If you have a special fabric for which using tailor's chalk or removable pen is not suitable, then consider going old school and using tailor's tacks. Tailor's tacks use thread to transfer markings and so won’t damage your fabric. With a bit of practice, it won’t take you much longer than other methods of marking fabrics.
What are Tailor's Tacks?
Tailor's tacks are hand-sewn threads used to mark darts, pattern markings and to transfer details from a paper pattern on to the fabric. They are used when traditional marking methods can not be used either due to the delicacy or thickness of the fabric. Tailor's tacks are commonly used in suitmaking and couture.
Use tailor's tacks for -
- Delicate fabrics
- Thick fabrics
Tailor's tacks can be sewn through a single or double layer of fabric. This is particularly useful for bust darts that will be on both sides of the bodice. You don't want double the work!
Thicker fabrics such as wool may be easier to sew in single layers.
Best Fabrics for Tailor's Tacks
FABRICS WITH A PILE - Winter fabrics with a pile such as wool and polar fleece and some knits can benefit from using tailor's tacks as they are hard to use tailor's chalk on due to the nap. Pins will just fall out of really thick fabric or may get lost and prick you later when the garment is finished.
FINE FABRICS - Delicate fabrics such as silk that may damage with pens or chalk are often marked with tailor's tacks. Couture fashion is marked with thread as designers can't risk any chalk or pens near their expensive fabrics.
Would you want to risk pens and chalk on these dresses? That pink silk would show every mark and certainly wouldn't be washed before being sent to the catwalk.
How to Sew Tailor's Tacks
- Thread your needle with a double thread in a high contrast color. There is no need to knot the end.
- Put the paper pattern on top of your fabric. Normally the fabric would already be cut out. If you can't pin your pattern to the fabric to cut out, use pattern weights or cans from your pantry.
- Insert the needle through the paper and both thicknesses of fabric. Leave a 2 inch (5cm) thread tail at the end so there is no danger of it pulling through.
- Stitch through the pattern in an up and down running stitch leaving loops about 1 inch (2.5cm) high.
- At the end, leave a long tail again and cut the thread.
- Once you have done this for all your markings, cut through all your loops.
- Remove the pattern. Be careful you don’t pull any stitches out.
- If you are marking one layer of fabric you are done.
- For two layers of fabric - starting at the outside edge of the fabric, gently separate the layers. Cut through the loops between the 2 layers of fabric. For a dart, you will need to do this one stitch at a time.
- Because your tacks are loose, be careful when handling the fabric. Lay it gently aside until you are ready to sew.
Marking dots is even easier than darts. Once again use a contrast color and thicker thread.
- Thread the needle double and don't knot the end.
- Put the needle down on one side of the dot and come up on the other side, leaving a long tail.
- Put the needle back in the first side and come up on the other side but this time leave a large loop sticking out. My tails and loops are around 1 inch (2.5cm) high. The reason for sewing through twice is to make thicker threads that are less likely to accidentally pull through.
- Cut the loop and end leaving a tail.
- Carefully lift the paper pattern over the ends.
- For fabric that is double, separate the layers gently and cut in between.
Alternatives to Tailor's Tacks
The alternative to tailor's tacks is to mark the fabric either with pins, chalk or another removable pen suitable for fabric.
If your fabric is delicate then tailor's chalk is usually best but you should always test first. When using thick fabrics with a pile, safety pins can be used instead of pins which may disappear into the fabric.
Tailor's Tacks - In Conclusion
So now you know how to use tailor's tacks you are all set to sew professional-looking couture garments with old school techniques that never fail to give great results.