Using Freezer Paper in Your Quilting

Quilters are famous for using items in their quilting which really aren’t quilting tools at all.  Bicycle clips are great to use for keeping quilts rolled up.  The magnetic dishes used by mechanics to keep screws in are great storage places for pins.  A clear, plastic shower curtain is a wonderful tool to use as you plan your quilting designs — lay it on top of the quilt and use a dry erase marker to draw your quilting pattern.  If you don’t like it, use a dry paper towel to remove the marks.  One kitchen item which seems to find its way into all quilt studios is freezer paper.  Whether you applique or not, freezer paper is a great addition to any quilter’s notion box.

For anyone who may not know, freezer paper is a heavy-duty paper with a plastic coating on one side only.  Years ago, before things like freezer bags, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap found their way into our pantries, freezer paper and butcher paper ruled the food-storage world.  Freezer paper was used to wrap cuts of meat or fish in, with the plastic side of the paper against the meat or fish.  This would allow the shopper to continue their grocery store trek without the meat or fish leaking all over the other food and household items.  The butcher or fishmonger would write what was inside the wrapped bundle on the plain paper side.  Even today when you get a special cut from your grocery store’s meat or seafood counter, chances are it’s wrapped in a type of freezer paper before it’s placed in a plastic bag. 

Today, we’re much more accustomed to using freezer bags than freezer paper – to the point, it’s sometimes difficult to find freezer paper such as this:

In the local grocery store.  I’ve found it primarily in Food Lions, but I’ve also had to order it from Amazon.  This boxed freezer paper is the most common type, but as soon as the quilt world caught sight of how versatile freezer paper can be in the studio, quilt notion companies came out with their own freezer paper.  An internet search for quilting freezer paper can yield these:

8 1/2 x 11 inches
Large Freezer Paper Sheets
Extra-large Freezer Paper Sheet

The extra-large kind can be used for planning borders.  The big sheets may be used for large applique pieces, such as those in Blackbird Designs Country Inn quilts.  My personal favorite is the 8 ½ x 11-inch size because those can be run through an ink jet printer.  More on why this is important a bit later down in the blog.  Right now, you may be asking yourself, “Is there any difference between the Reynold’s brand freezer paper and the other freezer paper?”  That’s a great question and it really deserves a two-fold answer.  First, let’s compare price.

According to a Google search, most stores which have Reynolds Freezer paper sell the kind that is 75 feet long by 18 inches tall.  When we convert the feet to inches (75 x 12), we have 900 lengthwise inches of freezer paper.  Multiply 900 by 18 and we know we have 16,200 square inches of freezer paper.  Another search told me the average price in retail establishments is $3.69 per 75 feet roll (consumer awareness bulletin here – Reynolds freezer paper was much higher on Amazon than in stores).  When we divide the square inches by cost per roll, we literally get fractions of cents.

Now let’s look at the freezer paper which is sold in sheets.  I want to shop on my own turf here.  Let’s look at the 8 ½ by 11-inch sheets produced by C. Jenkins.  I’ve used other brands of freezer paper sheets, but always come back to these.  In my opinion, they’re the best.  Each sheet in these packs is 8 ½ x 11. This means each sheet has 93 ½ square inches (8 ½ x 11).  Each pack has 50 sheets, so we have a total of 4,675 square inches (50 sheets x 93 ½-square inches per sheet).  Comparing Reynolds Freezer Paper against C. Jenkins product shows the Reynold paper has 11,525 more square inches than its competitor. 

The average price for C. Jenkins sheets is $9.94 (consumer awareness bulletin #2 – this freezer paper is less expensive on Amazon than in most quilt stores). This means we’re paying roughly 20 cents per sheet ($9.94/50) for the C. Jenkins 8 ½ x 11-inch freezer paper sheets. 

So yes, price per inch, you’ll pay less by purchasing the roll of freezer paper verses the freezer paper sheets.  However, there are a few details you may want to consider before you run to Target or Food Lion to grab that roll of Reynolds Freezer Paper. 

  1.  Rolls of freezer paper destined for food use is food-grade paper.  While this may sound completely obvious, what must be taken into consideration is this paper is not meant to last through multiple ironings, starched edges, and sewing (either by hand or machine).  This paper was produced to wrap food in, be stored for a short while in the freezer and then tossed in a garbage can.  So, it’s not as sturdy as freezer paper made with quilters in mind.
  2. Reynolds Freezer paper can’t easily be fed through an ink-jet printer.  The key word here is easily.  It can be used in a printer, but I’ve found it finicky and difficult – which means I gave up after about the 10th unsuccessful try feed it through. 
  3. I’ve found I can use Reynold Freezer paper for most quilting applications, but I have to iron two pieces of it together in order for it to be sturdy enough to stand up to the abuse quilters put it through – which means I’ve now halved the useable square inches in a roll to 8,100.  However, the roll is still a better buy even with the reduction in square inches. 
  4. This last detail is also pretty obvious – one type of freezer paper is a roll, and the other type comes in sheets.  This means the rolled paper wants to curl and this can make tracing difficult.  The sheets are flat, so they’re easier to work with. 

The second detail which must be considered is purpose.  Although Reynolds Freezer paper plainly touts it can be used for quilting, that isn’t what it’s constructed for.  It’s made for kitchen freezers.  Quilters put freezer paper through some serious abuse, and quilting freezer paper is made to withstand it.  This freezer paper is thicker, and the plastic coating can withstand multiple ironings before it will no longer adhere to fabric.  Personally, I’ve found even if I iron two sheets of the Reynolds Freezer Paper together so I have the needed thickness, the plastic coating will not stick to fabric for more than a couple of pressings before I have to toss it.

For me, the quilter’s freezer paper sold in sheets just works better and I use it far more often than the freezer paper sold in grocery stores.  Let’s look at some ways quilters use freezer paper.  I’m sure you know some of these, but others may be new.

Using freezer paper as a quilting stencil
  1.  Applique – Freezer paper has been used for applique templates for a long time.    Some quilters like to use the templates on the right side of their fabric and others on the wrong side – it just depends on which applique method used.  I definitely use the freezer paper sheets for applique because I can reuse the templates several times before the plastic side is completely gone.  Add the fact this paper holds up well to the starch-and-iron method, and the freezer paper sheets are just better.   Another reason I generally use the sheets for applique is their ability to be run through a printer or copier.  If you have an ink jet printer (please….don’t run freezer paper through a laser printer…it’s not pretty), you can make use the 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper to make accurate copies of your templates.  Be sure to consult your printer’s manual to determine if you should load your freezer paper shiny side up or down (the shiny side is considered the wrong side of the paper with most printers).
  2. Labels – Before I purchased my embroidery machine, I made all my labels using freezer paper, my laptop, and my ink jet printer.  It’s really super easy.  With your word processing or graphics program, design your quilt label.  You can play with fonts and graphics (even photos) until you get it exactly the way you want it – just make sure it fits on an 8 ½ x 11-inch layout.  Cut a piece of light-colored fabric which is also 8 ½ x 11-inches and press it onto an 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of freezer paper (the freezer paper sheets seem to work best for this).  Make sure the fabric has no air bubbles and it’s firmly pressed to the freezer paper all around the edges.  Load this into your ink jet printer and print as normal.  Once the ink has dried, remove the fabric label from the freezer paper and press the label with a hot, dry iron to set the ink.  Easy-peasy.  I still use this method if I want to personalize my label with a lot of detail. 
  3. Stencils for Quilting – This idea has been a lifesaver for me both on the long arm and my domestic machine.  Sometimes you find a drawing you simply love and want to quilt it in your quilt.  But either you can’t find it in a pantograph (for your long arm) or the design may be a little more complicated than your free motion quilting skills can undertake.  This is where freezer paper (either in roll or sheet form) can come in handy.  Trace the design on the freezer paper and cut it out.   Then press it onto the area you want to quilt.  Quilt around the freezer paper template and then remove it.  You’ll have to quilt the inside of the area as you desire, but the outline of the design has been made with the help of a freezer paper template.  I find freezer paper templates especially helpful when quilting on my domestic machine.
  4. Paper Piecing – I was only made aware of freezer paper’s paper piecing potential a few years ago when one of my friends made a quilt which was roughly 12-inches square.  It was paper pieced, and I swear I think that small square had a million paper pieced pieces.  My friend used freezer paper in her small quilt.  I wrote a blog about it:   While I wouldn’t use the freezer paper piecing method for all my paper piecing, (I still love the paper you can see through best) it does have potential.  Depending on how the pattern is drawn, you could use either the sheets or the roll. 
  5. Extending Your Fabric – Okay, I’ll be completely up front here:  This trick is not going to work if you need a large chunk of fabric.  If that’s the case, you need to go back to the quilt shop or the website and simply purchase another yard or two.  This little stunt works if you only need a small amount of fabric – like a few inches or so.  You’ll need a piece of your fabric, the freezer paper sheets, an 8 ½ x 11-inch piece of white or light cream-colored fabric, and an ink jet printer capable of producing a good, quality photograph.  Prepare your freezer paper and piece of white or light-cream colored fabric in the same manner you do for labels.  Place it the printer tray.  Place the fabric you need more of face-down on the copier bed (just like you’re preparing to make a copy), and simply proceed to make a copy.  Removed the copied fabric from the freezer paper and heat-set with an iron.  Please note there will be slight color discrepancies between the copier fabric and the original.  However, if you only need a few inches and can place it in an area where the copied fabric won’t stand out so much, this little trick can be a sanity saver. 
  6. Taming Fussy Fabric – Most of the time – probably somewhere around 99 percent – I sew with quilter’s cotton, batiks, or some other type of cotton fabric when I’m piecing.  But when I applique, all bets are off concerning the type of material I’ll use because I’m after effect and appearance, which means I may use any type of fabric.  Need something that looks like ice?  I may opt for a see-through, shimmery material.  Is there a fancy dress or stars in the applique pattern?  I’ve been known to use lame’.  While piecing quilt blocks may lend itself solely to 100 percent cotton fabrics, applique fabric can run the full fabric spectrum.  Usually, I’ll still opt for cotton fabrics in my applique, but if there’s another type of fabric which will give me the appearance I want, more often than not, I’ll use the non-cotton material.  Usually, I can sew these alternate fabrics by hand or machine with only a few minor changes (such as don’t use a hot iron or use a pressing cloth).   However, sometimes the non-cotton fabric may be loosely woven and fray easily.  To help the fabrics keep their shape, I may back them with freezer paper.  After the material is stabilized with the paper, I can cut out the shapes.  I keep the freezer paper on the applique pieces until I’m ready to stitch them down.  This doesn’t prevent all fraying, but it does help.  I have also found this freezer paper technique handy when sewing homespun – which can be both super-stretchy and loosely woven.
  7. Squaring up My Quilt Squares – I know, I know – we square up our quilt squares with rulers.  This is true.  However, freezer paper can be used in emergencies.  Let me set the stage for this great, little trick.  You’ve made all your squares and are in the process of trimming them down to the needed unfinished size.  However…there’s this one quilt square which is giving you real grief.  All the block units are the correct size except this one unit on the edge and it’s somewhere between 1/8 to ¼-inch too short.  At this point, if you’re like me especially if you’re like me, you don’t feel like taking the block apart to fix your mistake (because you’re almost through) or you don’t have enough left-over fabric to re-make the block.  Here’s where a handy-dandy roll of freezer paper will save your sanity.  Cut a piece of freezer paper the same the size as the unfinished quilt block is supposed to be.  Center and press this to the right side of your wonky quilt block.  The sides of the freezer paper should match up with everything except the area where your units are a bit too short.  Proceed to sew the block into the row or setting triangles as normal, but when you get to the area where the block unit is too short, use the freezer paper edge as the edge of your fabric.  This will work if the unit which is too small is less than ¼-inch too short. 
  8. Templates – There are two different ways I use freezer paper as quilting templates.  The first concerns English Paper Piecing (EPP).  On the rare occasion I EPP (remember, I use and adore Cindy Blackburg’s quilting template stamps), I use freezer paper instead of the cardboard for templates.  For this, I use the freezer paper sheets, since they are sturdier than the freezer paper on rolls.  I iron two sheets together (plastic coating sides facing) and then cut my templates from this.  These are sturdy and will stand up to the wear and tear of EPP.  The other way I use freezer paper templates are for really odd-shaped block units.  I came across this method when I was working with my first Dear Jane.  This quilt has some unusually shaped block units.  To use freezer paper to help me piece these blocks, I printed the block out on the freezer paper sheets and then cut the units apart.  I ironed each unit to the wrong side of the fabric and then cut the units out, allowing for a ¼-inch seam allowance (an Add-a-Seam ruler comes in super-handy here).  I would line up the edges of the fabric, making sure the lines of the freezer paper, as well as the points, matched and then stitch.  Most of the time this method worked exceptionally well – however, with Dear Jane, there’s always a unit or two which drove me nearly completely crazy.  I used traditional paper piecing with those blocks.
  9. Pattern Stabilizer – This use for freezer paper isn’t remotely related to quilting, but since some quilters also make garments, I thought I’d throw it in.  Years ago, when I made most of my clothing and all of my kids’ clothes, I had a hefty amount of money invested in patterns – those brown, tissue patterns which would tear easily if you weren’t too careful.  We were definitely living on a budget back in those days, so I wanted to take care of those patterns and make them last as long as I could.  I discovered if I pressed those pattern pieces onto freezer paper and then cut them out, they would last longer and stay in pristine condition for a long time.  I used Reynolds Freezer Paper for this.  Once I had finished with the pattern, I’d clip it to a clothes hanger with safety or clothes pins and store it in a closet.  I’d put the guide sheet and pattern envelope in a freezer bag and pin those to the pattern as well.

I keep both kinds of freezer paper in my quilt studio and use both kinds regularly.  Freezer paper is one of those non-quilty tools I don’t think I could live without.  It’s versatile and not too expensive.  Applique is the most common use, but it lends itself to a lot of other tasks, too. 

Until next week, Quilt on!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

4 replies on “Using Freezer Paper in Your Quilting”

Another very informative and well written article on the virtues of freezer paper. I have used it for years and continue to find ways to use it. I also find that the C Jenkins is the best for paperless paper piecing. It can be used many times before it won’t adhere anymore. Thanks for continuing to blog.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: