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Water-Soluble Marking Pen Nearly Ruins A Quilt

A smart (and lucky) reader relates a nearly disasterous mistake she made, and how she managed to save the day.

Have you ever used a water-soluble blue ink pen made for marking your quilts? Did you forget to remove the marks properly? Karen Hoskins (a.k.a. KSh in Reno) found a way to save your quilt from ruin.

I use the EZ Quilting water-erasable pens to mark all my quilts. Once I used them on a white antique quilt top, in 1/2″ grid lines.

When I was finished quilting, I put the quilt in the wash with Clorox 2, a non-chlorine bleach. I was horrified to see that all the blue lines turned brown in the wash.

I tried many different solutions to remove the brown marks, and was only successful when I used a gallon of plain white vinegar in the machine with the wet quilt.

Despite my narrow escape, you shouldn’t be afraid to try the EZ Quilting blue or pink pens. They are a marvelous marking tool.

Just remember: Rinse the quilt in plain cold water before you wash it! That way, the pen marks will always come out. After the quilt is thoroughly rinsed and then washed, the pen marks will never come back at a later date, or after drying.

Thank you, Karen! I know that I would have been extremely upset to have ruined my quilt by a careless mistake at any stage, but particularly at the end. I don’t know that I would have thought of vinegar to remove color. I usually think of using vinegar to set color. I know this tip will save many broken hearts.

EZ Quilting has a nice Web site, but there’s no sign of the pens there. Karen gets hers at Michaels and at her local quilt shop. If you know a place that sells them online, drop me a note and I’ll post the information here. Thanks!

- Sharon


Readers’ Comments:

April 9, 2001
Margie L. writes:

“I love my water-soluble pens. I keep a spray bottle of plain water beside me and as I finish a block, I spritz it right away. That way I won’t forget and it is ready to launder.

“I fell in love with them on the first try because I had had some problems with other markers before.”

April 16, 2001
Annette J. writes:

“As a dyer, I thought I would share the reason those water soluble markers are staining your quilts. It has everything to do with the laundry detergent you use.

“If the laundry detergent has sodium carbonate in it, that is the ‘fixer’ for the color in the dye. This sodium carbonate, otherwise known as soda ash, can be found in its purest form in Arm & Hammer or any other detergent with ‘whiteners and brighteners.’

“The reason that the vinegar helped remove the stain was
because it pushed the pH of the water to an acidic point, thus allowing the fabric to release the dye. (Sodium carbonate is a strong base.)

“Hope this helps clarify the matter. I would suggest you wash any quilt first in clear, warm water. It’s the best solution.”

April 16, 2001
Bonnie M. writes:

“I once made up a beautiful quilt using my grandmother’s heritage linens and had portions of it machine quilted. The quilter used one of these miracle pens, and did spritz it as she finished up.

“However, she did not consider the fact that the ink can migrate with the water, and the ink showed up on the back of the quilt.

“Bottom line: You need to check the back of the quilt, too, especially if you are spraying hard!”

April 16, 2001
Jane S. writes:

“I’ve heard some horror stories, but I’ve used
water-soluble markers with no problems on all three wedding gowns that I made for my daughters.

“One gown skirt was marked all the way around with feather markings. I just laid the skirt in the tub on a white sheet and cold to lukewarm water, then spun it out in my washer with no problems.

“It has since been washed in my washer on gentle and looks as good as the day it was finished. So just follow directions and test a piece of fabric first.”

April 23, 2001
Ami Simms writes:

“The blue ‘spit pens’ contain a chemical that reacts with some laundry products containing more than 3% sodium hydroxide or more than 5% sodium carbonate. It will make the marks turn brown. (I’m not so smart; I got this from the back of the package.)

“If memory serves (and it doesn’t always), sodium carbonate is used with Procion dyes – dense soda ash – so one might have the same problem with hand-dyed fabrics that have not been pre-washed. Be that as it may, here’s what I do when I use these pens (and they are delightful when used properly).

“1. Pre-wash all fabric and give them a double rinse to make sure any detergent residue (that might have the above chemicals in them) is removed.

“2. Make a test sample. Use the pen on every piece of fabric you intend to use in your quilt.

“3. When removing the blue ink do not use a plant mister. Instead, fill up your washing machine with tepid (room temperature) or cold water, toss the quilt in, leave the lid up (so it won’t agitate), and let the quilt soak for several hours. Go see a movie.

“4. Drain the water and, if you need to wash the quilt, re-fill the washer with clean water and a mild soap like Mountain Mist Ensure (not the vitamin suppliment) or Orvis (you don’t need to buy a horse to go along with it) and soak the quilt. Swish the water if you must, but don’t agitate. That’s too rough a treatment for a hand-made quilt.

“5. Pop the quilt in the dryer for 10 minutes on Low, then hang it up to dry. The heat should remove any wrinkles without shrinking the batting — if you happen to be using cotton batting.”

April 24, 2001
Mary V. writes:

“I found the blue washable marker did not fully disappear after I brushed the marks with cold water. There were rings around the area where the pen was used. I had to wash the article completely in cold water to get the rings out.”

June 6, 2001
A Quilter’s Review reader writes:

Thanks so much for all these great tips on washable markers. I am using one right now. It was worth taking a break from it to get online.

July 11, 2001
Audrey Y. writes:

I keep a damp paper towel nearby and as soon as I finish quilting a section, I dab at the blue marks until they disappear. Works for me!

July 14, 2001
Jan L. writes:

When I’m using the blue markers, which I love but used to make me very nervous, I keep a small bowl of water nearby and use a small, soft watercolor brush to go over the lines. Got this tip from a magazine recently. It works great!

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8 Responses to Water-Soluble Marking Pen Nearly Ruins A Quilt

  1. This article saved my quilt! I had finished a whole cloth quilt that I had designed and been working on for a very long time. I noticed a small yellow stain near the edge and decided (my mistake) that when I put it in the washer to remove the blue marker; I would add an oxygen powder and a small amount of detergent. I was heart broken to find that the marker turned brown and was NOT removed. Ran to my computer and did a search. This site came up. I took the advise and filled my tub half full of water, added 1 quart of white vinegar mixed it around, put my quilt in, and soaked it for several hours. To my joy the marker came out! Thank you for being here on the internet. All those hours of work were saved! Much appreciated!

  2. WOW I have just finished a crib quilt for my first grandchild. I am a novice quilter and did use the blue quilting pen. Am I glad I came to this site before washing the quilt ! Thanks so much.

  3. Kristie Stratford

    You need to try Blue Line Eraser. Look it up at http://www.bluelineeraser.com or call 208-677-3966. Read what it says about it on the web site. I saw it at the Long Arm Quilt Show in Sandy, UT.

  4. THANK YOU! Today I finished quilting my quilt. My quilt was done up in white and red fabrics. When removing some of the blue marking pen earlier in the quilt process, a red fabric bled into the white. After noticing it, I soaked the area in Tide-vivid (while the quilt was still wet.) The red faded away and the crisis was averted. SO… thinking that I would make a preemptive attack on the problem, I added Tide-vivid to the cold water bath needed to remove the pen. Just as in your case, my quilt was covered in brown lines. Because of this post, I was able to soak it in vinegar as suggested, and the quilt was saved. I am so thankful that my quilt was still wet so that this process would work! I plan on posting a link to your post on my blog. I can’t thank you enough for posting this for me. I was in tears, and thanks to you all of my hard work was not done in vain. THANK YOU!!!

  5. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He used to be entirely right. This publish actually made my day. You cann’t imagine just how a lot time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

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  7. I have just finished a Winnie the Pooh quilt and guess what – the lines have turned brown. I am going to fill up by bath with water and add the Vinegar, but how much vinegar to a bath half full of water and should the water be warm or cold. My feelings are it should be cold, but at this stage, I am second guessing everything I do. I have been quilting for 30 years and have never had this happen before. This is what happens when you think you have found a bargain in marking pens. I should have stuck to Clover.

  8. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!!! I was just heart-sick after all my hard work. I’ve used water soluble pens before and never had any trouble removing marks with water. This time, they stayed on only the red fabric in my quilt. The vinegar worked!!! Can’t thank you enough!!!

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