Like or loathe it: tailors chalk

I would say that most home sew-ers don’t use much tailors chalk, because generally we use paper patterns that are pinned to the fabric, not cardboard patterns that need tracing around.

I would also say that most home sew-ers don’t like using tailors chalk, mainly because it’s hard to get a fine line.  There are occasions where you need to draw straight onto the fabric, but given a choice the preference is for a chalk wheel with powder, or pencil.

Almost every small factory or studio I’ve worked in uses tailors chalk.  As a factory junior at one of my very first jobs, I remember my heart sinking when I discovered I had to use tailors chalk.  However, someone showed me how to best use it and I got used to it.


sharpening tailors chalk

The key to using tailors chalk it to keep it sharp, so you get a fine, accurate line.  Stand over the bin with your paper scissors and use one of the blades to scrape a fine edge on both sides of the chalk.  It sort of feels like you’re wasting it by shaving it off into the bin, but it’s a necessary part of using it.  You’ll probably need to do this each time you mark out a garment.


Even with regular sharpening, a square piece of chalk can last a long time, provided you don’t drop it  and break it.  One piece will mark out up to 100 garments.

The favoured colours are yellow and white, because they show up on almost any fabric.  Use red or blue with caution; they can be impossible to remove from some fabrics so use them only when nothing else will work…..or else use biro or texta and live dangerously.  It’s only fabric!





  1. Kate on March 21, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    I am really enjoying reading your blog, Liz, you write in a way that is informative but also fun and a pleasure to read 🙂 Love, Kate

    • lizhaywood on March 22, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Kate,
      Thanks for your kind comment; I’m glad you enjoy reading it.
      Love Liz

  2. Erika on April 24, 2022 at 4:45 am

    I adore tailor’s chalk! I’ve been sewing for close to 45 years, but only discovered real tailor’s chalk when I worked in an alterations shop 15 years ago. When I left, the owner gave me one, precious piece to take with me. Later I found a supplier with no crazy minimum order and bought a box of 48 in white.

    I hate working with home-sewing chalk – it brushes off before I’m done using the lines! But I do use pencil on light-colored fabrics.

    Thanks for posting all your wonderful knowledge and stories! I’m slowly digging through your archives and enjoying every page!

    • lizhaywood on April 24, 2022 at 8:43 am

      I agree – real tailor’s chalk is the thing to use.
      I bought a “lifetime supply” from a supplier. A dressmaker friend and I split the order – we didn’t think we’d individually live long enough to use up a minimum order!
      Thanks for reading my blog. I’ve done 296 posts now so there’s a lot of reading material to get through 🙂

      • Eli Michener on February 2, 2023 at 4:26 pm

        I didn’t realize that the chalk one can get in the fabric store is not tailor’s chalk. It doesn’t seem to be able to withstand sharpening. Where can I get tailor’s chalk?
        Thanks so much for the lovely read!

      • lizhaywood on February 2, 2023 at 9:01 pm

        It’s hard to buy tailors chalk. Are you in Australia? Try M Recht, Industrial Sewing Threads (QLD) or Tradway (QLD). Maybe you could buy a big box and split it with a friend; that’s what I did. 15 years later I’m still part-way through it!

  3. Thersa Hillseth on July 31, 2022 at 10:34 am

    Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through a few of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely pleased I discovered it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back often!

    • lizhaywood on August 1, 2022 at 9:36 am

      Welcome, Thersa! There’s plenty of reading material here!

  4. Eleanor Burns on July 30, 2023 at 9:51 pm

    I absolutely love it when the fabric is dark enough to make it a viable option. Since I like to make my patterns as reusable as possible, I tend to transfer the thin paper ones to a more durable medium, then just sweep a long edge of the chalk outwards onto the fabric to make a tracing. Super quick and accurate, if a little chalk-intensive.

    • lizhaywood on July 31, 2023 at 8:53 am

      I love it too – it brings a certain joy to make a clear crisp line on dark fabric. So easy to cut. A close second is when a fabric is light enough to use regular pencil.

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