M is for Marking

A to Z of Machine Embroidery and Quilting

M is for MarkingI used to mark my background fabric directly using various types of fabric marking pen. That is until the time I left a marked quilt in the back of my car and the marking pen got heat set into the fabric. I live in Phoenix, AZ and now I know better. I also know that lipstick, chapstick and Crayola crayons don’t survive well in a car in a Phoenix summer – and they can make a very big mess!

When I’m talking about marking quilts for machine embroidered appliqué, there are two things to consider:

  • I typically want to be able to stitch a design in a very specific place on my background fabric, and I need to mark that place before I start stitching.
  • The kind of machine embroidered appliqué I do uses precut appliqué shapes which are backed with fusible webbing. This means that heat (usually high heat) needs to be applied in order to fuse the appliqué in place.

I’ve already discovered – the hard way – that heat and marking pens don’t always go together. So I came up with a technique to mark my background fabric which ensures that there’s no risk of the marking becoming permanent.

The answer: Use thread!

If I want to stitch a design in a very specific place on the background fabric, then I need to be able to mark that place accurately. This is especially important if I have a larger design that has been split into two or more pieces, and I want for all pieces to be aligned correctly when I’m finished.

I nearly always use two pieces of stabilizer when I’m doing machine embroidered appliqué. One piece goes in the hoop. The other piece gets basted onto the back of the background fabric. It’s this piece that comes in very handy when I need to mark the background fabric.

There are two steps to my marking process:

  1. Mark the stabilizer as specified in the instructions that come with the Sarah Vedeler Designs design collection using a 5mm mechanical pencil or an extra fine Sharpie Pen.
  2. Pin the stabilizer to the back of your background fabric and then stitch along all lines marked on the stabilizer using a stitch length of between 4mm and 5mm. Any shorter and it will take forever to get these stitches out. Any longer and they won’t be doing a great job for you. This is a really good way to use up bobbin thread – it’s the bobbin thread that will show up on the background fabric, so make sure that it’s very visible (no black thread on black background fabric!)

To see this in action, click here to watch my Machine Embroidered Appliqué Back to Basics Part 2 video. Follow the same steps for any Sarah Vedeler Designs design collection – but be sure to mark the stabilizer as specified in the instructions for the specific design collection.


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What I love about this collection… I’ve seen some gorgeous versions of this tote bag that people are using!

Festival ToteIn August 2015 my daughters and I went to Sweden to visit my family who lives just outside of Stockholm. Since Sweden is so close to Norway (distance being relative!) I decided to combine vacation with a teaching trip and flew to Norway to spend a weekend with my Norwegian friend Merete of Merete’s Quilteloft and some of her friends. The ladies had gotten together previously to make the Festival Tote – and they’d done a great job!

I always love to see photos of the things you make using my design collections. Seeing them live, in person and being used makes my day!

Festival Tote

Not only is the Festival Tote double sided with pockets on the front and the back (you decided which is which!), there are two versions of designs for both the front and the back.

Festival Tote

Stitched on a BERNINA 830
featuring AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 wt thread
and fabric from Island Batiks

Festival Tote

Stitched on a BERNINA 830
featuring AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 wt thread
and fabric from Island Batiks

26 Comments

  1. Great technique. THANKS !!!!!

  2. Can the designs be stitched with 40 weight embroidery thread?

  3. Thread marking, very smart tip! Beautiful embroidery! Thank you for sharing

  4. I have tried this method and love it.

  5. I have also used this method and even though it takes a little extra time at the beginning, it’s well worth the effort…..things always line up perfectly. Thanks Sarah for all your tips.

  6. Great tutorials! Know wonder your projects are always so beautifully detailed to perfection!

  7. I’m going to try this on my next project. Great tip!

  8. I was at your seminar in Spokane and learned your marking method there. It is the best I have used!

  9. This is a very good tip! My chapstick just melted away yesterday in the car.

  10. Love marking idea thanks yo for today’s tip

  11. Great tip to mark with thread…thank you

  12. Great tip for marking fabric. Thank you.

  13. Thank you . I love this way of marking for embroidery and for appliqué.. love the percussion. Above this … so easy..

  14. Thank you for today’s tip on marking for embroidery with thread. I must try this!

  15. You are brilliant! Going back to tried and true methods of marking ( like tailors tacks in dressmaking) No risk of anything bad happening!

  16. Great TIP! I MUST TRY THIS . THANKS FOR THE TIPS EACH DAY.

  17. Karen Williams

    Sarah, Being in southern NM, I have also learned some hard lessons about how hot a car gets & what it can do to items left in it!! While reading this, I wondered if this “marking & basting” might be a good time to use “Wash Away” thread. I’ve had some in my stash for many years, purchase because I was sure it would come in handy & have yet to use it! What do you think?

    • Hi Karen,
      If you’re planning on washing your finished project, using wash away thread won’t hurt at all. I’ve found, however, that wash away thread is a LOT more expensive than “normal” thread. YLI Wash-A-Way retails for $12.00 for a 500 yard spool. A large spool of AURIfil Cotton Mako 50 wt thread retails for $12.95 – but you’re getting 1422 yards which is almost 3 times as much for about the same price. And the AURIfil will be a lot nicer and easier to work with!!!

  18. I have used this technique for years thanks to you! I add crosshairs to every embroidery project so that I can line everything up. Love it!

  19. Marking with thread is a great method that I learned from you and use. Thanks for all of your good information.

  20. Love the video tutorial! I have the Festival Tote and have been to intimidated to start it, now I will give it a try. Thank you!

  21. Learning something new every day. Thanks

  22. Thanks for the great tip.

  23. Marking with thread is brilliant! I always worry that the marking pens won’t come out, now I don’t have to!

  24. Birthe Rasmussen

    Hello i ordered this festival Tote , but I still have not received it . Have I done something wrong when I order. sincerely Birthe

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