There are so many different quilt marking tools available to us sewers, it can be a little bit overwhelming and a LOT bit scary since many of them come with their own whispered horror story. Let me do my best to clear away the mystery surrounding some of these tools so you can go forth and draw guide marks with confidence.
This post was inspired when an IG follower recently requested that I post a tutorial on how to quilt straight lines. Now, I don’t know if they expected me to dive as deeply into the process as I am doing here, but I thought I might as well...because I love you and you inspire me to be a better quilter. MUAH!
You should know that I try my best to be efficient while being accurate, however I am not a perfectionist. I think finished and good is always better than unfinished and perfect. When you see a quilt like the one below, my Triangle Jitters quilt (pattern available in the shop), I should tell you that I did not use any quilt marking tools. I eye-balled the whole thing. It's not perfect, but it's pretty close and that's good enough for me. In this case I used the side of my walking foot as a guide rather than painstakingly drawing out guidelines.
However, throughout the process of piecing a quilt and when hand quilting, I draw a lot of guide marks. So keep in mind that when using quilt marking tools, there is definitely a right way, a wrong way and an "OH MY GOSH NOOOOO!" way. Stay tuned for a first-hand dramatic tale of the OMGN way, starring yours truly.
But first… here are some great options for marking your quilt so your lines are as straight… or as curvy… as you dreamed they could be (you better be reading, person who requested this post).
Above is the Fly Away pattern. Get it here in the shop!
It's no secret that this funny little quilt marking tool is my favorite. I get a lot of great tips from my fellow quilters on social media and this marking tool might be my favorite tip yet.
Yes, it is basically the equivalent of a dull butter knife, but because of its smooth finish it will never ever ever snag your fabric...unlike a dull butter knife. It creates a crease in the fabric, so no actual marks are ever made – just a subtle guideline.
When a hera marker and a ruler get together, they make the best straight lines without leaving A SINGLE MARK on your fabric. So no worrying, "Will it wash out? Will it rub out? Will it lick out??"
Great for lefties and righties, big hands or small, you really can’t go wrong with the hera marker.
I recently improv hand quilted for the first time. Technically, I guess it was only 85% improv because I did use my trusty hera marker to make guide marks a few steps a head of my stitching. I sewed beautifully organic looking freehanded hills all over this Fly Away quilt (pattern available for instant download in the shop). You can see the photo above.
Did I really need these guidelines to do my curvy improv hand quilting? Maybe not. But did they help me sew faster and with more confidence? You bet!
The official name for this tidy little chalk pen is Pen Style Chaco Liner. But since that sounds like a bunch of words mashed up in a name longer than the chalk pen itself, let's just call it what it is. A chalk pen.
Chalk is a pretty popular choice as a quilt marking tool, and this Clover chalk pen (also in a cool, triangle shape) has a nice, smooth feel to it. Definitely do a fabric test before using it, and don’t press too hard (read about these tips and more below).
I like to use contrasting chalk when drawing my guidelines for half square triangles. One thing I've noticed though, is that if you stack fabric on top of fabric, the chalk can smudge off – getting where you don't want it to be and erasing your guideline.
I personally don’t use chalk on a finished quilt top because I’m scared… er… smart. During some of my fabric swatch testing, the chalk hasn't completely come out. So always always test.
It don't need to be pretty and it don't need to be fancy. I used masking tape as my go-to quilt marking tool before discovering the Hera Marker.
In my How to Baste a Quilt tutorial I mention the importance of using wide tape when sticking your backing to the floor. The opposite is true in this case. Find something in the 3/4" range.
Lay your ruler down and place the edge of the tape against the ruler and onto the fabric. You can use the same piece of tape many times, because it doesn't need to remain sticky, just tacky enough to stay on the fabric. I love tape for the same reason I love my hera – no visible marks.
Masking tape is better for those who cannot see the faint crease lines made by a hera marker. If I don't have my glasses cleaned well and all of the lights on, I struggle to see the hera guidelines.
However there are two drawbacks to tape:
- It's really hard to do any kind of design other than straight lines.
- Even after reusing a piece of tape multiple times, once finished with a quilt, you're still left with a wad of tape to throw into the garbage – making this option not very eco-friendly.
The cool kid quilters are talking about this thing called “Quilt Pounce,” where you can transfer stencils onto fabric by running the pounce pad, kind of like a chalky ink pad, over the design to transfer it. I have not tried this, so I am very curious for your reviews if you have.
If this quilt marking tool lives up to the hype, it's definitely an efficient and accurate method if you’re using stencils!
These nifty little pencils claim to disappear when wiped off with water. The great part about them? They come in different colors so you can switch them out based on the fabric you have.
I know I'm sounding like a broken record, ya'll, but test these babies before using them. To be really safe, test them over time and heat. I have heard quilt horror stories about phantom guide marks rising from the dead weeks later. That could be a scary story quilters only tell while huddled around campfires, but it has scared me to my core nonetheless. So much so, that I am passing this fable along to you.
I know, it pretty much sounds like a pen from the future… but they actually make pens with ink that disappears IN AIR. Basically, you can make marks that will disappear over time.
You know what I'm going to say next. So I'm not even going to say it.
OK I'm totally going to say it. TEST FIRST!
Tips When Using Any Quilt Marking Tool:
- Follow Directions. It’s so simple, yet so inexplicably hard sometimes. I want to just be like, hey, I know how to use a pen, and throw the packaging away… but resist the urge. Some marking tools have specific instructions, especially regarding contact with water or heat. Do your homework. You’ll never regret it.
- Test It First: Did you think I wasn't going to take one last opportunity to mention this? 😉 Do a quick test on every piece of fabric you want to use it on to see if the marks actually disappear completely. It’ll take you 10 seconds, and save you from a world of pain and grief....and depression and crying and wandering around your neighborhood shouting heavenward, "Why didn't I just do a TEST???"
- Don’t Press Too Hard. Now, I know all of you are logical, clear-headed people, but there’s a fine line between simply pressing, and pressing too hard. This is especially true for any pens or pencils with fine tips. Sharp pencils can do damage to your quilt! Don’t worry about not being able to see the marks, and go easy on your muscles. If you think pressing that water soluble marker is going to make it show up better, I can already tell you it won't. Chances are it's dried out and you need to replace it.
AND NOW, the moment you have all been waiting for…
The Harrowing Tale of how Suzy Used a Regular Lead Pencil to Draw Guide Marks Before Cutting and It Didn’t Wash Out
Okay, so basically the title says it all, but that doesn’t make this any less of a horror story. If I would have taken a minute to do a test (or even just used my brain), I would have known.
Don’t be me. Test. Read Directions. And just don’t ever use a regular lead pencil. I'm ashamed to say that this happened not so very long ago...
(You may recognize this quilt (Stars Hollow). I wanted to subtly sew my border strips together with a 45-degree seam so I drew this line on the back side of the fabric. Obvi I never stopped to think that a dark lead pencil line would show through cream poplin....uuuhgg.)
Additional info based on multiple comments:
Here's the scoop on Frixion Erasable Pens by Pilot. They were not designed for quilters or crafters, but because the ink "disappears" when in contact with heat, many quilters have started using them. Things you should know about this product:
- According to the manufacturer, this is actually not an erasable pen (even though the title says erasable...come on Pilot!). It is a thermo-sensitive ink gel pen – which means that even though the ink disappears when heated, it also reappears when cooled.
- Through various tests it seems that after using this pen on dark fabric when heat is applied, the lines actually appear ghosted rather than disappear.
- These pens are permanent, so the ink will not fully wash out.
My conclusion is to keep these Frixion Erasable Pens away from your quilts. There are other, better products out there.
I want to hear all about your favorite quilt marking tools! What works? What doesn't work? What quilt marking tools are you anxious to try? Share in the comments!