Easily Identify Clothing With Fabric Markers Or By Your Fabric Choice

Do you have trouble telling your kids’ clothing apart? Once I started sewing my daughters’ clothing more regularly I’ve found it sometimes difficult to remember whose shirt is whose right after I washed it since the matching garment isn’t available to compare it to. Over the years I’ve solved this by altering the garments in several small ways making them more unique and easily identifiable. These methods involved altering how the garment was constructed, changing the fabric choices, adding mismatched fasteners, or simply marking them up using fabric markers. This last method can also be easily done to store-bought or already completed garments if you find yourself having trouble identifying them at a later date. A random bonus I found with doing this is that it’s much easier for a kid to be able to identify the front and back of their garment when they go to get dressed.

Pinterest image showing a collage of seven images showcasing ways of altering clothing to make it more identifiable. All images are also found below. Above the image the blog title is shown and below it reads the main url of my website.

Construction of Garment

The first way I use to help differentiate Ada’s clothing from Zoey’s wasn’t planned in advance as I simply stumbled upon it. At that time I had gone to make the girls another set of matching dresses with the Magnolia sewing pattern, through Stitch Upon a Time, and realized that although Zoey’s dress could be easily cut from the fabric I had issues with Ada’s since the main panel I wanted to use was skinnier than the front pattern piece of the dress. I ended up solving this by taking the scraps from Zoey’s panel and using them to extend the top of Ada’s panel so it was wide enough to cover the entire pattern piece. If you’re interested in more information about how I extended my fabric to fit a pattern piece I’ve previously posted about it here. At first I thought nothing about the fix but later realized that whenever either garment came out of the dryer I had started looking to see if I could find that little triangle of fabric by either cap sleeve so I’d easily know if it was Ada’s (panel extended so triangle present) or Zoey’s (no extra triangle). I loved how quick I could identify either garment and simply continue on with folding the freshly dried laundry.

Image shows either sleeve, with the shirt folded in half, so you can see where the panel was extended. To the right you see the outside of the extension with a small triangle right before the sleeve's cuff. To the left you can see inside the sleeve showing the seam of that extension.
I folded the dress in half so you can easily see both the outside of the sleeve and the inner side showing the seam. As Zoey’s dress didn’t have that extension, only the cuff, it was simple to be able to tell whose shirt is whose without needing to compare the dress size.

Fabric Markers

The method I find I most use for telling apart my daughters’ clothing is simply by marking them with fabric markers. The fabric markers are meant to be permanent although I make sure to set the ink with my iron so I don’t have to worry about any ink potentially coming off in the wash. With the small marks I’ve made I haven’t noticed any obvious issues; although, I have noticed fading the one time I used fabric markers to make an entire costume (a Doc McStuffin’s one) and noticed, when testing out some glittery fabric markers, my marks slowly losing their glitter leaving a faded colored mark instead of the bolder glittery one I expected to remain. The best part about using fabric markers is that it can easily be done on a finished garment so this can work on something store-bought too. Just be careful about the transparency of your fabric or if your fabric can withstand the heat needed to set the ink. Over the years I’ve found using fabric markers works great for customizing a shirt to my tastes in addition to helping make garments more identifiable from a similar one.

When marking my kids’ similar garments I started out by simply adding a dot, with their favorite color, on the back of the shirt where a tag would traditionally be. Since I sew the garments myself I found I preferred leaving my mark right before I added the neckband so I could easily set the ink while the fabric lays flat without the neckband’s seam getting in the way. Plus the mark might get a second pressing if I take the time to press the neckband’s seam after sewing it on. This method worked great for about a year or two as the kids’ favorite colors stayed constant. Over time; however, Ada changed her favorite color to blue, then pink, and then finally to all the colors which ended up confusing my system especially once I started passing the odd hand-me-down garment to Zoey.

Closeup of the back of both bodices (overlapping) overlaid with the two fabric markers I used. You can see an orange heart on the upper bodice piece and a red heart below.
On the kids’ Firecracker dresses, last year, I upgraded my traditional circle for a small heart using their favorite colors and put it on the back bodice piece before sewing it all together. I made sure to leave a space above for the binding so the marks wouldn’t get lost.
Image shows a flat lay of the two finished flowered tunics laying on the kitchen floor. Inside the neckline you can see, if you look closely, a little red or orange heart on the white-ish inside.
As you can see the hearts aren’t too obvious on the finished tunics and they made it so much simpler for me to quickly tell the garments apart when folding laundry.
Image shows a closeup of the inside back of Zoey's dress showing a faded blue "Z" located just under the center back neckband.
Although I stared out by using simple dots, with the idea of adding a second or changing it in some way once the garment was handed down to Zoey, over time; however, I changed it up and sometimes went with the first letter of their first name. This time I was trying out some glittery fabric markers I had just bought which ended up appearing faded once all the glitter came off in the first couple washings.
Image shows the top of two blue shirts with pink and orange flowers laid out over top of each other on the floor. Right under the neckband, on the inside back of the shirt, sits a "W" and a vague orange circle to help differentiate the two tops.
Back in September I made the kids new raglan shirts and as I had Halloween costumes on the mind I grabbed an orange fabric marker and quickly drew a simple pumpkin on Zoey’s shirt to help identify it… and make her smile once I showed her it was there. I couldn’t ignore Ada’s so I next grabbed two markers to quickly sketch a W for Wonder Woman. If you look from the back you can see a faint bit of color showing through but not too much and it isn’t at all obvious.

Over time I may have gotten a bit tired of adding small easily ignorable dots to the garments so when the fabric became too dark for the dot to be noticeable I justified marking the garment in a different way. After that first time I started changing up the lighter colored garments too. This worked as the kids were younger and thus liked my additions. At times these changes involved adding a minor detail that might be mostly hidden; whereas, other times this addition was a bit more obvious.

Image shows a closeup of the neckband, and top of the shirt, of a white shirt with blue and green dinosaurs on it. The one dinosaur at the top is outlined in green and colored in with red. Below sits a red tipped fabric marker saying "creativeJoy".
When I sewed the girls matching dinosaur tops I had to take advantage of the odd outlined dinosaur and I decided to color in one of those dinosaurs with my red fabric marker; as at the time it was Ada’s favorite color. This wasn’t as simple to quickly identify as I left Zoey’s uncolored so I found myself looking along the entire length of Zoey’s neckband before realizing each and every time that there was no red dinosaur and thus I was looking at Zoey’s shirt. Thus the red dinosaur was obvious but would’ve worked much better if I had colored one in on Zoey’s shirt too.
Image shows two shirts laid partially on top of each other on the ironing mat. Both garments have dark blue knit at the top and bottom with blue shark filled fabric in the center. The smaller shirt has one grey shark with orange hearts drawn on it while the back shirt has an orange shark with two hues of blue hearts on it.
When making the kids their “baby shark” wearable muslins last year I realized fabric marker might not be that noticeable on the back of the shirts so I instead added small hearts to one of the sharks on the front of either shirt as a subtle nod to who the kids were at that moment in time.
Image shows two long sleeved shirts laid out on a floor. The bottom band at part of the front of the sleeve has pink "Love" and hearts on it. The back of the sleeves, neckband, and cuffs are dark pink with hearts. The panel features a dragon, words saying "rawr! that means I love you in dinosaur", and several hand drawn shaded hearts in orange (left shirt) and red (right shirt).
While making the kids their Valentine’s themed shirts (using Rebecca Page’s Dreamy Drape) one year I saw the heart on the dragon’s stomach and started shading it in which lead to adding a few more hearts around the front panel.
Image shows a closeup of a portion of a shirt mid torso. There's a pink necklace and black kangaroo pocket to the left. Above and beside the pocket sits a little jack-o-lantern that used to be white with black features and now is shaded with an orange fabric marker.
For Halloween last year I made the girls striped Halloween tops (using Ragamuffin Patterns’ Kaboom) with pumpkins and spiders all over it. I left Ada’s shirt without any markings but since Zoey absolutely loved pumpkins I decided to color one of the white pumpkins. I loved this since I easily remembered where on the shirt the pumpkin was so I could tell the shirts apart but I also really loved that Zoey’s pumpkin was all hers yet still blended in with the rest of the shirt so it wasn’t obvious to anyone else.
Image shows two swatches of black fabric with white school-related doodles on it. There's a few seams but they're flattened over the table and an ironing mat. The top swatch has some of the doodles colored in with orange while the bottom one has three doodles colored in with pink.
Back before school started this year I made the girls a doll dress each that matched with their new garment yet as both doll dresses were exactly the same I worried whether they could tell them apart and what would happen if one of them got damaged or lost. While piecing the bodice together I quickly grabbed fabric markers in the girls’ favorite colors and shaded the odd doodle in so the dress would be more easily identifiable. Since the bodice wasn’t sewn together yet it was simple to press the flat fabric to set the ink.
Image is a collage of four images. The left images are of a long sleeved and leg baby onesie while the right two images are of a glittery flower shirt. The outer two images are plain (before altering) and the inner two are colorful (after opening the fabric markers).
As a quick aside I’ve also used fabric markers to customize clothing that wasn’t matching already. I used markers to turn a baby onesie into a costume, color in a glittery flower, and personalize a simple store-bought shirt with words so I could announce our second pregnancy.

Fabric Choice

If you’re sewing your garments yourself you could easily identify garments by choosing slightly different fabric for different pieces. This can be a subtle difference between two garments that are otherwise exactly the same or be a big change between the two. I started out planning these when the kids loved different fabric from my fabric stash, but this also sometimes happened when I ran out of fabric while cutting out the pattern pieces and had to quickly substitute the rest with something else. So far this happens the most frequently for me while sewing our Rebecca Page Olivia and Patsy mashup nightgowns as we normally use it as a stash busting outfit and it takes so much fabric for the skirt. The first time I sewed up these nightgowns I shopped within my stash of Joann’s woven fabrics using leftovers from previous fabric purchases and although I made the bodices of the dresses match the skirts ended up being completely different and unique. In the years since I don’t think the girls have had truly matching nightgowns as there is always something unique about each and every dress. One time they got super unique when the girls chose to design their own nightgown using fabric markers, printed coloring sheets to trace, and white woven fabric I already had cut into the bodice’s pattern shape. This past Halloween I attempted to finally make them matching nightgowns but somehow forgot to cut out the front of Ada’s skirt and when I went back to do it I realized there wasn’t enough fabric left. That time they had almost matching dresses as I used red fabric, a Wonder Woman color, on the front of Ada’s dress.

Image shows a collage of four images side by side. The outer two show both girls wearing a peasant topped dress while the inner two show a single dress (the hacked patsy) from above. All four dresses are unique because of the fabric choices.
For both dresses the girl’s bodices match while the skirts were unique. For the hacked Patsy dresses (center two images) Ada wanted every fabric available while Zoey was only interested in two specific patterns so her skirt ended up matching her bodice more than Ada’s. In contrast the Olivia and Patsy mashed up dresses (the outer two images) Zoey loved the vehicles so I paired it with turquoise so I’d have enough for the entire dress while Ada went with a snowman coated skirt.
Flat lay of the two dresses on the kitchen floor.
Since Ada had just grown out of her first nightgown I ended up buying mermaid fabric to make two dresses for Ada and one for Zoey. The girls wanted to design their own bodice so we ended up with three unique nightgowns out of the sewing session. Pictured is Ada’s mermaid dress and Zoey’s mostly mermaid dress with a flower on the front and circled fabric on the back and one sleeve (as I ran out of fabric). Not pictured is Ada’s Wonder Woman and DUPLO® sketched dress with, once again, different fabric for each skirt panel.
Flat lay of the two Halloween dresses on the kitchen floor.
I ended up forgetting to cut out the front panel of Ada’s skirt back before Halloween and when I went back to cut it I didn’t have a big enough piece of the Halloween fabric left. I ended up finding enough red and got Ada to agree to the change before I got to work. We later said we added a Wonder Woman color to it.

Fastenings

Another way you can more subtlety change up two matching garments are with the fastenings whether it’s purely decorative or a more functional addition. Back when I first made the girls matching Firecracker dresses I realized, once I tried to put them on the girls, that I had used the wrong neck size for their tops and it was impossible to get them on over their heads. I ended up recovering the dresses by cutting down the back of them, adding a facing, using a loop of ribbon, and adding a button in their favorite color. The kids loved how the dresses turned out and I love that I was able to quickly identify their clothing based on the color of the button. These were the garments I had added a simple heart to with my fabric markers but the button was so much simpler to use that the hearts were ignored.

Image shows a collage of three photos. The center photo shows the back of the dress while the left and right photo are focused on the back of the dress's neckline and thus the pink and orange flower buttons.
The dress was too tight to fit over either kids’ head so I ended up making a quick placket and the kids dress were evermore unique based on the color of flower on the back holding it on.

This unique fastening doesn’t have to be the only thing different about a dress. I’ve loved playing around making the kids almost matching dresses by using the same sewing pattern, the same fabric, and a single fabric that’s different based on their current tastes… normally based on their favorite color. I love bringing that color further into the garment by matching it to the thread when topstitching and with the fastenings’ color. As an example I want to share with you the last two times I gifted the kids their mostly matching peppermint swirl dresses, through Candy Castle Patterns, for Christmas. Two years ago I had the girls’ bodice match each other along with half of the skirt. This matching deviated by having a different color for half of the skirt, alternating swirls, and the snap color on the back of the bodice. Last Christmas I again made the girls mostly matching peppermint swirl dresses and this time deviated with the bodice design, color of the lining, altered the number of each color of swirl, and then chose a different color to topstitch with and fasten the bodice back with. I love how I was able to make minor changes that made each dress unique, and easy to identify, without making them too mismatched.

Image shows the back of both kids playing with traffic signals at the local discovery museum.
The kids in their matching and unique dresses. For these I used a different color for every second swirl in the skirt and then used different colored snaps to snap up the back of the bodice.
Image shows two dresses laid out on the kitchen floor. The skirts are flat so you can see the swirls while the bodices are held up as if they were being worn.
Last year I drew different LEGO® inspired designs on both white bodices and chose matching primary and secondary colors for either dress. I had them stand out by using different colors as the main skirt fabric along with the lining, topstitching thread, and the back snaps.

Other Ways

I’ve seen several other ways over the last couple years to differentiate clothing although I haven’t tried to use any of them yet. I’ve seen ads and shared links on Facebook for ways to label clothing so it’s easily identifiable at school, daycare, or at camps. I’ve also seen custom stamps sold pre-filled with textile ink so you can easily stamp your child’s name onto their clothing or use them to stamp your company’s name if you make and sell your own clothing. Again, I haven’t tried any but I did quickly search on Etsy and found a bunch of stamps and labels when searching for clothing label stamp. Also if you you have a vinyl cutter, like Silhouette or Cricut, I came across a post from adenasews, on Instagram, who added an initial to the back of two similar skirts using heat transfer vinyl so her friend’s daughters could easily tell their skirts apart.

Image shows a screenshot taken from Instagram from @adenasews' account. It shows two black skirts with a single white initial on the two waistbands: M and A.
Screenshot taken from Instagram on December 30th, 2019. It can be found at: https://www.instagram.com/p/B4-soLkgUHw/.

Along the way I’ve become more and more obvious in how I tell my daughters’ clothing apart as they’ve loved the big and bold ways I’ve used in the past. Over time, as they grow older, I can see these methods becoming more subtle if they still want to continue matching. Do you sew your children’s clothing? Have you come across this issue before and if so how have you solved it? I’d love to know more tips and tricks so feel free to share them in the comments below if you have any. I really hope your week is going great.


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Kyra

My name is Kyra and I’m a computer programmer that decided to stay at home with my two beautiful daughters: Ada and Zoey. I created this website to share with you anything I come across in my day to day life that I think you may enjoy.

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2 Responses

  1. 5 stars
    While I was at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store the other day, buying supplies for my projects, I was amused to see how many different methods they use to identify clothing or fabric. I saw tags made of fabric, iron-on labels, woven labels, sewn-in tags, embroidered labels, and printed labels. I suppose without labels, it could be hard to keep track of your clothes.

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