Tips and Tools – On Your Mark, Get Set, Quilt!

The other day, my dear friend, Barbara, said,  “How do I mark my quilt top for quilting? I need help”  So, I thought I’d address that very important issue today.

Marking a quilt top for hand-quilting is a bit different than marking one to be quilted by machine. Some marking tools can be used for both.

Here are just a few tools that I have and use.

From left to right:  Quilter’s Choice silver marking pencil for marking on light fabrics. mechanical pencil with Fons & Porter 0.9mm Mechanical  Fabric Pencil Lead, Mark-B-Gone dual purpose pen with water soluble ink (blue) and disappearing ink (purple), Quilter’s Choice white marking pencil for medium to dark fabrics, mechanical pencil with 0.9mm white Mechanical Fabric Pencil Lead. Also, not pictured, are 1/4inch and 1inch masking tape. Some people use Painter’s Tape as there is less chance of it leaving a residue, but, it doesn’t come in 1/4inch size. Only 1inch and larger.




When I first started hand quilting, I used mainly the silver and white Quilter’s Choice pencils.

The silver pencil on the left is what I used to write words on the lighter fabrics on my husband’s quilt. I had never used this pencil before and I thought it would wear off eventually, so, at first, I made rather dark marks with it. It’s been finished and on our bed for at least two years and I can still see those markings, but, only if I look closely. The mark just to the left of this pencil is about how dark I first made them. The mark to the right is very light, but still easy to see and is how I learned to mark lighter. With both the silver and white pencils, I did have to sharpen them often to maintain a sharp point and thus a thin line. Now, I use mainly the mechanical pencils . The line is consistently thin and the lead is easily advanced. Double YAY!



On the word “family” here, the silver is clearly visible. This word is just below the right side of the center heart in the third photo below.

I, also, did all of the marking for hand-quilting my husband’s quilt AFTER  the top, batting, and backing were layered and basted. I did not have a plan for how to quilt each section until I got to it. I use a hoop in my lap to hand-quilt, so when I needed to make some marks, I just slipped a clip-board under it to give me a hard surface on which to write.



On subsequent blocks, I wrote much lighter. Just enough of a mark so I could see it without eye strain.


Now, I can’t see the marks. Only my hand-quilting stitches. YAY!

I drew this heart on a piece of printer paper and cut it out. Then, I traced around it, turning it upside down as needed to fill the space.

There are many quilting motifs made of template plastic on the market that you can purchase and trace to mark your quilt if you do not want to draw your own.



The same thing occurred with the white pencil at first. But. I learned. You don’t really notice the marks unless you look closely, but I see shadowing from the early marks because I know they are there.

We have three children, so I had each child lay their hand on a block. I traced their hand, wrote their name and birthdate inside it, and then drew pictures of their favorite things around their hand. This is a picture of our daughter’s horse named Jack. I drew Jack on paper, cut it out and traced around it.  As you can see, the white marking is still slightly visible.

I quilted information in the hourglass blocks of the quilt as a sort of family history. I wanted the information there, but not, in-your-face. I wanted it to be an unexpected surprise to someone looking at it. You can easily read the information from the back as I used muslin for backing with that particular thought in mind.



Family history is quilted in the four hourglass blocks surrounding the heart.

I realize that I’ve kind of gotten off on a rabbit trail with the information quilted into this quilt, but I just wanted you to see that there is a need for a marking pencil when marking curves such as writing or drawings when either hand or machine quilting.

When doing free-motion machine-quilting, marking pencils, whether standard or mechanical, are great for making registration marks to keep motifs a consistent size.



 I used both 1inch and 1/4inch masking tape to mark straight lines. Then just quilted to the left of the tape. I could then reposition the tape in another section and quilt along side it there. The tape could be used three or four times before it stopped adhering.



DO NOT leave the masking tape on your quilt top for more than a day as it can leave a residue. I usually just remove all tape at the end of my hand-quilting session, just in case I can’t get back to it the next day.

I DO NOT recommend using masking or painter’s tape when machine quilting. If you happen to sew onto the tape, it can gum up your needle and it is a PAIN to pick tiny pieces of tape out of fabric! (Guess how I know that.)

The dark green inner border was marked using the 1/4inch tape. I marked the center with tape, then measured 5/8inch from the left edge and put a piece of tape along side that. (Pictured above) The many taped lines here are only to show you how I quilted the lines.

I only laid one line of tape from the side at a time. I’m right handed, and if I’d laid all of the tape out, my hand would have messed up the other tape lines. So I measured, laid the tape, and quilted to the left of the tape. Then I removed the tape, measured 5/8inch from the quilted line, and repositioned the tape, and again quilted to the left of it. When measuring from the right, I quilted just to the RIGHT of the tape.

The water soluble ink and disappearing ink pen pictured here, are great for machine quilting. The lines are clearly visible and the blue lines stay there until removed with water, so you can mark your entire quilt top before you begin quilting.

The purple ink is removable by air or with water. The two purple lines to the right of the pen are to show you it’s disappearing ability. I drew the left one yesterday at about 6pm. The right one was drawn at 8am this morning. If the purple doesn’t fade away completely, it, too, can be removed with water.  The blue line was also drawn at 6pm and it’s color has not changed. I would recommend using the disappearing ink (purple) only if you are going to quilt it within 12 hours, otherwise you may have to re-mark it.


Occasionally either ink can reappear slightly. If that happens, just spritz it with a little water. ALWAYS test the pens on scraps of the fabric in your quilt before marking the entire quilt top. There may be a fabric in there that likes to stubbornly hang on to the ink.

Also, NEVER iron  your quilt top when it is marked with either ink. Heat sets the ink. I have even heard that you shouldn’t leave an ink-marked quilt in a car, as even the heat from the sun can set it, too. Just be careful when using ink.

There are other tools and marking utensils on the market. Try a few and see which ones you like. These have worked well for me.

If you have a marking tool or method that you like, please share it with me. Just email me at I’d love to hear from you!

As always, I hope these tips and tools help you enjoy your quilting more!


P.S. When I’ve finished a hand-quilting session, I “mark” the spot where I left off by safety-pinning a small plastic circle to the quilt. I just cut it out of a yogurt container lid and punched 2 holes in it with a hole puncher.



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