"Quilt as desired." I'm just as guilty as all of the other quilt pattern designers. I admit to using that phrase. Three little words. So simple, yet so filled with vague expectations and fear. When I write those words at the end of a pattern I know my work is done and yours is just beginning.
People ask me how I choose a design for a top and what works for me is letting the top tell me. Almost everything I know about quilt designs is what I have seen on antique quilts. Utilitarian, homey type quilts are often put in their best light by an allover design like the clamshell or my favorite, the Baptist fan (or Methodist fan). Applique quilts often have their shapes emphasized and outlined. Big empty spaces call out for feather wreaths, and some quilts will have all of the above and more. Look at lots and lots of old quilts. They will guide you better than anything else.
Once you have settled on what you like - how do you get that translated onto your quilt? Quilt stencils are a huge help. Templates that you can trace around work too. Okay, so you have that much figured out, what kind of pencil do you use? There is no one answer. I have used every one that I have seen at any quilt shop. Every quilt is different and every fabric poses it's own challenge. Basically, what you want is a mark that stays on long enough so you can quilt it - but is easy to remove. Our Grandmothers didn't have a very big choice. They used lead pencils, chalk, soap, and occasionally a powder that they would pounce through a stencil - like cinnamon. I think one of the challenges we face is that our fabric today is often busy, abstract, and in many colors. No one tool will work. I will tell you what I think is the most versatile marking tools today.
I haven't used a lead pencil in over 20 years. It works on light and quiet fabrics - yet it often is just a little too aggressive for me. Sometimes it doesn't come out in the first washing. That started to make me nervous and I went to other pencils that showed up just as well, but I knew would disappear. A good substitute is the silver Berol pencil. This is found at many quilt shops or art supply stores. Another good pencil at the art supply store is the white charcoal pencil. Some quilt shops carry this now too. It works on dark fabrics beautifully. Like many pencils that mark well on fabric, it is soft. The point wears down quickly and breaks easily. That's just the price you pay for a marking tool that you know will wash out. I found that an old fashioned pencil sharpener - the kind that used to be at the front of the room in elementary school - is the best sharpener. If you can find one with the adjustable dial for difference sized pencils, that helps too. Electric sharpeners are great, but I haven't seen one that accommodates different sized pencils. In the last few years there are new mechanical pencils for fabric with soft, different colored leads. They rock. A couple of these with all the different colored leads will take you a long way.The chalk ratchet wheel markers are also very useful. The newest version, the slim pencil type ones will mark a fine chalk line. These are easy to use and will mark for days. The downside of chalk is that it is sometimes too temporary. One of my favorite markers - especially if I am marking straight lines like a cross-hatch pattern - is the hera markerA hera marker is a Japanese tailoring tool. It has no lead or chalk. What it does is leave a sharp crease. If you lay a ruler down on the fabric, hold the hera marker like you would a rotary cutter and run it down the edge of the ruler. A crisp, clean indentation will appear and it is very easy to see. Of course, you now have no fear of this mark coming out. It will naturally disappear in a day or so.
A day or so..... That brings up probably the most important hint I can give you. These markings should only be done one section at a time. All of your markings, ideally, will come out fairly easily and it is pointless to mark too much ahead. A few turns of the quilt in your lap and your marks start to fade. That means that I mark a quilt, a section at a time, after it is basted.
There was a question on marking the Baptist fan design. I mark this pattern one set of concentric arcs at a time. Since I am right handed, I start at the bottom right hand edge and mark my first set of arcs. I mark the next set of concentric arcs immediately to it's left. I would probably mark one row across the bottom of the quilt. (or maybe a half of a row if it is a large quilt). This quilting design strays from the "always start at the center of the quilt" rule. You need to start at one edge and run straight across. Once this first row is quilted, mark the next row starting on top of the already quilted row. Again, start on the right hand side and work left. If you have more questions about this, I can post pictures in a later post.
Oy, that was wordy.... the next post will be on basting.
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