The commonest question I receive, apart from requests for copies of instruction sheets is from quiltmakers who have become concerned that the printed lines and quilting guides on their quilts made from kits aren’t going to wash away completely.

The markings are usually in a light blue and are typical of all vintage appliqued quilt kits, cross stitch quilt kits and wholecloth quilt kits.

The technology of the “wash-out” markings has never been totally foolproof and there are almost always traces to be seen if one looks carefully at a quilt made from a kit. As a child and young teen I did a lot of embroidery using ‘iron-on’ transfers and this was always an issue with them too, although there are things that one can try to mitigate the problem.

Below is a very lovely and very early quilt made from a kit that is in my inventory at the moment.

This is “Scattered Morning Glories” by Home Needlecraft Creations, made in the late 1930’s. It is #7127 and finished size is 79×97 – I took it out earlier this afternoon and examined it carefully in strong sunlight – there are two places – one on the front and one on the back where the word ’seam’ is clearly visible on the fabric, and on the white background if I really look closely, I can see traces of colour under the quilted lines.

PRICE: “Scattered Morning Glories Home Needlecraft kit #7127, 1930’s, finished and ready to use 79×97, $575USD + $25USD shipping = $600USD total

Below, the word ’seam’ on the quilt back.

The first step to take when doing either applique or cross stitch on the quilt top is to try to ensure that the printed lines are covered by your applique seams or your cross stitch embroidery. Try not to expose the quilt top to strong natural sunlight or to the heat from light bulbs as this might set the colour - I always try to keep my work in a fabric bag out of strong light and away from heat sources when it is not being worked on.

Do NOT succumb to the temptation to start ’spot treating’ the markings to see if they will come out!!!Wait until you’re finished!

Next, after you have sandwiched your quilt and are ready to start quilting try to keep your quilting stitches precisely over the dots you will be following – the stitching helps to break them up visually.

A word about finishing materials – BATTING: Quilter’s Dream 100% cotton Request weight in pure white if the background of the quilt is pure white; or in natural if the quilt background is ecru or antique white. I always use BACKING in the width required by the quilt top and choose natural rather than stark white, but that’s my personal choice. Again 100% cotton. Now your three layers are all 100% cotton and if shrinkage happens it will be uniform. Washed quilts always drape better than unwashed as what sizing there was breaks down and the quilting stitches get a little puckered – lovely!

Finish and bind your quilt.

WASH the finished quilt: Hopefully you have access to a large capacity washing machine. Run a full cycle through your empty machine using lukewarm water no soap - this will clear out any residue of washing detergent usually used in it, and ensure your wash will be pure and clean. Having obtained an oxygen based product such as oxyclean or a cleaning agent specifically for vintage quilts and linens, fill your tub after adding the agent with  WARM (comfortable to the skin)  not cold and not hot water and agitate to disperse the washing agent through the water.
Immerse the quilt in the water and gently push it down to be sure it is totally wetted. Agitate on ‘gentle’ for a few minutes. Stop the machine and soak for 15 minutes to a half hour. Drain machine and refill with WARM water, soak and run the agitate cycle on gentle again. Allow the machine to go on to rinse and completely turn itself off. Carefully supporting the wet/damp quilt from underneath – bending over the tub slide your arms under the quilt and lift it from below – never suspend a wet quilt as the stitches can/will break and damage the quilt. Make sure your clothing is well worn so that it will not transfer dye to the quilt if you hold it against your body.

Transfer carefully to the dryer on gentle/warm setting and dry to damp dry.  Do NOT use a dryer sheet and do not over dry! Carefully remove and fold finished side out and hang a clean white towel over a door or your shower rail and lay the folded quilt on top of the towel – let it air dry while folding and refolding to allow for even drying and be certain that the quilt is 100% dry before removing it.

Examine the quilt in a clean dry surface to assess whether you still have an unacceptable residue of blue ink. In my experience, at most I’ve had to wash the item once more – never more than that.

Put your treasure on your bed and enjoy!

Words about printed marks remaining on vintage quilt from kits:   ManyQuilt Historians acknowledge remaining marks as “beauty spots” – part of the way they document a quilt’s provenance. At the time that these kits were being made up, it was common knowledge that the washout ink technology was imperfect at best, and definitely the machines in which garments and bedding were washed then were in no way equal to what are commonplace today. Soaps were limited to Ivory soap, either flaked in the box or shaved by hand for gentle washing , while tougher textiles were exposed to Fels Naptha or Sunlight Soap – again shaved by hand with a dash of 20 Mule Team Borax to whiten.  Pretty rough and ready by our standards today.  There simply were no dryers for domestic use. Laundry  got pegged out on the line or draped over something to dry. Women didn’t have time to mess around and they were usually satisfied if it was’good enough’ . One can see the same standard being expressed in vintage piecing – if you ran out of a fabric you used the ‘best’ match you could find as ther were no resources beyond the twice yearly catalogue and what the stores near enough to you carried.  And if you made a mistake that was fine too since only God was perfect.

My personal take on the issue of remaining washout ink marks is that we must set aside today’s standards when assessing vintage treasures such as quilts and learn to accept that at the time these kits were popular different standards of perfection existed. I am the first person to refuse to accept anything less than perfect piecing on the contemporary quilts I make, but can also see the beauty in and collect quilts from 50, 60 or 75 years ago which were less than perrfect when completed, but still loved and treasured.


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Keep Warm and check back with me often!

Hugs – Janet



  • Sandy Loughman:


    I purchased a double bed size, completely cross stitched quilt in a craft store near Annapolis Royal about 5 years ago. The
    pattern is unusual and coloring, exquisite. The craft store purchased it from an estate sale in the area. If you could email me your address I would like to send a photo of this
    cross stitch treatsure. The information I would like, if possible, is the age of the cross stich, the pattern name, the time involved in completing this, and the value.

    I will be traveling to Nova Scotia again in September to visit family and friens, and hope to find other treasures like this.
    Caleb Benjamin Jr/Sr are my family lines. Caleb Jr lived in Halls Harbor as well as their son, Lorenzo Byron Benjamin. Byron is buried in Framingham, MA adjacent to my great grandfather, Alfred Benjamin Sr. Both are the same age and settled in Framingham, MA, my birthplace and hometown.

    Sandy Loughman
    Jacksonville, FL

  • janet:

    Sandy: What a wonderful comment – it takes the mind off in many different directions!
    Many, many Nova Scotians and Maritimers in general emigrated to the “Boston States” in the period from 1900 to about 1935 or so. Ask anyone around here and if their family has been here for a few generations, then they have relatives in the Boston area and sometimes farther away. I know I do…..
    Now as to the myth of distinctively Nova Scotian quilt designs: The quilts made prior to about 1850 in Nova Scotia drew more heavily on the British Isles for inspiration and frequently were indistinguishable from British design. This makes sense in a young colony that basically was an isolated military outpost up until the end of the Napoleonic Wars around 1815. After that time period, other influences, such as American ones began to influence quiltmaking here – there were still favoured blocks, favoured settings and above all favoured quilting techniques, but as the 19th century matured and distribution of newspapers and farm journals began to penetrate the whole province, along with increasing literacy and leisure time, then quiltmaking began to essentially be a national and international movement following trends put forward from other centres, and essentially by he industries that supported it – fabric mills, quilt batt suppliers like Mountain Mist and so on. As the 20th century progressed, even mail order houses began to carry patterns, kits and fabric so it was quite likely that a quilt made here in Nova Scotia would have little to distinguish it from a quilt made in Kansas for example.
    I have just published a new post listing a number of quilts from my collection which illustrates this point beautifully. Especially, the last quilt shown, which is one I made using fabric bought online in Bozeman Montana, and which is of my own design which has been heavily influenced by quilts made in the United States in the late 19th centuy – check it out!

  • [...] I discuss washing your finished pre-stencilled quilt so as to remove the markings here:…   In addition I offre ongoing personalised mentoring for quilters who purchase any of my stock. [...]

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