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Sewing Curves the Easy Way

It's no secret - I'm a circle sewing fanatic. I find circles and curves endlessly inspiring and actually fun to sew (most of the time, anyway). If I were able to count how many of the hundreds of quilts I've made have circles or curves, I'm certain it would be quite a majority. But there's a fact that must be accepted about curved piecing up front: Sewing circles and curves is a challenge.

So if you struggle with it, don't feel like you're alone. It's fine, we all do. And the first thing I'm going to tell you was the hardest lesson for me to learn: Some days are just cranky. On these days, it's best to acknowledge and accept it - if you're like me, there is almost certainly another (non-curvy) project to work on. Or if it's a really bad day, you can always take a walk to clear the frustrated energy and come back and try again later or wait for another day. If it's a terminal circle day - well, these are the days when out of desperation, I actually resort to doing housework.

To save you from having to clean your fridge (You're welcome!), I'm going to share some tips and tricks for curves and circles that I've learned (mostly from other sewists) but also from my own circle-making adventures. Today's blog is going to be about sewing curves and half-circles.

You'll need the following supplies:

Quarter-circle and or half-circle templates*

Heat or water soluble marking pen ( I use Friction heat soluble pens - love 'em!)


Rotary cutter

A rotating cutting mat really helps when cutting curves - it's not a necessity but it saves wrist and shoulder twisting

Fabric for your curves and half circles (convex pieces)

Fabric for your background (concave pieces)

*A note about templates. There are a lot of curved templates out there. I have a bunch of templates made by Louisa Smith from my excellent mother that I often use to make curves and circles and I also have Curved Templates from Pappersaxten's Jenny Haynes. If I need a specific size that I don't have (which, I know, seems hard to believe), I draw them on EQ8. I also have Sharon Hultgren's circle template ruler (I don't recommend trying to cut fabric using this ruler. I use a Friction pen and draw them and then cut them out by hand as even my small rotary cutter gets caught in the curves and snags and dulls) and lastly, I have circle templates from Martelli With those latter two you won't have templates for the concave pieces and so will have to figure out seam allowances, so I don't recommend them for beginners.)

I also recommend you use scissors to cut smaller curved pieces regardless of the templates, because like I said, with small curves it's more difficult to keep the cutter right up agains the template and cut and not get nicks in both your template and your blade.

Last, start with larger curves - say - quarter circles that are 7 to 10 inches. Then progress to smaller curves, and last, to half-circles.

Before we start, here are some caveats:

You have to sew curves slowly. Sorry all you speed-sewing demons (I tend to be one myself, so I'm not judging) but what I've learned is that for me, speed equals mistakes. I cannot be in a hurry when sewing curves. Period. It's a lesson in patience for me - hurrying takes away all my zen because I have to un-sew, Which I do not like to do. So I've learned to slow down. (BTW, it's not really all that slow, it's just maybe slower than you or I WANT to go. It still goes plenty fast, I promise.

Set the stitch length shorter for smaller circles. On my machine, I usually piece on the 2.4 setting. Many machines piece on the 2.5. This is fine for larger curves and circles, but for anything smaller than four inch diameter I set my stitch length between 1.9 and 2.0.

It's okay to pin. Some people hate pressing. Some people (admittedly it seems a majority of people fall into this category) hate pinning. I personally hate to un-sew. For this reason, I don't hate to pin. What I've discovered about pinning when sewing curves is that for me, it's easier to pin smaller curves (smaller than 4 inches) and all half-circles. (I find sewing half circles more challenging than sewing full circles.)

For the project I am demonstrating with here, I'm often sewing a 2 or 3 inch half circle that must lie flush with the edge of a larger piece. Which I find challenging.

Here's how I sew small curves and half-circles:

I crease the convex (outie part) and the concave (innie part) in the centers and match them with a pin. In this case I sewed two different colors so I pinned in the middle.)

Next flip the edges of the convex piece to the edges of the concave piece. Make them flush against each other and pin.

Then pin from the center pin to one side (usually I use 2 pins between) and then from the center to the other side.

Yeah, so it's about 7 pins, but I'm not gonna apologize for it, because it works for me.

Place the fabric, background fabric on top, half-circle on the bottom, under the presser foot, starting at one flat edge and sew, pulling pins and gently guiding the fabric with your left hand to follow the curve. You don't have to push it or force the curve, it really just naturally follows the curve - if you don't sew too quickly!

As you sew, you may have to smooth out the top fabric so you don't get little gathers. However...

Here's a thing that (serendipitously?)

happened while I was sewing, a little gather (gasp!) in the half-circle that I couldn't see as it was on the bottom.

No need to panic! It's fixable and you don't have to un-sew all the way from one end to fix it.

Just un-sew three or four stitches on either side of the gather, smooth the gather out, and starting from a little before where the opening is, re-sew, going a little past where the opening is on the other side. "Viola!" the gather is gone.

Yep, pinning allows me to sew faster and better, make fewer mistakes, and helps my zen. So I do it. Now for the good news...

You don't always have to pin! For larger curves I don't find it necessary to pin. Both Latifah Saafir and Jenny Haynes (of Pappersaxten), have great tutorials on pinless curves, but I'll run through it here for you.

Start by laying the concave piece on top of the convex, right sides together. Make sure the starting edge is flush with the flat edge of the curved piece

Put the matched top edges of the curved pieces under the presser foot and take a few stitches to hold it. Lift up the presser foot.

Leaving the natural curve in the bottom concave piece, match the edges of the fabrics to about halfway down the curve.

Smooth out the buckles that form on the upper shape. Put your left hand on top of the fabrics lightly with your fingers spread out as you smooth to keep it all in place.

Begin to sew, holding it loosely as the fabric flows through the presser foot. Use your right hand to help follow the curve as you go (meaning allowing the fabric to keep its curve) sew around the curve, stopping to smooth and gathers before they become little sewn-in creases.

After sewing to the middle, go to the bottom edge of the curve. Match the straight edges and keep your thumb on that, then go back and smooth out the bumps and match the edges and sew the rest of the way.

(Whew! It takes a lot longer to write about it and add pictures than the doing of it, believe me.)

Large curves are friendlier and less finicky than smaller ones, so again, it's good to practice on them first before you try to sew the smaller curves. Once you have the hang of it, you can speed up to your comfort level. Just remember, sewing curves requires a modicum of zen. If today isn't your day, its fine - another day will be.

I'll stop there for now and give you some time to practice these things before you start with my next tutorial - inset circles! Have fun working on those half-circles and curves. Feel free contact me through this website you have any questions! And just to get you excited about inset circles - here's a sneak peak of a piece I made with a LOT of tiny inset circles. It's called "Slice of Pi."


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