F A B R I C P E N S
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 and have put together a list of what I think are the best tools for the job.
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 as I stitch.
Here are the three pens that work the best—two that can be used on light fabrics and one for dark.
The Dritz brand Mark-B-Gone pen—this can be usually be found at Joann's, Michael's, or online via Amazon. This pen has blue ink that can be rinsed off with cool water. Sometimes it takes 2-3 rinses to get the marks to disappear completely. 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. This pen is effective, however I really dislike the obnoxious blue ink and if I can avoid getting my embroidery wet, I will (keep reading).Be warned--the white version of this pen (for dark fabrics) is a terrible piece of rubbish that does not work at all.
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.
So, what pen 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 last year, 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—no rinsing, hooray! I absolutely love the way it goes on smoothly and makes a super fine, black line (no more blue!).
I hope this little guide helps you avoid wasting time/money/fabric and helps you get stitching ASAP.