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Inset Circles Gone Wrong! (And how to make them right again)

I'm been working feverishly on a quilt recently. I was using the Root fabric line by e. bond that I had been saving for a year, looking for that perfect inspiration, and it came in the form of Laatifah Safir's 16 inch Clammy! I decided to use it to make orange peel circles - of a sort, anyway. (I highly recommend this template to anyone interested in sewing curves, btw. They are so well-designed and so versatile! Since I found it so helpful in making this quilt, I might sound like an advertisement; can't help it. The thing has become a very important tool in my curved/circle arsenal.) Anyway, the circles took a lot of time and energy (all good, I really enjoyed the process a lot) and once I got them done, I had to figure out how to get them sewn together in the manner I saw in my head.

Here is one completed circle - this one was actually pretty round

If you've been following me for a while, you know I am rather endlessly inspired by curves and circles and a good number of my pieces have them. I won't say I'm an expert, because have yet to achieve perfection, but I am pretty comfortable with all kinds of methods of piecing curves and circles. However, after figuring out the background materials, I realized I would need to insert the circles into it to get the look I was going for. I'm not afraid of this, but the stakes were high because I had spent a great deal of energy and time on the circles, and it was important to get it right.

So of course, I didn't.

Luckily, in the end, I was able to troubleshoot and fix the issues I had, and I'm happy to share it with may comfort you to see that what looks like disaster actually can often be fixed. Here are a couple things that, if you do them up front, it may save you the issues I had on this piece


I'm not by nature the most careful of people. I wouldn't say I'm impulsive, but sometimes I can be over-confident and it has led to annoyances and inconvenience and lots of cursing in the past and well - I'm still working on the zen thing. It may seem like a "Duh," kind of thing, but once you've cut the background, It's really the something you can't fix- if the circle isn't round or is too large, you'll lose that entire piece of fabric Which in my case, was a 23 x 23" square of material. And I didn't want that to happen!

Here's a quick tip for circles:The formula is this: If you are making a finished size 16 inch circle, the concave part should be 15.5 and the convex part should be 16.5, so the part that goes in, the circle or convex part, should be a half inch larger than the desired finished size, and the background or convex part should be a half inch smaller than the desired finished size.) (Again, the clammy is so useful here - the template can be used to make the correct sized concave circle easily AND she has places to mark all that stuff embedded in the template.)

Measure twice, and mark your four quarter circle points. I actually use a Frixion pen - yes I know they are controversial, but I use them all the time - to draw the outline of the circle, even though I used the template for cutting. I just wanted to visually see it before I commenced to cutting. I was ever so careful and it was worth it, because I got it right all five times!


This kind of goes along with the first thing, but its worth its own paragraph. As I made the orange peel circles I

On closer examination, this one is not round at all! Shoulda looked closer!

was really excited that when I sewed them all together, they were round! Looking at the photos of some of them, you can see why. Each is its own design, each has some intricate and/or weird piecing, and each took quilt a bit of time to complete. However, the round look of the circles led to my first mistake: I assumed that

since they formed a circle, and I had used the templates to cut out the pieces, they were the correct size So the first thing I'm going to say is, after your circles are made, measure them. (With the clammy, it's easy - all you have to do is fold the circle in half and use the top half of the template to make sure they are right.) If they are too small, you can add still add to them (and I had to on one of the circles), and if they are too large, you can simply use the template to trim off the excess. But I didn't do this, as you'll see below, and it led to me having to remove two circles entirely from the piece in order to fix it.

First - I have say it - Don't Freak Out, remain calm. Because believe it or not, many problems ARE actually fixable! I should know - I have run into a lot of circle issues because well, I make a lot of circles!

Below are some things that can happen with inset circles, and how I fixed them.

Puckering: After I sewed the first circle into the center, it had some puckering in some areas. This happens when the fabric gets fed into the machine unevenly, usually because of too much tugging or the fabric wasn't fed in evenly. This is easy to fix. You pick the stitches out of the puckered area, and maybe go three quarters of an inch on either side of the puckers, reposition the fabric so that the edges match, and without pulling on

the fabrics, re-stitch. If the circles are quite large as mine were on this project, it may have a couple of places where it puckered, but overall it's okay. If it's a smaller circle, it's probably worth it to take the entire circle out and start over, keeping your hands loosely on the fabrics as they feed through the feed dogs and sewing slowly. It may make you feel a little impatient, but for me, having to pick stitches is more irritating than slowing down so...

A Pooched out Circle: I had this with a couple of my circles. It means that the circle is too big for the opening. This is also fixable, but you have to remove the circle, and measure it and the hole into which you are sewing it, and trim on or the other. In my case it was the circles - they looked really round but they weren't or they somehow ended up larger than they should have been. Once I trimmed them and re-sewed they flattened out - no pooch.

Puckered and bulging out and overlapping! Ugh! This one required a couple of fixes, as it turns out,.

Can you see how the circle is bulging out of the background?

Excess fabric overlapping after it's sewn: Same as above, circle is too big for the background into which you are sewing it. Remove the circle, measure it against your template, and trim it to the correct size. Or - if the circle is the correct size but background hole is too small, re-measure your concave or "hole" and carefully trim it. One way to do this is to fold it into fourths and iron it. If you have a paper template you have been using, keep both the background hole and the template whole and mark where the circle needs to be trimmed with a Frixion pen or chalk or Hera marker or whatever you use for such things, and CAREFULLY trim it to the correct size.(I'll admit that for me this is a last resort because it's really difficult to trim a hole neatly after it has been cut if it is larger than a 10 in diameter. Smaller ones are easier, thank goodness, but still tricky make it neat.)

This circle was too large in some places, and too short in others. If you look closely you can see where I added to the pink/black area...

Gathering in the Background: Unfortunately this means the circle opening is too large for the circle. This means you either have to cut out a new background hole or that you have to cut a larger circle to fit in the hole, which if you are short on fabric for either, can be highly annoying and (often in my case) can lead to lots of cursing. This sort of happened with this piece - one of the circles had a couple of places that were short when I measured them against the template, but luckily for me, and because the circles had so much going on, I was able to add pieces to the places that were "short" - they kind of bulged out in the places I had to add extra, but then I trimmed the circle again, using the template, and because the material is quite busy and it matched in the places where I added it, it is basically unnoticeable!

Despite all the issues it had at first, with the fixes, I was able to get it in and now it's nice and flat!

I'm sure there are many other things that can happen with inset circles that I have failed to mention, so if you have had any adventures like mine and have other fixes, would you be so kind as to share them here so we can all benefit from your experience, avoid frustration or massive cursing tantrums that would be every so lovely.

Here is a photo of the circles all sewn into the background - AFTER the fixes. It's pretty good and I'm really happy I was able to get it right. After basting it looks even better and I'm now onto the quilting of it. My daughter in law said it reminded her of Hip Hop, so that's what I'm calling it...and it also gave me some ideas for quilting hand, so it will take a while. But I'm happy because it worked after all...


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