Monday, March 15, 2010

Quilt Date for March

You may have to go out with a bunch of different guys before you decide who you really like. I promised to introduce you to a new guy every month, and see whether you hit it off with any of them.

A couple of introductory remarks.

First, I am at heart a piecer, not a fuser, not a screen-printer, not a fabric painter, not a hand-stitcher. This prejudice will be reflected in many of the guys I introduce you to. But if something I suggest as a piecing technique makes you think of a neat design that you would prefer to execute in some other technique, go for it! The objective is to get you to find a guy you like, not for you to like the guy I trot out.

Second, I suggest you start small, with a lunch date, not a week in Paris. Try out the new technique in a modest size – 13 x 18 is nice, because you can always turn it into a placemat.

This month’s quilt date is a technique for piecing sweeping, swooping curves with a minimum of tedious fuss. We’ve probably all been seduced by the prospect of whipping out our rotary cutters and slicing away a gorgeous curve – but after we sew the seam it’s lumpy and doesn’t press exactly flat.

That’s because of seam allowances. If you use the popular method of stacking two layers of fabric on top of each other and slicing your beautiful curve through both of them, the shapes are indeed identical, and the two parts will meet precisely – but on the cutting line, not the seam line. And to make a flat seam, the right part and the left part have to meet precisely on the seam line.

Sometimes, if the curve is gentle, or if it curves in only one direction, you can make it work. But if the curve has a small diameter, or if it curves in both directions in an S, you generally can’t.

So is the answer to make templates? God, I hope not!!

Instead – and here’s your date for March – make semi-templates.

Get a piece of pattern material – freezer paper, newspaper, interfacing or tissue paper. Lay it out on your cutting board. Take your rotary cutter and slice a gorgeous curve through the pattern.

Don’t separate the two halves yet – first take a pencil and mark across both pieces every six inches or so, and/or at critical points on the curve. And mark across both pieces at the exact top and bottom of the curve.

Pick up one piece of the pattern and lay it on your fabric, making sure you keep track of whether this is going to be the right-hand piece or the left-hand piece. Now visualize how wide you want your seam allowance to be, and free-hand cut that distance away from the template.

It doesn’t have to be a perfect quarter-inch – no need to fuss with rulers, just eyeball it. There’s enough give in the fabric that you will not have problems. Finally, pin the two pieces together at the marked points, and sew. The seam will press perfectly flat.

Now put the next two templates down on the fabric you have just seamed and pressed, and repeat the process for the next curve.

Replace template #2 and cut along the left edge.  In this photo template #3 is waiting, but I will actually cut it from a third piece of fabric.

Note that I do not suggest you cut out all the pieces at once.  It's way too easy to lose your place and try to sew the wrong pieces together (ask me how I know).  Instead cut two pieces (one curve), sew and press, then move on.

With this method you can make curve after curve, as in this quilt of mine.

V-8  44 x 29"

I suggest a small sample with three or four curves, either the same curve repeated or a different one (heck, the fun part is the cutting, so why not do it as frequently as possible?). Don’t get too extreme: your curve should be more like the profile of a watermelon than the profile of a grapefruit. Start with a C-curve or an S-curve, not a winding road with six changes of direction.

If you like this technique, here are some ideas for the second date:

• Do the same thing on a larger scale than your sample.

• Make several modules on the same scale as your sample, and join them into a larger piece.

• Try more extreme curves.

• Or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Let me know how it works out. If you want to send me a picture of what you made, I’ll post it.

Have fun!


  1. Kathy I am also a piecer- no fusing for me. Check out my recent post- it shows how to sew circles without any paper templates. I use the same technique for curves. In addition to your wise words I find that a 3/16" seam is better for tough curves, and your iron is your best friend.

  2. Judy -- I should have linked to that post of yours; clearly synchronicity at work here. Thanks for posting!

  3. Great, great explanation! Thanks!

  4. What a great tutorial -- I can't wait to try it!

  5. Just found this blog post looking for a great tutorial on curved piecing. Thank you .