Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Quilt Making Rules?

We are often told rather emphatically, that a quilter must, should,  have to, always do such and such or "thats not the way you do it" about making quilts.  There are persons with a legal sounding word attached to the term that are quoted as the authority on the "way" quilting should be done. You know the word and who these folks are.   I am sure there are opinionated folk in every craft or profession.  Where do they get their authority? 

In my 30+ years of quilt making career I have never found a list or book or any other official document that gives the absolute rules for quilt making.  Since I haven't found this information I have decided to make one up.  You won't need a very long piece of paper if you choose to write these down.  Here they are:

Good Quilt Making is Achieved by:

1.   Accurate marking or measuring
2.   Accurate cutting
3.   Accurate piecing.

*Footnote:   Beyond this, it is the interest, skill, desire, ability the quilt maker brings to the art and craft. 

Now let me give you some personal experience.

For many years I designed whole cloth quilts.  No cutting or piecing there.  No colors to match because I drew the designs with black pen on white paper.  If one side of the design was a bit "off" that didn't matter because the balance of the design was the important element.

Then I started (again) teaching basic quilting making.  For some reason the pieces - even the squares and rectangles didn't fit just right.  So, I started ripping out.  I ripped not to just redo but to find out what was wrong.  I discovered that I was losing control the last 1/2" of the seams.  Therefore, the pieces were not fitting together as they should.   Do I make my point?  I decided right then that you can certainly teach old folks new tricks.

Accuracy is important and if it doesn't happen, then go back and figure out why.  It sure cuts down on my frustration and it will for you as well.

Something About those Water Erasable Pens


The subject often comes up about these pens.  Usually the quilter is concerned that the marks didn't totally disappear.  In many of the cases the quilter describes removing the marks by either wiping with a wet cloth or spritzing with water.  Such techniques for removing the marks may be the recommendation of the manufacturer but they don't always work.  It is my belief and always recommendation that when using these water erasable pens the finished quilt be completely washed when it is finished.  There have been reported cases that with spritzing and wiping with wet cloth, that although the lines do disappear eventually they return - although faint.  I also believe that while the surface color might appear to be removed that the color in the ink migrates into the batting and could reappear at some time.  It is always safer to wash and not take the chance the marks will return
I believe this is especially important when using the water pen that disappear in the air.  (Must be fast quilters who ue these.)  While the lines do disappear in time, the chemical is still in the fabric.  Again, better to wash out than be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's the best way to mark my quilt?

Marking the Quilt

We get a lot of questions about the "best pencil" to use for marking the quilt. I wish I had a definitive answer. The reality is that what works for one does not necessarily work for another.

Having said this. Here are my suggestions:
Whichever pencil/pen you use, test, test, test first to make sure it will do what you want it to.
If you are going to wash your quilt then there are some additional options.

Water Erasable:
The water erasable felt tip pens work well on light fabric.  Some like the water erasable that disappears in the air.  These folk must be quick quilters because humidity does cause the lines to disappear.  My caution tho is although the lines disappear, there is probably a chemical still in the quilt that might need to be removed by washing.    So I stick with the non-disappearing and wash the quilt after it is finished.  My logic also says that spritzing just pushes the color into the batting and might come back in time.

Chalk, Washable Graphite and Ceramic pencils:

A chalk type or colored pencil that has wax in the lead will be difficult to remove if using on the top of the quilt.  I don't recommend these.

Chalk pencils without an additive is safe and easy to use.  There are many on the market.  From time to time some of the Quilt Magazines will do a test on several pencils.  My recommendations are:

Multi-Pastel Chalk made by General Pencil Co is a good one.  The composition of the lead is chalk and clay. Chalk which is removable and the clay to give it some stability.  I recommend white and the light gray. It is an artist pencil and used to draw and then brush over with a wet brush to give a watercolor effect.  The lead is washable and can be removed with a brush.  I sometime also use the dark gray but it is bit more difficult to remove. I had to spray it with an additional stain remover to get it off a  light color fabric.  However, it worked for my purpose. 

Any chalk pencil has a tendency to break when sharpened.  I use a battery powered sharpener and as it sharpens will twist the pencil.  I believe this will give a more even cut.  I also will mark a few inches - about 12" and then tip off the lead in the sharpener.  This requires less sharpening when needed.
I also use the black graphite - also made by General Pencil Co.  Since its original introduction into the art community, the company has hardened the lead a bit so it will sharpen better.  I have marked on off-white cotton sateen and when finished machine quilting, the marks were almost gone and could be erased or washed.

Ceramic Lead
These are proving good markers.  There are several companies who distribute these.   The lead is used in a mechanical pencil and is thin.  One would think the thin lead would be weak but it holds up well in heavy marking.  It is also erasable if needed.

The white plastic type erasers work well with chalk pencils.   Be sure and read the package if in a package to make sure they don't have petroleum in them.  The Petroleum will smudge the fabric.
Most that indicate for fabric are ok.  A-1 from General Pencil is a good one.  I also use the black oval lint brush found in the pet supply section of most large stores.  This brush appears to act both as a brush and eraser as it is made of plastic.

All the above products except the Lint Brush are described in the Stencil Company catalog on their web site. You can reach them at this link:

I want to emphasise again to test before marking your quilt.  Fabrics react differently to the various types of pencils.

Two cautions from quilters...

The markers that have a rolling attachment to dispense the chalk tend to embed the chalk into the fabric making it difficult to remove.
The pen that can be removed by heat or friction has some problems.   While the instructions say the marks can be removed by ironing over them, but will come back when put in the freezer have had mixed reviews. While they do indeed disappear in heat one quilter said she put the quilt in her car and drove some distance in the winter in the cold car and all the marks returned.  So guess we don't have to preserve the quilt by putting it in the freezer but any cold even in a cold room might cause the lines to return.   Also, it has been reported the chemical will bleach out some colors.  All this is hear-say but am passing it on for your consideration,

Remember, what works for me doesn't always work for you.   Be careful in marking and make sure it will perform as you wish.