Making the Most of Print Fabrics Using See-Through Templates

In these times of speedy sewing techniques and quilts made in a day, it is inspiring to see some quilt makers choose their fabric carefully with an eye toward making the most of beautiful prints. The process is not fast (each patch must be Stoffenwinkel Leiden marked and cut individually), but the result is a quilt rich with elegance and splendid in detail. Happily, quilt makers usually live long enough to see the results of their efforts.

This style of fabric usage relies on two ingredients: fabric that has a repeated design that can be isolated and see-through templates that allow the fabric design to be placed precisely. Fabric manufacturers are currently doing a good job of providing quilt makers with excellent fabrics: prints large and small, stripes and border prints galore.

There are four principal ways to use repeat design fabric and see-through templates to enhance pieced quilt patterns. These techniques are all closely related.


  1. Position the fabric’s design motifs identically in repeating patches used in a block or segment.
  2. Piece selected block patches from smaller patches in which design motifs have been positioned.
  3. Use border prints or stripes for repeating patches.
  4. Piece selected block patches from smaller patches in which a design motif and a border stripe have been positioned (a combination of numbers 2 and 3).


Estimating Yardage

As you can guess, yardage amounts required for these techniques will be greater than that for conventional fabric use where shared cutting lines allow little leftover fabric. With careful cutting, however, unused areas of fabric can be saved and used in other ways. When selecting fabric, open it up to see how many repeats there are per yard (or across the fabric’s width); then judge the correct amount to purchase depending on the number of motifs you will need.

About Grain Lines

When positioning of fabric design is the primary consideration in placement of templates, grain lines become a moot point. You might end up with more bias edges than you would like on the outer edges of the block. But patches will not stretch out of shape by themselves, and careful pressing will prevent most problems. If the grain line on the outer edge of the block is not straight, machine stitch the outside block edge seam line for stability.

Marking Patches

To see how the fabric’s prints will work in the pieced block without wasting material, you can make photocopies of your chosen fabrics and work with them in planning. Dark fabrics should be photocopied on the “light” machine setting for the design to show. Any fabrics that do not photocopy well can be traced for experimentation.

After determining how you want to position your see-through template to achieve the desired effect, trace enough of the fabric’s design on the template to ensure exact alignment for all patches. Patches for hand piecing are marked on the wrong side of the fabric using a template without seam allowances.

You might want to experiment with placing the see-through template on the right side of the fabric to find the best position, then find that placement on the back side and proceed to mark all patches. If the fabric print does not show on the back of the fabric, mark and cut patches as for machine piecing (explained below), then turn patches over and mark seam lines on the wrong side using a template without seam allowances added.

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