Thursday, July 16, 2020

Baby quilts: another tutorial

I've always loved putting babies' names on their quilts, among other reasons because it signals to the child that it's HER quilt and she can do WHATEVER SHE WANTS with it.  I have a bunch of different methods to call on, but my favorite is pieced letters.  They're easy to do when the child is named Vivian or Matthew, maybe even Elijah, but difficult for Cassandra, Robert or Quincy.

Or Isaac.  But I wanted to make Isaac's quilt with piecing, notwithstanding the curvy letters.  I bribed myself to do a good job by turning the task into a tutorial, which made me be careful.

This method sort of uses a template, although it's not the kind of fussy construction that you might associate with that word.  It starts with a paper cutout of the letter (of course, you can use this method for any kind of curved piecing, not just letters).  I drew the curve of the C quite shallow to make the piecing easier.

Start by placing the template over the red fabric and cutting along the edges -- eyeball about a quarter-inch away from the edge of the shape to give yourself a seam allowance.  This doesn't have to be precise but do go slow and easy as you cut.  If the cutter pushes a bubble of fabric ahead of the blade and the fabric slinks away from you, lift the blade and set it down again, making sure the template stays in position.

Place the letter on top of the background fabric, and put the template on top.  You want to transfer the curve to the background fabric so you can cut it properly, and you also want to mark the curve on the letter to make it easier to match and sew.  But how do you mark a line on two layers of fabric?

The answer is to use a dull edge to firmly press the line.  Many different tools will accomplish this, such as a rotary marker (like a rotary cutter with a smooth non-cutting edge), the back of a knife, a knitting needle, the pointed end of a pen or paintbrush, or a plastic hera tool.

Whatever tool you choose, test it out on two layers of fabric and various working surfaces to see how hard to press and how well the line shows up.  Remember, it only has to last for a few minutes as you work.  A good light helps you see the mark.

It's always easier when piecing concentric curves to start at the "center" and proceed outward, so that means the first seam will be the one on the right.  Do one seam at a time and press it before you proceed to the next one. 

Use your tool to trace the right-hand curve of the C from the paper to both layers of fabric.  Make several crosshatch marks to help match the curves when you pin and sew.

You've already cut the seam allowance on the letter, so lift it off.  Cut the seam allowance on the background fabric.  Again, no need to be obsessive, just eyeball about a quarter inch.  If you must, err toward a narrower seam allowance rather than a wider one.

Pin the two pieces together at the hash marks, hold the letter on top and stitch slowly to join the two pieces.  (When you join curves, it helps to label them in your mind as "hill" and "valley."  For this seam, the background is the hill and the letter is the valley.  You should always try to stitch curved pieces together with the valley on top of the hill.  It's a lousy mnemonic, but a good sewing practice.  If you can come up with a better mnemonic, go for it -- and let me know so I can change my teaching vocabulary.)

Press the seam toward the valley.  Place the newly sewn segment  on top of the other side of the background fabric, making sure that you have enough underlap for the seam allowance.  Put the template back on top of the letter, matching up the right edge with your new seam.  I like to mark the top with pins on both sides so the left-hand piece of background fabric doesn't get turned upside-down -- a particular concern with woven plaids like this one, where there's no clear right side of the fabric.

Again, use your dull-edge tool to trace the stitching line through both layers of fabric, lift the template and make hash marks across the seam.

Cut your seam allowance.

As you did before, press the seam toward the valley.

P.S.  I used the same method to piece the S on Isaac's quilt, but the curve is much trickier to sew when it changes direction halfway through.  I had to do some ripping and restitching to make it lie flat, and also had to change direction as I pressed.  After I had struggled for a while it occurred to me that I could probably have hand-sewn the seam a lot quicker, but I soldiered through.  It looks pretty messy from the back, but fortunately nobody will ever see that again.  I don't like piecing curves that change direction, especially with only a two-inch radius, but I do love Isaac enough to grit my teeth and do it just this once.


  1. Thank you. I'll be making a quilt for my granddaughter and plan to add her name to it. I'll bookmark this post.
    xx, Carol

    1. Carol -- what's her name? hope it has few curved letters

  2. Thank you for this tutorial.