I am often asked what I use to mark the quilt top for hand quilting. The answer is it depends.
As you can see I have several in my sewing box…the middle slot
First let me say that every quilt and quilter is different and may have different results. The best teacher is personal experience.
Light colored fabrics are easy to mark. For those my preference is a blue wash away pen.
These pens are easy to wash out when the quilting is done. The instructions will tell you to mist with cool water or rub with a damp cloth to remove the ink. I put the entire quilt in the washing machine on the cold water and use the rinse cycle…after that you can wash as desired but you need to be sure all of the ink has been washed out. Even if it is not visible to you it still could come back because some of the ink will have migrated into the batting.
The other caution with these pens is that heat will set the ink. Do not put a marked quilt in a hot car, do not keep your quilt frame over the heat vent, do not iron anything that is marked.
I used a blue water-soluble pen on my Tree of life quilt
and it all washed out
The pens come in regular and fine point. I prefer the regular. I find the fine point catches on the fabric and makes for a less smooth line.
There is another marker that looks the same (but usually with purple ink) but is not at all the same. These are the air erasing pens. The ink reacts with air and fades away to nothing in a few hours….however the ink is still there only the pigment has become invisible. They still need to be rinsed in cool water before washing . I do not like them at all and do not use them …hours of marking a quilt top disappearing over night is very upsetting. If you can mark only a small area of your quilt (an area you can finish in 2 hours or less) and then mark the next area and quilt in a few hours and so on, the will work. All the rinse /wash/no heat rules apply to these as well.
These pens have been around for 40 years and if used correctly they will wash out.
For darker fabric they have pens with white ink. The ink takes a while for it to show up (under a minute usually), it goes on clear and dries white. Same wash out as for the blue ink.
For dark fabrics I like to use my Fons and Porter mechanical pencil…The lead also comes in black.
My only problem is that the markings rub off easily so you may find yourself re marking often.
I used one on this quilt
I also like the Sewline mechanical pencil.
There are lost of marking pencils
I find that these do NOT wash out. The yellow is the most stubborn to get out.
I used pink and blue (depending on the color of the fabric) on this one and after three washes, the last with Oxi Clean, I can still see the marks
But it doesn’t show in the pictures so I can live with it
Prismacolor pencils (you might need to go to an art store) wash out nicely and come in many colors
I like inexpensive #2 mechanical pencils.
These will wash out if you use a light touch when marking. If you press to hard you might need to wash twice. I marked this quilt with one of these pencils
when I can see the markings Pencil is my first choice, If I have mixed fabrics I often use a pencil on the light and a white or pink mechanical pencil on the dark.
One last note on marking. Most of the quilt stores are now selling Frixion pens.
The way these work is by heat. If you write on paper with them and then want to erase the ink you use the eraser and it causes friction..the friction causes heat and the heat causes the ink to become invisible. The ink is still there….If you put in the freezer for a few minutes the color returns to the ink.
Someone decided to try it on a quilt. do the marking with the pen..then quilt…then remove the markings by heating with an iron.
The problem here is that the ink is still there…It doesn’t wash out it is always there. We do not know what will happen to the fabric over time. Will it begin to re-appear? Will it begin to erode the fabric? Don’t take the quilt someplace very cold or the ink will re-appear.
I have not used them on a quilt myself but I have done some test swatches on fabric and I do see the ink returning….
My advice on Frixion is to not take the risk…they have not been tested long enough to now what will happen.
So for me I use a combination on most quilts…and as much as I can I try to not mark at all and do more free hand quilting.
What ever marker you choose have fun!