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How to use chalk


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#1 Nicolaus

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 02:03 AM

Well, I'm going to take Sator at his word and ask a dumb question!

I'm a beginner and, unless there's a drastic change, I'm not going to take an apprenticeship. For now, I'm going to remain in the serious amateur category. The problem is that there are many tiny details that (I think) one would learn via an apprenticeship, things that most masters here have so memorized they don't even think about them anymore. Yet, as small as they are, a beginner must still learn them. With that in mind, I'm going to ask my first of a potential series of questions about these small things.

How does one use chalk? Do you use tailors' chalk or those pencils? How/does one sharpen tailors' chalk (mine always gets dull)? Is there a special way to hold the chalk (do I use the corner, or the flat edge)? Is there anything else about chalk that I haven't asked that we should know?

I hope that this isn't too dumb a question and I sincerely look forward to some interesting answers.

#2 Schneidergott

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 02:52 AM

I use tailor's chalk (the real one made of pressed clay) for marking around the big pattern pieces and coloured pencils (doesn't have to be chalk, actually, any crayon will do) for details like buttonholes and buttons.

How to hold and use chalk?

That depends on the chalk's shape. The one's I've seen are triangle and square.
To use the triangular shape is the easiest, here you can use the edges or the longer sides (there is no really big difference), It's up to you.
The square chalk comes in 2 versions: The common German/ European chalk, where all four edges are flat, so one can basically use all 4 of them.
Then I have seen pieces of chalk offered in the USA where only 2 edges are flat/ sharp.

How you hold and use them is up to you, how ever you like it. The direction of marking (towards to body or away from it) sometimes depends on the fabric and it's weave. Some are stretchier than others. As always, no rules here, just try it out.

I use it marking with the long sides (square shape) and that's how I sharpen it.
For sharpening you can use the tools offered in shops or on websites, but most of them look like the small ones in the picture and they don't work well:



(my) Rule is, the bigger and the more blades, the better and easier the sharpening. I have the bigger version on the right, but hardly use it. It's usually buried under some fabric.

These tools can be very expensive, so you can use anything with a sharp edge, even the blunt edge of a knife.

"Nur der ist Meister seiner Kunst, der immer sucht, das Gute zu verbessern und niemals glaubt, das Beste schon zu haben."
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#3 Terri

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 05:36 AM

Chalk sharpening- I've never been happy with those tools either.

I will use an older pair of paper scissors opened up and then shave the chalk edges, like whittling I guess.
I also use a mat knife in the same way. I've also used sand paper - but mostly for my graphite chalk "Dixon 900".
I sharpen the edges of "disappearing" white wax chalk by laying a piece of paper towel on the boiler of my iron and melting the edge of the wax into a nice shape.

#4 Nicolaus

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 09:25 AM

Thank you for your replies! I'm glad to see that there wasn't much more to it than I thought. smile.gif I've usually sharpened my chalk with a tiny pocket knife, but it never seems to work right. I can't get a good angle on it so it's pointy. This has really frustrated me as it means my chalk is almost always dull. Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or is there a trick I'm missing?

#5 jruley

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 09:59 AM

QUOTE (Nicolaus @ Sep 12 2009, 12:03 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
How does one use chalk? Do you use tailors' chalk or those pencils?


I really like these chalk pencils:

http://www.hancocks-.../Item--i-AL-416

No sharpening is required, and they come in a wide range of colors to suit all fabrics.

#6 J. Maclochlainn

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 05:55 PM

I would like to add that you should get "pipe-clay" chalks. Some chalks have a bit of wax added to them, either to make them stronger or last longer. They can be sticky on the fabric and the friction of the fabric melts the wax and then you have a blunt chalk that leaves no marks unless you press hard. Then this melted edge grabs the fibre and thus moves the fabric, bad news all around.

I used old paper shears as well, well when my pen knife is buried. just remeber the sharper the chalk the quicker and finer the marks, and if well sharpened you don't have to press the chalk in, typically a little more than the weight of the chalk will make a good line.

This is the best in my opinion is Hancock, and I use the four sided pipe clay.
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#7 Nicolaus

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 02:38 AM

QUOTE (J. Maclochlainn @ Sep 13 2009, 03:55 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I would like to add that you should get "pipe-clay" chalks. Some chalks have a bit of wax added to them, either to make them stronger or last longer. They can be sticky on the fabric and the friction of the fabric melts the wax and then you have a blunt chalk that leaves no marks unless you press hard. Then this melted edge grabs the fibre and thus moves the fabric, bad news all around.

I used old paper shears as well, well when my pen knife is buried. just remeber the sharper the chalk the quicker and finer the marks, and if well sharpened you don't have to press the chalk in, typically a little more than the weight of the chalk will make a good line.

This is the best in my opinion is Hancock, and I use the four sided pipe clay.

Ah! I have just discovered something; I must be using the aforementioned chalk with wax added. You perfectly describe my problems with chalk and so I must now warn others to not use the chalk found in "craft" chain-stores in the US. Now, to find some good chalk...

#8 Schneidergott

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 04:35 AM

As far as I understood the chalk with wax added is the one to avoid.
There, too, are some Asian brands around, which I cannot recommend! I don't know what they are made of, but it's probably not clay.

Try this site: http://www.tailorsch.../tailorclay.htm

"Nur der ist Meister seiner Kunst, der immer sucht, das Gute zu verbessern und niemals glaubt, das Beste schon zu haben."
"Only he is a master of his art who always seeks to improve the good and never believes to have the best already"

"Es gibt keinen Grund mit Erfahrung zu prahlen, denn man kann etwas auch viele Jahre falsch machen!"
"There is no reason to boast of your experience, because it's possible to do things wrong for a long time!"


#9 greger

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 05:08 AM

Good wax chalk has the advantage of disappearing under the hot iron on wool and some other animal fibers. Other clothes it may leave a smudge.

And for the ends of darts, pockets and, and so on, you can poke a hole in the pattern and sprinkle some of the chalk, that you scraped off when sharpening the edge of the chalk, into the hole.

#10 A TAILOR

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 06:35 AM

to sharpen drag your knife blade across the chalk or wax with just a bit of pressure. hold it as though you are stropping a straight razor. do this on both sides of the edge. be sure your knife is sharp.
to get the right angle takes practice.
when marking on the cloth raise the toe of the chalk just a tiny bit so that you do not move the cloth.


#11 Kate XXXXXX

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Posted 12 November 2009 - 12:57 AM

I use the cheese grater... Or the kitchen scissors.

When marking up toiles, I use an HB pencil.

#12 kinloch

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 04:40 AM

I sharpen my chalks by scraping them at an angle on one of those "Surform" woodworkers planes - very efficient

#13 Der Zuschneider

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 10:24 AM

I am sharping them by using SG's tools.

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#14 I.Brackley

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 04:32 PM

I happened across a part in J.E. Liberty's Practical Tailoring that delt with this the other day.
Many thanks again to Theatrical Tailor for posting that.

J.E. Liberty Chap 1. P.2

...the tailor's chalk...should be pushed from right to left, not drawn towards the body, the reason for this being that the student can see the mark on the left and make a better line to that mark, whereas when the clay is drawn from left to right the end mark is covered by the arm and hand. There is also the tendency to bear heavily on the chalk, instead of which it should be held lightly between the thumb and finger.


I'm guessing Liberty is assuming right-handedness (not a problem for me personally). I've since been trying to keep this in mind and to employ chalk according to this proscribed method.
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#15 aharonK

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 04:31 AM

I know this maybe sacrilege but what about chalk wheels like this? You never have to sharpen them and they always produce nice fine lines. As well I've never had problems with the powder leaving permanent marks or residue on my fabric. The only really issue I've had is that the marks tend to brush away easily and don't last.

Posted Image
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#16 jcsprowls

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 07:40 AM

surplus doo-dads... do they make work more effective or pleasant? or are they surplus clutter on the table?

My marking tools are: ballpoint pen and cake tailor's crayon
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#17 Kerry

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 08:48 AM

I know this maybe sacrilege but what about chalk wheels like this? You never have to sharpen them and they always produce nice fine lines. As well I've never had problems with the powder leaving permanent marks or residue on my fabric. The only really issue I've had is that the marks tend to brush away easily and don't last.

Posted Image


I bought one years ago:

PROS: You get an extremely thin line and never need to sharpen chalk. Clean and tidy, easy to get refills and dust cleans off the cloth easily.

CONS: The dispenser drops the chalk on to the surface so no pressure is applied. This means that on most surfaces the dust disappears really quickly. Marks that need to stay will not. Anything beyond immediate marks, say for sewing placements will not stay as it wasn't pushed onto the fibres like a piece of chalk would.

Needless to say - I never bought a refill.

For what it is worth, the chalk sharpeners that you can buy like this:
Posted Image


... don't have a sharp enough angle and the edge blunts and gets wide too quickly. Use a old box cutter or (scissor) blade of some kind and you will get a much sharper edge.

#18 tailleuse

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Posted 14 October 2013 - 12:33 PM

I happened across a part in J.E. Liberty's Practical Tailoring that delt with this the other day.
Many thanks again to Theatrical Tailor for posting that.



I'm guessing Liberty is assuming right-handedness (not a problem for me personally). I've since been trying to keep this in mind and to employ chalk according to this proscribed method.

 

 

 I guess it depends on the fabric.  I was tracing an oak tag pattern and found it much easier to drag the chalk towards me.


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