Marking the top for hand Quilting

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

marking pens-pencils 002

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.

marking 003

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.

marking 004

There are lost of marking pencils

marking 001

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

marking 006

I like inexpensive  #2 mechanical pencils.

marking pencil 001

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!

Happy Quilting


70 thoughts on “Marking the top for hand Quilting

  1. Pam G. says:

    Tim – thanks so much for sharing your knowledge & expertise! I’ve learned a lot from your posts & hope to use some of your suggestions. I have some vintage pieces that were in my mother’s stash & hope to do something with them soon. Just a tad timid right now.

    • timquilts says:

      Thanks Pam!….if your a little timid of using your good vintage pieces you could try a test with some inexpensive new fabric to build up some confidence
      but remember to have fun!

  2. katechiconi says:

    Thank you, this was helpful. I’m a fan of the Sewline product, white leads for dark fabrics and pink for lights. I don’t like the blue washable pen at all, since I live in a very hot climate and I find it ‘sets’ on extremely hot days and cannot subsequently be washed out.

  3. Janine Huisjen says:

    Thanks for all the information and your comments about your experiences with various marking tools. I’ve been on a never ending quest for markers, and you’ve given me a few more ideas to try. I am happiest when I can do basic marking with masking tape!

    • timquilts says:

      I should had added masking tape to the post….it is perfect for a straight line!

      • Susie says:

        Tim, I use a lot of masking tape for strait lines or even cutting one side for a slight curve. The project I have been working on recently has wavy quilting lines and I got full sheet labels(Avery) and cut wavy strips. The sticky would hold for re-use 4 or 5 times. These are also a good substitute for freezer paper applique patterns.

  4. Linda says:

    Hi Tim,
    A friend marked her block with the Frixion pen and then took it to the ironing board to press it so the mark would disappear. THEN, she later put her blouse on the ironing board to press it a little and the marks were transfered to her blouse. She could not get the marks out. She was very upset about this and now doesn’t want to use the pen for fear of what might happen. We spend so much time quilting out quilts it would be a shame to ruin one by using a marker that your couldn’t get to come out.

  5. karen says:

    I like you have used the blue wash out pen to be one I like and have never had trouble with – I do not like yellow chalk and pink chalk leads – I have had problems with them

  6. Li says:

    This is a great summary of the pros and cons. Depending on the project I have had a lot of success with a #2 mechanical pencil, the Hera (no affiliation) marker, as well as 1″ or 2″ wide masking tape.

  7. I can tell you what happens with the Frixon if you ship a quilt marked with it, in cold weather!! A SAQA member got a quilt back from a show…it’s been in other shows with no issues…then she shipped it to another show in December and it got stuck on a UPS truck en route….when she got the quilt back (it had won awards in the other shows), she was mortified to see the comment “next time, make sure you remove your quilting marks.” ALL the lines she had marked with the Frixon had reappeared in the cold weather!!!

  8. I agree on the yellow, pink and blue pencils. Tough to get out. I am currently using a white chalk pencil. It almost brushes away yet stays on long enough to quilt. Thanks for your review.

  9. Alex says:

    I’ve tried many products too. Like you I’ve had some very stubborn markers that have not come out. I live in a hot climate and my preferred tools are the Sewline mechanical pencil (graphite and white) and a Hera marker.

  10. Connie Combs says:

    Tim, great info. I too like either mechanical pencils or blue water soluble marker. I use a Dritz mechanical pencil that also came with pink, blue and white lead. Had considered ordering a pounce pad in pink to mark on dark fabrics. Any experience with them besides handle carefully and mark small areas or the chalk is rubbed away?

    • timquilts says:

      that is why I have not used them….everything I hear about them tell me that they rub off very easily….I imagine you could do only a small are at a time but I sometimes like to do all the marking at once

  11. Stephanie says:

    Tim, great information, and I love your quilting and quilts. Thank you.

  12. Kathi says:

    I would love your feedback on a pounce pad too… I am using one currently as I have a dark multicolored fabric that I can’t see anything but the chalk of the wide marks on so I am kind of grinding it into the stencil and the fabric but it all removes in puffs of smoke when I am done and pat it… any thoughts??? Loved this article and pics of everything! Thanks for writing this 🙂 Kathi

  13. Hanske says:

    In stead of a hera marker I use a smooth edge tracing wheel, especially for marking circles.

  14. Clara Zolud says:

    Thanks Tim, what great advice and very well demonstrated also! I use several different methods depending on the quilt I am prepping too. Your knowledge of hand quilting has brought a whole new aspect to us who want to achieve a better result and for that I again will say Thank you! (I did miss seeing Teddy in some of the pictures but I am sure he is right there with you) 🙂

  15. Jois says:

    Some of my quilts are more than twenty years old and have been all over the USA in moving vans, hot and cold, wet and dry, you name it, they have been there. I’ve always used Crayola markers, the ones that are supposed to wash out of children’s clothing. I buy 3 or four boxes of 8 at a time and test mark new fabrics of my favorite manufacturers, let them dry, iron them, wash them in the washing machine, dry them on a towel (I dry my quilts on a sheet on a wall to wall rug). If a color doesn’t come out on the first washing I take all of that color out of the boxes and give them to a teacher. The rest I keep and use to mark my quilts for hand quilting. I soak the finished quilts in the washing machine, spin them out, and give them 10 minutes in the dryer, dry them on a sheet on the floor and have never had a mark remain.

    I always test the new markers, always buy 3-4 at a time so they will be from the same batch, I always test new fabric (not old stuff from my stash) just in case the Crayola or fabric manufacturers have make some change that will hinder color removal.

  16. Shayla Sharp says:

    I tend to use mechanical pencils and the Fons & Porter pencil, haven’t tried the Sewline one yet. Thanks for the info! BTW, that Tree of Life quilt just steals my breath away!

  17. Marie Lewis says:

    My main work is Boutis. I have a friend in France, who is a professional boutisseur. He designs, quilts and sells. He has used Frixion for many years, as have I. We have never had problems and we use only white batiste fabrics. I use a hair dryer to remove the marks and then wash the finished article thoroughly. The marks never return, even if the work is placed in the freezer. In addition, the makers of Frixion state that there is no chemical residue left.

    • timquilts says:

      I guess every person has different results. I have heard of the ink re-appearing and becoming impossible to remove…see the earlier comment about the ink re-appearing in shipping to a quilt show…..I dont want to take the risk of many hours of work being wasted. I have tested it on a scrap of white fabric….once ironed to “remove” the ink if you hold it up to the light you still see the shadow of where the ink is, so I do not believe that there is no chemical remaining…..perhaps the difference is that you use batiste fabric.

    • tdspringer says:

      The same person who had her quilt returned after a show with the marks (2 years after they were “washed out”) tested the Frixion pens on other fabric after this experience. Without exception, every single piece of fabric has a return of at least part of the marks in every case after the fabric was placed in the freezer. The makers can state anything they like. This person is an experienced quilter who has been quilting for over 30 years. I’m not saying her experience is what will happen to everyone however, I am more inclined to believe her than someone (the manufacturer) who is benefitting financially. I might test them but I sure won’t use them on a quilt unless and until they consistently come out and the marks don’t return. My work is worth more to me than that. So you have had a different experience. Wonderful. I’m still not willing to risk it.

  18. Kate says:

    This is so useful, thanks so much for this post, it’s very comprehensive and has given me all the answers I’ve been looking for, including the fuss over Frixion pens! I’m glad I resisted because I wasn’t convinced about using them on fabric. Thanks again.

  19. I use the blue wash out pens and I love them. I bought a purple one not realising it would disappear in a few minutes and was very cross. I had no idea there were white pens, I shall have to try and find them. I have never got on with pencils at all. Mostly I use Clover Chaco liner pens on dark fabrics. They are a bit dusty but they leave better marks than pencils. They aren’t fond of curves though.

  20. Bonnie Kisser says:

    What a friends you are to us. Thanks Tim.

    Sent from my iPad


  21. Mary Blackledge Corroo says:

    Thanks for putting this post together. Your advice and the following discussion are very helpful to me.

  22. Thanks for this interesting roundup of quilt marking methods. I’ve never tried Frixion pens because I’ve been leery of just the points you mention.

  23. Michelle W. says:

    Have you tried soap slivers? I have a small stash of white and yellow Dial and yellow Fels-Naptha. These washed out fine in the wash. Of course they don’t show up on light fabric very well, the line is only as fine as the edge of the soap and I marked as I went. I have yet to find a dark soap to use on a light fabric but would wonder about the dye fully washing out.

  24. helen says:

    These are very precious tips, thank you very much, Tim!
    I have seen on another blog ( I think it was humblequilts but am not sure) the testing of frixion and it was not convincing by the same reasons you wrote. I tested it on some scraps : on cotton they disappeared; but on batik and homespun, even if the black or turquoise ink disappeared with heat (iron), the marking stayed in form of white lines…
    Best wishes and Hello to Teddy!

  25. Sabina says:

    I am so interested in how you marked your basket quilt. I am a hand quilter and want to try it on a log cabin quilt I recently finished. Do you try to mark with the hoop in a line and then mark a partial hoop next to it to establish a pattern? I hope you have not explained this somewhere else and I missed it. Your quilts are beautiful!

    • timquilts says:

      that is exactly the way I do it…..and do as many rows at it takes to cover the top. I used a big hoop but on a smaller quilt you can use a plate or bowl to do the marking

  26. Connie Johnson says:

    I’m always learning from you. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule. You’re very generous that way. By coincidence I had just ordered some old McCall’s quilting magazines from Amazon when tour post came along. Back then (1974-75) when these magazines were published, they recommended using dressmaking carbon and tracing wheel to mark the quilts. Don’t know if this would work , but if I can find my old stuff I might do a test sample .

  27. Terry says:

    I would add the following about blue wash out pens. If your child is a competitive swimmer. The chlorine in towels etc. seems to permanently set the blue in 1 of my small quilts. So always think about the environment your quilt is “living” in.

  28. chris says:

    Thank you for an excellent post! Although my current preference is for machine quilting, we both have the same issues, don’t we? I try to not mark at all, but if I need guidelines I likes to use a chalk roller. The marks do brush off, but I just mark a small section at a time. Thanks again, and give Teddy a scratch from me!

  29. Thanks for the thorough breakdown! I, too, have heard that yellow pencil marks are nearly impossible to remove. And yes, frixion pen marks do return eventually. I read about a quilter who had used it on her quilt and sent it off to a quilt show. The quilt had been exposed to cold temperatures on the way, the marks reappeared and the quilt could not be in the show!

  30. Carol Jack says:

    Just came across your site while looking for info on marking quilts. I tried rather unsuccessfully today to mark a small area oF a pillow sham for quilting. Info on the site that manufactured the stencil suggested that the chalk was not properly primed through the pad. I’ve had my best lick using Golden Threads paper, just pinning or taping the paper to the quilt after drawing the design. I hand quilted Celtic knots and machine quilted a chain border around a Triple Irish Chain quilt. and many years ago, I used some iron on transfer markers to mark a quilt. They were intended to be used to transfer a design onto a t-shirt.

  31. April says:

    Very informative and useful, however, I’m looking for information on how to get a design from paper or stencils onto the fabric. I have a dark quilt and taping it to the window I still can’t see the line to mark. What am I doing wrong?

  32. Sally says:

    Tim thanks for the in-depth and practical info on marking quilts (not my favorite pastime 😊). Do you have any recommendations for marking an older quilt top? I have a ’40s Dresden Plate that I’ve finally gotten the courage to quilt. Thanks!

    • timquilts says:

      on vintage tops, I tend to mark as I go, just marking the area in the hoop, and then when it is quilted I move to the next section and mark again…..vintage tops tend to be very irregular and i find it easier to not mark the entire top at once because it is nearly impossible to make it perfectly uniform since the sizes of the parts vary… I mark as I go and make adjustments as needed. I usually use a #2 pencil (I use the disposable kind) and if you don’t press too hard they wash out. Most often however I do no marking at ll and quilt by eye

  33. Karen Schilling says:

    Thanks for the good tips, Tim, on marking quilts. I’ve used a few but for a while now prefer just a Clover chaco liner slim (white) or “Pounce”. Pounce works really well to mark areas as I go, removes easily by brushing lightly or iron heat – haven’t really had a problem with it disappearing before quilting an area.
    Karen Schilling Woodstock, ON Canada

    • timquilts says:

      The chaco and pounce always brush off before I get them quilted and I spend more time re-marking than I do quilting……every quilter is different ….I must drag my hand over the quilt more than you


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