Curved Piecing

Curved piecing is required in patchwork when sewing pieces that have rounded sides. It is slightly different from sewing together pieces with straight sides, because the fabric needs to be manipulated to get the two sides to “ease” together.

To understand how to sew a seam with a curve, it is important to understand the two pieces that form a curved seam: a concave piece being the one in the pair that bends inward, like on the inside part of a “C” and the convex piece like the outside part of the same letter.curved piecing


Cutting Curved Pieces

In order to sew patchwork block patterns that include curved pieces, the pieces need to be cut with a template, at least in part. If we take one of the most recognizable patchwork patterns that include curves, like the Drunkards’ curved piecingPath, the pieces can be speed cut into strips and then sub-cut into squares. Then after sub-cutting the squares, a template will be needed in order to cut the curved sides. Templates can be made from quilter’s plastic or acrylic precision cut templates can be purchased for the most popular curved blocks in different sizes. The lines made with plastic templates need to be marked lightly on the wrong side of the fabric with a pencil, then cut with scissors. The acrylic precision cut templates can be used with a small rotary cutter. The larger the base square, the simpler it will be to piece the block, thus a block that uses 5.5 squares for instance will be simpler to sew because the curve will become gentler.

Let’s use the Drunkards’ Path as an example on how to piece curved seams. Curved pieces can be sewn either by hand or machine. In either way, in order to make both sides of the curve fit, the fabric on the convex side needs to be eased into the fabric on the concave side. It is important to mark the center and quarter registration marks on the curve, in order to match them. It is also important to place dots a quarter inch away from the corners of the curve.

It is easier to pin the pieces before sewing them, either by hand or machine, although some quilters prefer to simply curved piecingfinger-pin when sewing on the machine. Placing both sides of the curve together with wrong sides together, place the center pin through the fabric right on the center registration mark, one quarter inch away from the raw edge. Place pins on the quarter marks and at the beginning and end of the seam, through the dots a quarter inch away from the corners.

Stitching Curved Pieces

If your machine has a speed selection, stitch slowly, placing the concave side on top. The stitch length needs to be shortened too. Depending on the manufacturer set it between 1.5 or 2, or 14 to 16. If you have a seam guide on your machine, set it to a quarter inch, or use a quarter inch piecing machine foot rather than the standard sewing machine foot. Sew slowly and guide the fabric gently. Do not tug or jerk the fabric.

Remove pins as you approach them with the needle. Make sure the raw edges are aligned as you sew and distribute curved piecingthe fullness of the fabric using the sharp end of a seam ripper or a long pin or even a toothpick as you go. The seam ripper will help you guide the fabric too. Sew a quarter inch from the raw edges. Once you reach the end of the seam, clip the threads. Before you iron the unit, you will need to make small cuts on the concave piece of fabric, almost to the sewn seam, without clipping the seam itself. The convex piece also needs to be notched, to help the fabric lay flat. A small, sharp pair of scissors is a must for this type of clipping.

Once the pair of pieces are sewn and clipped, gently iron the unit towards the darkest of the two fabrics. Make sure there are no puckers or tucks and that the curve is smooth. The unit then might need to be squared with the ruler and the rotary cutter.

For hand piecing, the process is similar but sewing lines need to be marked with pencil before sewing. Start and stop sewing one-quarter inch from the end of the pieces after pinning just like for machine piecing. More pins might be necessary to avoid having to re-position the pieces as the unit is handled. Sew slowly on the pencil line, back-stitching every few stitches and making sure the pieces are aligned. Check the back piece to ensure the seam is on the pencil line on the back piece. And just as when machine piecing, clip notches on the convex piece and make small cuts on the concave piece before ironing them flat. In this case, pressing them is important to make sure the unit is square. Press carefully as not to distort the unit.

Once you have enough units to complete a block, sew them in rows of four units, then sew the rows together to createcurved piecing two halves, then sew the two halves together. There are several variations of the Drunkards’ Path block that are achieved by the way the units are joined together and the placement of lights and dark fabrics within the block. Blocks with name such as Lovers’ Knot use the same basic unit and create a completely different block.

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