Note: Since I wrote this, I got another set of markers, and did a quick test on cotton, this time letting the marks dry for two days, and the colors didn’t seem to wash out as well. The green and blue washed out better, exactly the opposite of my previous results. So do your own tests before marking all over the right side of your fabric!
For all of the years that I’ve been sewing, I’ve struggled to find a good fabric marking tool. I’ve tried pencils that break as soon as they are sharpened and sometimes don’t wash out. I’ve tried air-soluble markers that fade too soon and can’t be ironed or the marks become permanent (how can you avoid ironing your marks?). Traditional chalk isn’t too bad, but you have to sharpen it frequently to get a fine line, and it’s difficult or impossible to use on some fabrics, like stretchy knits and fleece.
Well, thanks to Lauren’s blog post last May, I found the perfect marking tool for most fabrics: Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers. The Ultra-Clean markers wash out even better than regular washable markers, and are better than any marker I’ve found in the notions aisle of a fabric store. I used them to mark all over white t-shirts I sewed, and the marks washed out without a trace.
Now that I have a marking tool that I’m confident will wash out, I find myself marking all sorts of places that I wouldn’t have before. My favorite use for these markers is marking hems. I mark the crease line on the right side of the fabric using a marker along the edge of a quilting ruler. It makes pressing the hem much easier to have it marked first rather than trying to measure as I press.
Lauren did some testing on these markers, but I accidentally discovered that they don’t wash out of silk as well as cotton, so I did some further testing with fabric I had on hand.
I didn’t have white fabric in every fiber I wanted to test, so I just picked the lightest colors I had. I tested cotton, nylon, polyester, rayon (viscose), silk, linen, and wool. The eight geometric shapes on the upper portion of the swatches were drawn with each color of Crayola Ultra-Clean washable markers. The three ovals below them were done with regular Crayola washable markers for comparison.
I basted the ends of my swatches together into a tube to keep the fabric from twisting up in the washer (that was last year’s tip). I let it dry for a couple of hours, then I threw it in the washer with some towels and washed it in cold water.
For all fabrics except silk and wool, all of the marks from both the Ultra-clean and regular washable markers disappeared without a trace. On the off-white silk swatch, I could just barely detect marks from the Ultra-Clean markers, but the blue and red regular washable markers left noticeable pink stains (they look worse in person than in the picture). On the tan colored wool, I could just barely see a pink stain from the red regular washable marker.
Even after this test, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Crayola Ultra-Clean markers on light colored silk and wool. I wouldn’t use the regular washable markers on silk or wool, though. Surprisingly, black seems to wash out better than red or blue, so on silk or wool I’d stick to the black marker and mark sparingly. Also, on the back of the package the markers came in, it says that it may take several washes to completely remove stains, so I bet that a couple more washes would get everything out.
These markers are great, but they won’t work for everything. Obviously, you can only use washable markers on fabric that will be washed. Since I never sew anything that will be dry cleaned, that’s not an issue for me. Markers will of course not show up on really dark colored fabrics. For dark colors, I use white tailor’s chalk or a chalk wheel for marking fabric and a white china marker for tracing around patterns.
Don’t use washable markers on fusible interfacing or on fabric that will be interfaced. The ink mixes with the glue on the interfacing and becomes permanent.