Perfect Your Piecing: Pay Attention to Those Curves!

Interested in adding circles and curves to your quilts? Let me share a few simple and helpful tips to make the process a bit less stressful and definitely more successful.

Fan block uses strip piecing techniques with gentle curves.
Fan block uses strip piecing techniques with gentle curves.

My class on Craftsy this month is on curved piecing the Fan Block. It is a 9″ finished block, or 18″ when four blocks are sewn together.  The curves are gentle which makes this a good block for anyone new to piecing curves.

A few helpful hints:

  1. Accurate cutting is important. If you are tracing shapes from a pattern, book, or magazine, I suggest using a fine-line permanent pen to trace the pattern on to template plastic. Tape both the page and plastic to avoid slipping, and then carefully trace around the outline of the shape. (If you are making a full-size quilt and have many, many shapes to cut, consider having acrylic templates made at a store like Tap Plastics. Take one of your cutting rulers with you when placing the order so that they can see exactly what width acrylic you want used to make your template.)
  2. If working with template plastic, cut inside the marked line; cutting outside will add just a little extra that can affect the overall size of the shape. Next, use the template to mark the shapes onto the wrong side of the fabric. Finally, use a good, sharp pair of scissors to (again) cut just inside the marked line. If using an acrylic template, consider placing a piece of small, non-slip grip product on the backside. Place the template onto the fabric and cut around the template using a small, 28mm rotary cutter.
  3. Machine set up:
    1. Accurate ¼” seam allowance
    2. Needle-down option, if available
    3. Slow-speed control, if available
    4. Knee-lift feature, if available
    5. Stitching – Think “baggy bottoms.” It’s a funny term, but I always remember it. It simply means placing the fuller, bigger, puffier (or however you want to describe it) piece on the bottom, against the throatplate, when stitching. This will allow any extra fullness to work in while you’re sewing. If the fuller side is placed on top, it wants to creep, which will ultimately create pleats or puckers.
    6. Keeping the edges of the two pieces aligned, work slowly around the curve, stopping and adjusting as needed.
  4. Here’s a selection of online tutorials you might find helpful. They present different points of view, but I’ve always felt it is wise to experiment and find the technique that works best for you.

ConnectingThreads.com

CarolinaPatchworks.com

AllPeopleQuilt.com

Happy curved piecing everyone!

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Drafting, Part 1: Changing the Size of Pieced Quilt Blocks

If you have ever wanted to make a pieced quilt block in a different size than those that you are able to find in books or magazines, I think you will find this easy, step-by-step tutorial helpful. I suspect that there are still some of you out there who are not using computer software to design quilts. I’m a traditionalist who still enjoys designing with paper and pencil–the process is simple and can certainly open doors to many design possibilities.

Notice how well used Jinny Beyer's book is. It is a great reference with blocks organized by grid categories.
Notice how well used Jinny Beyer’s book is. It is a great reference with blocks organized by grid categories.

Since I will be teaching drafting in my Craftsy class in March, I wanted to expand on the lesson here and share another block.

Here are the tools you will need:

  • 8- squares-to-the inch graph paper
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Drafting ruler (thinner than the rulers we use for cutting fabric)
  • Optional, depending on design: compass, protractor, Flex-Curve, fine-line permanent pens in a variety of colors

To begin, you will need to select a pieced quilt block pattern–mine is the Farmer’s Daughter block.

Notice that this pattern has five equal divisions, both horizontally and vertically.
Notice that this pattern has five equal divisions, both horizontally and vertically.

Pieced block patterns generally fall into one of the following grid categories. It is important to determine which category your chosen block falls into in order to draft it in another size.

Outline drawing of some of the most common grid categories.
Outline drawing of some of the most common grid categories.

I’ve decided to draft a 8-3/4″ finished Farmer’s Daughter block. From the diagram above, I can see that it falls into the Five-Patch Grid Category.

Step One: Mark an 8-3/4″ square onto the piece of graph paper. (Note: only finished sizes are used when drafting. Seam allowances are added later, when determining the cut sizes of the shapes.)

This is the finished outline of the block.
This is the finished outline of the block.

Step Two:  Mark the grid framework in order to fill in the shapes. In this case, the grid will be 5 squares across x 5 squares down. If your finished block size is not easily divisible by the grid size, here’s an easy way to mark the grid. First, make a note of the next number higher than the block size (in this case 8-3/4″) that is evenly divisible by the grid size. For my example here, the answer is 10.

Step Three: Place your drafting ruler, exactly as shown in the photo, holding the corner in the lower left-hand corner of the drafted square while swinging the ruler up on the right side until the 10″ marking touches the right-hand edge of the marked square.

Position your ruler exactly as shown. Then make small marks every 2" along the length of the ruler - 2", 4", 6" 8".
Position your ruler exactly as shown. Then make small marks every 2″ along the length of the ruler – 2″, 4″, 6″ 8″.

Mark lines onto the graph paper every 2″ along the length of the ruler:  2″, 4″, 6″ and 8″. Marks are made every 2″ since 10 divided be 5 = 2. These marks indicate where the grid lines will be drawn. In this case, every 1-3/4″.

Fill in the 5 x 5 grid onto the graph paper, as shown.
Fill in the 5 x 5 grid onto the graph paper, as shown.

Step Four:  The rest is easy. Fill in the shapes within the framework of the block. Refer to the diagram above to see the direction of the lines.

It is helpful to label the shapes with numbers to indicate cut sizes and letters to indicate fabric changes.
It is helpful to label the shapes with numbers to indicate cut sizes and letters to indicate fabric changes.

Step Five:  Determine the cutting chart for the block. Remember that the shapes you see on the drafted pattern are “finished sizes” and so you need to add the 1/4″ seam allowance around each shape in order to determine the cutting sizes. I like to include a cutting chart on my pattern for easy reference when cutting fabric for my block.

I hope this is helpful to you. I’d love to hear if any of you try this block-drafting method. Please check back in my Friday post for Part 2 where I’ll include some of the new blocks I am making for my Craftsy sampler quilt.

Many thanks to our readers who responded so enthusiastically to my Julie Silber post. The lucky winner of The Quilt Digest, Volume 1, donated by Julie, is Nancy Chrzanowski.

Happy designing everyone!

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