Well, maybe not that basic, but worth learning – or at least having some knowledge about.
I’ve come a long way from my former eye-roll response to the esteemed tailor’s tack. I’ve learned not to knock this very traditional technique of transferring pattern markings to the fabric. It’s so old school, that here is a picture from a 1911 sewing book. And another one from a 1947 Simplicity Sewing Book. The Haute Couture industry still uses tailor’s tacks to mark seamlines and details on, I’m told.
Granted, tailor’s tacks are not needed at each and every pattern mark, but in places where other marking methods can become permanent stains, or will be distinctly visible on the right side, tailor’s tacks are invaluable for sewing accuracy.
Where exactly can this method be used, you ask? Use it on expensive fabric (assuming you’ve mustered up courage to cut into expensive fabric), where seams and details within the silhouette need to be marked, such as princess seams, darts, shaped details, or wherever your seamstress instincts tell you to – sometimes you have to trust the seamstress instinct.
For demonstrating and photographing purposes, I am using a pocket pattern as a sample and tailor-tacking the fold at the pocket opening; I totally did not need to use tailors tacks here. You don’t have to use tailor’s tacks when :
1) the fabric has even (versus uneven) checks and one can use the lines to make the fold accurately without a marked line. Except where there are curved details on the checked fabric.
2) a Frixxion pen (on the right side of fabric!) is acceptable to mark on the right side of the fabric; be aware that it disappears with application of a warm/hot iron like magic. However, a disappearing mark becomes troublesome when it disappears before you’re ready to sew up that part. Know what I mean?
3) there are straight vertical seams such as side seams on a semi-fitted or loosely-fitted garment — unless there is design detail built into the side seam which require very accurate sewing.
4) you are perfectly ok with the smudgy options such as tailor’s chalk, fabric marking pens, tracing wheel/carbon paper and such.
More info about tailor’s tacks:
a) they can be made through the paper pattern; no, it won’t destroy the tissue.
b) there are places where you can avoid tacking through the pattern, such as single dots. Like this one marked on this shirt yoke.
For single tailor’s tacks, put a pin through the dot on the tissue, insert the needle to start making the back stitch, then remove the pin and the pattern. In the right photo, you can see the shoulder point marked with a tack, I pulled out the red thread after this snapping this photo.
Here are some rudimentary instructions for making a single tailor’s tack, or an entire row.:
- Pin paper pattern on fabric and cut out the fabric piece, leaving the pattern tissue on the fabric.
- Thread a needle with preferably contrasting thread, doubling it up. The thread should be soft cotton such as commercial basting thread or two ply (strands) embroidery floss, my favorite for this task. Sometimes, the fabric will dictate what you use as basting thread. Slippery silk will definitely require a non-slippery thread.
- Begin sewing by making one back stitch; then make subsequent back stitches without pulling through all the way, so that a loop remains on top.
- Pull through about ½ inch away and back stitch again to make another the loop. I’ve made an entire row of tailor tacks here. The size of the loop depends on the fabric – the thicker the fabric, the higher/larger the loop.
- The back should look like regular back stitching. Note that I’m doing this on a double layer of fabric – which you will do when marking the darts on a folded front or back piece, and other double fabric details. It can be done on a single layer too, depending on the garment design.
- Cut open each loop to form a fringe like line of thread. Lift away the pattern tissue from the fabric slowly and carefully while place your other hand firmly on the fabric and stitches as you go along.
- If you’ve done this on a single layer, you are done. For a double layer of fabric, gently lift the top fabric layer away just enough to get a scissor in there to cut the connecting thread – which will separate the two pieces. It’s important to not pull too hard, otherwise you’ll pull away the top fabric piece and leave all the thread in the lower layer. Done!
- Match up the fuzzy tacks and sew your perfectly matched seam; then pull out all the little thread pokeys from the sewn seam.
- Be patient with the pokeys…..
Do try this when you think a marking technique other than chalk, fabric pen or carbon/tracing wheel is preferable.
Please ask any questions, or share your own expertise with us! Thank you in advance.
4 thoughts on “Tailor’s Tacks, A Basic Sewing Concept for Marking Fabric”
This method seems loopy, ha! Don’t all the thread pieces get in the way of sewing a straight, neat seam?
Excellent illustrations and tutorial!
Fascinating. I’ve always thought this skill was beautiful. But it seemed so time consuming, I never really studied it. I have a new appreciation reading this. Altho I think I’ll pass. Sewing for my 11 still at home is like mass production sewing! ;o)
Thank you very much. This is the best explanation of tailor tacks that I have found! Some of the other explanations were confusing. I’m not a fan of using the tracing wheel and have had trouble creating tailor tacks in the past. Your explanation helps greatly.
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[…] side where I didn’t thread-trace the seamline. The bits of basting thread you do see here are tailor’s tacks that aren’t related to our French […]