The quilting design needs to be marked onto your fabric, so that you can see where to stitch.

The ideal marker is one which shows a clear line until you have quilted along it, but then completely disappears! Inevitably, this is not always simple to achieve, so it is a good idea to test out possible markers on your chosen fabric, to make sure they can be removed afterwards.

Suitable markers to try include:

Hera marker

This is a kind of plastic knife which leaves a crease mark on most fabrics. It’s my favourite marker as it doesn’t need washing out afterwards. It’s particularly suitable for straight lines and gentle curves.

Straight lines being marked with a hera against a ruler edge.

Can you see the crease mark it leaves?

Marked using a hera marker

An old-fashioned, but effective forerunner of this is to use a large blunt needle. Hold it vertically, and “scratch” a line. Again, it leaves a surprisingly good crease mark – it’s easier to mark tight curves this way.

Scratch marking around a tightly curved paper template

Quilter’s Pencils

These come in various colours so that you can pick one which shows up best; silver, yellow or white are good on darker fabrics.

Various colours of refills are available

Some markers are like a propelling pencil, with fine ceramic leads. I like Bohin (white) and Sewline (various colours).

Can you see how I have sharpened the ends of these Quilter’s Pencils into a wedge?

The chalky filling is quite soft, and breaks easily if sharpened with a pencil sharpener to the usual point.

Using a craft knife instead means that you can leave more width to give it strength, but still draw an accurate, narrow line.

These markers can also be used for patchwork – drawing lines down the diagonal for quick piecing half square triangles, or marking seam allowance lines for hand piecing.


Pounce is a very old method, which is still useful for complicated stencils. A chalky powder is contained within a fabric bag (usually now in a plastic holder to avoid it getting all over your hands).

When you buy the pounce pad, it comes with a bag of chalk. Remove the red stopper to expose the filling hole, and pour the chalk powder in, so the pounce impregnates the integral fabric pad underneath.

Your stencil is placed in the desired position over your layered fabric (you might like to hold it in place with masking tape), and the pounce pad is then simply swept across the stencil, leaving the chalky powder in the gaps and instantly transferring your design.

Using a pounce pad to mark the design from a stencil

Pounce brushes off pretty quickly, so its best to go over the lines with a marking pencil before they disappear, filling in the gaps left by the stencil as you go. Alternatively, you can apparently fix it in position using hair spray or spray starch (I don’t do this because I hate the smell!)

A quilters pencil has been used to go over the white chalk lines, in case they wear away.

Pounce is available in white, pink or blue, so choose a colour which shows up on your fabric. As usual, test it out first – the white seems to cause no problems, but I have heard some reports that the blue doesn’t always wash out. Traditionally, cornflour was used on dark fabrics, and cinnamon on light fabrics – this would undoubtedly smell much better than hair spray, but I haven’t tried it!

Other markers

Other methods that you might like to try are thin slivers of soap, chalk pencils or roller markers. The small pats of soap provided by hotels quickly wear down to a useful size and shape. A craft knife can be used to sharpen the edge. Soap leaves a good line on dark fabric, and of course it washes out easily!

I don’t like any of the so-called disappearing pens (the purple “air erasable”, the bright blue “water erasable” or Frixion pens) – they have a nasty tendency to reappear (permanently) with temperature changes. So, I would NOT recommend these. If you must use them, make sure that you wash them out thoroughly, and don’t iron the lines.

Why not try out some of these different methods, and decide which are most suitable for you?

This page is part of a set about Hand Quilting Basics on UKQU.

Click on the links to discover more:

If you would like to try hand quilting, there is a beautiful Feathered Hearts design in my Shop, which would be a lovely way to start.


  1. Maggie Attfield

    Thank you for a very helpful and timely article. I have been trying this very recently and now know why my pencils did not work. Apparently, there is also an iron-off pounce powder. I could have tried cornflour had I known this last week.

    1. Carolyn Gibbs Post author

      I’m glad you found it helpful, and hope you find something that works well for you. Personally I would be as suspicious of iron-off pounce as of air erasable pencils – as a Chemistry teacher, I know that the chemical will still be in the fabric, and that cold temperatures will reverse the reaction to make it appear again….