The Free Motion Quilting Project: Quilt / Block Marking Tips

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Quilt / Block Marking Tips

Are you ready to start quilting? Next Monday we will start free motion quilting, so between now and then, let me share some tips for marking your blocks so they are prepared and ready to quilt next week.

Just in case you haven't already, pick up your copy of the Building Blocks Quilt Pattern right here.

I know this isn't the sunniest time of the year, but even on the super cold, super gray day we were having yesterday, I was able to mark my block with the light coming through the front door.

Another alternative if you have a glass table in your house is to place a bright light below it so it shines up through the table.

Finally, at last resort you can invest in a lightbox. I've seen simple, very small light boxes for under $20 in the toy department of Walmart (look for the coloring area). Another option is to create one using a thin plastic bin like an Artbin and place a bright, battery powered LED light inside.

Personally I've built several lightboxes that stand at the same height as my cutting / pressing table. I posted a bit about them here a few years ago.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I use a lightbox almost every day for design, marking quilt tops or blocks, arrangement, etc. I find it to be a super useful thing to have...but they do take up a lot of space, and they aren't really necessary if you have a big glass window or door that's convenient for marking.

Of course, the most important thing about marking is not the lightbox or door you use, but the marking pencil you use to mark the quilting lines.

I've been using the Fons & Porter marking pencil because I'm working with medium to darker fabrics.
free motion quilting | Leah Day

If you've chosen lighter fabrics, you might want to check out the Fine Line Water Soluble Pen.

Whichever pen you use, make sure to test it on a scrap of fabric from your quilt. Make a mark, then try to erase it following the directions on the package. If the marks don't erase completely, please go find another marking pen or pencil! I promise the last thing you want to do is get completely done with your quilt and find the marks don't come out. This has happened to me before...

Another thing to note is not to use heat around your block after it has been marked. Yes, some pens erase with heat, but for the most part, heat sets the marks, making them permanent.

So BEFORE you mark, give your block a final press, then mark it, and remember NOT to hit it with the iron again until after the block is quilted and the marks have been erased.

Whew! So you should be able to mark your three Block #1's and be one step closer to free motion quilting!

Just in case you'd like to share your blocks, or see pictures of quilter's blocks from all over the world, join in the Building Blocks Facebook Group.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Hi Leah,
    I've sewn my blocks - now to mark them, but like one of your other commenters I have a question about quilting (not piecing) thread. Long ago I wrote down your words that you prefer Isacord thread for quilting (polyester) ...yet you said in one of your comments recently that you prefer Aurifil 100% cotton and in another comment that you recommended YLI variegated for quilting...looks like YLI is only in cotton? What is the best thing to get for the quilting part of this project? I'm using black prints of different types with white and I'd like to use red variegated of black/white/grey variegated, but before I go out and buy or order such, I need to know what brand and weight and type of thread I'm looking for. In addition, you mentioned the 1/4" quilting foot - aren't we supposed to be doing a scant 1/4"? Just asking

  2. Hi Suzanne - You can really use any of these for quilting: Isacord, Aurifil, or YLI variations.

    To clarify - I will be using Isacord to free motion quilt my blocks. If I wanted to use a variegated thread, I would use YLI variations, which is a polyester thread very similar to Isacord with very subtle color changes.

    I would be careful with other variegated thread brands as I've found MOST have serious tension issues because the thread gets thicker and thinner for certain colors.

    As for piecing, any 1/4" patchwork foot will be designed to piece a scant quarter. I try not to talk about scant quarters simply because it's confusing and doesn't really need to be specified. Simply put: if the foot is sold for patchwork, or 1/4" then it should work fine for piecing our blocks.



  3. Thank you so much for the clarification. I usually use Isacord but decided to go with an Aurifil variegation. Seems a lot of others have as well. Loved your new video. I have switched from the blue water soluble to the Frixion pens. I also take my machine out of the desk and slide my extension table over the hole. A lamp on the floor and you have a light table when you need it only. Thanks again for the new resource. I'm teaching FM Quilting this weekend, your nose will be itchy, I will mention you often :P Oh and I love you new purple drape cloth, very good choice of words for your logo.

    1. I have used Frixion pens with mixed results. Great for light fabrics with no problems, but used on a dark blue fabric the lines didn't iron out but turned white and stayed wouldn't even wash out. Fortunately most of my sewing lines covered the worst, but I will not use them again

  4. Yay. Love it, Leah! Those are the colors I have chosen! More excited to see you chose them as well!

    As for the finished block, ready to FMQ, do we make the entire sandwich first - creates block, batting and backing? I want to think that is the sandwich, but then again I have never quilted piece by piece. Thanks again. You have such a kind, gentle, understanding approach. For a beginner, that is so comforting... and exciting!

  5. Are the full-size templates from the building blocks pattern supposed to be 8 inches across? Mine are short when I printed them on 100%?

    1. Be sure your printer settings are set to 'print at actual size or 100 per cent'

  6. Hi Bev - Yes, the guides should print at exactly 8" square. Double check your printer settings and print again if they are not the proper size.


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at