Saturday, October 18, 2014

Marking the Quilt

I promised to talk about the quilting of my spiral quilt this week, but I think it is important to address marking techniques before I go into the actual sewing process.  As a newbie I was deeply puzzled about how to mark my quilts, but slowly I learned many different methods with varying degrees of success. I will share with you my opinions about the tools that I have used over the years.

1. Chalk
Chalk for marking is available in pencil form and powder form.  The pencil form has pieces of chalk that fit in a mechanical type pencil.  The chalk comes in several different colors, and refills can be purchased.  The powder form is used in a dispenser with a cog roller at the bottom.  You can purchase refills in white and blue.

Pros:  Tried and true method for marking fabric.  Easily removed.  Chalk sticks can be sharpened, but the point doesn't last long.  Both come in colors that will show on light and dark fabric.
Cons:  Chalk sticks break easily.  Chalk brushes off easily so you can mark only a small area at a time.

2.  Pouncing Chalk
To do this you must first punch holes in a paper pattern.  This can be done by running the paper through the sewing machine using an unthreaded needle to outline.  By stapling several layers together you can make more than one punched pattern at a time.  However, usually you can use the same piece several times.  Once the holes are punched, lay the pattern on the quilt bumpy side up and gently glide the pouncer across the template (don't whack it from above).  Lift the template and the chalk outlines your design.  The chalk comes in both white and blue.

Pros:  Once the holes are punched this is easy and accurate.  Either white or blue shows up well on most fabrics.
Cons:  The chalk rubs off easily so you can prepare only a small area at a time.  It doesn't work well for a very complex design.

Pouncing chalk and Golden Threads tissue
3.  Golden Threads Tissue
This tissue is a sturdy, yellow tissue paper that is great for punching holes for use with pouncing chalk.  You can also draw or machine stitch (unthreaded) the design on the paper, pin it to the quilt, and sew through paper and quilt.

Pros:  The design is clear and easy to follow.
Cons:  This paper is too thin to run through a printer.  If you sew through it on the quilt you must pick out the paper when you are done, and some tiny pieces invariably get stuck in the stitches.  I have a good pair of tweezers on hand for this problem.

4.  Blue Water-soluble Marker
This marker has become a standard in the industry.  It leaves a blue mark on the fabric which disappears with water.  DO NOT IRON.  There is also a Blue Line Eraser currently available (I have not tried this).

Pros:  Works beautifully and is one of my most used tools.  It stays until I am done with my quilting.  Washes out with water.
Cons:  Doesn't show up on dark fabrics.  Can dry out, but you can keep it in the freezer between uses and it works like new (I have not tried this).  Cannot iron over it.  I have also heard that the ink sometimes disappears spontaneously (hasn't happened to me!).  As I say, I have encountered no issues with this marker on my quilts (100% cotton), but some people have had problems.

Blue Water-Soluble marker
5.  White Marker
There are two white markers on the market.  One is water soluble (I have not tried this) and the other disappears with heat, i.e. the iron.

Pros:  Shows up on dark colors.
Cons:  My experience is with the heat-removable variety.  I found that it didn't show up immediately, which I don't like.  When it finally appeared, it was hard to see.  I marked a big quilt and by the time I got 1/4 of the way through my quilting all the white marks had disappeared and had to be re-marked.

(No photo - I no longer use this)

6.  Purple or Magenta Disappearing Ink Marker
This marker is visible for 2-3 days and disappears when exposed to air or water.

Pros:  Handy for marking when needed for only a short time.  Can be removed with water if desired.
Cons:  Doesn't show up on dark colors.

Purple and Magenta Disappearing Ink markers
7.  Ceramic Pencil
I love my ceramic pencil.  Mine is made by Sew-Line, but there are other brands.  The ceramic "lead" is like chalk, but is sturdier, thinner and doesn't brush off as easily as chalk.  However, it can be erased with the eraser on the pencil or by rubbing with a piece of fabric.  Refills of the ceramic filler can be purchased in several colors.

Pros:  Easy as a pencil to use.  Gives a fine line.
Cons:  Keeps getting buried under fabric because I use it so much!

Sew-Line Cermaic pencil
8.  Colored Pencil
Colored marking pencils come in several colors and have for years.

Pros:  Marks a relatively fine line.  Doesn't smear.  Lasts long enough to do the quilting.
Cons:  Yellow may be difficult to remove.  Constantly need sharpening and the points break easily.

(No photo - I don't use these either)

9.  Frixion Pen
These pens come in different colors and can be purchased at office supply stores as well as quilt stores.  A hot iron removes all visible marks.

Pros:  Easy to find for purchase.  Gives a clear fine line.  Several colors.  Will iron off.
Cons:  Although the color of the ink is removed by the iron, a residue is left on the fabric, which shows up if the fabric is frozen.  Sometimes it shows without freezing.  I do not use these.

Frixion Pen
10.  Freezer Paper Template
I recently stumbled onto this one.  Trace a design on freezer paper and cut it out.  Iron it onto your sandwiched quilt and trace around it with the blue water-soluble marker or ceramic pencil.  Remove the freezer paper and repeat where needed.  Works great.

Pros:  It is easy to trace a design on freezer paper.  It stays put after ironing while you trace around it onto a quilt sandwich.  The template can be reused numerous times.  It is cheap.
Cons:  It takes time to cut out the template.  You have to be careful not to iron over any of the blue marker if that is the marker you used.

Freezer Paper
11.  Hera Marker
The Hera Marker is a plastic tool with a sharpish "blade" on one end.  It is not sharp enough to cut anything.  You can draw a line by pressing the blade end on the fabric.  It leaves an indentation that lasts long enough to sew a short distance.  You can draw a curve or a line on which to perch some motifs so they will line up properly.  Also useful for "finger" pressing.

Pros:  Handy and quick to use.
Cons:  Indentation is short lived.

Hera Marker
12.  Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy
This is a fabulous water soluble product.  You can draw on it or run it through the printer, peel off the paper backing, and it sticks to the quilt with a light adhesive.  You quilt right through it and the quilt sandwich.  You can also use it as a soluble stabilizer.

Pros:  Stays put while you quilt, but pulls away easily if you need to reposition it before sewing.  I used it for a complex design that I wanted to be as symmetrical as possible, and it worked beautifully.  It completely dissolves in water with a little soaking and a little hand agitation.  I have used it on 100% cotton and it does not appear to have left any residue.
Cons:  It is more expensive than other options (about $15 for 12 sheets 8.5 x 11 inches).

Below is a piece of recent quilting I have done.  The animals were cut from freezer paper and I traced around them with a ceramic pencil.  I also used the ceramic pencil to place the red diamonds as they had to be positioned relative to the quilt's center.  I tried pouncing chalk for the feathers, but the chalk dots looked like a starry sky and I couldn't tell where to quilt.  Eventually I drew the border design on tracing paper, scanned it into my computer, printed it on the Sticky Fabri-Solvy, stuck it to the quilt and began quilting. Fabulously easy!  The fillers and the lines of pebbles were done freehand.  All quilting was FMQ on my Viking domestic machine.  The feathers were painted with Shiva Paintsticks after the quilt was all finished.

A portion of my quilt "Bigtop"
The caveat to all this is that you should test any marking tool on the fabric that you will be using.  There is no single way to mark a quilt.  Your choice of tools depends on the quilt, the quilting design for that quilt, and whether you are able to draw freehand with the needle...or not.  I like to draw out my major designs, but do all my fillers freely.  I usually use more than one technique before I am finished with a quilt.

TIP:  Don't be afraid to try new techniques.  Some work, some don't.  Some work for me, but not for you.  Experiment!


  1. Excellent! Thank you for your dedicated comment on each. I did not know some of these products and it is good to know.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. That is a much valued compliment from someone who quilts like you do.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I've just started to need mark my fabric, and had so many questions about all of the different marking options. This was useful (and bookmarked).

  4. Your quilting looks beautiful and this is a very helpful breakdown of all the options for marking a top: thank you for taking the time to get it all down for us.

    1. Thank you. There may be more options for marking, but these are the ones that I have come across and tried. At least I no longer have a problem trying to figure out what will work for a particular motif.

  5. There is so much out there to learn and try.Thank you for sharing. Your quilting is beautiful!

  6. I love the look of the little section of quilt you have shown, the quilting and the colours look gorgeous.

  7. wow, what a wealth of info!! I am going to link your blogpost to my sewing group! Thanks LeeAnna at not afraid of color

  8. Thank you for your interest. I remember how baffled I was when I first began quilting. I am glad to know that my experience may help others.

  9. This is a wonderful tutorial and taught me about some options I had not heard of. Thank you for sharing.

    Your quilting is beyond amazing!

  10. Mardi, excellent explanation of many of the options for marking a quilt top! I'd like to add my personal favorites to your list: Glad Press 'n Seal with Crayola Washable Markers. I trace my pattern on the Press 'n Seal with the marker color that will stand out best against the fabric. The advantage is you can see through the Press 'n Seal and it tears away easily after stitching. Although I also use a dental pick to get out tiny bits. Should the marker bleed through the stitching, it will wash out. I have even marked directly on my quilt top with no problems.

    1. Thanks for adding another option for easy quilt marking. I am eager to try it.