Stained Glass Appliqué

After delivering my Art of Appliqué lecture recently, an email arrived with the following question:

I am planning on making a stained glass wall quilt. The instructions state that I should transfer the pattern to [freezer] paper, cut out the pieces that are not leading and then iron the lacy [freezer] paper onto the back of the black fabric.  Then I need to cut out the spaces, fold back some of the black to make the leading, and then add the fabric to fill the space.  I am a bit hesitant to do this as I am afraid that the [freezer] paper may come off the fabric.

I was thinking of marking the fabric on the right side, but am not sure how to do it without cutting out the original pattern to pieces.  If I was sewing a garment, I would use the transfer sheets that one can purchase in fabric stores, but I think this stuff will not wash off and I don’t want to ruin the piece. Would you have any suggestions for me?  Any help would be most appreciated.

Such excellent questions! I decided to answer with a blog article so that anyone curious about this technique could benefit.Stained Glass Pattern

I am also a fan of stained glass appliqué and purchased a number of patterns back in the 90s when I first started quilting. The method recommended in the pattern “Candles with Poinsettias” by Cathy Robiscoe’s Spectral Designs is the same as the method described above. Basically, it is a freezer paper appliqué technique along with reverse appliqué. The seam allowances of the black “leading” are basted – typically with water-soluble glue – to the freezer paper which has been ironed onto the back. Once the black fabric is prepared, it is appliquéd by hand or machine over pieces of colored fabric that represent the stained glass elements.

If the freezer paper is well pressed onto the black fabric, it should stay secure during the basting process. I would recommend, however, working with it flat on a table to avoid excessive handling. As each section of seam allowance is glued to the paper, it will become even more secure. Removing the freezer paper takes some care as well. After the appliqué is completed, the work will have to be immersed in water to dissolve the glue. Blunt tweezers will be required to slip underneath the seam allowances and pull out the narrow strips of freezer paper. Cathy Robiscoe states in her pattern that it is not even necessary to remove the freezer paper if the piece is a wall hanging that will not be laundered frequently.

So, in response to part one of the question, I would say freezer paper appliqué would work well for creating a stained glass quilt design. The second part of the question brings up the option of marking the black fabric on the right side. I am assuming, therefore, that needle-turn appliqué would be used instead. Each section of the design would be cut out of the black fabric leaving a 1/4-inch seam allowance and reverse appliquéd over the pieces of colored fabric. This method would also work, but I would recommend working on one section at a time to avoid stretching or fraying the thin “leading” fabric.

Stained Glass Window QuiltHow can the design be marked on the black fabric? It actually can be traced if the back light is bright enough, such as with an LED light box. Transfer sheets can be used, just as with garment sewing. Similar to carbon paper, graphite paper transfers images onto almost any surface but can be easily erased. Transdoodle is non-waxy, non-staining, reusable, chalky-color transfer paper for clear guidelines that never set – not even with ironing – and simply rub out with the swipe of a cloth or in the wash. It is available in white, yellow, and blue. If anything, the issue will be that the lines may rub off before you are finished with them.

Another option would be to use the traced and cut-out freezer paper – only this time, iron it onto the right side of the black fabric and use it as a template. Trace around the edges of the freezer paper using a white wash-out pencil or marker such as Clover’s white marking pen or Bohin’s chalk mechanical pencil.

A third method for creating a stained glass quilt design substitutes black bias strips for the “leading”. Black bias strips can be purchased ready-made and even ready-to-fuse, or they can be easily assembled with a bias tape maker. With this method, the stained glass design is traced onto a background fabric – either a muslin foundation that will be completely covered or one of the predominant stained glass fabrics. The remaining stained glass segments are arranged onto this background and pinned or glue basted. The black bias strips are appliquéd over the raw edges of the stained glass fabrics. A little planning is required to ensure that the ends of each bias strip get covered by another piece of bias tape.

Whatever method you choose, stained glass appliqué creates lovely and striking designs. Good luck with your project Maria, and send us a photo when it is finished!

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  1. Thanks Cathy, for your comments and your beautiful designs!

  2. Cathy Robiscoe says:

    Hi…this is Cathy Robiscoe, the creator of non bias tape technique for “stained glass” wall hanging quilts. I would like to add that as the person who first marketed this technique in 1993, I do not feel it is at all necessary to remove the freezer paper. I marketed many original designs and never removed the paper….it did not make the “leading” stiff and did not have any adverse effects when laundered. Also, once freezer paper leading is ironed onto the black fabric, it is best to work the “glass” pieces in small sections. If paper lifts, just re-iron it without steam. Thanks…Cathy Robiscoe…Spectral Designs LLC.

  3. In a recent email, a reader asked:

    Could you tell me what glue works best? I am making The Shepherds and Nativity Set and am having trouble with my glue. Is it possible to use washable elmer’s glue? I like the idea of folding the leading back and sewing the fabric in, but must admit I’m struggling. Any information you could provide would be most helpful.

    Here is my response:

    In the stained glass pattern that I have, Cathy Robiscoe uses Quilter’s GluTube. On the supply list, it says it is “a must” and later in the pattern she states that to her knowledge “there is not another product on the market that can replace it”. Mind you, the pattern was copyrighted in 1996! I think the benefit of this glue was that it could be repositioned, but a quick Google search did not find a single source for it.

    Any water-soluble glue stick can be used to baste fabric to freezer paper, but remember that the finished work will have to be immersed in water to dissolve the glue. There are repositionable glue sticks on the market, but I haven’t tried them for basting.

    A glue stick I have tried and enjoyed using is called “Lapel Stick” and you can read more about it at Another handy tool that helps press the freezer paper down while gluing is called the Easy Edge Applique Tool and you can read about it at

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