No, we’re not trying to be flip or confusing. If you want to absolutely guarantee that the writing on your quilt will be readable in 100 years, embroidery is most likely the best choice.
Having said that, some markers can also be very durable. The question is which one is the best. The answer? Whichever one works best for you.
Quilt label from a label tutorial on The Haberdasherie.
After doing an extensive survey we’ve discovered that there’s not one hands-down non-fading winner. Instead, various pens and markers react differently depending on how they’re applied, the fabric used, how the fabric was treated beforehand, how the quilt is washed (and how often) and so on.
Therefore, we don’t feel comfortable recommending one solid winner. Instead, we encourage you to test the choices and make your own determination. (If we were to choose a winner, it would likely be the Pentel Arts Gel Roller for Fabric – keep reading to learn why.)
We did not investigate the full range of fabric and laundry markers on the market. Instead, we focused on the permanent pens that are mentioned most often by quilters.
Quilt label from a label tutorial by Jacquelynne Steves.
How to Prepare Fabric and Set the Ink
Before we go into what tests have shown about those brands, it’s important to review how best to apply the markers. You just simply write on fabric, right? Well, you can, but for the best results (and least fading) we recommend the following:
- First, make sure the fabric has been washed so that there’s no sizing or other chemicals to interfere with ink absorption. Some quilters also recommend heavily starching the fabric, saying that minimizes bleeding and increases absorption.
- Stabilize the fabric for writing by adhering a strip of masking or painters tape to the back, by pressing freezer paper onto the back or by laying the fabric on very fine sandpaper.
- Once you’ve written on the fabric, let it sit overnight, then set it with heat.
- You’ll find instructions for heat-setting here, in an article from Love Bug Studios.
- Then, let the fabric sit for 48 hours or more before washing.
Quilt label from a label tutorial at Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild.
What Quilters Say About the Most Popular Permanent Markers
Many quilters swear by archival Pigma Micron pens, although tests show they can fade over time with repeated washings. The thickness of the line may have something to do with that, as more ink coverage will last longer. Tip sizes range from very fine to what we consider a medium width line. Here’s a set with several sizes to try.
Many quilters have found that Sharpies fade, sometimes quickly, so we’re recommending that you avoid them unless the quilt will be washed very seldom – or unless you’ll be able to go over the writing again when it starts to become too faded.
The Pentel Arts Gel Roller for Fabric has performed well on tests and has also received high marks from quilters. If we were to recommend a marker that’s likely to perform well under a variety of conditions, it would be this one.
Test Results for Permanent Markers
Kerrie Lynn from Freckled Whimsy (website no longer available) tested 6 popular brands (shown above). Learn how she conducted the test and her conclusions here.
Any of these testing procedures can be used for your own tests. The main point is to allow plenty of time for multiple washings before you choose a pen for your projects.
Tips for Making Quilt Labels and Signature Blocks
Once you’ve decided on a pen, the next step is to make quilt labels, signature blocks and more. An article from allpeoplequilt.com explains what to include on a label and two ideas for making them.
It also provides good instructions and tips for writing on fabric.
You’ll find several creative ideas for making quilt labels here in a video by Laura at Sew Very Easy.
Image Source: The photo at the top of the page is from “How to Label a Quilt with Your Name (‘Cause You Need to Sign That Masterpiece!).”