How to Prep for Whole-Cloth Quilting

Mark and trapunto your motifs with these step-by-step instructions.

The main focus in a whole-cloth quilt is a center motif surrounded by border motifs and corner designs that create movement throughout the quilt. A wide outer border is recommended as a frame, with more intricate designs placed toward the center. The border should keep your eye within the quilt by cutting off any strong diagonals radiating from the center and by using designs that flow throughout the quilt. Varying the size and intricacy of patterns will make the overall appearance more interesting.



And keep the importance of balance and symmetry in mind. Start with a favorite border stencil or center motif and then audition other stencils as fillers until the quilt is pleasing to the eye.

Here's how to lay the groundwork for your own masterpiece:

Materials and Tools:

long rulers
tape measure
rotary cutting rulers
water-soluble blue marking pens (not fine-point)
eraser pens
water-soluble thread for trapunto cut-away
white or off-white wide-width fabric (sheer to opaque cotton, sateen, wide sheer batiste or any nice cotton that feels smooth to the touch)
backing fabric, from the same bolt if possible
binding fabric, from the same bolt if possible
16 to 20 ounces of thick, wide polyester trapunto batting (for best results, use a dense 16-ounce batting)
main batting for whole cloth quilt (low-loft batting of your choice)
sharp pair of small scissors for trapunto trimming (not duck-bill scissors)
matching thread color


1. Wash the fabric and check for flaws.

2. Find the side of the fabric that looks like the front.

3. Press the fabric and square it up to the desired size.

4. Cut the edges of the fabric even with the grain if possible.

5. Using a blue water-soluble pen, mark a line on the outside border edge about 1/2-inch to 1 inch from the raw edges; be sure that all sides are the correct dimension for the size of your quilt and are parallel with the grain of the fabric. Aligning a ruler against this blue line will give you a good guide to a 45-degree angle if needed. Fold the fabric into quarters, making certain that the fold lines go from center to center of opposing sides. Pinch hard to mark the true center of the quilt. Open the quilt and mark the center where you pinched with a blue pen.

6. Mark your quilt with registration lines, using diagonal lines, going center to center and corner to corner with the blue pen.

7. Audition some of your designs or stencils on the fabric to see what's pleasing together and will fit well in the available space. Enlarge or reduce patterns if necessary.

8. Measure the width of the outer border and determine how many repeats are needed of the border pattern you wish to use. If you'll need to adjust the repeats to fill the available space, decide how this can best be done (enlarging, reducing, stretching, adding an extra design element, etc.). When you've made this change, you can determine how wide your border will need to be.

9. Plan your center motif and decide how to fill the area between the center motif and the border, how to fill the other empty spaces, and whether you need to add more frames, motifs or background fillers.

10. Decide where your design might be enhanced with trapunto and what background techniques will be best to highlight your designs.

11. Mark or draw all your designs with the blue pen before beginning to quilt so that you can see the overall effect and make changes if needed. Whole-cloth quilts need to be marked entirely, including background grids, before quilting begins.

12. Stand back from the quilt after marking it to get a better perspective on it from a distance.

13. Make sure your quilt top won't bleed, like a batik fabric may, when using water-soluble products. Some water-soluble products will dissolve in lukewarm to hot water, but hot water will cause shrinking to a quilt, so soak it in warm water instead to remove the water-soluble thread product. As for the blue-pen product, it may reappear on the surface or settle on the quilt batting or backing if the quilt isn't soaked in enough water. If this happens, move the quilt through water to ensure that the product doesn't remain in the batting.

14. After marking the quilt top, trapunto the motifs or areas you wish to be dominant in the quilt. Outline the motifs with water-soluble thread, using only a thick polyester batting.

15. Trim away the excess polyester batting from the back side, taking care not to cut the quilt top.

16. Quilt as desired.

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