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.


  1. I read the cautions about the pens where the markings disappear with ironing and decided to test them for myself. I think the biggest problem is when working with batiks. Perhaps there is some sort of reaction with the wax that is used in the process of making batiks. It generally leaves a mark after being ironed. It's almost like it bleaches the fabric in that spot. No marks were left on the non-batik fabric. No bleaching was observed. I did just finish a quilt made of standard fabric, where I marked the entire thing and found it did bleach out some of the color as well. But not in all spots. I wonder if it has anything to do with how long the markings are left on the fabric.

    I then tested the observation that the marks will return when left in a freezing environment. I marked some fabric samples, batik and standard, and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours. The marks did return as if they'd never been ironed. Ironing did make the marks disappear again. So I decided to try it again. After the marks were removed with the iron I put them back in the freezer. This time the marks returned on the batik fabric only.

    These pens are great to mark a quilt with but my recommendation is to not use them on batiks and also to test the fabrics before you mark your whole quilt.

  2. Gosh - I guess I'd better stop storing my quilts in my freezer !?!?!?