There are many reasons for needing to make templates for cutting shapes. Some shapes simply cannot be easily cut with a rotary cutter and although you can buy acrylic templates for many of these shapes it can get a bit expensive as you need a separate template for each size. Sometimes you may want to cut a fairly simple shape – a square for instance – but you need to centre it exactly over a particular motif in the fabric (fussy cutting) or you are making a block that won’t fit standard rotary ruler measurements, such as an 8 inch Ohio Star (the measurement for the corner squares is 1/3rd of 8, an impossible one to cut with a ruler). You may also need to make a template for a quilting design to fit a particular space or a border.

Drafting templates

When I discussed drafting a block I touched briefly on drawing the seam lines around each shape in the block so you could make your templates or work out the sizes to cut with the rotary cutter. This is fine for the usual shapes found in blocks – such as squares, rectangles, rhomboids and triangles of varying sorts – but what about shapes found in mosaic quilts – hexagons, diamonds and octagons? How do you draw these?

The simple answer could be to find some graph paper; you can download free graph paper with a hexagonal, diamond or triangular grid from various websites including Incompetech as before.

But it is also possible to draft hexagons (and thus 60 degree triangles and diamonds) and octagons by paper folding.

To draft an octagon using just pencil, paper and scissors, no maths involved, you start with a square of paper – the required finished size of your octagon (plus ½ inch for a seam allowance, if you want to add it at this stage). You can make your octagon any size you fancy if it is not important – just acquire a suitable size of paper square. A large octagon (roughly 8 inches) can be made from an A4 sheet, or a very small one from something like a Post-It. I’ve used A4 paper in the photos in the how-to pdf which you can download here. The PDF also includes drafting an octagon with ruler, compass and pencil – still no sums involved though. Once you have an octagon you can make Kaleidoscope blocks and variations as well as Eight-Pointed stars and their variations.

Hexagon templates are made in much the same way but start with a circle not a square. Draw around a suitable sized cup, mug, saucer, bowl, plate . . . or even large cotton reel, to get the starting size required. Once you have a hexagon you also have 60 degree triangles and diamonds, 6-pointed stars, tumbling blocks and Inner City among others. You can download a how-to pdf here. The PDF also includes drafting a hexagon with ruler, compass and pencil – still no sums involved.

Making templates

Trace your paper templates or cut them out and glue the tracing/cut-out to thin card – old cereal boxes are fine. You can also make ‘window’ templates to help with fussy cutting (positioning a motif).

If you want a more durable template, or to position a motif (so you need a transparent template) use template plastic and trace directly onto it.

You can make plastic templates from old (clean!) ice cream tubs, milk containers, butter or margarine containers etc.

Label each template, stating the name of the block, the size, and whether the template includes a seam allowance or not.

Templates for each block can be kept together in an envelope or ziplock bag, I find it useful to add a picture of the block and its name to the envelope too.

Seam lines

The templates provided in a pattern may not have the seam lines marked.

For machine piecing you may need to add the seam allowance to each template; the lines you draw on the fabric around these templates are then cutting lines.

For hand piecing, you can cut the templates without a seam allowance – the lines you draw on the fabric will be the sewing lines.

Make sure you state on the template whether or not you have added a seam allowance.

Using templates

Make and cut out your templates carefully as any inaccuracy here will multiply several times as you make the quilt.

Mark your fabrics on the wrong side of the fabric with a soft pencil – remember the straight grain of the fabric needs to be along one edge, and preferably the outside edges of the block, where possible. Use as fine a line as possible to mark the seam line, a thick line will not only increase the chance of any inaccuracies but will also show after sewing.

Use sharp fabric scissors to cut out the pieces for your block, taking care that you leave a seam allowance if you need to.

Take care with templates that are not symmetrical – mark them so that you know which side to place down on the fabric; this is not so important with plain fabrics that don’t seem to have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side, but crucial when using printed fabrics.

Some of the quilts that require templates – whether home-made or bought – are fans and Dresden Plates

Dahlia designs and Double Wedding Ring

Tangled Star (although you can redraw it with some extra seam lines so it can be rotary cut and easily machine-pieced) and, as mentioned above, hexagons and ‘fussy-cut’ designs.