Lessons Learned: Marking

This is another case of  “I make all the mistakes so you don’t have to”! I learned so many things the hard way on my Lily quilt. I’ll be passing along my mistakes and remedies.

First, marking. You know I don’t like to mark and I only mark when I have to. I put grids all over this quilt, so that required marking. I marked 3/8″ grids on the Radiance fabric in the center and 1/2″ grids on the border of raw silk-all of this on wool batting.

So we have challenges from the get go: I was marking on a partially quilted quilt, I was marking on Radiance which is a bit flimsy and I was marking on raw silk, full of texture and thirsty fibers.

Marking on a partially quilted quilt creates issues because you have some inevitable billowing that will occur: the quilted areas are controlled and flattened and the unquilted areas are loose. So when you lay your ruler down to mark, it flattens the billowing fabric. That creates little tucks along the length of the ruler, making it difficult to mark. All this on wool batt with its high loft and you’ve got a challenge already.

Marking on the Radiance can create tucks too-the marking pen will kind of skip around on the loosey goosey fabric. And then at the other end of the spectrum we have the raw silk. It’s full of bumpy texture, the color is dark, and the fibers just suck up the line of the pen. Do you see the grid markings here? Really, well I can hardly see them either!

Also, I happened to do some of the marking in Huntington Beach on my vacation. Well guess what-you’ve got a very humid atmosphere, you’ve got a water soluble marker…..yup, they disappeared before I could quilt them. So I had to remark and then quilt right away-yuk. Something I actually already knew was to have an inventory of markers and to rotate them as I worked. That prolongs the life of the pen. Also, store them horizontally in a baggie-also extends their life.

And, don’t forget to label them with the date of purchase. On the first few I forgot to do this but later I marked the date of purchase on a piece of masking tape. That way I know which one is freshest.

When you are marking, resist the temptation to push hard on the marker. This does not get you a good line. Instead, actually ease up on the marker and just touch the fabric and glide-your line will be smoother and easier to quilt.

I came up with a system that I liked for marking the 1/2″ grid-it won’t work for any other size. It’s quite simple. I laid down my first mark. Then I used this 1/2″ wide ruler from Omnigrid, laid it next to the first line and marked my next line. I then butted up another ruler to the 1/2″ ruler for stability and worked my way across the surface, lickety split. I know June Tailor makes a 1/2″ grid marker but I found that my line wobbled a bit in the plastic of the stencil and tended to skip more. This method worked great for me.

I am no pro at marking. Because it is so fraught with peril I try to avoid it at all costs. But sometimes you have to mark. I hope this is a little bit of help for any of you new to this. And if you’ve got some tips of your own, I would love to hear them, so please, comment!


    • jennyklyon says

      I found that the Bohn’s worked off the fabric as I worked or they wore down to be so light that I couldn’t see them. Is there any trick that you have or have you not experienced this? I love their thin line and ease of removal.

  1. says

    Masking tape or painter’s tape! You make one line and then pick up and lay your tape down as you go. You can always get several lines done before you need a new piece of tape and the tape comes in a wide range of sizes. I usually use the width of my presser foot to make small grids…I don’t think I even own a marking pen anymore. But then, I rarely do any quilting that isn’t totally free motion. I can’t follow a line!

  2. Helen says

    Do all of the marking that you need before you layer the quilt. No fun once the batting is under the top. On slinky fabric try sandpaper (fine) under the fabric while you are marking, it really helps. I’ve also used tape-as-you-quilt, it works well but don’t leave it on too long or where it can get warm. Grids? That’s what the funny L-shaped things that go on your walking foot are for. I’ll bet they are still in the box.

    • jennyklyon says

      Helen I never know what I’m going to quilt before I layer. The few times I have marked before I layered, I changed my mind! Ahhh, if only….

      As to the walking foot attachment, I’d have to use the walking foot! That means I’d have to move the whole quilt for every line. I do 90 degree turns at the end of every line so that it’s continuous. Not sure if the words convey this well, but using the walking foot on a grid in an area with a 4″ border means either a whole lot of starts and stops or moving the quilt 90 degrees every 4″.

      I have used the walking foot attachments a number of times, also tried to use the width of my free motion foot for grids, but I find that both methods result in wobbly lines-just not as accurate. I must be hopeless…

  3. Marcia Russell says

    Jenny, I hope you are keeping all your posts and pictures for the book you need to be writing. Your observations, trials and rescues need to be shared on a larger scale. So much information!

  4. says

    I am terrified of marking. All I ever hear is horror stories about markings that disappeared too soon, or worse — that REAPPEARED after washing and refused to go away. I read once that BALL POINT PENS were recommended marking pens for quilters when they were first invented. I wonder how many quilters committed suicide over that one?!

  5. jennyklyon says

    I too am pretty careful about what I use to mark with. As long as I am willing to wash my quilt, and I can see my marks, and I’m careful about heat setting, I’ll use the blue wash outs. Obviously though, they are not foolproof. This is why I try to not mark!

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