• How To Cut Stencils For Marking Quilting

    I will describe three methods of making plastic quilting stencils. I am referring to stencils with the grooves to place a quilters pencil or quilters pen for marking through onto the quilt for quilting. I am not referring to templates that are cut out and then traced around to cut out pattern pieces. The three methods are not placed in any particular order. Each quilter needs to make decisions as to which method will work best for her.

    Double Bladed Craft Knife -- this is a craft knife available at craft and quilting stores that has two blades attached to one handle. They are relatively inexpensive. There is also a template plastic that works well with them -- DBK plastic. DBK plastic is simply double bladed knife plastic. This plastic is a softer more pliable plastic that is relatively easy to cut. Regular template can also be used for this method but it is thicker.

    Draw or photocopy your quilting design on paper. Don't use your original as you will be cutting the paper as you are cutting the stencil.

    Begin with a thick layer of newspaper or an old telephone book. Tape your traced pattern or photocopy on top of newspaper or telephone book. Cut your template plastic larger than your stencil as you need to have something to hold on to as you are cutting and later in marking. Place the template plastic next and tape it well so nothing will slip. Some quilters will use their rotary mat rather than newspaper, but I prefer the disposable newspaper to the possibility of damaging my cutting mat.

    Use a double bladed craft knife and cut through the template plastic. When making a continuous stencil you will need to leave "bridges" or areas that are uncut so your stencil will stay together for marking. It might help to look at some commercially made stencils to see how the bridges are placed.

    WARNING - Be very careful when cutting that you keep your hands away from the blades.

    Gouge Cutting Knife -- this is a woodcarving tool that is recommended by Pepper Cory in her book entitled Mastering Quilt Marking. The gouge cutting knife is available at hardware, art supply, craft, or woodcarving specialty stores. Pepper recommends you purchase an X-acto #5 knife for the handle and replace the blade that is supplied with a U-veiner gouge blade. The U-veiner blade that is attached to the sturdy handle is u-shaped that will cut both sides of the groove in the plastic at the same time. If you are using this tool, you will need to cut on a hard surface such as a piece of glass.

    Cut your template plastic larger than your stencil area so you will have something to hold onto as you are cutting. For this method you will trace your quilting design directly on the template plastic. Use a fine point permanent marker or a template marking pencil. Place your template plastic over the glass. The gouge tool needs to be held at an angle to work efficiently and will take a little practice before it becomes comfortable. As you push the tool, the cut part of the plastic will curl and come out.

    WARNING - Always push the tool away from you. The blade is very sharp.

    Remember to leave "bridges" when cutting so the stencil does not loose its integrity and entirely fall apart. It might help to look at some commercially made stencils to see how the bridges are placed.

    Stencil burner -- a stencil burner is available to purchase at craft and hobby stores. Some wood burner tools have an optional stencil point. The stencil point is a smaller sharper point than the one supplied on a wood burning tool. If you already own a wood burning tool, all you need to purchase is compatible stencil points.

    WARNING -- be sure to work in a well ventilated room as the burning plastic can cause strong fumes.

    Again you will need a piece of glass. Tape your traced pattern or photocopy face up on the bottom of the glass. Tape your template plastic on top of the glass. Use the stencil point to literally melt out the plastic groove.

    Practice on a small scrap of template plastic until you get the feel for the stencil point gliding through the plastic. You will need to move the stencil point slower than you would move a pencil or pen. When using the stencil burner you will have to draw around both sides of the line to get the piece of plastic to come out. You cannot just draw the stencil burner down the center of the line as it is not wide enough for a marking pencil or pen to be inserted in the groove to mark the quilting lines later.

    Any of the three methods of cutting stencils described above are very time consuming and it would not be a wise use of time to reproduce a quilting stencil that is available commercially. The machine made stencils available are very reasonably priced and readily available. Save these special techniques you're your original or special quilting design that cannot be obtained anywhere else.

    Marking Pencils And Pens For Quilters

    Marking Pens

    One of the easiest products to use is the washout marking pen -- the "Blue Pen". This pen has been tested by the manufacturer and will wash out completely if properly used. Read and follow directions on your particular brand.

    It is most important to not apply any heat to the fabric after marking such as ironing and don't leave your marked quilt in a hot car in the summer. Heat will set the markings.

    Also because there are chemicals in the ink, it needs to be WASHED out in cold water with no soap or detergent. This does not mean just giving it a spray with a plant mister. This means wetting the item thoroughly. If you don't want to wash your quilt when it is finished you should not use this marker.

    Another marking pen is the disappearing pen -- the "Purple Pen". This pen is similar to the blue pen but disappears in approximately twenty-four hours. If you live in a very humid climate it would disappear even faster. It could disappear in as little as an hour. You would only want to mark the part of the quilt you could stitch in a short time. This pen also has chemicals in it and is recommended to completely wash it out after quilting.

    The Washout Marker and Disappearing Marker pens are available in different brand names. They are available at quilt stores, chain stores, and online. Be sure to read and follow the directions for your specific brand of marker.

    Clover has a White Marking Pen available to mark very dark fabrics. When marking your fabric, trust that the marking has been done as the white mark doesn't show on the dark fabric until the ink is dry. The mark is removed with ironing or washes out.


    There are chalk pencils, waxy pencils, soapstone pencils, and graphite pencils. Many variations of these are available at your quilt store, chain stores, and online.

    Waxy Pencils - I have used with success the Roxanne Quilters Choice Pencil. It comes in white and silver. Pat Campbell has a line of white and silver pencils that work equally well. Most of these pencils sharpen nicely, mark smoothly and wash out easily.

    Chalk Pencils - Clover makes a Chacopel pencil. It is available in yellow, white and a pink/blue combination. This is a chalk type pencil yet it stays on the quilt well and brushes off fairly easily with the attached plastic brush.

    Chalk & Chalk Liners

    There are pencils available that have chalk inside the wood rather than pencil lead. These are very good for marking but they do rub off fairly fast. Again you would only want to mark a small portion of the quilt. Some quilters actually buy regular chalk board chalk for quilting as it is readily available and inexpensive. Use a large pencil sharpener such as for school children or an eyebrow pencil sharpener to sharpen ordinary chalkboard chalk to a point.

    A chalk liner is a small plastic tool with a small toothed metal wheel that rolls a small amount of powdered chalk onto the fabric. Run the wheel in the stencil slots or along the edge of a template. This would be great for marking crosshatching with a ruler or yardstick. These chalk tools are wonderful as the chalk almost brushes off before you are finished quilting. When using any chalk marking tool, be sure to only mark a small portion so you won't have to remark because it rubs off so fast. Chalk liners are available in different brands and refill cartridges are available.

    Chalk Pounce Pads

    Pounce pads are a rectangle plastic reservoir about the size of a chalkboard eraser. One side of the reservoir has a terry cloth type fabric. The chalk powder is placed in the reservoir and the pad is rubbed across the stencil leaving the chalk markings visible on your fabric. This is a very fast way to mark a large quilt but remember the chalk rubs of easily in handling of the quilt so you might only want to mark a small portion at a time. Powdered chalk refills are available in blue and white. There is a Miracle Chalk Pounce Powder that is supposed to stay on the quilt and be removed with a pouf of steam.

    Pounce bags -- are small loosely woven fabric bags filled with chalk powder. You can easily make your own. Just take a small square of fabric, place some talcum powder or cornstarch in the center of the square -- tie with a string and you have a simple pouncer. For light fabrics simply add a small amount of cinnamon to the cornstarch.

    Miscellaneous Markers

    Soapstone -- A soapstone marker is available in a metal or plastic case as individually they are quite brittle. Refills are available. These mark white and rub off or wash off easily.

    Graphite -- Graphite markers come in a wooden pencil form and also as large leads in a metal or plastic case. Refills are available. This pencil makes a black mark but washes out readily in soap and water. I find this pencil useful for those tricky colors of fabric that the white, silver and blue pens just don't show up well.

    Soap sliver -- this is simply a thin piece of a bar of bath soap. This will mark the quilt and wash out completely.

    There are many marking tools to choose from. Be sure to purchase marking pencils and pens designed specifically for marking fabric. It is best to make a sample test before marking your quilt with anything you are unfamiliar with.

    The most important is to find something that brushes out or washes out easy AND you can actually see on the quilt! If you have a visual problem you definitely want to choose a marking tool that you will be able to see from the distance between your eyes and your sewing machine bed.
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