Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tutorial: Freezer-paper circle appliqué for quilt labels

I had to quickly put a label on a quilt this week before sending it out into the world (more details on that later!). It seemed like a good opportunity to snap some pics for a tutorial on an appliqué method that uses freezer paper and starch and is a favourite of my quilt guild. It's a great technique for quilt labels, since the freezer paper stabilizes the fabric for writing on, and a circle cutter makes it even easier.

I wanted a round label so it would blend in with the bubbly fabric on the backing. That's where the circle cutter comes in.

freezer paper appliqué

This circle cutter made by Fiskars was stocked with the papercraft supplies (I have used it to cut circles from fabric fused to fusible web—it dulled the blades and required a more careful movement but worked pretty well). There's a needle tip and a pad tip; use the needle tip. The guide is sold separately but helps find exactly where you're going to cut. The cutter blade tears up the mat a bit, so I use the cutting mat I use with X-Acto knives rather than the one I use to rotary cut fabric.


  • Fabric
  • Freezer paper
  • Iron
  • Circle cutter, guide, and cutting mat (or scissors)
  • Pinking shears
  • Spray starch
  • Paintbrush
  • Stiletto or chopstick
  • Ruler
  • Pen or marker
  • Light box or other bright light source
  • Fabric marking pen
Click on any of the photos to zoom in.

  1. Iron 2 pieces of freezer paper together, shiny sides down. The doubled thickness is easier to wrap the fabric around.
  2. Place the guide onto the freezer paper. I wanted a 3-inch circle. If you're making a shape other than a circle, draw it on the freezer paper, cut it out with scissors, and skip down to Step 6.
    freezer paper appliqué
  3. Place the cutter on the guide, lining up the cutter's feet with the marked spots on the guide. Make sure the cutting blade is above the guide's open notch.
    freezer paper appliqué
  4. Press down on the orange center of the cutter. While pressing, slide the guide out.
    freezer paper appliqué
  5. Keep pressing and turn the body of the cutter around in a circle. You shouldn't have to apply much pressure. So, now you've got a perfect circle!
    freezer paper appliqué freezer paper appliqué
  6. Back to the ironing board. Press the freezer paper to the fabric, shiny side down against the back side of the fabric. (Your fabric doesn't have to be the same shape as the freezer paper at this point; I just happened to have a circle scrap.)
    freezer paper appliqué
  7. Cut around the freezer paper with pinking shears, just shy of ¼" from the edge of the paper. Or you can use scissors and clip into the seam allowance periodically, but the pinking shears cut out (geddit?) the clipping step and reduce fraying.
    freezer paper appliqué
  8. Spray some starch into the cap of the can or another small container. Once the bubbles settle and the starch is a liquid, paint some onto the seam allowance. You can wet a few inches of the seam allowance at a time.
    freezer paper appliqué
  9. Press the wet seam allowance over the edge of the freezer paper. A sealing iron like this one is easier to handle than a full-size iron, but anything works. Use a stiletto to pull the seam allowance down onto the paper—I wasn't about to spend $15+ on a sharp stick, so I just use a chopstick. You can't see the chopstick in the photo because I needed to hold the camera and don't have three hands (or a prehensile tail, which would really be preferable); it's generally easier to hold the stiletto/chopstick in your dominant hand. When you get near the end of the allowance you've wet, paint some more. If you get a fold or a point ironed in, just wet it and repress.
    freezer paper appliqué
  10. When you've pressed all the seam allowances down, give the whole piece a quick press.
    freezer paper appliqué
  11. Normally you'd remove the freezer paper now, but since we're making a quilt label, we're not done with it. To help keep your lines of label text straight, draw heavy lines on the freezer paper. I lined my ruler up with the half-inch marks on the cutting mat to keep them parallel and evenly spaced.
    freezer paper appliqué
  12. Chuck the thing on a light box. Or a bright window, or a glass table or clear box with a lamp under it. See how the lines peek through? So does the lovely blob my pen made while waiting for me to focus the camera. (I'm also noticing that my pressing job could have been better—I should have repressed those points on the edge. Instead I rounded them out when I was sewing.)
    freezer paper appliqué
  13. Write your text with a fabric-marking pen, using the lines as guides. I can never get everything centered, but at least the lines are straight. Pop the label off the light box.
    freezer paper appliqué
  14. Now you can peel the freezer paper out. The fabric will keep the circle shape.
    freezer paper appliqué
    How do you like them super-pink fingers? I'm having a little trouble getting my screen colour calibrated.
  15. And sew the sucker down! I sewed this one down by hand with a blind stitch, but sewing a label to a finished quilt, you can sew by machine with monofilament thread and a blind-hem stitch. Either way, I highly recommend basting glue over pins.
freezer paper appliqué

And that's it. You don't have to make the circles into labels, of course, but on the other hand, quilt labels don't have to be rectangles!


quiltrascal said...

Could you write on the fabric before you cut out the circle, then reposition the freezer paper circle?

Feed Dog said...

Yep, that'd work too. I've reused freezer paper templates like this many times--they still stick for several repositionings.

Me said...

Thanks for the tutorial. Now I can fix what I'm doing wrong....