Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Implore You, for the Sake of Your Quilt

On Thursday afternoon I was feeling excited about the ta-da moment of posting my washed and dried snowball and nine-patch quilt for little Olivia.  I'd finished the binding early in the day and tossed the quilt in the washer.  When I pulled it out and examined it I found that the pencil marks for the quilting had not washed out!  Drat!

I was disappointed.  I used pencil on my String-X quilt and it washed out completely.  And I'd sampled pencil on some of the fabrics in this quilt and they washed out.  I know nothing about the chemistry of pencil on fabric.  Maybe some fabrics soak in the graphite, or maybe the longer the pencil is on the fabric, the harder it is to remove.  It doesn't matter.  I would just rather not have pencil lead on a finished quilt.

Being the sensible sort, I did not panic.  I got online and searched how to remove pencil marks from fabric.  I found many suggestions.  I tried each then washed the quilt and air-dried it before trying the next.  Unfortunately none of them were completely effective. 

I tried
  • Goop.  It is my go-to stain remover and nearly never fails me.  Chances are it would probably remove pencil from jeans (where it matters much less than it matters on a new baby quilt!).
  • a white eraser.  That was a big mistake.  It rubbed the fiber the wrong way.
  • liquid hand soap which had no effect whatsoever.
  • a mixture of water, alcohol, and dish soap as recommended at Quilt History.  It was ineffective.
  • Fels Naphtha rubbed on the marks.  It had no effect.
  • ammonia.  This may have lightened some of the pencil lines but did not remove the darkest of them.
  • Lestoil.  This may also have lightened some of the lines but also did not remove the darkest of them.
Lestoil was my last resort.  I used a q-tip to dab it onto the pencil lines, washed it, then into the dryer.  While the pencil lines are still there, the puckers in the fabric around the quilting seem to camouflage all but the very worst of the lines.  I've decided it's a fact that pencil is nearly impossible to remove from fabric.  I can only take comfort in knowing that my great-grandmother's quilt, made in the 1920s or 1930s, also has residual pencil marks and it is no less beautiful nor serviceable than if they were not there.

Still, I implore you for the sake of your quilt,
Please do not use pencil to mark quilting lines!

And one last photo, just for the fun of it.  The view into my washer after the last wash.


  1. Aww.. sorry about the pencil problems, but I kind of find them endearing when on old family quilts from decades ago. And that is the cutest view into a washer that I've ever seen. If my washer could somehow look like that every time I opened it up to throw laundry in, I might do laundry a lot more often. hehe ;)

    1. Me, too -- about finding pencil marks endearing on my great-grandmother's and my mother's quilts, so I guess I'll just make peace with pencil marks.

      It would be fun if washing machine manufacturers could figure out a way to make the inside of a washing machine look more exciting than it usually does. I'm glad you like the photo. I was really surprised when I opened the machine and saw it. I had to run back upstairs for my camera.

  2. I found 'Frixion' pens - when you put heat (iron) on them - your marks disappear.
    Hopefully with a few washings your pencil marks will disappear.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up about Frixion pens, Bonny. I'll look for them.

  3. I've never thought pencil markings would be so difficult to remove! But I'll be more careful now when using them. They aren't glaringly noticeable in the pictures and hopefully they'll fade with time, too. I love the heart quilting, Nancy!

    1. I researched online before using the pencil and read both ways - easy to remove, hard to remove - and I didn't have a problem with a previous quilt or on a few of the fabrics in this quilt before I used the pencil. Yes, go lightly with pencil. I know I will from now on, or not even use them. Perhaps they're fading. Thanks for the compliment about the hearts.

  4. So sorry to hear this happened on your beautiful quilt. I have always used a pencil for marking, although I am careful to make very light lines, and I have never had this problem. In fact, I always do small sections at a time -- otherwise the marks will often rub off (in the process of repositioning my hoop) before I get to the next section. Years ago I sent a top to be quilted by a group of church ladies, and it came back with very dark pencil lines. To remove them I used a teaspoon of Oxyclean powder dissolved in a small amount of hot water which I rubbed into the marks with a Q-tip. I didn't rinse it out until I finished dabbing the entire quilt, because I wanted the Oxyclean to have time to work. I was so relieved that the marks did come out.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion of using Oxyclean, Martha. I may try that. It is a disappointment to have pencil lines in a quilt but I think it would be even more disappointing if I hadn't put them there! So glad the Oxyclean worked for your dark lines.

      I looked up the Goop website last night and learned that they recommend leaving the solution on for at least an hour up to overnight. I may try that again, too, and leave it on overnight.

      Take care and thanks for coming to leave a comment. I appreciate it.

  5. Wow! Thanks for posting this! But I think it is just part of the history of the quilt and will not detract. You will notice it more than anyone else!


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