• Useful Paper Products For Quilters

    Question: What is freezer paper, transfer paper, tracing paper, parchment, and stabilizer -- all these words are used in quilting and where can I find them?
    Useful Paper Products For Quilters

    Quilters have a variety of papers available that are not always found in the quilt shop. Many of these papers are available in any regular supermarket or craft store and are relatively inexpensive.

    Most of the papers listed below can be marked on with a permanent marker from the office or school supply section of the store. A non permanent marker will run or smear as most papers have a smooth finish. I usually use permanent marker with an "ultra fine" point. There are fine point markers that will make a thicker line. Be sure to use a permanent marker to avoid smearing.

    Freezer Paper

    Freezer paper is usually available in the canning and freezing department of the supermarket, not near the plastic bags and wrap. Freezer paper comes in a 75 or 150-yard roll and is 18" wide. It is very inexpensive. Freezer paper is opaque (you cannot see through it) and has a paper side and a plastic side. You may write on the paper side with a regular pencil or ballpoint pen but you need to use a permanent marker if writing on the shiny side.

    If you iron the freezer paper with the shiny side down to fabric it will temporarily adhere to the fabric. Use a wool or cotton setting on your iron for best results. When finished simply peel the freezer paper and there is no residue.

    Uses Of Freezer Paper

    Templates -- for small projects that you only need to cut a few pieces of each template, cut them from freezer paper and iron them to the reverse side of chosen fabrics. Use a rotary ruler and cutter, cut along the edge of the freezer paper. If your templates don't have seam allowance, you can add the seam allowance by simply placing the quarter inch line of your ruler on the edge of the paper and cutting. There is an acrylic ruler that has a small lip on the bottom to butt against the plastic or freezer paper template. It is available in 6" and 12" lengths and is very helpful if you need to add seam allowance to your straight templates. The tool can be purchased at quilt shops under the name of "Add-A-Quarter".

    Paper piecing -- Many quilters use freezer paper for paper piecing. Place the shiny side toward the fabric and stitch with the dull side up on the sewing machine. As you press your pieces to the side they will adhere to the freezer paper without the use of pins or glue stick.

    Appliqué -- cut your appliqué shape without seam allowance. Iron it to the reverse side of fabric. Cut out fabric adding a scant 1/4" seam allowance. Spray a small amount of spray starch into a dish. With a stencil brush, apply starch to the seam allowance and press under with a hot iron. Or use glue stick (the kind in a tube like lipstick) to fold seam allowance to the reverse side of freezer paper -- allow to dry. Appliqué prepared patch to the background fabric as usual. Some appliqué artists iron the freezer paper on the right side of the fabric and cut it out with a scant 1/4" seam allowance. They then "needle-turn" the seam allowance to the back as they are stitching.

    Wax Paper

    Wax paper is available in the supermarket with the plastic bags and wrap. Wax paper is a multipurpose paper and very inexpensive. It is 12" wide and comes in 100-foot rolls. It is almost transparent, can be cut to any length and tears easily when creased. Wax paper is very useful for drawing quilting designs to audition on your quilt blocks or borders. It can also be stitched through and will tear away easily. Wax paper can even serve as tracing paper. You need to use a permanent marker on wax paper.

    Parchment Baking Paper

    Parchment baking paper is available at the supermarket or kitchen specialty store. You might find it in the baking section rather than with the plastic bags and wrap. Baking paper is usually used for lining baking pans when making cakes or cookies. It is semi-transparent but not as transparent as tracing paper. It comes in rolls and in sheets. I have a roll 12" wide by 20 feet long and another roll that is 15" wide and 24 feet long. There may be other sizes of rolls available. It is more expensive than freezer paper or wax paper but is the closest to vellum of any of the other inexpensive papers. This paper can be used for tracing and pattern making of any kind. You may write on it with a permanent marker or pencil.

    Subscriber comments:
    You missed one paper that can be used rather than the expensive parchment paper. Get a roll of doctor's examination paper, approx. 18" wide. Cost is about $3.00. It is sturdy, erases nicely when tracing or creating a design.
    Shelf Paper

    It is available long in rolls approximately 12" wide. This paper is opaque and is wonderful for auditioning quilting designs or for working stencil placement on a long narrow border. Permanent pens are great for shelf paper but most shelf paper can also be written on with pencil or ballpoint pen.

    Tracing Paper

    Tracing paper is purchased at the art supply store or in the art supply department of a super store. It most often comes in pads of 50 sheets each sheet being about 9" x 12". It is very transparent and some quilters use this for not only tracing patterns and templates but also for foundation piecing and placing on top of the quilt to machine quilt right through the paper. Tracing paper is so translucent that if you wish to draw a quilt design with a permanent marker you can flip the drawing over on the glass of the copier and it will copy a reverse image.


    Vellum is a special paper used by draftsman and architects. It is quite expensive and only available at art supply stores and architectural supply houses. It is heavier than tracing paper and while very nice to use, most of the other papers that are more readily available are sufficient for the needs of the average quilter.


    Stabilizers are purchased at the fabric store. It is a non-woven fabric that is used under machine appliqué or embroidery during stitching. There are many types available and each one is used for specific purposes. Read the packages for tips on how to use each specific product or ask your salesperson.

    Some stabilizers have the appearance of plastic but are really made of seaweed and will dissolve easily in water. Freezer paper can also be substituted for purchased stabilizer.

    Transfer Paper

    Transfer paper is a specialty paper that is used in a color copier or color inkjet printer. Even if your original photos or drawings are black and white, a color copier is recommended. First, the original image is copied onto the paper. Then it can be heat set into the fabric using an iron or heat set tool such as used for t-shirt transfers. Some recommend that you take your photo transfers to a t-shirt shop as their presses will do a larger area and you will have better results than with your home iron. Remember when doing photos you will want to set your copier for "mirror image" so the design will come out the correct orientation when it is applied to the fabric. If you do purchase these products be sure to read and follow the instructions that come with your specific product as most products have slightly different specifications.

    Transfer Patterns

    Another type of transfer paper is the old-fashioned embroidery designs and patterns that are still available at craft stores and mail order. These are line drawings on paper, usually in a blue ink or purple that is transferred to your fabric with an iron. Be sure to read directions carefully for each individual product, as the instructions may be different. Many of these transfer patterns are permanent and won't wash out.

    Transfer Pencils

    A transfer pencil is also available to purchase at the fabric or craft store. Your design can be traced onto tracing paper, baking parchment or another firm paper using this special pencil. Then the paper is turned face down on the fabric and is pressed with a warm iron. The traced drawing is transferred to the fabric. Remember when doing this, your drawing will be mirror image of your original. To avoid this, place your original face down on a light box and then trace a reversed drawing with the transfer pencil. It will then transfer the correct orientation on your fabric. The design can be used several times. Again be sure to read the instructions that come with your product as there are several brands of transfer pencils and all have specific instructions.

    Transfer Fabric

    There is also pre-treated transfer fabric available for purchase. It is prepared with chemicals to retain ink and with a paper backing to feed through your color inkjet printer to transfer your original directly to the fabric. You do not need to use a "mirror image" function as the image goes directly to the fabric and is not reversed as in the transfer paper method. This transfer fabric method is fine for photos or drawings that will be sewn into patchwork squares but if you wish to transfer a photo image to a t-shirt or similar item you would want to use the heat-set transfer paper sheets.

    Self Adhesive Shelf Liner

    Self adhesive shelf liner is made of plastic and has a sticky side that is covered by a protective paper. This product is really nice for quilting stencils. For example if you wish a heart design, simply cut a heart from the self-stick shelf liner. Peel the protective paper and place the cut heart shape on your quilt -- sticky side down. Simply machine or hand quilt around the adhesive paper and peel it off. The template or stencil can be removed and reused several times. Warning: Do not leave the stencil on the quilt for any length of time as some of the sticky residue might remain on your quilt.

    Press 'N Seal Freezer Wrap

    Glad Press'n Seal Freezer wrap product is available at the supermarket with plastic bags and wraps. Buy the freezer wrap over the regular as it is thicker and easier to handle. Press'n Seal Freezer wrap is a lightweight plastic product that is tacky on one side. Place the tacky side down on your paper pattern and trace. This product does not stick to paper. Lift and place on your quilt sandwich. Machine quilt and tear away the wrap. Try using a blue ballpoint pen for writing on the Press'n Seal wrap. Blue seems to show well on the quilt even with dark colors. A wet ink marker is not a good idea as it would smear and you could possibly get some unwanted ink on your quilt.

    There are many quilting uses for simple household paper and plastic products. Most of them are readily available at the supermarkets or craft stores and are inexpensive and easy to use. You'll find many uses for these products in your quilt studio.
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