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Fabric Markers

Marking tools are one of the most useful pieces of a sewing kit, and there are so many different kinds! The marks they make can show you where to cut, where to fold or where to stitch. They can make a permanent or temporary line, and they're available in many different colors including yellow, blue, red, white and more. The secret to making your markers work for you is knowing which marker is the right one for your project. There is no such thing as the all-purpose perfect marker so it's important to familiarize yourself with the different uses of each kind.

I stand behind all of the marking tools pictured above and I try to keep them all on hand so that I'm always prepared for any sewing situation. They are (from bottom to top): the Hera Marker, Clover White Tailor's Chalk, Yellow Tailor's Chalk, Blue Tailor's Chalk, Air Erasable Marker, Water Erasable Marker, Blue Transfer Pencil, and Red Transfer Pencil.  The purpose of each type of marker is explained below.

Enjoy! -- Molly

Tailor's Chalk

Tailor's Chalk is the most elemental marking tool and the one most people are familiar with. We carry it in 3 distinct colors, white, blue, and yellow. Which color you use depends on the color of your fabric. The darker the fabric, the lighter the chalk should be or if your fabric is light, use the darkest chalk. If your fabric falls in the middle between dark and light, use the color that is the most opposite to the main color of your fabric (for instance, on a yellow-orange fabric use the blue chalk, on a blue-violet fabric use the yellow chalk). Chalk makes a clear non permanent line that comes out by shaking it off and patting the fabric. If that doesn't get rid of the mark completely a trip through the wash will. Since chalk comes off so easily it's not appropriate for projects that will encounter a lot of handling or for those that need to keep their marks over a long period of time.  Chalk doesn't make a very precise line so if you need to mark something highly detailed chalk is not a great choice. What it is ideal for is marking hems and alterations on garments, marking folds (as in this bag pattern) and marking positions for buttons and bag handles.

Water Soluble Pen

The Clover Chaco Water Soluble Pen makes a thin, precise blue line. The marks it makes come out very quickly and easily by either spraying the fabric with water or for more specific erasing, by using the erasable tip at the opposite end of the pen (the blue side of the pen draws and the white side erases).

You can draw very intricate things with it and since I do a lot of embroidery this is the marking tool I use the most (check out my emboidered button project to see how much I rely on it!). This tool is best used over small distances. If you need to make a long line down your entire quilt this is not for you, but it is absolutely perfect for intricate drawing.

Air Erasable Pen

The Clover Air Erasable Choco Pen makes a bright pink line which disappears over time or by using the pen's eraser tip. It has all the virtues of it's water soluble cousin but is different in that you can get rid of your lines without washing (or wetting) the fabric. This is an advantage if you're working on something that can't get wet, but a disadvantage if, like so many of us, you need to get rid of your marking lines in a hurry (for instance, if you're embroidering a tie and it's your dad's birthday tonight!).

Hera Marker

The Hera Marker seems too simple to work as well as it does. It's a simple piece of plastic, shaped sort of like a butter knife but when you press the edge along your fabric it creates an easy to see temporary crease. The crease will stay visible until you wash or press the item.  The Hera Marker is ideal for marking straight lines with the help of a straight edged ruler as pictured above. I use a Hera Marker for marking my quilting lines (when I'm quilting in a straight line) and sometimes during piecing. Its unique shape and easy to clean plastic material also lends it to uses it wasn't designed for... like spreading glue inside a coin purse handle!

Transfer Pencils

Clover Iron On Transfer Pencils are really cool.  You can use them to trace or draw any design you like onto a piece of paper...

Place your drawing marked side down and iron it onto any fabric. You can use the same piece of paper for 2 or 3 transfers.

This is definitely an embroidery friendly tool. You can work on your design without drawing on the actual fabric and only transfer it onto your piece once it's perfect  This is helpful because for all their previously mentioned virtues, erasable pens can make the fabric look worn out if you've erased and redrawn in the same place multiple times. Transfer Pencils also come in handy if you want to trace something exactly (If you are tracing something be sure to keep in mind that whatever you iron on to the fabric will be a mirror image of the original so if you're doing something directional such as text make sure trace it backwards.) The thing to be careful about when it comes to these pencils is that they do not erase, once you've marked your fabric it is there to stay and get embroidered over!

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38 Responses to Fabric Markers


  1. Desanera says:

    I’d like to see more on how to transfer patterns onto Dark fabrics. I’m doing something fairly intricate, and I have a great soapstone pencil for freehanding, but it is looking like my only transfer option is to draw on freezer paper and iron it to my fabric, and embroider *through* it. Which is a bit cumbersome.

  2. Lily says:

    Extremely helpful! I’m kind of in love with those transfer pencils. Do they come in many colors, or just a few? How do the marks hold up to washing?

  3. Gidget says:

    Wow, thank you so much, this is exactly what I needed! Now I which to add to my collection and exactly how to use what I have! :)

  4. michelle says:

    I love this informative article. I love to sew and haven’t utilized these tools enough!

    THANK YOU!!

  5. Kelly Todd says:

    Thank you so much! I’ve been trying to find a marking pen that will work well for me and have had a lot of trouble. The taylor’s chalk is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

  6. Eerika says:

    Ooh, this was an interesting read!
    I love my Clover Erasable pens, they’re really very handy. I also love Clover’s Chaco liners, they’re like a refillable version of tailor’s chalk. :)

  7. Angela says:

    Thanks so much! I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew but some how never managed to find the time. But reading posts like this makes me share (however vicariously) in the fun :) When I finally start on my first sewing project at least I’ll know my chalks from my erasable pens.

  8. Miranda says:

    Interesting and helpful. I have used tailor’s chalk but now want to try the erasable pens. Thanks for the useful information.

  9. the transfer pencil looks wonderful. I need to get one of those. thank you for the info.

  10. Jean says:

    Your blog is like attending a private sewing lesson. The information you provide is so clear and precise, it is helpful to both the novice and expert sewers and some of do forget things from time to time.

  11. Lily says:

    Extremely helpful! I’m kind of in love with those transfer pencils. Do they come in many colors, or just a few? How do the marks hold up to washing?

  12. purl bee says:

    Hi Lily,
    The pencils come in two colors, blue and red. The marks hold up okay over the long term, but they do fade a bit with a lot of handling. I’m not sure how they hold up to washing though if you test it out let us know! –Joelle

  13. dear joelle … was my other comment censored and could not be posted? … it’s wonderful to have the ingredients listed for the perfect sewing supplies … but things go awry and delving into what it takes to keep up and perhaps repair what breaks is a good idea don’t you think?! … best regards!

  14. purl bee says:

    Hi Ina,
    I’m not sure what comment you mean?
    J

  15. Holly says:

    Hi! Do you have any suggestions for marking tools that work well when transferring markings from commercial patterns? I use transfer paper and a rotary tool, but I’m often unhappy with how much ink from the paper comes off on my fabric. Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

  16. joelle … it must have gotten swallowed up … it was the first post in line quite surely as i happened to peruse the page at that time … i asked if perhaps you could amend the supplies list with some resources where to turn when things break, like the bobbins on the sewing machine, the bobbin holder that broke off when my sewing machine tipped backwards in the holding case … scissors that need sharpening … i don’t want to be too tongue in cheek … but these things happen to the purlbees too non?! … happy days!

  17. purl bee says:

    Hi Ina,
    We’ll definitely put this on our list of stories we want to do. Thanks for the great idea.
    Joelle

  18. Anne says:

    My grandmother used an old silver of hand soap to mark up dark fabrics.

  19. Holly says:

    Hi! Do you have any suggestions for marking tools that work well when transferring markings from commercial patterns? I use transfer paper and a rotary tool, but I’m often unhappy with how much ink from the paper comes off on my fabric. Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

  20. Jen says:

    Do these items come in a set? Does anyone online offer them?

    Just wondering — I’d love to have them!

  21. purl bee says:

    Hi Jen,
    You can access all of our fabric markers at this link:
    http://www.purlsoho.com/purl/products/accessories_notions_list/80,59,120

  22. Karen says:

    Another suggestion if I may is the Stabilo Aquarellable pencil. It looks like a standard pencil but it writes wonderfully on fabric, is available in a bunch of colors (including white) and it comes off with water. And unlike most "chalk" pencils it doesn’t take much pressure to get a dark mark. Plus like a pencil, it can be sharpened. We started selling them at my shop a while ago and now it is about all I use. I will definitely have to check out the clover pens – they look much better than some others I’ve tried which dry out in about 2 minutes flat. Thanks for all the info!

  23. Diana says:

    Wonderful information (as usual)! I learn so much from your posts.
    Like Desanera,I am also trying to find a way to mark dark fabric (such as for navy sashiko. Is there a marker that would work on that?

  24. craftyfingers says:

    Thanks for educating me on these tools. I had no idea – now I do!

  25. beth b. says:

    wow, this is incredibly helpful.
    I’m still on the hunt for something that will mark fleece more precisely than my chalkboard marker…which is ok.

  26. ThreeBySea says:

    Thanks for the information. The transfer pencil sounds like it could be very handy for some ideas I have churning in my brain!

  27. em says:

    Nice guide!

    But I have to note that conventional wisdom states that when using chalk, one ought to use the shade closest to the fabric color that is still visible. Using the darkest color of chalk on light fabric is not necessarily the best choice.

    Also, the general rule with all fabric markers is always test a swatch first!

  28. bronwen says:

    I, too, am interested in the pens/pencils on dark fabric. I am working on embrodiering on dark colored felt. Not sure what would work well.
    Thanks for all the tips!

  29. itslily says:

    I’ve used the transfer pencils to make the coolest camping pants with bear paws and fox paw prints. They worked great!

  30. AnsleyBleu says:

    Thank you. This is really great.

  31. Sue says:

    Wow, that is a great help. Thank you so much. What is the best way to transfer sashiko patterns?

  32. Sunny says:

    I use a sliver of soap too. It’s "free", often disappears during the sewing process, washes out of course, and the soap can be sharpened easily when the edge gets blunt. The lines marked are similar to those of tailor’s chalk, ie adequate for dressmaking and quilting, but perhaps not fine enough for detailed embroidery.

  33. Jorun says:

    Your pictures make me happy! I’ve just printed the Clover chalks and pinned to the curtain above my desk for inspiration.Thank you!

  34. Lorie says:

    Thanks for the great tips!!I have just started sewing! (like REALLY just started last week) and need to know the things that are a must and not just what the people at the fabric store are trying to sell me!

  35. Leila says:

    Hi, what a timely post! I was just wondering about what marker to use on my quilt. I am making a variation of the Denyse Schmidt quilt, ‘the big zig’ and was wondering which kind of pen to use. All I have left is the topstitching, which requires drawing zigzags all over the top. What pen would work for this the best? it will take me a while to get through all the zigzags. thanks!

  36. Diana Trout says:

    I’ve been doing some experimenting with transferring drawings to dark fabrics for sashiko. I’ve had consistent success with this method
    Lay down and tape each layer: fabric, wax free tracing paper, the drawing.
    Trace over the drawing with an embossing tool. The embossing tool seems to be the trick as I’ve tried this method berfore with sketchy results. This tool is from the paper arts world. It has a wooden handle with a silver "stick" from both ends each with a tiny ball (one smaller than the other).
    I hope this helps you. I am so happy to have found a solution!

  37. Bulk grommet suppliers says:

    Where did you get all of these? I would love to be able to draw on fabric so nicely!

  38. traci says:

    I am looking for something to permanently write on a fleece blanket. Would the clover iron on transfer pencil work for that? Or can you suggest something else? I want to put my son's classroom signatures on a fleece blanket for their teacher. Trying to find a way to do it without embroidering.
    Thanks, Traci

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