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.

Happy curved piecing everyone!



Guest Post, Part 2: Sue Rasmussen’s Show & Tell

Today we welcome back quilt artist, author, and teacher Sue Rasmussen for the second part of her guest post. On Tuesday, Sue presented a tutorial on her technique for creating curved pieced landscape blocks and quilts. In this post, she shares a few of her beautiful quilts,  with insight into her inspiration and fabric choices. The floor is yours, Sue!

Our guest poster, Sue Rasmussen
Our guest poster, Sue Rasmussen

After reading my Tuesday post, you might wonder what drove me to come up with such a detailed approach for piecing a landscape or pictorial quilt. That’s easy: it’s because I simply LOVE pieced quilts! Pieced edges are clean and crisp, and don’t distract from the quilting or design elements as roughly finished edges will. I also like the way the softness of a pieced top allows the “mountains and valleys” made by those lovely quilting stitches to add dimension and detail to the quilt. What’s more, pieced quilts can be easily washed, and then folded or rolled for storage.

Many years ago, I began taking “landscape classes,” and learned several techniques from nationally recognized quilt artists such as Susan Turbak, Katie Pasquini-Masopust, and the late Joan Colvin. It was in a class with Ruth McDowell, however, that I found my true passion for pieced pictorial quilts–I fell in love with her simple piecing technique. Today I thought I’d share a few of my quilts and their birth stories, talking about the inspiration behind them and the fabric choices I made.

Beech Trees was begun in 1996, early in my landscape-quilt career. It is a fairly large quilt and uses a combination of curved and straight-line piecing. It was inspired by a friend’s photograph which I thought would make a great forest quilt. I was limited in the assortment of yellow-golds and cheddar-golds that I had at that time, and found myself driving to quilt shops and fabric stores miles away in search of anything gold.

Beech Trees (57" x 77"), made by Sue Rasmussen
Beech Trees (57″ x 77″), made by Sue Rasmussen

Ultimately, choosing the fabrics for Beech Trees was a real challenge, but I learned so much from this quilt. I used cottons as well as many dress fabrics in linen or rayon/cotton blends to get the variety of coloration I wanted in the tree foliage. I even used boy’s green-plaid boxer shorts for the bushes deep in the forest! I added the double-sided, dimensional leaves in the foreground to give the viewer a sense of standing on the rocks, looking in.

I made Cliff Maids  for my husband, who loves to hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He takes wonderful pictures there, including everything from the granite boulders to rushing streams. This little 6″ flower shudders in the cold winds above 8,000 feet.

Cliff Maids, a wall quilt by Sue Rasmussen
Cliff Maids, a wall quilt by Sue Rasmussen

A pink dress fabric with black dots in my stash became the color inspiration for the flowers, and I added several plaids for the petals. The very narrow, pale-yellow inner border was my husband’s suggestion, and I think it sets off the flowers and defines the inner quilt nicely. The blue background, representing that brilliant blue sky found only at high altitudes, is a multitude of blue batiks. Many years ago, my friend and first quilt teacher, Margaret Miller, asked me, “Why use one fabric when you can use five, and why use five fabrics when you can use twenty?” That’s all I needed to hear to justify building my stash! I still follow Margaret’s advice in almost every quilt I make.

Maple Leaves was inspired by a windy day spent training our dogs in the local park. Beautiful, huge maple leaves were falling to the ground all around me. I gathered up a dozen or so, and when I got home, taped a large piece of paper to the floor, stood up high on a ladder, and let the leaves fall gently onto the paper. I traced the leaf shapes onto the paper to create a pattern.

Maple Leaves by Sue Rasmussen
Maple Leaves by Sue Rasmussen

Once again following Margaret’s suggestion (“more is better”), I incorporated a multitude of dark blue batiks in the background. The large-plaid border fabric in the lower right is from a man’s shirt I found at the local thrift shop for 50 cents; it’s turned up in more than one of my quilts. Sometimes that really ugly, too bright, or very unusual fabric makes the perfect zinger!

The latest quilt in my North American Wildlife series is Mountain Lion-I See You!  I wanted to achieve that intense look these magnificent animals display when they have spotted something.

Mountain Lion-I See You! by Sue Rasmussen
Mountain Lion-I See You! by Sue Rasmussen

Again, the fabric is really what makes this lady lion come alive. I used mottled browns from the Stonehenge Collection by Northcott Fabrics, and the Home in the Woods collection by McKenna Ryan/Pine Needles Designs from Hoffman Fabrics for much of her head, fussy cutting specific colors for the forehead. The granite boulders are made using the wrong sides of the fabrics. When I shop for fabrics, I always look at the reverse, which often can be used to achieve a subtle variation in value.

I am involved in raising and competing Golden Retrievers, and I teach all my puppies to retrieve anything that falls on the floor. Most of the time, this is really helpful, but it’s another story when I’m working on a quilt. I have a habit of tossing fabric on the floor when I’m done with it, and the dogs are constantly cleaning up after me. When this quilt was on the wall, my young golden, Ellie, proceeded as usual to practice what she had learned. She was so proud of herself, but completely unaware of what was lurking behind her. The lion looks as if she were sizing Ellie up for an appetizer!

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

As you can see, I find inspiration for quilts everywhere. Any subject matter can be translated from a photo using my curved piecing method. I call my classes Landscape/Pictorial Quilts: Machine Pieced but really buildings, fruit, flowers, insects, animals, people, birds, or just about anything can be made into a quilt from a photo or printed image. My students have made quilts imspired by photos ranging from their childhood homes to koala bears they’ve seen on vacation.

If you would like more information on my upcoming classes, or are interested in booking a class, please visit my website for details and contact information.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed your visit with Sue. The good news is, Sue sent us so many of her wonderful quilts that we couldn’t fit them all in one post. Keep an eye out for another post from Sue in the upcoming months, and don’t forget: our friends at The Quilt Show are offering Sue’s episode–Picture This: Simplified Pictorial Piecing–FREE through Tuesday, March 12.




Guest Post: Creating Curved Pieced Blocks and Landscape Quilts with Sue Rasmussen (+ a Special Offer!)

Many of you commented so favorably on Laura’s interview with the talented Sue Rasmussen last summer that we’ve decided to invite Sue back to share more of her quilting “wisdom” in a terrific two-part guest post. Enjoy Part 1 today (Sue’s ingenious technique for making curved pieced blocks and landscapes), and don’t forget to check back on Friday, March 8, for a “virtual quilt show”  featuring more of Sue’s amazing quilts.

Grizzly Bear by Sue Rasmussen
Grizzly Bear by Sue Rasmussen

And now . . . here’s Sue!

Hi! I’d like to introduce myself to you. My name is Sue Rasmussen and I LOVE to make pieced landscape and pictorial quilts. I made my first quilt about 35 years ago, and since then have made hundreds of quilts and many items of quilted clothing. Today, I’d like to share my approach to pieced landscape/pictorial quilts with you, and to introduce you to “curved piecing” with gently ‘bent’ seams. I will walk you through a very simple way of approaching this idea, in the hopes of changing the way you look at curved pieced landscapes, and perhaps enticing you to try it.

Have you ever noticed that when quilters hear the words “curved piecing,” they have that terrified ‘deer in the headlights’ appearance on their faces? I often see that look when I talk to quilters about sewing curved seams. They immediately think of a Drunkard’s Path block with past horror stories and frustration, so let’s just start off right here and now by calling the seams that I will teach you to do as “bent” seams. That doesn’t sound nearly so intimidating, does it?


Look at this familiar Star block. Most quilters have certainly seen this block, and have probably made some quilts with this block in it. (OK, I added a line to divide the center square)


You know how this block is easily broken down into sections that need to be pieced together first, before they can all be joined together to make the block itself. As you see, in the following illustration, there are five pieces in the bottom section, which are sewn together to create that section.


If we take that same Star block and simply ‘bend’  each of those seams to create the little flower block below, we see that the little flower block is made up of the exact same number of pieces,  the same number of seams, and the same sewing sections. The ‘bent’ seams in this little flower block are so much gentler than a Drunkard’s Path, don’t you think?!


Look at the ‘bent’ seam line between the background green and the purple petal. That doesn’t look too hard, does it?  Essentially, these are nothing but very elongated ‘S’ or ‘C’ curves.

In the Star block above, the five pieces that make up the bottom section – two green background squares, one green background triangle piece, one purple triangular piece, and one pink triangular piece– are now bent. They are shown below as their curved equivalents – three green background pieces, one purple petal, and one pink petal.


I hope, by showing how similar these two designs are, I can dismiss any concerns you might feel about sewing with ‘bent’ seams, and perhaps encourage you to look at curved, pieced quilt blocks (and a landscape quilt) in a new light.

Next, I would like to introduce you to how I create a simple curved flower pattern.

Designing a Curved, Pieced Flower Pattern with Gently Bent Seams: A Simple Introduction

The concept of taking an image, a photo, or a drawing, and making it into a pattern using ‘bent’ seams might seem daunting and overwhelming. By sharing with you some very simple concepts, I can show you how to do this.

Let’s take the little tulip flower in the next illustration. As it stands here, this tulip must be appliqued (machine or hand appliqued, fused, glued or raw edge, etc.) to the larger background rectangle, in order to make a quilt block/mini quilt.


If we want to translate this tulip into a PIECED tulip, we have to draw some lines on the pattern to create the seam lines. Using a pencil, we can draw and extend the lines of the stem and petals up and out to the edge of the paper (shown below with dashed lines). Just by drawing those lines, and extending them all the way to the edge of the paper, or the block in this case, we have created seam lines. See how the lines are slightly ‘bent’? No difficult, sharp curves here!


By extending those seams to the edge of the paper, we have divided this tulip image into three sections, 1, 2 and 3 (shown below), which can easily be pieced together.

To help clarify the sewing order in each section, I have numbered the pieces in each of the three sections. For the top section, we would sew 1a to 1b along that seam line, and then add 1c to complete the section.  Section 2 consists of two pieces only–that’s simple! Section 3 has a few more pieces in it, but we just follow the numbering system, sewing them together in order.

Those three sections then get sewn together (section 1 added to 2, then 3 added to that) and “Voila!” we have a little tulip block.


The curved piecing approach described here produces a quilt with clean, finished seams. No raw edges, or the stiffness found in a fusible quilt here! A pieced quilt is soft, washable, ‘fold-able’ and ‘roll-able’, unlike quilts made using fusing, gluing, or raw-edge techniques.  Curved piecing done this way gives you this option without taking that much more time or effort.

Of course, when we work on a larger, more complex image such as the Bitterroot Flower below, there are tricks and ways to draw and design the pattern that will allow for easy piecing of the sections. Basically, it comes down to translating your image or photograph into smaller sections for piecing.


The best way to think of this piecing process is as comparable to sewing a sleeve into the shoulder seam of a garment. With proper marking, pinning, and–of course–matching the front and back notches on the pattern, the sleeve fits right into the shoulder. That’s exactly what we do in this technique to ensure that the pieces go together. Each template piece has several registration marks or ‘tic’ marks on it, which, similar to a sleeve pattern, make the pieces match up and fit together perfectly to create a flat seam.

Students in my one-day guild workshops learn the basics of this process using my pattern of a Single Tree Landscape quilt (below). In the 3-5 day workshops, I help students work with their own photo or image, taking it all the way from choosing the image, to designing the pattern, auditioning fabrics, and piecing the quilt. If you’ve sewn a sleeve into a shoulder, or made any kind of curved seam, then you can create your own, one-of-a-kind landscape/pictorial quilt.


I hope you enjoyed this introduction to curved pieced landscape quilts, using gently bent seams.  Come by and visit my website at, where you can find more examples of landscape quilts using these techniques. You will also find a listing of my upcoming classes. I look forward to quilting with you, and helping you make the quilts of your dreams!


Thank you, Sue, for inspiring our readers with this informative tutorial! BTW, in a happy coincidence, Sue is the featured artist in the current episode of The Quilt Show, and–as a special gift to our See How We Sew readers–The Quilt Show is making Sue’s episode available for FREE now through next Tuesday, March 12. Here’s the special link: Episode 1205: Picture This-Simplified Pictorial Piecing. Check out the TQS site for more about Sue, including puzzles featuring her quilts, Woodland Doe and No Room for Tires.

See you Friday!