A Stitcher's Supply Guide: Fabric Pens

So you have your fabric, hoop, thread, pattern, etc. and now you're wondering how on Earth you go about transferring your pattern or design onto your fabric? Should you use a regular pencil or pen? Chalk? Or risk investing money into one of the many so-called fabric pens available at craft stores? Luckily for you, I've already spent way too long on the fabric tool aisle in several different stores and interrogated fellow stitchers about what they use, to come up with a list of what I think are the best tools for the job.

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Some embroidery artists will tell you that you can use any regular writing utensil, such as a ball-point pen or graphite pencil, to trace or draw your design onto fabric. I strongly advise against this, and here's why: they won't erase. If you write on your fabric with a ball-point pen it will not come off. Maybe you are super skilled and draw/trace everything perfectly on the first try, and if so, huzzah for you! If however you are more like myself, i.e.-not a robot, you may want to try another option so as not to waste perfectly good fabric and time. I almost NEVER trace my patterns perfectly. I always need to shift a line slightly or adjust something, and sometimes I just want the ability to change my mind.

Here are my four favorite embroidery pens, including one that shows up on dark fabric, in order of how much I like them.

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Let's begin at the bottom. When I first started embroidery I used the bottom two pens almost exclusively. They are the Dritz brand Mark-B-Gone pens that can usually be found at Joann's, Michael's, or online via Amazon. The bottom pen is a fine-tipped pen, which makes a neater line than the regular one, however it doesn't do well on fabrics with a wider weave (linen, canvas, etc). These pens go on in a slightly obnoxious blue color and rinse off with cold water. I found that if I just tried to rinse the marked sections of fabric, the ink residue would bleed out to the edges of the wet section and I would have to re-rinse it. You are better off rinsing your piece right up to the edges of the hoop thoroughly the very first time. Be warned--the white version of this pen (for dark fabrics) is a terrible piece of rubbish that does not work at all.

Below is an example of what the regular large-tipped Mark-B-Gone pen looks like on fabric.

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Finding a tool to trace onto dark fabrics was super tricky. I probably wasted $30 on different pencils/pens/chalks that didn't work well before I settled on the Clover brand Fine-tipped White Marking Pen. The chalks were all really messy and made too thick of a line to be useful. I used a couple of pencils which claimed that they would rinse off and DIDN'T. This Clover White Marking Pen makes a really fine but totally visible line and is best removed by steaming. Just rinsing didn't work well enough for me, so I usually turn the iron on hot and pump the steam button a few times over the marked area, being really careful not to actually iron my work.

The one major pitfall of this particular pen is that it has delayed visibility. You can't actually see what you write with it right away because the ink takes a few seconds to show up. This means you have to work really slowly and carefully, sometimes stopping to wait and make sure you're doing a good job. Annoying? Yes. Still the best tool for dark fabrics? Yes.

Here's an example of what the pen looks like on navy fabric.

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But what do I use most often these days? If I'm working on anything other than navy or black fabric, my favorite tool by far is the Pilot FriXion Erasable Ballpoint Pen. I learned about it from another savvy stitcher a few months ago, ordered one and have never looked back. This pen looks and writes like a normal ball-point pen but can be erased using a hot blow dryer. I absolutely love the way it goes on smoothly and makes a super fine, black line (no more blue!). I am honestly kicking myself for not knowing about this sooner!

Here's what it looks like on fabric.

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So sleek, right? Hopefully this post will save some beginning embroidery enthusiasts from wasting time and money on tracing tools that don't work.

Stay tuned later this week for a post about sharps (needles and snips). Happy stitching!

Lauren HoltonComment