A blog about making my own stencils.

Commented on a the discussion “calling all hand quilters”. I replied to a few comments actually. One of the comments was from a quilter  re:  issues with finding quilting templates, had found some online to order ..but as she stated, the shipping on some things just doesn’t factor well when you look at the smallness/lightness of the item and the dollars they want to ship it. Not the sites’ fault. It is just the cost of mail in our country. That being said it doesn’t alter the fact that sometimes our little quilt passion can be a tad more expensive than our monthly budgets allow. So…I replied that I make my own templates. Have for years, basically since I first started quilting in the mid-eighties. I don’t want to repeat the whole comment here. I do be a bit wordy.... so, in brief, I explained at length how I do mine. Difficult to explain the process in just words. Offered to write and illustrate a blog on the subject. And here it is. I will try to arrange photos and comments in an organized and cogent format…if flawed or difficult to follow ..please let me know…I can edit untill it works for everyone.

Please bear in mind as you read this that at this point in time I am concentrating on miniature more than I have in the past. since I moved into my current home, which I fondly refer to as my little house of cubicles [strange place but fits me to a “T”] there is really not enough space to work on full sized quilts. I did one and it was a nightmare of duct tape, plastic table cloths – constant worry about fabric on kitchen counters where dh had left coffee spills & sugar from breakfast cereal. My point is I guess, that even though my illustrations here are of tiny little quilting templates, this is the way I have done my templates for years. And as time consuming and seemingly difficult, considering the ease of buying & using ready made templates, it is easier, much easier [if doing it my way – the old way] with larger templates as for a full sized quilt.

First off I usually design my own quilts. Ergo, there is no pattern to follow with handy dandy quilting motif suggestion by the original designer which fits the borders, blocks, border corners etc etc of the quilt under construction. Which leads to the situation wherein I have to design my own quilt motif. For miniature quilts no biggie…it is so easy to see the whole quilt with a good perspective of size and pattern/colors/layout of design elements etc, in order to come up with good ideas for the surface embellishment, which I consider a quilting motif to be. It adds movement, and interest to the surface of many little pieces of fabric fitted together into an arrangement that is pleasing to the eye. it accentuates areas of the whole that you might want to emphasize. And then you embellish it with swirls, flowing lines …things that bring it all together and delights the eye of the viewer. A full sized quilt is different…for that I use the clear vinyl stuff that you can buy by the yard for table covering whatever. I lay a piece over my scale drawing of quilt and work on designs that will add to the quilt top overall.

Templates I make myself, after I have decided on what I am going to do. And what I am going to do is something that I am daydreaming about as I piece the quilt. And it often changes as the quilt goes together and its fullness of imagery evolves.

The process I use for making templates will be the main focus of this little diatribe…errr…blog.


[difficult to format for this blog site- oh well, it's free - and i am figuring it out and it starting to bet a LOT easier :))]

I get my patterns from various sources…books, advertisements in magazines ..even the floor tile in my house…haven’t used it yet…but I am going to. This is one of my favorite books [upper left]. I don’t have many on quilt motifs and the ones I do have tend to be of historical quilting. one of my many interests are of all things historical. This book is excellent if you like that sort of thing too. I think it is still available.

the drawing on the right [above]was copied out of a quilt magazine with the thought of using it in the corners of the border on my sons’ quilt. Books by Pepper Cory, Ami Sims are excellent sources of quilting motif designs and stitching how-to’s, and I recently found a couple of used cd’s in a collectables store on quilting, one of which was a collection of quilt motifs by Helen Squire.….and I have one of my first books that I learned a lot from by Gwen Marsten & Joe Cunningham…details on layering, basting, loading into a frame [before long arm set ups were available to other than commercial business’. Styles and purpose of different quilting motifs, drawing them and stitching them. The book now looks so primitive compared to modern treatises on the subject but it stays in my book stash because of the value of the reference information it contains.

the book above {left} was the source for the quilt motif in the center of this small quilt. If you can zoom in, you will see that I am quilting with black thread. I like to use thread sometimes that is in sharp contrast to the color of the fabric, especially if it is a solid color fabric – not a print. I also prefer variegated thread, but not on solid color back ground, it seems too ‘busy’.  Just the way I do things. Years ago I decided that the quilting motif when worked with colored thread took on the look of redwork/bluework type embroidery stitching [embroidery another interest of mine]. So I started doing it this way more and more. I make stuff for fun – it sits for years and then it gets drug out. My hands are arthritic…have been since I was a teen. And over the years they have, of course, gotten worse. A number of years ago I decided to have little ‘warm-up’ pieces to work on to loosen up stiff fingers before I work on main project. There is a quilt posted on my photo gallery here at 'my quilt place' that is called ‘new jersey twilight’…practiced free form design with precut blocks found at flea market where the lady told me that they had come from an estate sale. 4” badly cut…I re-cut - made 9-patch blocks…yada yada yada…point is, I used it as a warm up piece later. Took me thirteen years from first cuts to finished binding. I finished a few full sized quilts during that time…hand quilted & machine.

 How I do it…I find the motif I want. I photocopy it. Sometimes I re-size it with the scanner/copier too. Depends on what I am going for. This one [to the left here] just happened to be the perfect size.

here, I have transferred my pattern to heavy stock [this time I found a drawing pad in the free box at a yard sale. it was for charcoal/chalk art…little ones had done their art on many of the pages so it was deemed of no value…I used the back side of the little ones art efforts…I had gone over it with heavy line, it can sometimes make it easier to follow with the double blade xacto knife.The process of tracing does shorten the life of your pattern, so if you are going to make a lot of templates [they are paper/pasteboard they do wear out L] for tracing over onto heavier stock, make copies.

The hearts on the side of these half round images, were from the above book also. They had to be redrawn to fit the space/shape. I made a multi copy of my half round image with the heart halfs so I can cut out one at a time for tracing. I have a line down the center of the half round, the reason for which I will explain in a moment.

How I do that…I lay a piece of paper over the area that I want to use the motif in. the heart I wanted in the half round at sides/in between the ‘wings’ of the ‘doves’. The inner half round of the two side by side drunkard path blocks was traced. The line down the middle on the images at left is the seam line between them. I then redrew the heart motif in one half of the half round allowing room between it and the seams of the piecing, as I have illustrated here. note the placement of the area to be cut in relation to the seam line area.

[I also write notes to my self. As seen in here.] Most of my templates are one time use, so I do use different materials …this one was made with printer paper, the little one above it was made with something firmer, I guess I go with whatever I have at hand. I am not much for following rules or routine. Note: that the little tulip one is also, only half…I have found that I get better uniformity if I mark half the pattern…flip it ..align with marked half and then draw the other half of the pattern, as unlike commercially made templates which are stamped out with the accuracy of a computer operated cutter, it is too hard to get exact and even duplication on both or 3 or 4sides of motif. For me. That is usually the gist of my notes – reminding myself of what I have planned for placement. above right have cut out the template for the heart. Using an xacto knife. Also, the little tulip pattern was derived from a photo in the same book illustrating how early quilters used different sources from around them for inspiration for their quilt motifs.

Now, this isn’t something I can illustrate. I am alone …and as dexterous as I may be…to hold a camera, firmly slice thru pasteboard or printer paper is a bit beyond my abilities.  So…here is the difficult to explain, but unable to illustrate part. well...... gonna try....

I have tried to show here [photo at right] what I have described below. The template pattern I am going to trace onto heavy stock of some kind. I trim around the image so that when I am using scraps of stock as I am here I can place it in a way that I get the best usage of my scrap. Then I use small pieces of tape to adhere image to background stock.

After I have my quilt motif placed the way i want it, I transfer it to the plain side of pasteboard cut from heavy cereal boxes [like the double bag ones you get at Costco]. Template plastic gives iffy results for me. Poor luck with those heated thingys for cutting the plastic, too. The way I do it is to lay my design over paste board. I then trace over the design with either a pen that has run out of ink and has a fine tip - or - I use an old steel crochet hook in 000 size or smaller if you can find one. the idea is to use a firm, small tipped, hard item to trace pattern with. Even a knitting needle would work ..just keep in mind that you want to  use something big enough around the shaft that it won’t hurt your hand to hold it while you are firmly and evenly tracing over the pattern. [my crochet hook is leftover from before I tried using empty ink pens.] If it is an intricate pattern like template above right, then I place small pieces of tape around edge of pattern picture to hold it in place. This way, when I stop to give my hand a rest, it won’t be shifting. After you are done tracing, lift pattern carefully off of the pasteboard. Now, if you look at the pasteboard at an angle you will see the shadows of fine indentations made in the surface. Fill those in with a fine tipped pen, like the ones that you can get to write on fabric. Anything really, as long as the line it makes is thin, fine. the template below right i traced onto, and filled in the depressions with pen  and then went over with felt tip to make wider lines to use with double bladed xacto knife, sometimes it makes it easier – one shone below is single blade. Use some kind of wood for this part…the xacto knife would destroy cutting boards etc..so scrap wood is better.

Then comes the xacto knife. Must be sharp…maybe even new blade. Xacto knives come in single or double blades…or they used to. I have had mine for quite a few years. The  template [below right/left] was cut using double blade. With more time and being careful you can do the same thing with a single bladed one. Yes, I have. even though I am a bit of a neat freak about organizing my supplies I can’t always find things. When you are cutting out the lines to mark through, be sure you leave adequate bridges so that the pattern stays intact.

 in the photo below left… I have only cut out one quarter of the motif. Why do the whole thing…I just turn it and mark. Works…that is what I did in the quilt above. I am not a lazy  person per se…but if there is an easier way to do/accomplish something, I will look for it. Time becomes a precious commodity sometimes. And my quilting time is limited to what I can steal on a weekend morning or a snowy day when he has a good football game to occupy his time. 


Sometimes I just cut out around the outside of the template and cut lines inside for details of motif. As I have done here. [right]

then I just position it where I want it [in the quilt above, this one is in the curve of the ‘wings’].  I also make marks on my patterns as I go along to try out ideas for fill-in quilting. Like the little quilt above I am thinking either small crosshatching or diagonal lines radiating out ….something. not too much. Just enough to fill and complement the main quilting motifs. Yah. I know, supposed to do it all at one time…but this is a warm-up piece…on a full sized quilt or whatever my main project is, the background filler is done as I go along. but this way also gives me an opportunity to see how it will look on future quilt. I start from the middle and work out, as I learned decades ago. But, I am now quilting with a group that didn’t read the same book I did!!! Lollollol…the two that do hand quilting start at some edgecorner and just take off quilting across the quilt. Oh well. Looks great. And …hmmm…must remind my self here…I am from the generation that more or less invented the term “rules are made to be broken”, so maybe i should try it their way...????  ...course we didn’t trust anyone over thirty either.

 So I hope that this helps in figuring out how to make your own templates when you can’t find what you want or ready made just isn’t easily available. Copy my ideas, develop your own – whatever – life is a learning experience…and so is quilting. Enjoy.

These are the two books that I have used here, that I have been most recently using for ideas or designs for my template/quilting projects. I don’t know if they are still available. But check on-line. There used to be a site that dealt in out of print books. All were recycled …but I have lost the link.

By Dorothy Osler.

That Patchwork Place       


                          ISBN   1-56477-152-0

by Roberta Benvin…

American Quilters Society  publication…2001

                                        ISBN   1-57432-769-0 

I will use the illustration on the Osler book to show what I have learned to look for in applique design books. Good clear, and clearly illustrated instructions and how-to’s in the use of the book and it’s contents. Some of my early ones just gave the basic info and then pages of patterns. I used to spend a lot of time at copy centers. This book has a page on that too. But it is sooo cool now, online you can find the % settings and a lot more information.


Below I am just going to stick in some photos of the templates recently/currently used. Before and after cutting for use.



re-using the discarded work of budding artist.                                    …..for this.


….and when I sit down to quilt…my chair is all warmed up for me…now then, if I could just teach her how to turn on cd player …hmmm…can ya teach a cat that????

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Comment by rogue quilter Queen of the WIVSP on September 7, 2012 at 1:38pm
thanx deanna, rebecca!

there seems to be a lot of card stock, clean and useful at yard/estate sales at times. i think a lot of people are enamored of the "make your own greeting card" idea. i bought the software years ago, but never the card stock...it was so expensive! but now i am finding it at sales, usually in the "free" box. lol

deanna...that one is published by aqs & may still be available. fantstic book. peppre cory put out books ~20yrs ago on antique traditional amish quilting patterns. i think i saw that one had been re-issued a year or so ago, might be some info on her website now.

i seem to stumble across great books of applique designs at stores and sales. maybe because that was my original attraction to quilting, dunno, but i have a good selection and have found them to be increasingly useful as the quilt thing continues to draw more crafters in. the newer books give much better info on tools, techniques, even how to do the quilting stitch, threads & needles. so much more info now than when i started. lol...but i muddled thru. my stitching is decreasing in quality, to my eyes, as the knots on my hands grow & the fingers are stiffer and more achy. but....my friend totally ignored my apologies for some of the places on back of recent quilt i sent her where the stitch was too long. i have lost some feeling in finger tips from nerve damage fr arthritis i guess, and can't feel the thread etc on back sometimes. so i try to check & take out...but ya get in the zone ... music sweet, snow drifts growing birds fluttering at feeder..furball trying to burrow under the quilt...sigh! dont always remember to do qc check lollollol. she just kept on about all those little tiny stitches. dh says i should learn to just to ...well lollol.
Comment by Rebecca Tellez on September 7, 2012 at 12:10pm

Wow what a great tutorial!  Thank you for sharing this with us. I really like your idea of using card stock or something other than template plastic.


Comment by Deanna Davis on September 7, 2012 at 11:36am

Awesome -- I've tried to make stencils and failed miserably LOL  I love your antique design books .. would be a must have for me too !


Comment by Judy in lower Eastern Michigan on January 28, 2012 at 5:42pm

Thanks, good idea..I know how to do it, I just don't know how to make myself remember that I saved it someplace else.  What I need is a memory stick for my brain so I can remember what I did with certain files and items.

Thanks Again & Happy Quilting

Judy from Michigan

Comment by rogue quilter Queen of the WIVSP on January 28, 2012 at 1:38pm

oops...don't know if thyis is going to post twice. but

if you open the blog..open a word or notepad blank document page. left click and mouse over the blog and then right click on blued area and select 'copy' ..move over to blank document page..right  click and select 'paste' the words and photos will show up on your word/notepad page. you can do the whole blog that way. start at beginning and go until you get all the pages of the blog switced over to your document page. click save to my documents ...and print up if you want or have it on your ipad or whatever to refer to while working. or...let me know and i will print it up and send it to you. have done this sort of thing for my niece and few others...so i can do it for you. even sent a 'yard mowing' thing to freind in holland onec...she just could not understand how i could spend 10 hrs a week mowing grass lollollollol!!!!!!! so let me know. glad it helped you and hope that others find it helpful also.

Comment by Judy in lower Eastern Michigan on January 27, 2012 at 7:09pm

You said you would come thru and you did big time, now all I need to do is find out how to bookmark this for future use so I don't loose it .

Thank You again for the information, it is great.

Judy in Michigan

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