Being able to draw a straight line to follow with a seam or make a series of dots to indicate exact spots for buttons, pleats or darts means you have to mark your fabric... often on the right side... often where it could be seen on the finished project! Sounds scary, right? Only if you're considering using a Sharpie®. There are special tools made precisely for fabric marking, and some of the very best we've found come from Sewline products, distributed in the USA, Canada and South Africa by United Notions, the parent company of Moda Fabrics. Our pals at Moda introduced us to Sewline last year, and after testing them on several of our own projects, we're here to recommend them to you.
Designed in Japan for quilting, embroidery and crafts, Sewline products are finely engineered and perform beautifully. The brand launched in 2008 with impressive product development reliance on consultation with and testing by sewing, quilting and craft experts. This professional advice is evident in the very smart design of the finished products.
The same company also produces writing instruments for Parker, Cross and PaperMate, and their depth of experience in quality implement design comes through in these fabric-based tools. If you've spent much time at all here on Sew4Home, you know we always emphasize paying attention to the tools, fabric and notions that go into creating your project. Quality in = quality out.
United Notions is a distributor to independent sewing and quilting retailers. So, you won't find Sewline products in the chain stores. However, there is a handy state-by-state dealer locator on the United Notions website. If you're outside of the United Notions distribution area, we suggest you contact Sewline directly for availability in your area.
The Sewline website also offers a variety of videos in several languages, showing how to use the tools, how to re-fill them, and outlining precautions for fabrics and use.
Our number one recommendation is to always (and we do mean ALWAYS) test any marking tool on a scrap of the actual fabric you're using to be sure of the results, and always read the package directions. One important note to remember is that most liquid removers are meant to be allowed to dry naturally. Be careful about ironing, as sometimes heat can permanently set a mark.
Two things we loved right off the bat about these pencils: 1) they come in FIVE different colors: black, white, pink, yellow and green - so you can always find a color that works with the fabric you're using; and 2) they are refillable, so are much more economical in the long run.
The lead uses specially formulated ceramic technology to produce a clear, fine line that isn't at all gritty but is strong enough to resist snapping under pressure. The lead extends into position with a couple clicks on the end of the pen, just like a mechanical pencil for drafting. And, all the pencils come with a built in eraser, which easily removes the lines on most fabrics. You can also use a damp cloth or the Sewline Aqua Eraser (more on that below).
One option I found particularly awesome were the Sewline Trio pens. These reminded me of those ultra-cool pens/pencils I had as a kid that were a rainbow of colors in one. I could send my best friend a secret note, and with a simple click, each letter could be a different color. The Trio tools are quite similar, and are a good example of putting standard writing implement technology into use for the fabric specialty pens. There are two options, each with a 360˚ rotating mechanism to allow you to choose from three tips. The Sewline Trio Colors includes black, white and pink tips. The Sewline Trio gives you black, white and a tracer tip.
Fabric pens remind me of those invisible ink pens the secret agents use. Since I always secretly wanted to be James Bond (Note: not a Bond Girl, but actually James Bond!), I've tired many, many different pen options. My disappointments were always with my line bleeding into the weave of my fabric, and how thoroughly the lines could be removed. The Sewline pen options did not disappoint. The Duo Markers have a nib designed especially for textiles. They make a clean, even line that does not bleed on cottons or cotton-blends.
There is also an AirErasable fabric pen and the Styla pen. Both of these have a 0.8mm ceramic roller ball point for super fine, sharp lines. These are excellent options for fine fabrics. The air-soluble marks will disappear from most fabrics within 2-10 days. However, they can be immediately erased with water or better yet, dabbed off with the Sewline AquaEraser.
I think it's helpful to know a company has clearly thought through not just making the mark, but also removing the mark. Because, in sewing, that is equally, if not more, important.
The Sewline AquaEraser is the flagship product, and I was again very intrigued by how they incorporated the best techniques from regular writing implements. The fluid used is a special detergent that is mixed with your own tap water. (I did not test whether or not it would work with plain ol' Dawn dishsoap; I figured it was best not to mess with success.) You simply unscrew the end of the pen and siphon the solution, just like sucking ink into a fountain pen. The absorbent fiber point is kept damp by gently squeezing the center grips around the pen. Dab the point onto the fabric to absorb the mark; it wicks away the color. When the point becomes discolored it can be replaced.
The Duo Marker is matched with the Duo Eraser, which lays down a line of eraser fluid to remove the pen mark without damaging the fabric. You can buy the markers and erasers individually, but they also come in handy marker/eraser double-packs.
The fabric eraser that is built into all the pencils is also available as a separate long eraser-only tool.
As we mentioned above, it is super important to test both the marking and the removing on a scrap of the actual fabric you're using to be sure of the results.
Other Cool Stuff
If you've always been a fan of rotary tracing wheels, you will love the Sewline Tracer pen. It has a 1.6mm rolling ball that creates a smooth indentation with very little pressure. Use it with tracing papers to draw complex markings, such as combination darts or pleating guide lines. It's also a great tool for marking folds on shear fabrics, such as organza or fine silk. Sewline suggests using the Tracer in combination with the AquaEraser. First, create the indentation line with the Tracer, then apply a line of liquid along it with the AquaEraser, then fold. Easier to fold and hold... any time something rhymes, that's a plus!
Our friend, Debbi Duckworth, notions guru at United Notions, tells us this is one of her must-have tools. Debbi is an amazing hand quilter with a love of appliqué. She says the Sewline Glue Pen is her go-to solution every time. It's easy to apply, holds like a dream, and there's no sticky, runny residue. It washes away if the project will eventually be washed, but even if it's a non-washable item, the glue never dries stiff or messy. The glue is colored so you can easily see where you've applied it (blue, yellow or pink), but it dries clean and clear. Besides Debbi's appliqué suggestion, you can use the Glue Pen to hold zippers, ribbons and even buttons in place prior to sewing.
We were very impressed with the ability to get refills for all the important elements: pencil leads, erasers, eraser tips, glue, absorbent points, even the special AquaEraser detergent. Even if the original tool is a bit more expensive up front, that is more than made up by economical use over time.
Sewline has a great little hand needle threader United Notions will be introducing to their independent retailers this summer. This smart little tool will work with 9-12 size needles and is supposed to have a one-click threader action. We'll be on the lookout, and will let you know what we think.
One thing they didn't have: chalks
We highly recommend the Sewline products, and they really have a very comprehensive offering. However, the one item they don't carry is tailor's chalk, one of the oldest and most common marking tools. We still like to have chalk in our marking tool kit. Not for blackboards or sidewalks, tailor's chalk is formulated for fabric and is very easy to remove. It comes as a handy pencil; a solid rectangle or square, which gives you nice hard edges for long marks; and as powder inside a refillable tube with a little roller wheel at the tip, which is easy to handle, very precise and mess-proof.