Tuesday, July 21, 2009


One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is “what marker do you use?” And I have to say that usually I do use the infamous blue washout marker. It is a felt tip marking pen, with light turquoise-blue colored ink that rinses out with plain, cool water.

If a mistake in marking is made, I dip a Q-tip in water and run it over the lines and they disappear enough for me to re-mark in about 15 minutes or so. However, when the quilt is completed I do immerse it in cool water and swish it about, spin it out if it is in my washer, or let drip if it is a small piece, then air dry flat. I want to make sure all traces of the marker are gone from my quilt.

However you wash and dry the quilt, it is important with this marker to thoroughly rinse it out before adding soap to the wash, or before drying the quilt or applying any heat to it. I’ve never had marks reappear later or set permanently and I’ve been using these blue markers for over 20 years.

For really dark fabrics I use the Clover white marking pen. It goes on as an ink, but you need to use a very light touch, almost letting the fabric draw the ink out of the pen. Pressure ruins the pen’s tip, as it does with the blue marker, and makes the line look worse, not better.

Wait a full minute and the white line will develop. Don’t go over the line many times because you can’t see it; do one line, wait a minute, then see how it looks. If you use a light touch, have two of these pens so you can alternate between them, they last a very long time.

The line is crisp and white, not chalky or powdery, and lasts through all the quilting, rolling, packaging, and scrunching we do to a quilt top to get it in a home sewing machine. It washes out with some scrubbing, but I prefer to run the tip of my iron over the lines to erase them. See package instructions for the ways to remove this or any marker, and yes, test on your fabric first to make sure it works properly before marking the quilt itself. It might work great on yellow cotton, but not on red sateen.

Any remaining invisible residue comes out when I do wash my quilt when it is completed.

I also am liking the Bohin white marker that is like a mechanical pencil. There are other brands out there, and there is an eraser in the pen itself for removing the lines. I like this for “mark-as-you-go” designs that I mark and then quilt right away, with little moving or re-bundling of the quilt itself. Then I erase the remaining line before moving on to another design. They do smudge a bit with handling the quilt, so watch for that. But you can get a very precise, and easy-to-see line with these. Nice!

Always mark a test area and then place it in the machine to see how it appears there, not in room light, but in sewing machine light.

Chalk pencils, lead pencils, chalk wheels, water soluble white markers, Pounce pads, purple disappearing markers—these are all options for us, but I don’t use them often myself. You can try all of them and then decide what works for you in various quilting situations.

I don’t worry about marker ink on my fabric nearly as much as I would about chemicals I cannot use because of allergies to them, items like spray adhesives, or even fusibles, art supplies, glues, and so on.

TEST ahead of time with all markers. And with any marker – make sure it comes out, you can see it, it isn’t a struggle to use.

One thing I’ve learned from entering quilts in shows or exhibits is to take the quilt into an area with fluorescent lighting to see if there are any marks remaining. The Ott light will also show up marks that you cannot see in daylight or normal room lighting.

Another tip is to quilt right next to the line, not on the line itself, and it is easier to remove it when you are finished.

If you haunt your local quilt shops the owners probably have all kinds of favorite markers to show you, explain and sell to you. These intrepid people go to Quilt Market and see everything out there for quilters, and buy what they think will work for their customers. Ask! See what’s new at your quilt shops. But make up your own mind about what product works best for YOU.

Don’t fear markers. They are amazing new tools for quilting and help us create the perfect quilting design.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.



marlene@ByTheSeam said...

I have always been afraid of those blue ink markers that disappear, I have heard from several people the marks come back. Maybe they didn't do it right and rinse it all out. I may try one again after reading your post. Thanks

Diane Gaudynski said...

I've heard stories of marks returning or not coming out too. I've used these since they first came on the market, more than 20 years ago probably, and have never had a problem, even with quilts where the quilting took many months. I'm careful though - I wouldn't take a marked top and leave it in my hot car in the summer, for instance.

And it might depend on the brand, how it is washed, and so on. I guess when all else fails, read the tiny tiny tiny print on the packaging first! Time for the big magnifying lens I keep handy for everything nowadays.....

Jocelyn said...

I too have heard the horror stories, and have been very leary of using the pens. Do you know if the sizing left on the fabric has any effect on the pen markings? I usually pre-wash my fabric.

Diane Gaudynski said...

HCQ - The sizing may have an effect, good thought.

I know there are two camps in quilting: never wash fabric before piecing, and always wash fabric. I am in the second camp. I always pre-wash, and I usually press before cutting with a bit of my own starch recipe which is just plain old Argo corn starch in your kitchen cupboard and water.

The removal of any finishing chemicals, plus the addition of the starch might prevent any interaction of the marker and fabric.

But, then again, I have marked with the blue washout markers on red silk dupioni right off the bolt and had no problems at all. I did rinse out that small quilt in cool water when finished though. Just sayin'......

Anonymous said...

I have used the blue markers for many years and NEVER a problem removing with cool water. I have to admit that I do not always prewash my fabric and still no problem with the markers. The two rules I remember from Diane's classes are to use a "light hand" when applying and never iron before removing the marker. Joan

Diane Gaudynski said...

Joan - I think a light hand is really important. Not only is the mark sitting on top of the fabric (maybe only in my mind, but that's what I'd like to think anyway), but the pen tip stays nicer longer, and the ink lasts longer, plus you get a better, more precise mark.

I don't know if the formulation for the blue ink has changed since they first appeared on the market, but recently I did press a blue mark on cotton while making a quilt sleeve, and it did come out with a spritz of water. Another thing to keep in mind is in humid weather a marked line can disappear very quickly.

Dena said...

Thank you for some great tips on selecting the best type of marker.

Diane Gaudynski said...

You are welcome! Best advice from me is to test your marker and try new things as they are developed for us.

Featheronawire Sally Bramald said...

So great to see you blogging!!!!!!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Hey Ms. Feather - nice to hear from you, and it's good to be blogging!

YankeeQuilter said...

Like the tip on quilting just next to the line...thanks!

The only time I have ever had a problem with the blue marker is when I left my marked quilt in the car all day in the Georigia summer heat...guess that is a lot like using an iron!

Anonymous said...

When first using the blue markers I'd spray my quilt when finished, and found the marks came back over time, a year later as bright as the day I'd marked them. I've since learned that the secret to success is what you do - immerse the quilt. I've been doing that for years now and haven't had a problem since.

Diane Gaudynski said...

That is really scary - to have them come back as bright as ever a year later! The secret is to treat the quilt after it's marked very carefully (no hot car trunks, no leaving it in sunbeams on your table or machine, etc.)and yes, immerse it in cool water when done and thoroughly remove the ink, even in the batting.