Thursday, February 12, 2015

Marking Tools

I have been emailed, face-booked, and messaged I don't know how many times over the last few weeks regarding marking tools.  The number one question being, "what do you use to mark dark fabrics?"  It seems finding a good marking pen or pencil is a tall order.  What matters to me personally, is that a marking tool is affordable, easy to find, marks well, and then REMOVES easily.  Here I am going to share with you the top marking tools I use for light AND dark fabrics - why I use them - and some of the pros and cons of each tool.  I hope some of you find this helpful when you are looking for just the right thing to mark your quilts, and maybe you have found a holy grail marking tool that you would like to share with me!

For Light Fabrics:

Water Soluble Blue Ink Marking Pens
These markers yield thicker lines, but can be found in fine point as well.

Where to buy:  I am pretty sure I bought these particular markers at Walmart, but I also buy them from my local Jo Ann Fabrics.  They sell around $2-$3 each.  I would love if I could find these in ten packs, but to date I have had to buy them in singles.  You can find them at most sewing or craft stores, or anywhere that sells sewing notions.  I usually buy the thicker markers, but they can also be found in fine point.

What you should know:  They can stain, turn brown, or be difficult to remove.  Be sure to test on fabrics first, especially if the quilt is not your own.  I do not recommend leaving them for long periods of time - a few days?  I would feel comfortable with that.  A few months?  I would be wary.  Heat can turn the ink brown so that means be careful with irons, SUNLIGHT, hot lamps/lights, or very warm climates.  Humidity can remove the markings as soon as you place them.  They can be difficult to remove completely, they are notorious for coming back.  To remove the ink I have found the best method to be completely soaking the quilt in cold water for 30 minutes.  Otherwise, you can simply redistribute the ink so that your lines are gone, but once the quilt dries you find water stain type "pools" of blue ink in odd areas of your quilt.  Here's an example:

Best removed by total submersion in COLD water for 30 minutes.  Air dry, avoid heat of any kind until you KNOW the ink has been completely removed.
This quilt has been spritzed with cold water probably more than a dozen times.  It keeps redistributing the ink, it comes back lighter, but it comes back.  The only way I will be able to remove this for sure is to totally submerge the quilt in cold water.  I would air dry flat and not toss your quilt in the dryer until you are SURE the ink is gone.

You will also want to note that they do NOT last as long as traditional markers.  They tend to run out of ink very quickly.  If you plan to mark an entire quilt with these pens, you'll want to buy several to complete the job.


Water Soluble Purple Disappearing Ink Pens
I use fine point almost exclusively, but they are also available in thick lines.

Where to buy:  I also find these at Wal-mart or Jo Ann Fabrics locally.  Again, most craft/sewing stores will carry these - even online.  They can be found in a thicker marker like tip but I generally use them in fine point.  There are even some that have disappearing ink on one end, an eraser on the other, or even blue ink on the other end.

What you should know:  They are very easy to remove, in my opinion.  If left alone they will eventually disappear on their own.  Heavy lines may last longer (days rather than hours) than thin fine lines.  Water also removes these, so if you want instant gratification, mark, sew, then spritz with water and wipe away.  This ink is also heat sensitive and can turn brown and become permanent - be careful with irons, sunlight, hot lamps, warm climates - and humidity can remove them as soon as you mark with them.  I have never had a disappearing ink pen return in the way that blue marking pen ink does.


For Medium/Dark Fabrics:

Left to Right:  White Chalk/Lead Mechanical Pencil, Lead/Chalk Refills, (above the refills) White Chalkboard Chalk, Water Soluble White Marking Pencil

From Top to Bottom:  White (school) Chalkboard Chalk, White Water Soluble Marking Pencil, Fons and Porter White Mechanical Pencil

#1.  White Chalk/Lead Mechanical Pencil:  I am able to find the Fons & Porter brand locally so that is what I tend to buy.  I do know that Sewline makes a version of this pencil, as well as Bohin.  I'm sure there are other brands out there if you do a search for them.

Where to buy:  I find mine at my local Jo Ann Fabrics.  They are around $14-$16, but then I use a coupon making them $7-$9.  These are a little harder to find in smaller craft and sewing stores.  We live in a small town with one fabric store and zero quilt shops, so I was very happy to find it here.  Check locally, but you may have to order online.  Another place to look might be an art supply store.

What you should know:  They are made of a white pigment/lead that is water soluble.  Lines are fine, smooth, and extremely easy to mark with.  The lines disappear easier than any other white marking tool I have used to date, though  not as easily as plain white chalkboard chalk.  They can leave behind a white residue/mark.  I remove them with water, a clean rag, or gently rubbing away with clean hands.  I am also very careful to use the lines where I plan to stitch, so if there is any remaining mark on my jet black fabric, it is covered by thread.  These are wonderful for precise exact stitching lines.  You may choose to again soak your quilt for 30 minutes after quilting to fully remove marks from fabric.


#2.  White Chalkboard Chalk:  Your standard run of the mill chalkboard chalk - in white only.  I do not use the colors as they do tend to stain.  They yield thick lines so are not ideal for precise stitching lines - but great for registration marks and general marking on dark fabrics.

Where to buy:  I find these at my local dollar tree in 6 packs for a dollar.  You can find them at just about any big box store like Wal-mart, K-mart, or any office supply/school supply store - or even the dollar store.

What you should know:  They are very easy to remove.  Spritz with water and wipe away with a clean rag.  Only the white is easy to remove - colors can stain.


#3.  Water Soluble White Marking Pencil:  These are the white removable marking pencils you most often see in craft and sewing stores.  White pigment, like the white mechanical pencils, but I find these do not give as dark of a line and can be harder to mark with (catches on fabric more, a pain to have to sharpen and get a fine point after use).

Where to buy:  Wal-mart, Jo Ann Fabrics, most sewing and craft supply stores.  They run about $1-$3 a piece.

What you should know:  These can just be a pain in my opinion.  They tend to catch on fabric and be difficult to mark with, I often have to retrace over lines to get a good mark.  Also, it seems that after the first initial use I struggle to get a fine point again even with sharpening.  They seem waxy and do tend to leave marks behind - submerging fully in water is again the only way I have found to remove them, and even then I need to do a little scrubbing to completely rid of them.  You'll want to use them lightly as heavy marks are hardest to remove - but then - used lightly they can be hard to see.  I use these most for marking seams and areas of a quilt that will not be seen or hidden in the piecing rather than for marking the quilting.

   Below is a photo I took immediately after spritzing with water and gently rubbing with a cloth the same black fabric you see above where I marked with each white tool.  You can see that a little residue is left behind with both the mechanical pencil and the wooden pencil.  I believe this is par for the course with white marking tools, but I will say the mechanical pencil rubs away clean with gentle rubbing with my bare hand.  I suppose you'd have to decide how much work you want to invest in removing the markings - and carefully choose HOW to use the pencils for best results.

Bottom to Top:  White Chalk, White Water Soluble Marking Pencil, White Mechanical Pencil


***There are many many tools out there for marking your fabrics and these are just the ones that I use the most.  I haven't tried them all, but I do frequently try new things as I hear about them.  I would recommend always testing out on fabric ahead of time, and try different brands.  One wonderful tool by a certain brand may not behave the same as a formula for the same style of tool by a different brand.

***Do you have a holy grail marking tool?  If so please do share!


Rose in VT said...

Excellent post! Regarding the blue washout markers, I've used them for hand quilted projects that have taken 3 years to finish. As the marks fade, I've had to remark about a year and a half into the project. I protect it from heat/humidity by keeping in a plastic bag when not being worked on. After the issues you've noted, all projects are immersed in water (not hot) to remove marks. I do not soak, just swish around for a minute or two. If the project is dirty, I'll then put it in the washing machine. I've never had the marks return. Like you, I had to learn this the hard way, with many bad experiences with 'spritzing.'

Lara B. said...

Valerie, this is immensely helpful information! Thanks for writing this post! I pinned it to Quilts, Quilts, Quilts so that more people can read it,

I found out the hard way on the little twister quilt that when I used Frixion pens on the dark fabric, that the ink took a little of the dye out of the fabric. So that is one thing to be aware of, regarding them. They work very well otherwise.

Dora, the Quilter said...

I've used the blue wash out pens for for at least 35 years. I think they have changed the formulas over the years. A few years ago I finished a piece that had been marked for over 20 years. No problems. On the other hand, I pulled out some embroidery blocks I'd marked about ten years ago, and all the ink had disappeared. Oh, well!

Andrea said...

I just discoverd a white marking PEN by clover - it is a disappearing or spray out pen. It goes on very light, and then darkens slightly to a darker white. I have hated the chalk pencils for the reasons you stated above - they are hard to remove.

Anonymous said...

Following a tip I read in a quilting magazine I've tried (on several samples) Crayola "Ultra-Clean Washable Fine Line Markers".
After marking several fabric samples I tortured the fabrics with hot water, a day in the freezer, and a hot iron. All samples came out completely without stain or reappearing color. My set came in 10 colors, so there are choices for light and dark fabrics.