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How to Trace a Quilting Template on Fabric

Claudia has been quilting for almost 30 years and writing about it for more than six. She has won a number of awards for her work.

How to Trace a Quilting Template on Fabric

How to Trace a Quilting Template on Fabric

Quilting templates are shapes, usually made out of hard or pliable plastic, that are used to trace shapes onto fabric that will be cut out. Templates are also used to trace quilting lines on a quilt top that will be used as a sewing guide when quilting.

The process of tracing a template onto fabric can be a bit tricky, but using the right tools and techniques makes it easy.

Quilt Marking Tool Tips

  • Some markings should never have heat applied to them or they become permanent. Make sure to follow the directions that come with your marker of choice.
  • Never use a regular lead pencil or a pen to mark fabric. Lead pencil marks are very difficult to remove, and pen can be permanent or can bleed, which will leave stains.

Quilt marking tools available

There are many different marking tools available. You will probably have to try out quite a few before you decide which one(s) you prefer.

  • Chalk pencils - Need to be sharpened often, but leave crisp, thin lines
  • Quilt pencils - Come in various colors, lines can be difficult to remove
  • Mechanical chalk pencils
  • Water erasable marking pens - markings easily removed with water
  • Chalk filled pouches - markings easily wear off, not good when marking templates for cutting out shapes, messy
  • Chalk filled roller pens - markings easily wear off, good when cutting out shapes, but not great when marking quilting lines
  • Heat set marking tools

Use the right marking tools

Make sure to use the appropriate marking tools. Never use regular pencils to mark quilting lines. As you can see in the photo below, the lines, marked with a No. 2 pencil, have never come out, no matter what I have tried. Luckily they are difficult to see when looking at the quilt from far away.

The wrong marking tool was used to mark this quilt.  The stains will never come out.

The wrong marking tool was used to mark this quilt. The stains will never come out.

Types of quilt templates

From circles to stars, hundreds of different types of templates are available. They can be purchased at quilt shops, fabric stores and many other resources. Templates normally come precut in desired shapes, but quilters can also make their own.

Common household items, like cookie cutters or cups, can also be used as templates.

Stencils are a type of template used to mark quilting lines on quilt tops. They are normally made of a thin, flexible plastic.

Tracing a quilting template - A video guide

Things to remember when marking fabric

  • Always keep your chalk pencil sharp.
  • When using a chalk pencil, it marks more smoothly when pulling away from, instead of pulling towards, the body. It also helps to hold the pencil at a slight angle, not straight up and down.
  • Do not press too hard. The fabric snags and the marks can skip and be jagged.
  • Do not lean the marking pen to the left and/or to the right. Try to keep the marker in the same position so that every shape traced is the same size.

Tracing fabric shapes that will be cut out

  1. Prepare your 100% cotton quilting fabric by pre-washing it in a mild detergent and drying it.
  2. Press the fabric.
  3. Cut off a manageable size that is larger than your template. For example, if you have 2 yards of fabric, cut off about a quarter of a yard so it is easier to work with.
  4. Using a flat, smooth and hard surface, lay your fabric down, right side up. With busy fabrics, it may be easier to see the marks on the wrong side of the fabric, but use care if you are trying to cut out a specific design on the fabric.
  5. Place the template in the desired position and hold it firmly down with one hand.
  6. With the other hand, take your marking tool and run it along the edge of the template, using care not to move the tool closer or farther away from the edge. Even shifting the pencil a little bit, can make a tracing 1/8" to 1/4" off.
  7. Cut out the fabric on the line.

Tracing a quilting stencil onto fabric - A video guide

Marking quilting stencils onto quilt tops

  • Press the quilt top.
  • Determine where the quilting pattern is going to be.
  • Lay quilt top down on a flat, smooth and hard surface.
  • Position the template or stencil into place on the quilt top, and hold down firmly.
  • Begin marking using the desired marking tool. Adjust the quilt top and the template as needed to complete the design.

Make your own quilt templates

Making your own quilt templates is fun and easy. Learn how in this tutorial How to Create Your Own Quilt Templates.

Marking fabric is an important step in quilt making

Tracing shapes incorrectly can lead to shapes that aren't the right size, and eventually to a quilt design that won't be sewn properly.

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Marking quilting lines incorrectly can lead to a sloppy finished product. Using the wrong materials can leave marks that may never be able to be removed.

Using the right tools and techniques helps you create a beautiful quilt that is sure to be treasured for generations to come.

Happy Quilting!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Claudia Porter


Emilie S Peck from Minneapolis, MN on January 22, 2013:

Very interesting! Beautiful photos. :) I've pinned it and voted up.

Claudia Porter (author) on January 12, 2013:

Thanks so much eHealer! Hopefully lots of people want to know how to do this.

Deborah from Las Vegas on January 11, 2013:

Glimmer, this is beautiful. The photos are so helpful with the instructions. This is going to be very useful for people who desire to learn or review this wonderful art form. Pinned and facebooked, voted up hub buddy~

Claudia Porter (author) on January 10, 2013:

I appreciate it tigerbaby777! Stitching in the ditch is not so bad. I think it really make the patchwork patterns pop! Thanks.

Claudia Porter (author) on January 10, 2013:

Thanks heatherpanda - I hope you give quilting a try. It really is enjoyable!

tigerbaby777 from Nampa on January 10, 2013:

This an excellent hub glimmer. So easy to follow it makes me want to try it in my quilt I'm working on instead of the boring stitch in the ditch I had planned. Voted up and useful. Thank you!

heatherpanda from New York on January 09, 2013:

Interesting info. i like quilts but i don't have the time to make one. Maybe in the future.

Claudia Porter (author) on January 08, 2013:

Thanks so much Bill. I'll get you to make a quilt yet. !

Claudia Porter (author) on January 08, 2013:

Thanks itsvssudheesh! I appreciate the comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 08, 2013:

I'm just here to lend my have been so good to me in reading so many of my hubs. I won't be doing this, but great job of instructing. I hope you are well; sending you hugs from Olympia.


itsvssudheesh from kochi,kerala, india on January 08, 2013:

Nice hub. It was really an informative one. The video is perfect to understand the tips and tricks of stiching.

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