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Monday, June 2, 2014

Hand Quilting for Beginners: Marking

This is the eighth article in a series of articles by Caron Mosey geared for the beginning hand quilter.  If you have NEVER hand quilted before or just dabbled in it with no instruction and want to know how, this is for you!

So, you made your quilt top, you have your backing,  the batting and thread are both ready and  waiting… but how are you going to quilt the thing?  What designs are you planning on using?  How will you get the designs onto the quilt top so they stay for the duration of the quilting, AND so that they wash away when you are finished? Until you make those decisions, you’re not ready for quilting.

Let’s think for a moment about tools for marking.  There are many choices available to you, but two major things to think about:

  1. Whatever you use for marking must be able to be washed out of the quilt when you are finished.
  2. Whatever you use for marking must not damage the quilt now… or in the near or distant future.

OK, number 1 seems pretty basic, doesn’t it?  Our ancestors used a variety of tools to mark their quilts.  They used chalk, sharpened soap slivers, and plain old everyday pencils.  The chalk easily washes out, as does the soap.  In fact, both items can come out of the fabric before you are even finished with the quilting!  But it’s the pencil that needs special attention. 


I made the mistake early on of taking a traditional Number 2 pencil and marking my quilts with it.  To my surprise, the pencil did not all wash out.  In fact, a few quilts I made in the late 1970’s still have pencil marks to this day, though they are faint.  The problem was not the use of pencil, but the use of a heavy hand for marking. If you press too hard, it just might not come out.  We see some antique quilts today with pencil lines still on them.

BIC-Mechanical-Pencils-300x300I still mark with pencil, however I use a mechanical pencil with a hard, thin lead and a light touch.  I’m not one to spend more than I have to on anything, and I have found that an inexpensive mechanical pencil works just as well for me as an expensive one. I’d rather same my money for fabric, thread, etc.

Pencil works great on light fabric, but if you want insurance that the markings will come out, I would use a blue wash out marker. Before you panic, you will hear quilters advising you that the blue does not come out. I have been using blue wash out markers since I began quilting, and have never ever had a problem with the blue rinsing out of my quilts. The word “rinsing” is the key. You can’t just spray a light spray of water on and expect the blue to come out. Leave all the marks on the quilt until you are completely done quilting and have the binding on your quilt. When that is finished, put your quilt in a cold water bath and let it sit for a few hours. Don’t be shocked, but I fill my washing machine with cold water and put in my quilt to agitate for about 15 minutes. Then I turn the machine off, leave the quilting in the machine, and walk away. A few hours later, I drain the washing machine, put it on rinse cycle, and let it finish the process. Then I toss the quilt into the dryer. VOILA! No clover_white_penblue. And my quilt has not been damaged in the least.

What about marking dark fabrics? I like using chalk, but I will only use that to mark as I go on a quilt. I won’t mark the whole thing at once, because it’s CHALK. Chalk rubs off. My marker of choice is a Clover White Marking Pen. Like the blue marker mentioned above, it also needs to come out with cold water using the same process.

A tip about the Clover pen: When you first use it and make your first line, you may think it doesn’t work. But stare at the fabric where you made your mark for 30-60 seconds, and presto! You will see the line appear.


You have probably heard about the FriXion pens.  The line that you make on your fabric is supposed to disappear when exposed to heat, like an iron.  It also disappears when the sunlight shines on the line.  Or when your item is left in your car, or near a heat register.  I won’t use them.  I have no idea what chemical is in the pen, and I won’t expose my quilts to something that hasn’t been around for decades to prove itself worthy.  Judge for yourself.

Those are my opinions on marking tools. But ask another quilter and you will get another opinion. There is a fantastic book on marking quilts, written by Pepper Cory. It’s called Mastering Quilt Marking. Pepper goes into much more detail than I can in a short blog post, and the book is well worth the money spent. Not only does she cover tools to create the marks, but stencils and designs for quilting. The book is available on Amazon by clicking here.

Have you read the previous articles for beginners?

1) Fabric  2) Needles  3) Thimbles 4) Thread 5) Hoops 6) Frames 7) Batting


  1. I have used the Frixion pens & have not been able to remove the ink with washing. The colour will reappear if the quilt gets cold enough. Pity because they have such a nice fine line.

    I also like the clove white pen. Once the colour is removed with heat it does not return.

    I also like to use a silver pencil, Quilters Choice (Roxanne) is my favourite. No trouble removing, in fact I often have to go over it before finishing the quilting & the marks are almost completely gone after all the handling during the quilting.

    Dawn Cooper, BC

  2. I also like a silver pencil, and for straight lines? Masking tape with a light adhesive.


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