Sewing curves in quilting: easy techniques

Detail of Raspberry Kiss from Quilter's Happy HourThere are a few places in the quiltmaking world that even some of the most experienced fear to tread: one of them is that small town where they mysteriously make quilt patterns with circles. Or curves. Or circles and curves.

Oh, you’ve never taken the trip? Well, small towns are known for their creativity, their ingenuity, and of course their beauty and charm—they’re most definitely worth the visit!

When you arrive, the quilters there will ask you: “What’s your favorite way to quilt?” Whether you like traditional piecing or a specific form of appliqué best (hand, machine, fusible, etc.), you’ll likely discover that your favorite technique can be easily applied to the most curvaceous of quilts.

Below you’ll find four different approaches to making circle quilts and quilts with curves. The little town of circles and curves welcomes you—and just might change your entire outlook on quiltmaking. Won’t you stop by for a spell?

Sewing curves in quilting: piecing
From Quiltastic Curves by Tammy Kelly

Love in a Tangle and Mesmerize quilts
The antique quilt on the left—called “Love in a Tangle,” most likely made in the late 1800s—inspired Tammy to make curved piecing the focus of her third book. It also inspired her to create her “Mesmerize” quilt, right.

Tammy uses a series of curved templates to make her striking quilts—but wait, don’t be afraid! Her method for sewing curves is simple, straightforward, and skips a few traditional steps to speed up the task.

Projects from Quiltastic Curves
“Splish Splash!,” “Stars ’n’ Curves,” and “Bits of Shimmer”

In her introduction to Quiltastic Curves, Tammy explains, “The traditional Drunkard’s Path pattern, which I incorporated into the quilts ‘Splish Splash!,’ ‘Stars ’n’ Curves,’ and ‘Bits of Shimmer,’ can be used to demonstrate the steps involved in curved piecing. Looking at the two pieces in the Drunkard’s Path unit, you can see that one has an inner curve, known as the concave curve, and the other piece has an outer curve, called the convex curve.

Sewing concave and convex curves

The template patterns include registration marks for matching one piece to another. However, I prefer a method that does not require marking. For example, with the Drunkard’s Path unit I fold each piece in half and crease to mark the midpoint. Then I match up the creases and pin in place. I typically use three pins to hold the pieces together, one in the center and one at each end. You will find that all the patterns require a certain amount of easing to make them fit. I ease between the pins as needed.

Folding creases in curved pieces

Here are just a few of Tammy’s smart tips for successfully sewing with curves.

5 tips for sewing curves

Sewing curves in quilting: interfacing + appliqué
From Quilter’s Happy Hour by Lori Buhler

Using interfacing for appliqués is a technique that quilters have improvised with and improved upon for decades—it’s most recently being used to make trendy hexagon quilts. By applying the technique to curves, Lori simplifies the making of quilts like these:

Projects from Quilter's Happy Hour
“Stinger” and “Blue Canary”

From Quilter's Happy Hour
“Raspberry Kiss” and “Large Starburst”

Of the interfacing technique, Lori says: “For a long time I avoided appliqué patterns with curved pieces because I knew the anxiety they would bring. Once I started doing appliqué using the interfacing technique, I began to think of ways this method could be used for the look of curved piecing. After many happy hours of sewing, I deemed the technique a success! A vast world of possibilities was now available to me, and quilts that I had admired but was too intimidated to attempt were suddenly within my reach.”

See Lori’s technique explained in detail in this post about machine appliqué. You can use the process with curves or with nearly any appliqué shape you choose!

Pina Colada quilt

BOOK BONUS: True to her cry for a “quilter’s happy hour,” Lori pairs a fancy cocktail recipe with every quilt pattern in the book. We’ve included her recipe for frozen piña coladas above, along with a photo of Lori’s beautiful “Piña Colada” quilt, which was inspired by a trip to Mexico. Enjoy!

Circle quilts by hand: Needle-turn and reverse appliqué
From Solids, Stripes, Circles, and Squares by Pippa Eccles Armbrester

Pippa’s creations are bold and graphic, showing off a distinctly handcrafted look. Her circle shapes are sewn in the most organic way there is to stitch: by hand. Pippa’s slight imperfections evoke a delightful charm, while her choice of solid fabrics makes a striking statement. Simple shapes + simple fabrics = visual fireworks. Who knew?

Needle-turn and reverse applique
In this detail of “Dancing Dots,” the outer and inner circles are sewn using the needle-turn appliqué technique; the middle circle is reverse appliquéd.

Like most beginning quilters, Pippa started out with a bit of appliqué trepidation. She says, “I used to find appliqué intimidating, but it’s surprisingly fun and easy once you get the hang of it. It’s also one of the easiest ways to incorporate curved shapes into your quilt designs, breaking free from the geometric limitations of patchwork alone. I love using a combination of appliqué and reverse appliqué to achieve dimension.”

Use combinations of needle-turn and reverse appliqué to make your own quilted fireworks, like these:

Quilts from Solids, Stripes, Circles, and Squares
“Spots on Squares” and “Dancing Dots”

From Solids, Stripes, Circles, and Squares
“Dots and Dashes,” “Shifting Stripes,” and “Fruity Rings”

Circle quilts by machine: machine appliqué
From Adventures in Circles by Leigh E. McDonald

Quilt circles using fusible appliqueLeigh’s artistic quilts are brimming with possibilities for creativity, and in Adventures in Circles, she breaks down her approach so that the budding artist in you can reach full bloom. Using common (and quite easy) appliqué techniques, Leigh covers circles, curves, and doughnut shapes; then she shows you how to layer shape upon shape and add embellishments for a stunning finish.

In her quilts, Leigh uses both fusible appliqué and freezer-paper appliqué. She then finishes the edges of the circles with machine stitching. Take a look at just a few of the quilts that you can make with Leigh’s guidance.

Clockworks circle quilt

Harvest Moon quilt
“Harvest Moon”

Carnival quilt

Gallery quilts from Adventures in Circles
From the gallery: “Sun Spots” by Kimberly Montagnese; “Catch a Falling Moon” by Kim Svoboda.

Have you stopped by the little town of circles and curves—or have you routinely passed it by? Share your story in the comments!

5 Comments (leave a comment)

  • The drunkard’s path is one of my favorite blocks. It is so versatile. Changing the layout can change the look of the quilt entirely.

    —Diane on May 20, 2013
  • When it comes to circles for a quilt, it just not me. I have made a few quilt using the drunkard’s path.

    —Linda Christianson on May 20, 2013
  • I love Drunkard’s Path. It is so much fun to sew just like circles.

    —Chris on May 20, 2013
  • I don’t by pass curve quilting since over the years, I’ve learned many tricks on how to do them simplier ways; one of which is to take a dinner plate and cut out a large fabric circle. Next take a salad plate and cut out a smaller different fabric circle. Lay smaller circle on top of larger circle and place both in the center of a background square. You can fold the square and circles into quarters, press, to find your center. Using decorative stitches on your sewing machine, stitch around outer edges of smaller and larger circles. Cut square into 4 parts using the creased lines as a guide. You’ll have many "Drunkard’s Path" squares to arrange according to your preference to make your own special quilt.

    Another technique is to cut your pattern curved pieces out, fold in half, cut a small V notch in the center of both pieces, match V to V and pin. As you sew around the curve, the V notch "gives" and keeps the curve from puckering.

    Keep smiling,

    Great tips, Lynnita! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Lynnita Shipman on May 21, 2013
  • Great tips thank you.

    —Julie Beard on May 25, 2013

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