Colored Pencil Work


At some point in the fabric selection process we have all been there.  After going through our stash with a purpose (which is no easy task given the enormity of the amount) and sending most of the rejects to the floor in one massive pile to sit there for extended periods of time none of us will admit to, we give up and compromise. We have failed to find just the right fabric to pull off an applique detail just how we envisioned it. Afterall, you can’t mix fabric like paint to come up with the perfect color right?

“Hmmm, what do I do next?”, we stand there asking ourselves in total frustration.  You do not have to compromise so let me enlighten you to a trick that has been around for for awhile and yet never really taught or discussed until recently when it became uber trendy to use art materials on our quilts.  I can feel your excitement building right?

You can enhance areas of your applique where the fabric just didn’t seem to have enough oomph (another technical term) by adding some touches of highlight and shadow with small (the use of the adjective small here is very important–restrain yourself and don’t go nuts I am begging you) touches of colored pencil to turn the “only fabric I had close enough” to the perfect fabric. Oh and you can still remain a traditional quilter in the process which is very important to me at least.

Here we go…..

The Tools:

  • Regular Prismacolor colored pencils (the bigger the selection, the better)
  • Cotton Swabs
  • A paintbrush around size “0”
  • Jacquard Colorless Extender #100 (this will look white in the bottle, but dry clear)
  • A hot iron no steam
  •  The key to using colored pencils properly is to use the dull side so you do not apply harsh lines that are difficult to remove and blend.  For once, do not use a sharp pencil!

    Layer your color.  Don’t add the whole tube of lipstick all at once.  Start with a very soft transparent layer, blend gently with the cotton swab, continue to layer color until the right intensity of color is achieved. 

    Ok, now you are ready to make this permanent, and I mean washing machine permanent so make sure you like your results. 


    Yes, Fellow Quilter, You can Make Colored Pencils Permanent!

    I was told after many an inquiry that all you need to do now is to iron the area with a really hot iron and voila! permanent. Hmmmm, not so much. Nothing like doing a lot of color layering work to perfection and then washing only to see a shadow of the color left behind. Everyone say it with me here…”grrrrrrrrrrrrrr”. Ok so maybe I used a stronger word(s), but you get my general drift.

    So I experimented, a lot! and found a solution that REALLY works. Aren’t you really excited now???

    Take the colorless extender and your paintbrush out of your toolbox. Now you do not need very much of this extender, just a little bit on the tip of your brush and with a feather touch, and barely touching the surface of the fabric, leave a thin (really thin) layer of the extender over the colored pencil area.

    paintbrush_extender_blog yes, this paintbrush has been used a lot

    Once the area is covered with a thin layer, let it air dry.  Once the area is dry then heat set with a dry iron for approximately 5 seconds.  That’s it!  If you washed it on your strongest machine cycle, the color would stay exactly like it was before you washed it.  It really is permanent!

    Remember, you are accentuating the applique not overwhelming it.

    I used a spartan amount of colored pencil to make the bird come to life in Poppy Soliloquy


    Now go have fun and play.

    © 2009 Sandra Leichner

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    About Sandra

    I am an Author, Designer, Illustrator and a major international award winning quilt artisan. I love working with fabrics and threads and they have become my medium of choice.