Markers can spike a pretty controversial discussion. Seems every kind of marker, at some time, has ruined the best intentions of even the most able sewist. There are stories of marks reappearing like the Walking Dead. Some horror stories relate many many different ways to remove some despicable marker from some very expensive fabric. Everyone has a technique. Brides with purple marks on their bustles, babies with marks appearing two hours before an heirloom portrait is to be taken, silk charmeuse marked with tailors chalk and wax permanently ironed into the silk, oyyyyy, I could go on and on but I am sure you have heard many of these near urban legends already.
Markers and marking are nothing to be afraid of. Above are all the markers I use, There is no perfect marker and the best you can do is use the proper marker for the appropriate fabric and task. Above, you see in my marking stash wax tracing paper, Frixion pens, Chaconer marking tools, tailor's chalk, #2 "fine" mechanical pencils, Crayola washable markers, serrated and non serrated wheels to use with the wax marking paper and assorted water erasable and air erasable markers. Let's go through them one by one.
I love these and use them quite frequently. Frixion pens look and work like any pen. But heat will erase them. You mark, you sew, you iron it, the mark is gone. They make a fine line which is so important at times and often hard to come by with markers. One thing with all markers, ask yourself, "am I going to be sewing right over this mark?" If so, don't fret the erasing part too much. If you are tracing a pattern to embroider with a marker and it will all be covered with your stitches, what's to worry? Button going on top of the mark? No matter.
Back to the Frixion Pens, they are heat sensitive but they are also cold sensitive, pretty magical, So that tiny little spot that you ironed away into oblivion is really hiding in the fibers. Bring that fabric out into cold weather and the spot will come right back. However if you wash the piece after construction and with a bit of simple soaking remove the ink from the garment, it is gone and won't come back in the cold. If you need a fine line, these are great. I use them all the time, no issues. Disadvantages: sometimes they dry out before you are ready to call them empty. I get mine at Staples but they are at any office supply place as well as notions purveyors online. They come in packs which are a better deal.
Waxed tracing paper and wheels:
This is great for marking darts, or long lines needing accuracy. There is waxed and unwaxed tracing paper. The unwaxed paper is powdery and when you lay it against your fabric the color will brush off on to the fabric. Only hitch is it is a bitch to remove. The more you rub and try to clean it off, the more it embeds. The non waxed paper is awful stuff and what is available at the chains. When you see it, keep walking. The waxed tracing paper I really like.
Let's imagine you have just cut out a sleeve. You have two sleeves right sides facing and on top is placed your pattern for the sleeve. Now it's time to mark. You slide one sheet of the paper colored, wax side up under the bottom sleeve in the stack. The color is facing the wrong side of the bottom piece. Now slide back the pattern piece and place another piece of tracing paper colored side down against the wrong side of the top sleeve in the stack. Put your pattern piece back in place. Take a serrated wheel and run it along the dart lines or wherever you have lines to be marked. It does a good fine line with usually just one pass. . Disadvantages? The wax marks will melt into the fabric once ironed, sometimes not a good thing. Other times they disappear beautifully. Do a sample on a scrap before using. The serrated wheel can perforate your dart lines and tear the pattern piece. The wheel can also be tough on delicate thin fabrics like silk organdies and charmeuses. These papers and wheels are best used on solid medium weight fabrics like cottons, woolens, no silks. They are quick and easy to use and clear to see when sewing, giving a really sharp line. Where to get? I've been told that "Singer" tracing paper at the chains is waxed but I don't personally know that. Big sheets are available from Richard the Thread.
Wax Tailor's Chalk:
This is traditionally used in tailoring and great for marking wools. In my hand is a "sharpener". You run the edge of the tailor's chalk through that little metal piece and it will sharpen the edge, important if you need a fine line. This little sharpener holds a piece of chalk and has a brush on the other side to brush the chalk away if desired. You can also iron the wax chalk away on woolens, Disadvantage: On silks the wax is absorbed into the silk and when ironed spreads and looks like a really nasty grease stain that will not come out. Once again, samples should be made, ironed and judged before using on your fabric. I like the way tailor's chalk feels in my hand when I sew. If nothing else, you look pretty professional when using it.
Fine point #2 mechanical pencils:
Don't swoon, but this is one of my favorite markers but it does require a bit of prep. You cannot beat a fine point mechanical pencil for a really really fine line. This is what I use, believe it or not, on most of the marking on heirloom garments. It is wonderful for marking fine linens,organdies, and voiles. How do you get it out? That's where the trick comes in. I starch the fabric well before marking. I do a light spray, iron, and repeat at least two more times. You are building up the starch layers which will make a barrier between the graphite and the fabric. These pencils also allow you to make a very visible fine line with the absolute slightest touch. Once your starch is dry, mark your linen with the slightest of touches. When the garment is complete the pencil should wash out nicely but again, the area may just be covered with a button or embroidery and no need to worry. I have marked many an heirloom garment with these pencils, my personal first choice. I know others don't agree with me on this and that is fine. Personally, I have never had an issue.
Chaconer or Chaco Liner:
These are chalk filled little containers that have a teensy serrated wheel on the end. You roll the Chaconer along and the wheel dispenses the dust and makes a really sharp line. I like these a lot. The line is clear and sharp. Disadvantage: I don't use these on delicate fabrics because of the serrated wheel but on anything else they are quite good. Advantage: they seem to last forever and do a great job. You can get refills for the red type, called a Chaco Liner. You can find these in the quilting department at the chains.
Other pencil type markers:
These are two pencils I like a bit. The blue washout pencil lasts a long time compared to the fine line marker type , although I am always a bit leery of washout pencils. And it's nice to have the tailor's chalk in a pencil form if that's what you are most comfortable with. Disadvantage: sometimes the leads fall out. Advantage: You don't replace them as often.
It was an "aha" moment discovering these. I love these and use them quite a bit. They are great for when you want to mark squares, circles, triangles, etc. Make yourself a little "legend" on paper of the marks and their corresponding color used. It can really help when doing more complicated designs where matching is critical. And if you know any three year old who uses these you know they really are washable. Disadvantage: They won't give you a real fine line, but often that isn't needed. As with any washout marker, do samples first that include ironing the sample. I think every sewing room should have a batch of these, and hide them from the kids!
Washout and air erasable markers:
I lumped these together because, frankly, these are the markers I use the least, unlike many sewists. The air erasable markers are only good for a limited time and if you sew in unpredictable or often interrupted fits and spurts, air erasable markers are not for you. They are temporary, sort of. There are many tales of them re appearing and the ensuing efforts to make them permanently disappear. The Mark B Gone washout pens and others of their type disappear like the crayolas with water. Legends abound about those misfiring as well. Many claim washing them out with soap in the water actually sets them. Another urban sewing legend? The Mark B Gone does provide a really fine line which appeals to many,particularly embroiders. They are easy to "draw" with compared to other markers and therefore great for quilting and embroidery. Disadvantage: They don't last that long and need replacement more frequently than other markers. Samples need to be done to make sure they will not come back on your fabric after the fact.
There are many options out there for marking your fabric. DO SAMPLES. Avoid unhappy accidents by testing and ironing the marker on a sample piece of your fabric. Try to get rid of it after ironing and before ironing. When you get into a sewing frenzy and start ironing and sewing it's hard to remember there is a little purple dot on the right side of the garment. Ironing could make it permanent.
My favorites and must haves: the Chaconer, the mechanical pencils, the Crayola markers, Frixion pens and the wax tracing paper and wheel. Experiment and see what works best for you and your project.
( I have no affiliation to any of these products or vendors. Only in my dreams do people give me markers to endorse and try out. These are just my personal and honest opinions of the products based on years of use.)
Many of these products can be found at the chains, from Richard the Thread and Nancy's Notions. I am sure there are others as well. Happy marking!......Bunny