Tailor’s Tacks vs. Pin Marking

Hello again! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, full of yummy treats, family moments and sewing-related gifts. (I sure did! More on that later.)

Back to the Vogue Bolero! I’ve cut it out and now I’m marking… not my favourite step. Especially if you hate cutting out, too, you probably aren’t a fan of marking either. I personally love the planning and cutting stage, but loathe the marking! Because it’s so tedious, I often ‘cheat’ and pin-mark everything. Although that doesn’t always work, so occasionally I will use tailor’s tacks for marking. Today, here’s a quick run-down of marking methods!

Here’s how I pin-mark:

After cutting out your fabric, leave the tissue pattern piece attached. Poke pins through the markings through all layers. In this example, I’m using a perforated pattern so I’m centering the pins through the holes. If you’re using a printed pattern, stick the pin in the middle of the black dot.

Now, carefully remove the tissue. It’s easy for me because the holes are already there – but if you’re using tissue, gently pull the tissue around the heads of the pins, so you’re only making a tiny hole. Use small-head pins for less damage to the pattern piece.

Flip the fabric piece over carefully, so the sharp ends of the pins are pointing upwards.

Start with one pin-mark at a time. Take a second pin, and poke it as close as possible to the other pin in the opposite direction. We’re doing this so we can separate our two layers of fabric, right now we only have pins marking one layer.

Repeat for each pin. When you’re done there should be an equal number of pins on each side of the fabric.

Slowly separate the two layers of fabric. Be careful not to let the pins fall out! If your fabric is very loosely woven or delicate the pins will slip out easily.

Now, your pin marking is done! It’s a fast though sometimes sloppy method of marking. They don’t teach you this in home ec class! (Or do they? It’s been a while..)

I know that tailor’s tacks are a much better method. They stay in better than pins, and are easily visible from both sides of the fabric. They’re easy to remove and don’t leave a mark!

Here’s how to make tailor’s tacks:

Start with your pattern piece still attached to the fabric. Thread a hand-sewing needle with contrasting colour thread.

Then, take small stitches through the markings. Again it’s so easy with this pattern since it’s perforated! If your pattern is printed, you can either take the stitches through the tissue (and remove it gently afterwards), or lift the tissue paper to make your markings.

I took a small 1/8″ stitch through both layers of fabric, pulling the thread until there was only 1/2″ of a thread tail left. Then, I made a second stitch, leaving a loop of thread that was about the same length as the thread tail. You can make your tailor’s tacks thicker if you want, by making a few more stitches. Close-up of thread loops:

Now remove the tissue paper, if you haven’t yet.

Peel apart the two layers of fabric.

Spread the layers apart, as shown below. You can see the thread tacks are holding the two layers together.

Snip through the middle of each tailor’s tack. You’ll end up with a cute little tuft of thread on each side of your fabric.

And voila! Tidy little thread-markings, showing on both sides of the fabric, that won’t stain or permanently mark your fabric, or fall out like pins do.

Tailor’s tack tip: keep a hand-sewing needle threaded in a bright contrast colour. Then when you need to make a marking, it’s all ready to go! It seems simple, but just knowing I need to go find a spool of thread and a hand-sewing needle makes me not want to bother.

On the Vogue Bolero, I used both methods. I couldn’t use my handy purple fade-away marking pen, so I pin-marked the darts, and tailor-tacked the pleats.

Why? Well, the markings for the darts are really only in place until I stitch the dart, so they only need to last as I walk from the dining table to the sewing machine.

The markings for the pleat on the sleeve need to last as I sew up seams, press, and man-handle the bolero until it’s just about finished, so pin-markings would fall out for sure! I needed a more permanent method of marking. (Plus, I wanted an excuse to write about tailor’s tacks and add them to the Sewtionary, which I’ll update shortly.)

What’s your favourite marking method: are you a lazy speedy pin-marker like me, or a devoted tailor’s tacker? What else do you use for marking?

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36 Responses to Tailor’s Tacks vs. Pin Marking

  1. Shannon December 27, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    I am most decidedly a quick and easy pin marker. I hate messing with tailor’s tacks.

  2. A Sewn Wardrobe December 27, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    I’m really naughty – I use a fading ink fabric pen. I mark the dots through the pattern, and then use my clear ruler to line up the dots and draw the dart.

    I tried tailor’s tacks once but they fell out so quickly. I’m sure I’ll need to use them again in the future, however, on diffifult-to-mark fabrics like boucle.

    Good luck with the bolero! It’s going to be super-cute!

  3. Jenna December 27, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    I’ve never used tailor’s tacks, but it looks easier than I assumed it was. And I’ve actually never pinned marked either (of course, I’ve never really worked with trick fabrics, either:)

    I use my disappearing marker or chalk. My favorite new notion is actually a pen-like chalk holder.that comes with different colors & a sharpener.


  4. K-Line December 27, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    What a fantastic post – I have tried to understand the tailor tack idea for so long and this really clarified it for me. I do something I haven’t heard of anyone else doing (or admitting to!): I use my chalk or fading pen to mark the wide (SA) edges of the darts – making sure to retain the angle of the line, then I fold the pattern back to the end of the dart (the skinny part). Then I line up the upper lines with the centre of a horizontal mark I make at the dart end. I use a ruler to draw the dart. So far so good. I don’t think it takes any longer than doing the tack or pin method.

  5. ellen December 27, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    I use dressmaker’s tracing paper, and the tracing wheel. I have a serated wheel and a smooth wheel for different fabrics. Unfortunately, my favorite tracing paper is at least 25 or 30 years old, and it’s days are numbered. I haven’t loved any of the newer ones I’ve bought, but will probably will continue with this method, as it’s very quick.

  6. TanitIsis December 27, 2010 at 8:22 am #

    I tend to write on my fabric. If I’m being good I’ll use my chalk or a disappearing marker or even a sliver of soap. If I’m being bad I use pencil or ballpoint pen or even a regular marker. Depending on the colour and texture of the fabric and what I can find at the time. Thanks for the tailor tack demo! I keep meaning to give them a try (and I always have hand-needles, usually threaded, hanging off my pincushion.

  7. G December 27, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    I’m the fast type. I snip, I pin, I use tracing paper and wheel. Or a water soluble pen so don’t panic if you see me licking at my fabric. I’m most likely making a pen mark disappear…

  8. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) December 27, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Tailor’s tacks all the way. I can do them faster than anything else. I enjoy doing them, after I cut out, while the pattern pieces are still on the cutting table I do all the markings and snip all the notches. Then my project can “rest” and it is ready to go.

  9. Irene December 27, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    I only do tailor’s tacks when no quick method will do. Mostly I use tracing paper, but I don’t use a tracing wheel to make unsightly lines – I use a pencil or pen to just mark the dots in the same places where you would use tailor’s tacks. With more stable markings I know that I won’t goof up. I’ve tried the pin marking method and lost pins from their places a few too many times. You might also want to check out a product called Miracle Marker. Looks like a sliver of soap. Marks a white line (or dot) and disappears completely under the heat of the iron. Only good on darker colours, and you do have to test on a scrap, but on medium to dark wool – can’t be beat.

  10. Sabrina Clementine December 27, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    I just recently learned about tailors tacks, and I think i’ll give them a try before I completely discount them….they just seem kind of tedious. (Marking is so very tedious in general though). Up until now I’ve been using a silver pencil, which is quick, but since I rush through the process sometimes the markings aren’t very accurate, lol.

  11. Jennifer December 27, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    That is a great tutorial for the Sewtionary! I usually do what A Sewn Wardrobe does to mark mine. I have also done a form of pin marking, however as I was beginner when I used that technique and kinda making it up as I went, it was far from precise. It wasn’t quite like you have shown here!

    I have a question for you about sewing silks and marking. I know that pins will leave holes in silk, and tailor’s tacks will possibly leave marks as well. What would you recommend to use to mark? Chalk? I am scared about how to mark my new and very expensive silk!

  12. Venus de Hilo December 27, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    I’m habitually and horrifically lazy about marking, and do it as little as possible, usually with pins, sometimes a pencil or even a pen from my desk, depending on the fabric and where the mark is. When I use pins I will tuck the point back through the fabric, to hold them in place better… I do have to remember that the spot where the head-end of the pin goes through is the one to match up.

    Tailor tacks have always looked like so much extra work, but your demo shows they are not. I think I’ll give them a try next time I’m cutting/marking a garment pattern.

  13. Sherry December 27, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    Hope you had a lovely Christmas Tasia! Maybe you could join the Vintage Sewalong 2011 with this pattern!
    I use tailors chalk to mark my dots – I usually chalk around my pattern, so it is convenient to do it at the same time. I use stiffer pattern paper so this works, and my dart markings are holes in the pattern similar to the old perforated tissue patterns, except the holes are on the central dart fold line. I place them like they do in manufacturing – there is only one hole set 1cm back from the apex of the dart, and another hole is used only if the dart is shaped, and the base of the dart legs are notched. This way it is easy to fold and sew your dart at the machine, no pins required! In the industry they actually drill these holes through the multiple fabric layers, but because the hole is on the fold line of the dart it is enclosed.
    I use tailors tacks sometimes when I sew bridal – they are handy on laces and nets where chalk marks get lost. I haven’t tried any of the vanishing markers, I suppose I am sceptical of them, rightly or wrongly, and besides I have a large box of tailors chalk needing to be used up!

  14. Faye Lewis December 27, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    You name it – and I’ve used it as a marking method! Marking has often been the most frustrating part of sewing for me as some fabrics simply do not adhere to marking very well. I will often use the tracing paper/wheel method, however tracing paper is not what it use to be and at times just does not mark for me. So I’ve also resorted to pencils, ink pens, sharpies, chalk and even as a last resort the tailor’s tack. I’m scared to use the pins, scared they won’t stay in place and then I won’t get accurate marks. Tailor’s tacks have at times come out. I’ve used little adhesive dots especially on knits. At times I’ve been left with permanent sharpie marks that I’ve just had to pretend weren’t there.

  15. Gail December 27, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    I was taught tailor’s tacking in a pattern making class. But I rarely do more than pin marks with tailor’s chalk. Vintage patterns have these holes, but modern patterns rarely do, so unless you want to get busy on your pattern with a hole punch pin marking is the only option.

  16. Stephanie December 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    I often pin mark (or chalk) the ‘point’ of a dart, & then add two small snips at the end points of the dart. Based on these markers, I press the dart in place & sew it with a nice steady line. I’ve found this to be a really neat shortcut for the shorter darts you have on bodices or in skirts. It’s no good for the long bust to hip darts in a one piece dress. It works very nicely on stable fabrics that can be pressed into shape, anything that is difficult to press into shape or anything that’s super slippery doesn’t really work that well.

  17. Tamsin December 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I always use tailors tacks – mostly because that how my mum taught me, mostly because it never occurred to me to do anything else. I also have kids running around and no dedicated sewing space at the moment, so pins falling out is a bad idea!

  18. Tasia December 27, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    @Jennifer: Hi Jennifer! Marking silk, that’s a good question! Sherry left a good comment about marking *inside* the dart lines, like they do in manufacturing. That way if you leave a mark it’s hidden in the dart fold! Of course you have to remember how far to sew from the marking, since you’re not sewing *on* the marks themselves. Pin and mark in the seam allowances as much as possible. Chalk sounds like a good option as it should wash or brush away. Just be careful using coloured chalk, especially on light colours! The best tip is to test your marking method on a scrap of the real fabric, to be sure it will fade, brush off, or wash away. For my most recent silk dress, I underlined the bodice, so all my marking was done on the underlining fabric! I’ve also sewn silk and pin-marked, it all depends on the fabric. Definitely do a test on scrap, especially if your fabric is expensive!

    Thanks all for the comments on marking! Glad to know I’m not the only one who pin-marks and detests the marking stage :)

  19. Serendipity Handmade December 27, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    My sewing instructor is a traditionalist so I’m learning to make tailor tacks. But if I can mark something with chalk I do, because I’m even lazier than you say that you are and I want to get it over with quickly!

  20. dei December 28, 2010 at 4:31 am #

    Excellent post. I will use your method of tailor tacks from now on. Happy Holidays to you too!

  21. Sheri December 28, 2010 at 5:45 am #

    I make dots with a pencil or pen. Then I connect the dots with a Clover chalk pen. You can find them in the quilting isle. They come in different colors. The point of the pen is a tiny wheel, and the pen is filled with powdered chalk. The pens glide very nicely over the fabric.

  22. alice December 28, 2010 at 6:47 am #

    i just started making tailor’s tacks when i sewed a sweater knit dress and knew the fabric would not hold chalk or tracing wheel very well at all. and i found that i like to make tailor’s tacks, and hand basting my dart lines. i just love using a contrast thread that matches beautifully with the fabric i’m sewing – like an pale lilac on black. for me, the beauty takes the tedium out of marking. and i like using those random bits of thread left over in bobbins!

    this is for projects i’m super invested in and tricky fabrics. when i made my niece and nephew’s pj’s for xmas out of easy to mark cottons, i just used chalk.

  23. HipDroppedStitches December 28, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    Thank you so much for this post! Tailor’s tacks will certainly come in handy for me!

  24. Maureen December 28, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    I think I’ve used every method invented, but I always return to tailor tacks! They don’t fall out, they don’t fade and they help me remember which side of the fabric is the “right” side. It’s also a good way to get rid of the little bits of thread left over from a project.

  25. jadestar December 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    I tend to use snips at the edge of the fabric in the seam allowance and chalk. I have yet to try tailors tacks, although they look very efficient. I was watching Claire Shaeffers Couture Sewing Techniques, and I think she said to use embroidery cotton (6 strands twisted together) as it is thicker, and doesn’t fall out as easily. It also means one stitch rather than multiple so quicker. :)

  26. Clare December 29, 2010 at 3:28 am #

    Ugh, I hate marking too! I tried tailors tacks once but found they fell out quite easily (it was quite a slippery fabric though). My usual technique is to pin mark first, and then draw a dot where the pin is using chalk or a fabric pen. It’s almost as quick as pin marking but I then don’t worry about anything falling out.
    I laughed out loud at G licking the fabric pen marks away! That’s just the kind of thing I would do :)

  27. Bethany December 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    I don’t know.. Tailor’s tacks are mighty simple. I squealed with delight the first time I used them. I used to do something akin to your pin tacking before learning of tailor’s tacks. It leaves a lot of latitude for mark-wandering, in other words, the mark on the front piece ending up in a different spot than on the back piece.

    In conclusion: I’m a tailor tack girl.

  28. Tasia December 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    Thanks for all the comments and thoughts! And here I thought a post about marking would be boring. I’ve been using the cool chalk-marker thingy I got for Christmas and it’s working really well. Brushes off easily, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Overall it works great though!

  29. Welovesewing July 26, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    More than a year later, I am only now reading this post! I use carbon paper and a tracing wheel although carbon paper is not available in the Philippines, so my supply is running out. I teach my students this method too, as I cut with big seam allowances to allow for fitting adjustments so we need to mark all the sewing lines as well. I also pin mark, but then replace the pins with a chalk or pencil, or disappearing pen dot/line. I use tailors tacks on anything thicker like wool/corduroy, which is difficult to mark accurately otherwise. If you have problems with them falling out, use special basting thread which is “hairy”; the small hairs grip the fabric better.

  30. ms. modiste January 16, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Just thought I’d chime in to say, I do a variation of pin-marking for circles. I place the pins as you say and then, after I’ve removed the tissue, I use my chalk marker to draw a little X over the location where the pin pierces the fabric. This allows me to accurately mark any side of any piece of fabric, without re-aligning the pattern piece or worrying about things having shifted. Works for me!

  31. Amie December 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Wow, I thought everyone used tailor tacks! That’s how my mom and my aunt and my 6th grade home ec teacher taught me.
    I think tailor tacks are quick and easy. I can’t remember any falling out. When I start to cut something out, I preload about 3 needles with contrasting thread and “attach” to whatever blouse I have on so they are handy. the tailor tacks are the fastest part of the cutting out process.
    I also clip the Notches inwards.
    Cutting out has never been my most favorite part of sewing. I just started cutting out on 2 ping pong tables my husband raised up to be at a higher level (I’m 6 ft) and I’ve started using rotary cutter. That has taken me awhile to adjust, but I’m getting better. I have trouble moving the pad under the fabric around to the place I’m cutting without messing up the pattern placement.
    This is a great post.

  32. Susanna February 24, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    I am just about to stat sewing my Robson and wanted a way to mark the buttonholes and button placements in a good way and found this on your site! How brilliant! I usually snip my seam allowance and use tracing paper and tracing wheel. However, I have inherited both the wheel and paper from my grandmother who passed away in 1984. Need I say the paper is getting pretty well used. It is palling into bits and any newer paper does not just do the same work as the old. I will definitely try the tailors tacks for the Robson I have just cut out in a blue/black fishbone wool with a floral Kaffe Fassett (line dance) lining! I’ll make sure to report on how it worked out!

  33. Anne October 2, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

    I just asked the same question over on my page at Sew Annie Thing

    I’m sewing a vintage 1940’s dress at the moment and it has soooo many markings that need to be put there so a million and one tailors tacks have been sewn. It’s the one job I wish I had minions for – marking a pattern!

    I’ve always sewn tailors tacks since that’s how my mum taught me – plus i’m the kind of person who gets part way through something and then has to drop and run to do something else so the pinning method i’m sure would let me down!


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