Transferring designs to fabric and using templates

Transferring designs to fabric and using templates

The Unicorn block which is the image above features a unicorn worked in single strand DMC floss.

A question that arises constantly is how do you keep your stitches straight? To be honest in most cases I simply do it by eye and if you look carefully often they are not straight! I quite like the look of hand stitching that is not quite so perfect. I like the fact that I am not a machine. However, I know many people want to perfect their stitching skills and every now and then I do want to be in the straight stitch club. Apart from practice there is no great trick to it as I simply mark my work with a pen that will disappear. I use a selection of pens and pencils designed for quilters and needleworkers which can be found in stores that specialise in needlework and quilting.

I have had quilters say that the marks made by the purple pen can reappear. I have not had this happen to me but I would like to point out that in embroidery you are stitching over the lines that you mark. So even if the marks do reappear they will be hidden by your stitching. The main problem is that if you don’t stitch the seam within a day or two the line will disappear! However if I put my block marked with the disappearing pen in a zip lock bag, it won’t fade so fast. Conservators will have a fit at this tip as storing textiles in plastic bags is not recommended at all but that is what I do. If the fabric is dark I use a white quilters pencil or dress makers white chalk pencil.

These are the templates I use. As you can see they have all sorts of shapes and curves which allow me to leave the line of the seam if I choose. The two white templates are actually found in a hardware store. They are used to mark lines of texture in paint. If you look carefully they have edges which are little triangles and squares. I use these to space the distance between stitches. Using these templates I simply mark the seam with a dot at regular intervals and then follow the dots. The dots can be the top of the stitching line as for instance in a line of herringbone or they can be the side of the seam such as in a line of creten, or the dots may act as guides for a line of buttonhole.

I have also recently started to cut my own shapes from the lids of takeaway containers. Here in OZ they are usually clear plastic and you can cut them out with scissors. I am gradually accumulating them in the shape of fans and the like. I am sure I got this idea from Linda here. These can simply be traced around and then they are ready for stitching. This technique I am still exploring but the other day I was in an art store which had a good number of plastic stencils that could be used the same way.

That’s what I do for seam embellishments. However seam treatments are not the only form of embroidery used on crazy quilting. Often people want to transfer a motif the centre of a fabric piece. Transferring designs to fabric is covered in an article by Andrea English of Transferring Designs to Fabric covers the 10 most common methods.

I either tape the design to a window, (if you have a light box you can use that) tape the fabric over the design and trace it directly on to fabric. Another technique is to use dress makers carbon. it comes in various colours and can be a quick way to transfer your design to fabric. This is good if your fabric is smooth but if it has a slub in it or any texture like velvet or if I can’t see through the fabric I use tissue paper. I first draw the design on the paper then, place it on the fabric and tack the outline of the design. The tacking creates the outline as you remove the tissue and stitch. The other thing I have done is to use the finest interfacing available. The non iron type of interfacing which is non woven. I trace the design onto the interfacing tack the interfacing to the block, embroider and then tear away the interfacing. You can also buy transfer pencils. (There is an image of one above) To use these you trace the design on to paper, then iron on to the fabric tracing side down. These pencils have mixed results as it depends on the type of fiber that is used in your fabric.

One of the pleasures of this form of quilting is that you can incorporate all various forms of embroidery techniques on a block. Skill level can also vary. Silk ribbon embroidery, Brazilian embroidery, stumpwork and beading are just a few techniques that you will find used in contemporary crazy quilting. Memorabilia has always been included in this style of quilting but today contemporary crazy quilters can include found objects, digital prints or just about anything. Crazy quilting can have a Victorian flavour or move right away from the tradition to be taken in any direction. It can be finished with great care and skill or it can be rough and ready capturing the moment. There are no rules. As a quilt form it’s a case of something for everyone.

The next piece in this series will be the start on various forms of embroidery other than straight seam embellishment that can be used in Crazy quilting.

This was the show and tell block that started off this series of posts. Others in the series cover general introductory tips and piecing and fabric selection, the design process and seam embellishment.


  1. Sharon–
    I found pin tangle as I was searching for a way to transfer an embroidery design to a crazy block. I love the idea of using interfacing–will work perfectly. Then I discovered this is the same instructor that taught the studio journal class I took at this summer!! I had wanted to thank for you all I learned in that class, and now I can!! Is there a pin tangle email newsletter to which I can subscribe? Needless to say, this site is bookmarked.
    Thanks for everything,

    Genie Ford
  2. Excellent article. You covered alot of territory with few words. So usable, the information.
    I too, use a variety of ‘rulers’. I like the idea of making your own template shapes. I do that for applique, why not for crazy quilting?
    The description of the crazy quilting of today was helpful too. I don’t have much in the way of older pics or other Victorian ‘stuff’, but at a thrift store I have seen a very cool brooch that would be great set in silk ribbon flowers or ruching or both.
    In other words, your article worked. I better stop now. πŸ™‚

  3. Stasha – I had not thought of cookie cutters but its true the would be great

    pixiepurls – it is part of a block – if you click on the image it will take you there

    the block was pieced then embroidered as you can see the unicorn is across a seam

  4. Another great entry… And also a memory jogger… Looking at the picture of all the markers and pens I suddenly remembered that I had bought one of the prrple ones – but where is it in my very eclectic filing system… Your entries makes me feel very inspired….

    Sharon Hunting

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