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The Basics: Marking

By Elizabeth Barry

Continued from Page 1

Tracing paper is not the best solution for marking on the fabric right side. However, if that is the only tool available for buttonhole and pocket placements, transfer the markings to the fabric wrong side, then baste through the markings with silk thread to show through on the right side.

fabric marking pens

Air-soluble and wash-away marking pens revolutionized marking transfer. The pens are easy to use, and the pointed tips allow for accurate marks. Use fabric marking pens in combination with clipping and notching. For example, clip the dart legs at the seam allowance but draw the dart point with a marking pen (3). Non-permanent marking pens are also handy for marking embroidery or embellishment placement.

Air-soluble inks disappear with time. Water-soluble inks need to be washed away with water.Test markers beforehand; some are permanently set by heat. When purchasing markers, read the packaging carefully to ensure they're temporary.

tailor's chalk

Tailor's chalk is a classic marking product and works on just about any fabric because it's easily removed and doesn't leave a residue. Being easily removable may be a problem for projects that are heavily handled during construction. Tailor's chalk comes in a variety of colors and may have a chalky or waxy consistency. It's available in a flat flake, a powder with an applicator or in pencil form. The chalk type works best on flat surfaces while the wax version performs better on textured fabrics such as boucle or corduroy.

bar soap

Household bar soap is a marking tool nearly every sewer has. Save white soap slivers for sewing projects that will be laundered when finished. Use a knife to trim the ends to maintain a sharp edge. Avoid soaps with oils added; check the ingredients.

straight pins

Use straight pins to mark details that will be immediately sewn or basted. They aren't a good long-term marking method since pins may slip out of the fabric with handling.

Use pins to indicate the ends of an opening, placement for a collar or to indicate where to start and stop stitching.

Pins placed perpendicular to each other can indicate a corner. Also use pins at the ends of buttonholes and the lower stop of a zipper.

Pin marking isn't recommended for fine fabrics or fabrics that retain pin holes. Use ball-point pins on knits.

pressure-sensitive stickers

Use stickers when ink, chalk or pins might damage the fabric. Some folks find stickers easier than marking, so they use them on all projects. Stickers are usually placed in the interior of a pattern piece to indicate pocket guidelines, snaps or buttons. Experiment with stickers found in office supply stores and draw the placement markings on them.

stitched markings

Silk thread is ideal for basting because it glides through most fabrics and doesn't leave a mark when pressed. Purchase a high-contrast color such as hot pink or chartreuse. You may never sew a garment in these colors, but they'll show up against most fabrics.

Make long basting stitches to identify centerlines, pocket or tab placements, hemlines and topstitching guides. This may take longer than using pen or chalk pencil, but it's safer for fine or delicate fabrics that stain easily or should be dry-cleaned. Considering what you've invested, a few extra minutes for basting is better than damaging valuable fabric.

Use tailor's tacks to transfer marks to two fabric layers. This stitching technique requires large basted loops. Use silk thread or several strands of contrast cotton thread.

To make tailor's tacks, thread a needle and bring the ends together to create a double thread thickness. Leaving a 2" tail, make a 1/8"-long basting stitch at the mark. Backstitch in the previous holes leaving a thread loop; be careful to not catch the thread in the first stitch. Pull the fabric layers apart and snip through the tacks, so you have thread in both fabrics at the mark (4).

Pattern Symbology

COMMONLY FOUND SYMBOLS, what they mean and how to mark them.

Buttons and buttonholes. The pattern will indicate placement for buttons and buttonholes but final locations are best determined after the pattern is altered and fitted to you. Use tailor's tacks, chalk, non-permanent ink pens or stickers.

Darts look like triangles with one jagged edge where they cross a seamline. The dart's legs can be notched or snipped in the seam allowance but the exact location of the dart point should be marked with a pin, tailor's tack or non-permanent ink pen.

Dots, squares and triangles are used for matching purposes and should be transferred. They indicate positioning for pockets and closures. They're usually on a seamline. Tailor's tacks, stickers, chalk or non-permanent markers are the best tools for marking.

Center back/front lines often indicate a fold or are matched to neckline or hemline markings. Depending on the project, you may want to baste a line that indicates center front and center back.

Grainline. The grainline marking isn't transferred to the fabric.

Notches. Single, double and triple notches are used for matching. Always match the same size of notch. These are most often marked with snips or notches in the seam allowance.

Stitching lines indicate where pieces are stitched together. Beginners may prefer to mark these with a tracing wheel and paper. As you gain more experience you can use the machine's guide to help you sew consistent seams without marking seamlines.

Mark What?

Transfer markings for the following pattern details to ensure project success:
  • Center front and center back
  • Notches
  • Dots and squares to be matched
  • Darts
  • Pleats
  • Beginning and ending of gathered or eased areas
  • Hemlines
  • Placement lines for pockets, tabs, buttons, buttonholes, etc.
  • Position lines for embroidery or decorative stitching
  • Stitching lines when available
    Elizabeth Barry is an 18-year sewing veteran with hundreds of articles for sewing, quilting and craft publications to her credit. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son.


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