear completely! They’re my first choice for tracing around pattern pieces and marking precise details. I also like them for marking fabric for hand embroidery.

There are a few downsides to using these pens. They won’t show up on very dark fabrics. The pen tips may also pull a little on very fine fabrics like silk chiffon. Any marks you iron over will disappear, so they’re not the best choice for marking button holes or any points you’ll need towards the end of sewing. And if you leave your sewing somewhere warm, like a hot car, the marks can fade. Last, sometimes the marks reappear if exposed to extreme cold.

If you’re looking for them in stores, you usually won’t find them with the sewing things. These pens are usually stocked with the pens and pencils for general writing in grocery stores or places like Target. I highly recommend buying a pack when you see them, because these really come in handy.

Crayola Washable Markers

This is another product that isn’t intended for sewing that has been adopted by the sewing community. Originally intended for use by messy kids, these markers are designed to come clean easily with soap and water.

I was curious to see if they worked, so I did a little search and found this post on reddit in r/quilting. In a home test, the markers come out of quilting cotton fully with minimal agitation.

My main concern with markers like these is that the washability may be reduced if the color sits on the fabric for too long. Just to be safe, I’d avoid leaving these (and any other marker) on fabric for more than a week or two without removing.

Micron and other Felt Tip Permanent Markers

I rarely use markers not designed for fabric marking to mark fabric, but occasionally they come in handy. Sometimes a dark, permanent line is exactly what you need. Usually, if I’m using a marker like one of these, it’s on a sample or a garment label. They also can be great when marking fabric during draping.

If you do use a non-fabric marker to mark fabric you want to think carefully about how the garment will be cleaned after it’s finished. Even if you know your marking will be completely hidden after sewing, there is still a chance the ink will run when exposed to water or a dry cleaning solvent. As always, test if you’re not sure.

Fabric Marking Chalk

Chalk tools are great because they show up on dark fabrics and in most cases can be fully erased after sewing is complete. The downside is that they tend to smudge or disappear as you work, making the lines a lot less reliable than other methods. I also find many types of chalk pull a bit more than markers on the fabric as you mark. But this varies greatly depending on the fabric, the tool, and the forcefulness of your own marks.

Tailors Chalk (Clay)

Tailors chalk is an old school marking tool that’s stuck around for good reason. If you handle it right, a piece of tailors chalk can give you beautiful, thin, straight lines that brush off easily when you’re finished with them.

The chalk comes in two shapes, rectangular and triangular. Both of them work equally well for lines, but neither are great for marking small dots for match points (I’ll usually use tailor’s tacks for those if I need to). Because of their unusual shape, you’ll also need something on hand to sharpen them when they start to dull. This can either be a blade (razor or exact knife) or something like sand paper or a nail file that smooths the edges down. This article from The Sewing Stuffs goes over some of the available options.

I tend to prefer Sullivan’s professional Tailors’ Chalk, since I stared using it in design school. But it’s worth experimenting to find the kind you like best.

Loose Chalk Pens

I’ve been a big fan of these loose chalk pens since they started showing up on the market a decade or so ago. They produce very narrow lines that are easy to remove. Because they work by depositing powdered chalk via a small wheel, little pressure is needed. This means that there is less pull on the fabric when marking.

The marks from these pens tend to be easily removable. A bit of rubbing or sometimes a damp cloth is all that is needed to make most of them disappear. The downside is that if you over handle fabric marked with a loose chalk pen, the lines can smudge or be lost completely.

Buying Options

Amazon

Etsy

Fat Quarter Shop

Sewing Machines Plus

Chalk Pencils

Chalk pencils can be great to work with because they provide all the benefits of chalk in a delivery method that works just like a normal pencil. However, there is one major downside: they tend to be very delicate. A pencil can look perfectly fine on the outside, but if it’s been dropped or banged around a lot the lead inside can be shattered. When you go to sharpen a pencil like this it will be impossible to get a nice point.

When shopping for chalk pencils, you’ll find both sewing specific styles and artists pencils. I avoid colored artists chalk (there’s too much of a staining danger), but I love using the General’s brand white chalk pencils. When buying sewing specific chalk pencils, look carefully at the directions. Some varieties may be removable, but others are intended to be permanent.

Chalk Tracing Paper

Chalk tracing paper is perfect for marking internal marks like dart legs and sewing lines. At the college where I teach, we have beginning students mark the sew lines for their first project to use as a guide as they adjust to using very fast industrial sewing machines for the first time.

The paper works similar to carbon copy paper. The paper is laid with the chalk side facing the fabric and then the pattern is placed on top. Then a tracing wheel (or sometimes a stylus) is used to trace over the desired markings. This pushes the chalk coating the paper on to the fabric.

The most common brand is Clover Chacopy paper. This comes in a pack of five colors, so it is usually easy to find one that works for any given project. They can be reused over and over again, so once you buy a pack it will last you for several years.

The marks for chalk tracing paper are less prone to smudging and wearing off than other chalk sewing marking tools, however it can be a bit harder to remove. It needs to be washed out, not just brushed off, and it can set permanently if exposed to the high heat that happens during ironing. I also find that the marks sometimes turn out a bit light.

Wax Based Sewing Marking Tools

These fabric marking tools tend to provide a bolder, cleaner line than chalk and the lighter shades can be easily seen on dark fabrics. They also generally move smoothly against most fabrics, making them the least likely to damage fabric during marking.

However, the major downside of wax based products is that they are difficult or impossible to remove completely.

Wax Tracing Paper

Wax tracing paper works exactly like chalk tracing paper, but the marks are bolder, much less prone to smudging, and impossible to remove. It also comes in sheets much larger than the chalk-based paper does, which is great for tracing full pattern pieces.

This is defiantly a special-order item that you won’t see in stores. However, the paper can be used over and over again for years before needing to be replaced. I bought my set from the website of couture sewing expert Susan Khalje and have been using it for years.

To use this tracing paper, you also need to have a tracing wheel. Anything that works with the chalk tracing paper should also work with the wax tracing paper, so you only need one tool to try both!

Testing wax based pattern marking paper on a scrap of muslin using a tracing wheel.
Testing wax based pattern marking paper on a scrap of muslin using a tracing wheel.
Waxed based sewing marking paper in four colors.
Buying Options

American Sewing Supply

Etsy

Susan Khalje Couture

Wax Tailors Chalk

This looks similar to the tailor’s chalk in the chalk section, but has a few different properties than chalk made without wax. Wax marking tools are less likely to rub off during cutting and sewing, but they generally aren’t truly erasable. In many cases, when these are heated they melt into the fabric, leaving behind what looks like a small grease spot. So, your line is gone and you now have what looks like a stain on your fabric. Not great for internal markings. However they do tend to glide easily over fabric, including some of the rough or bumpy fabrics, so they’re a good choice for cut lines.

My pick for wax tailors chalk is Carmel Super-Glide. The white color is usually the easiest to find, and it’s often sold in bulk packages, so if you order some, share with your friends.

Tailor’s crayons

There are a lot of different types of wax pencils and crayons marketed to sewers. Some are just crayons, while others are a wax core inside of a pencil or paper spiral casing. The thing they all tend to have in common is that they show up nicely on dark fabrics and they glide easily when marking.

Tailor’s crayons are generally considered permanent, though some of them can be removed on certain fabrics using a hot iron. This is defiantly situation where you should do a test first.

Other Sewing and Fabric Marking Tools To Try

Basting Thread

While any thread can be used for marking and basting, I have a strong attachment to this ___ Italian cotton basting thread___. It’s a very weak thread, so it pulls out easily. It’s thin and soft, so it doesn’t leave marks on fabrics when pressed. And this thread is slightly textured in a way that makes it grab onto the fabric, helping to keep the layers from shifting.

There are two primary ways to use thread as a marking tool: thread tracing and tailor’s tacks. When thread tracing, you sew a line of basting over the sewing line. This is usually used in couture sewing or high end tailoring. These styles of garment construction involve in-person fittings and utilize very large seam allowances during the initial cutting to accommodate changes during these fittings.

Tailor’s tacks are more frequently used and are a perfect way to mark a small dot or point.

Using thread as a marking tool is a bit more time consuming than marking with other tools. I tend to reserve it for interior markings like darts and pocket placements.

Image via HelenHaugheyDesigns on Etsy.
Buying Options

Etsy

Hera Marker

Hera markers work like none of the other marking tools on this list. It works by forming a small crease in the fabric. These can be difficult to see, especially in low light, and can be lost if the fabric gets wrinkled or even just sits too long. However, the marks cause no damage to most fabrics, never stain, and provide crisp, precise lines.

I like to use a Hera marker when I’m working on decorative stitching techniques that just require a few guide lines. It’s also great if you’re trying to figure out the placement of a pocket or other element and don’t want to risk adding a permanent line. I’ll often use a Hera marker to plot out placement and then thread trace when I’m sure I have things right.

Buying Options

Amazon

Etsy

Fat Quarter Shop

Sewing Machines Plus

Awl

I always keep an awl on hand when I’m cutting out a pattern. Mostly, I use it punch out any interior marks (drill holes) on my paper pattern. Occasionally, I’ll use the awl to mark a spot 1/2″ below the end of a dart (in the dart excess). This only works with certain fabrics, so usually I’ll mark this point with a tailor’s tack instead.

If you’re buying an awl for marking, it usually will also work for patternmaking. Just look for one that is fairly straight up and down. Avoid awls that widen too much as you get to the handle. Those wider awls are great for making holes for grommets and eyelets, but can make holes that are a bit too large for marking.

Buying Options

Amazon

Blick

Etsy

Fat Quarter Shop

Sewing Machines Plus

Graphite Pencils

Graphite pencils (yes, the same ones you use for everyday writing!) can give you sharp, clean lines on fabric. They’re ideal for marking when you’re draping on a form or for making notes on samples.

The other benefit to using a graphite pencil is that it won’t run or transfer if the fabric is cleaned. So, if I’m in a pinch and have to choose between an unknown pen or a pencil, I’ll grab the pencil every time.

If I’m looking for a pencil from my stash, I usually want one that’s a little on the softer side, such as a 2B. That will get me a nice dark mark with minimal drag. However, I’m usually marking with graphite on muslin samples, so visible lines aren’t an issue later. If you’re trying to hide your marks later, go with a harder pencil (like a H or above).

Bar Soap

This is an old tailor’s trick that occasionally still comes in handy. All you need is a thin piece of bar soap sharpened with a knife. You’re aiming for a shape similar to tailors wax. Then, you use it to mark in exactly the same way as tailors wax.

In theory, marks made with bar soap should easily come out in the wash. However, given how variable the recipes for soap are, I’m once again going to urge you to test before you try this on something nice.

This is also the one item I’m not going to provide shopping links for because generally, I’d only recommend trying this if you’re completely out of other options (or just curious). If you have to go buy something to mark, buy something besides bar soap.

Other Useful Cutting Tools

Fabric Weights

Just about anything heavy can be used to weight down your fabric. I’ve used cans of beans and cat food, book, small statues, my ***10″ ghinger shears, etc. But I did eventually invest in a small set of fabric weights. The main benefit of having dedicated pattern weights is that they live in your studio and are always there when you need them. When using random objects there is a high risk that you’ll have to spend time finding things every time you go to cut.

If you just want a few small weights I’d recommend these from Dritz.

When you’re ready to upgrade, look into something like these cast iron weights. All the workrooms I’ve been in use something like them and they really are fantastic. The long size and heavy weight keeps the patterns from sliding around, while the handle makes the weights easy to move off your fabric when they’re no longer needed. They can be pricy, so you may want to gradually build up a collection if you like them.

Cutting Table

If you’re an occasional sewist, you probably cut out your pieces on a dining height table or the floor. A lot of people find it perfectly comfortable to work this way. However, if you find it painful or if you start to do a lot of sewing, you’ll want to upgrade to a big table at the proper height for your body.

Under ideal circumstances, you’d want a table that’s about five feet wide, eight feet long, with a top that hits right below your waist. This allows you to lay out a 60″ wide piece of fabric flat for over two yards, which is more than enough space to lay out most individual pattern pieces (and in some cases an entire garment).

Few of us have the space or money for something like that, so we have to compromise. My favorite alternative is three foot by five foot collapsible cutting table. I have the one from Amazon, but there are all sorts of variations. If you want a fully foldable sewing studio, I also recommend a folding sewing machine table over on my Best Sewing Machine post.


As you can see, there are many, many different tools you can use to mark your fabric for cutting. There is no one best method or tool. What works best will always depend on the fabric you’re cutting and the project you’re working on. Knowing the range of options available can help you pick the best option, but you’ll still always need to sample first.

Do you have a favorite sewing marking tool or method not on this list? Let me know in the comments below or over on Instagram!

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