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Marking Fabric and Debunking Misinformation

I learned most of what I know about crafting through books that I picked up from thrift stores, usually published in the 70s and 80s. That probably makes me a major weirdo for my age group, but since I was living in a vehicle at the time I started, I didn’t have constant access to a computer or money … so yeah, major weirdo.

In 2017, I bought a book that had been freshly published, mostly out of morbid curiosity, and I found it to be a major disappointment. For starters, the title was grossly misleading. Secondly, the author left out a huge amount of relevant information, but went into an excessive description about how a-may-zing the purple disappearing pens are for marking fabric, followed up with demonizing the blue water-soluble pens as the most useless invention ever.

Everything the author said was accurate enough for where she lived in the deep South, where it’s humid. But where I live in the arid West, it was thoroughly horrible advice. On dry days, I have used the purple pens then watched the marks disappear in a matter of minutes. I only use them when I need to mark something immediately before cutting or sewing it, because the marks aren’t guaranteed to be there ten minutes later. Blue pens are by far the better option for the climate I live in. So far, I haven’t seen any modern creators mention that local weather patterns can have an effect on tools and fabric.

Books from the 70s are a priceless resource for learning how to accurately mark fabrics when neither pen is an option, especially because they don’t assume that you’re too lazy to spend five minutes on doing a good job.

The sewing and embroidery community has since decided that “heat erase” pens are the greatest thing ever, but I strongly recommend against them — on the grounds that they don’t actually erase. It’s color changing technology, and heat makes the ink turn from dark to white. The ink is permanent, you run the risk of bleaching the marks into fabric that isn’t white, and if there’s any chance of the project being exposed to cold (mailing a Christmas gift?), those marks are going to come right back in all their hideous glory and make a bad first impression. So please, save the heat erase pens for design sketches and notes, and don’t use them on your fabric.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of the growing popularity of debunking videos. I know that crafting is a little too niche and nowhere near as dramatic as, “THIS WILL EXPLODE ALL OVER YOUR FACE AND KILL YOU!”, so the chances of it getting the same analysis are fairly null. But frankly, it was the misinformation spreading through blogs that killed my interest in using the internet and contemporary books as a learning resource years ago. I still preferentially turn to decades-old books to figure out what the heck I’m doing (and don’t get me started on youtube; slogging through a 20-minute video to get five seconds of clarification is a painful waste of time, and I don’t like your personality enough to want to simply watch you exist).

So, here are my two cents on marking fabric:
Purple air erase pens – good for humid climates
Blue water soluble pens – good for dry climates; rinse thoroughly with cold water before washing with soap to prevent residue
Chalk pencils – good for dark fabrics, may stain pale shades
Heat-erase pens – pls don’t go there

I recommend Sewline products, and heavily use the pens, mechanical pencils, and glue sticks myself.

I can’t help but wonder, are people are ever going to get sick of exploitative clickbait, and cry out to know reality instead? The debunking videos still don’t get anywhere near as much attention as the “hacks” do.