Wednesday, January 19, 2011

White Lead and Embroidery

When I first started this blog I thought it would be of interest to a few people from the mechanical pencil using groups like engineers, architects, designers, artists, writers, etc. This has largely turned out to be true, but there is one group of readers that I did not anticipate, and it’s rather silly of me to have not anticipated some interest from them, especially because my mother is one of them. The group I am referring to is the one I have come to call “The Crafty Ladies” with a subset of “The Ladies Who Sew”. Mechanical pencils and multi-pens find favour with many who scrapbook, make cards, sew and embroider, etc. The search for the ultimate multi-pen is not taken lightly, and the quest for the perfect white lead is a True Quest.

White lead? Yes. Over the course of this blog I have had quite a few contacts from ladies trying to find the ultimate in white lead for material marking. For many, the traditional soap and chalk markers just don’t cut the mustard. Strong enough to not break when marking woven fabrics. Thin enough to be accurate. Preferably temporary in that it can be washed off. Definitely non-running or bleed through. These are just some of the desired attributes of the mechanical pencil white lead. I am afraid I haven’t been able to offer much help. Sakura have some white leads, but they generally seem to be 0.9mm. The white lead for the Striker mechanical carpenters pencil has some possible uses but requires sharpening. Pergamano offer a 0.5mm lead which many seem to use. These and the others though all seem hard to obtain and not entirely satisfactory. Recently I was contacted by Christine who was looking for some multi-pen and lead assistance for her embroidery hobby. I suggested she might like to do a little blog article about her use of pencils, and she agreed. So, without further todo, I will now hand over to her.

My name is Christine and I use colored pencil leads and multi pencils in my craft work. During my pencil/leads quest, I came across Dave’s blog. My hobby is Japanese Embroidery, which you may have seen on Japanese kimonos. While my pieces are smaller ones intended for framing and hanging on our walls, kimonos are even more intricate, and may take several professional stitchers a year or more to complete. The tools, techniques, fabrics, threads, designs, and colors have remained largely unchanged for 1600 years. There are 2 Centers of study, located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA , and in Japan. These 2 Centers create all of our designs, color schemes, and techniques for completion. To provide some general information, the embroidery is done on silk fabric stretched on a frame, using silk thread:

We use only a few tools, specifically, scissors, needles, a laying tool called a tekobari, and an awl (not pictured):

I some times need to mark on the fabric, for example to note the direction of stitches. Depending on the color of the fabric, we use either a white or non-photo blue 0.5 mm pencil lead - whichever will show up better. The blue lead is one which has been tested by the professionals at the Japanese Embroidery Center, and its color will not run during the finishing process, when we apply a wheat starch to the back of the piece and steam it thoroughly. My teacher gave us several leads, it is a Staedtler Mars product per the printing on the container. Historically, the white lead is a Prismacolor Verithin pencil, which can be sharpened to a fine point. For us, the finer the point, the better, as we may stitch with silk threads as thin as 0.1 mm. Recently, I have discovered a 0.5 mm white lead from Pergamano, which provides the fine point we like. I find the Pergamano color to be shiny, sometimes appearing silver/grey, and the lead is soft. The Pergamano white lead is designed for a card-making process called Pergamano, and I’ve only found it via one supplier. In this photo, I’ve drawn on white and brown paper with 4 leads - 0.5 mm regular lead, Verithin white lead, Pergamano 0.5 mm white lead, and 0.5 mm Non Photo blue lead.

Here, I’ve drawn directly on the silk embroidery fabric as I would do when working, placing direction lines in the small rounded areas in the middle of the picture with blue and white leads:

To reduce the number of pencils I need to carry, one of my favorite toys is a multi pencil, created from a Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto 3 Color Multi Pen Body and 3x0.5mm Mechanical Pencil Components (blue, white, and regular):
pilot hi tec c coleto multi pen

My other multi pen is for travel use, and is a Uni-ball Style Fit 5 Color Gel Ink Multi Pen Pen Body, containing 2 pen cartridges and 3x0.5mm Mechanical Pencil Components.
uniball style fit 5 multi pen

Both of these multi pens are super for my needs. I wish I needed more lead colors so I could have more of these multi pen/pencils. They have turned me in to a pencil geek.

Here is a photo of this portion of the embroidery completed:

If you’re interested you’re welcome to view my facebook albums (you don’t need to be on facebook to view them) here  and here. More information is at

Christine, Washington DC area, USA.
Great stuff. Thanks Christine. The hours of work in those Facebook embroideries….


Anonymous said...

Very nice, Christine!

I looked around and found interesting stuff: chalk lead



2nd_astronaut said...

Nice article and fine hobby.

Gunther had a dress marking wooden pencil at his blog some days ago. The presented model is not usable for the fine-detailed embroideries here, but for completeness this is the entry (in German):

Anonymous said...

Metaphys makes a white 2 mm lead for lead holders. It may be available elsewhere but I know for sure it's available at (Its product page: I haven't tried it myself and I'm not sure if it'll meet the needs of an embroiderer though it does seem like it'll keep a sharp point and not stain/run/bleedthrough.

That last pic looks wonderful. Keep up the great work!

Seth said...

I love the satin stitch outline on the hearts great job.

Anonymous said...

Woerther do a white lead - but it's 3.15mm. See Cult Pens:

Dwscamel said...

Very fine work, and a whole area of interest that wouldn't cross my mind without this blog. Thank you for the article, Christine.

Christine said...

Thanks for the nice comments! I will check out steidl-becker and cultpens. I am now the proud owner of a Roller Rule mechanical pencil, purchased for its ruler capabilities. I can measure along a design line to calculate how much of a certain thread type I will need to make (we twist our own threads from flat silk). - Christine

Gunther said...

Excellent, Christine – thank you for your review and for presenting your beautiful work!

Recently I have bought a set with a 2mm plastic leadholder, a variety of chalk leads (including white) and a small plastic sharpener (however, it looks like it is no longer listed on their website). It was offered by the German company hoechstmass at a reasonable price. A quick search has revealed that at least the holder is from Koh-I-Noor; I wouldn't be surprised if the refills are from the same manufacturer too.

Anonymous said...

My mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother all do something called petit-point and needlepoint, but your Japanese embroidery is just totally awesome. At out church (Episcopal) the ladies are repairing and doing new kneelers with wool. I think they look really cool. The vestments have lots of fine embroideery on them with gold threads too, but I have to say your stuff is way more delicate.

It must be awesome to be able to create something like this. I learned some calligraphy in an art class and it is pretty fun to be creative.

I checked out your sample pages and artwork and you rock.

Unknown said...

Hi All for white Leads go to
Just copy and paste,
10 white leads £4.95 and 30 for £13.50
trade is available,

Please note:
White leads are mainly made up of chalk and are therefore very soft.
They will break if you use too much pressure, so press softly.

Good tip: Try keeping them in the fringe to make them slightly harder.

Christine said...

One correction - I've recently learned that we can use ANY white colored pencil, i.e., it doesn't have to be the Prismacolor brand I mentioned in the article, and similarly, any blue non-repro lead.