Quilt Marking Roundup: Stitching Through Paper

I’m currently teaching Machine Quilting—Master the Basics online at QuiltCampus.com, and one of my students said that the hardest thing was to figure out how to transfer the quilting design to the quilt. I really can’t disagree with that! Quilt marking methods are many and varied as are the tools, and it’s different for every single quilt you make, so it’s not like you can just figure it out once and run with it. It’s a “figure it out” process over and over and over again.

Over the years, I’ve used many different methods, so I thought I’d share some of them here over the course of the next few posts. I can’t tell you how many parts this will have, as I’m just going to start with a couple of the methods I used way back when, and work my way through my bag of techniques and tools. Some of what I’ll share I haven’t used recently for one reason or another, but that’s not to say I won’t ever use a particular technique again, and of course someone else might find it useful.

When I was fairly new to quilting, my goal was to not actually mark on the quilt at all if it could be avoided since I was petrified that the marks wouldn’t wash out, so I spent a great deal of time figuring out how to get the quilting pattern on to the quilt without ever touching an actual marker to the fabric. One of the first things I tried was stitching through paper with the quilting design printed on it. You can draw or trace designs onto regular paper or thinner tissue-type paper, and then pin the paper to the quilt top and quilt the design following the lines on the paper. This method works okay, but if you’re using a domestic short-arm machine and the pattern is bigger than about 6″ square, it tends to shift during the quilting process and can end up being a totally painful mess instead of a beautifully quilted quilt. I would guess that longarm machines might not have this shifting issue since the quilt stays flat in the machine during quilting (though that’s only a guess, since I don’t use a longarm).

You can purchase thin paper made especially for this technique, which is gentler on the quilting stitches when you tear the paper away. One brand I’ve used is Golden Threads Quilting Paper. You can also purchase pre-printed designs from the same manufacturer. If you want to use Golden Threads Quilting Paper with your own quilting designs, you can trace one design onto a piece of the paper, then stack more layers of the paper under the first, and free motion “quilt” the designs with an unthreaded needle in your machine to transfer the designs to all the sheets. The design then shows up as a perforated trail of dots on each sheet of paper.

One of the other things I came up with was stitching through self adhesive labels with the quilting designs printed on them. I created quilting designs in the computer using a graphics program, and printed the designs onto 8½” x 11″ full sheet labels. Then I stuck the labels onto the quilt top and machine quilted through the label following the design.

It’s great that the adhesive on the back of the label sticks to the quilt, because then the pattern doesn’t shift during quilting like it can when you’re using tissue paper or regular paper. The major downside to the adhesive labels is removing them from the quilt after the design has been quilted. Removing the paper is a tedious downside whether you’ve used labels, regular paper or tissue paper, but the adhesive just ads a great amount of difficulty to the process.

I will say that some patterns are more usable with adhesive labels than others; patterns without places where many lines of quilting cross are much easier than those more complicated designs where many lines come together all in one spot. Also, cheapo labels are much easier to work with than Avery labels because not only is the paper a bit thinner, but also the adhesive isn’t as sticky. The other thing I’ve done to make the labels a bit less sticky is to stick them to a fluffy bath towel once or twice so that they collected a bit of lint before sticking them to the quilt. The labels were still sticky enough to stay positioned on the quilt top, but easier to remove after quilting.

A number of my earlier quilts were quilted using printed papers or labels, including Homes and Gardens and Love at Last Sight as well as the butterflies on Butterfly Houses. It’s a very usable technique despite the issues, especially if you need to transfer a design to a quilt that’s already basted together (so you can’t trace the design with a light box) or if you’re quilting a design on a scrappy quilt or a quilt with so many different fabrics that whatever marking tool you use is going to be difficult to see on one or more of the fabrics.

Your Voice: Have you used this technique? How did it work for you? Share your tips!

7 thoughts on “Quilt Marking Roundup: Stitching Through Paper

  1. I’ve used the Golden Threads paper on both small designs and larger quilt designs. Its not bad to use on the small designs even if the design criss-crosses a bit. Since its a smaller section, it doesn’t SEEM as tedius to remove the paper. I did use it on a full quilt design because I was afraid to actually mark the quilt. The huge downside is that it took FOREVER to get the paper off. I even used a simple design that didn’t criss-cross or come to points very often and it was still a pain to remove. I’ve read that you can purchase a little “thing” that puts little sticky dots onto the golden threads paper so that you can adhere it to the quilt top. I haven’t tried it yet, but it might make it easier than pinning the paper.

    I’ve used the pre-printed designs that have sticky portions on them once and they were pretty handy…just be careful not to stitch through the glued portion as it makes it nearly impossible to remove.


    1. Hi Sarah! Thanks for the heads up about the adhesive dots. As well as being hard to remove, I can imagine that it would gum up the needle if you stitched through the adhesive too!


  2. I have used Golden Threads a fair amount and find that I can lightly spray baste the paper and smooth it with my hands. I see no difference in removing it with this method and I can use a much larger motif.


    1. Hi Leslie! Hmmm. The spray basting trick sounds effective, but I’ve always worried about whether that stuff really washes out of the quilt. Maybe it’s not so bad if it’s sprayed on the paper instead of the quilt, but I used it years ago (when it was first available) to actually baste a quilt together with the batting, and every time I washed and dried the quilt for years, it came out smelling like the basting spray, so it had to still be in there. The quilt itself hasn’t disintegrated yet, but I worry about adding chemicals like that to fabric art.

      When you use the basting spray to keep the Golden Threads paper in place, do you find that the residue stays on the quilt at all?


  3. I have never notices residue after quilting. The stuff begins to disintegrate in a few days and no longer sticks after a week. I wash lots of things so usually the spray basting is not something I worry about, but for wall hangings I rarely wash them. I use 505 and spray in the garage. I pin the item to be sprayed on the wall on some large packing boxes that my husband nailed on the wall for me just for this purpose. I also open the door of the garage. I spray very lightly and quickly. In the case of the Golden Threads paper it does not look wet at all and is only a bit tacky. Try it once and see what you think. If I spray a quilt instead of using pins I only spray the batting.


  4. What kinds of marking pencils do you recommend? I’m just getting started, and have that petrified feeling you mentioned 🙂



    1. Hi Christy!

      Sorry for the delay in my reply to you! I’ve been away from my site for a bit with some real life stuff going on lately.

      I use many different marking tools for different results or projects, so that’s a difficult question to answer really. You can search this site via keywords to find all of the articles where I mention the types of marking tools that I use. For example, click here:


      to search the site for marking tools and methods.


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