Options For Sewing Curves

ChristinaMay 22, 2013


I’ve been cleaning out my sewing room today.  It’s getting to be so cluttered that I can’t even stand to walk in there, let alone sew.  I need to par down.  You know it’s bad when your fabric overflows one cabinet into another.  Why is it so hard to get rid of fabric you don’t like anymore?!  While I was cleaning up I ran across a bag of curved pieces I’d sewn to talk about curves at Sewing Summit last year.  But I was so concerned about time in class, that I skipped any curves talk that we went right into sewing curves and making the quilt.  So I thought we’d talk about them today.

There are lots of different options when it comes to piecing curves.  If you’ve never been one to try curves, maybe one of these methods will change your mind.  Any curves quilt can be modified to do one of these (or many other) styles of piecing, it might just take a little bit of thought on your part (i.e. pieces may need to be made bigger).


To start it off, the seam allowance was not added in for this curve.  I cut two squares of fabric and laid them one on top the other and then cut the curved piece from both.  Then I sewed together a convex and concave piece, matching the edges, and this is the mess I got.  Normally if I do this method, I don’t get it quite this messy, but I wanted to show the trouble inherent with this method.  I have gotten a lot neater pieces by using a lot more pins, or stretching more.  I think the biggest problem with this method is not the tucks you may get in the curve, but the fact that your piece is so far from square that you are going to have to trim the piece no matter what, where as the method below where I talk about adding in seam allowance, I could get away without squaring if I wanted.  But I always square, and you should too.  It saves a lot of headache as your piecing them all together.


This next piece I used the same cutting method as above (notice the same fabrics) but I sewed the two pieces together without pins.  I matched it up on one end and started to sew them together without pins.  I get a much neater curve, but I also don’t make it all the way to the end of my concave piece (the pink and blue fabric).  This piece definitely needs to be squared and actually wouldn’t be a bad method to use as long as you can get your squared piece to be the right size for your pattern.  If all of your curved pieces are sewn this way, then you would probably be just fine.

2-Sew-Crvs _MG_1609

Next up we have piecing curves WITH the seam allowance added.  It’s a hard thing to explain in words why exactly it is that adding seam allowance works more favorably when piecing, but it does.  If your like me and curious why things work, try cutting curves as mentioned above without seam allowance and then cut one with and play with the pieces and you’ll see the difference.  The traditional method of piecing curves is to pin the the convex and concave pieces together at each of their ends and then at their centers.  After that you fill in with pins, usually one or two between one end and center, and sew around the curve.  I usually sew over my pins very carefully and sometimes remove them just before I get to my needle.


Another way of sewing curves with seam allowance (and my favorite method) is pinless.  You can use a special foot just for sewing pinless curves, but you really don’t need any special feet.  I do like to use my patchwork foot so that I know the edge of my fabric at the edge of my foot is giving me exactly a 1/4 seam allowance, but since I trim this is not crucial as long as I get an even seam allowance.  I keep meaning to make a video to show you how I do this, but I know there are some out there on YouTube so try searching for it if you are interested.  I find I get just as nice of a curve sewing pinless as I do with pins.  It does take a little practice, but I know from showing students at Sewing Summit last fall that it doesn’t take long at all.  Most had it down to perfection by the 2nd or 3rd curve.


Next up, some non-traditional methods.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone do this, but I thought it was pretty ingenious to getting that perfect look.  So I started out by cutting two convex curved pieces – one from my main fabric (the red with flowers) and then a lightweight muslin one.  I put them right sides together and sewed a quarter-inch seam allowance around the two curves and trimmed away the seam allowance so there was only a sliver of it left.  Probably about 1/16th of an inch, and because of that I didn’t need to clip into the seam allowance.


After turning it right side out and pressing, thus resulting in a perfect curve, I sewed it on top of a square of fabric with the stitching you see, probably about 1/8th of an inch from the edge.  I kept it close.


I left it like this, but what you could do is clip away all of that excess fabric behind the red curve so that you had just a 1/4 of fabric left as your seam allowance.  By doing that your block will look almost as if you pieced it.


A variation on this idea would be a sort of quilt-as-you-go method.  You could do as above, and sew your main fabric to a muslin piece and then turn, or simply iron under a seam allowance on your curve and then top stitch in place.  That’s what I did on this block.  I wish I could remember how I did it though.  I believe I laid a curve template under the piece and pressed the seam allowance around it.  I then top stitched it onto the square of fabric as well as a square of batting.


I can’t tell you exactly how I’d proceed from here, but it was an interesting thing to try and if you started with a bigger square of batting and background fabric, and just stitched on your curves one at a time (similar to the quilt-as-you-go method) you should get an interesting piece.  I might have to try that now…

Moving on.


On this block I tried the same method of sewing right sides together an flipping, only this time I did it with the concave (yellow) pieces.


After I had them sewn and flipped, I top stitched it to the convex piece, giving myself a 1/4 inch seam allowance.


It added very little bulk and almost looks just as if I pressed it so my seam allowance was headed towards the concave piece, recessing the convex piece below the concave.  I actually think this would be a great method to use for a curve quilt.  I don’t know if it’s saving you a whole lot of time, but if you’re not into piecing curves, this might be a good alternative for you.


Here is an interesting look to the curve.  I started with a square for my background (concave) piece and top stitched the convex piece to it with a narrow, but wide spaced zigzag stitch (you could use a straight stitch too).  I sewed right along the edge of the curve and kept it pretty tiny so it wouldn’t interfere with the bias strip of fabric.  Next, I got my strip of fabric read, cut on the bias so it would curve easily for me.  I pressed in the two sides to the center of the piece and then laid it on top of the curve block, centering the stitched edge of the convex seam under the bias strip.  Then I stitched on either side of the bias with a straight stitch, pretty close to the edges.


I didn’t trim away the fabric under the curve from the main background block, but you could to cut down on bulk.  This photo shows the zigzag stitching where I sewed the curved piece to the square and also the straight stitching along each side of the bias strip.

_MG_1613 _MG_1614

These final two pieces are raw edge.  On the orange and brown polka dot piece I top stitched the brown polka dot to an orange solid square and then trimmed away the orange on the back to form a seam allowance.

_MG_1615 _MG_1616

On this one I stitched the yellow solid to the green polka dot, overlapping them about 1/4 inch.  I also zigzag stitched along the edge of the concave (yellow) piece.  Doing this would prevent fraying along that edge over time.  I think this was probably my least favorite of the methods I tried here.  I didn’t like the end look.  But it would hold up well and be very little time in the making.  You could also disguise that with some kickass quilting.

There are even more methods out there to try, but this was a little sampling of ideas I had.  Maybe one of these will appeal to you if other traditional (or nontraditional) methods haven’t.  I enjoy trying out all different ways to do something, it really gives me a sense of what does and doesn’t work and how something might look.  I’m always asking myself, well what if I tried it this way… Sometimes it’s hard to visualize in words, so if one of these has you intrigued and you need more info, let me know and I’ll make up another with more photos along the way.

Comments (9)

  • sharpie

    May 22, 2013 at 2:02 am

    I love this! Thank you, thank you ;)

  • Kim with a K

    May 22, 2013 at 3:00 am

    Really interesting!
    Thanks for doing this with all the pictures…I really like how the concave yellow piece top stitched and the brown curve look.
    It’s really neat and tidy!

  • CitricSugar

    May 22, 2013 at 6:18 am

    I’m actually starting to get a decent handle on curves but these are all great tips! Thanks. :-)

  • ✾Jamie Lee Cooley✾

    May 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I’ve never pieced curves and like this overview. I’d like to know more about the brown and yellow option!

  • Rachel at Stitched in Color

    May 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Those are some interesting ideas. I actually like the way they look with the 1/8″ top stitching. Creative!

  • CJ

    May 23, 2013 at 9:04 am

    That’s a really helpful post, thank you. Curves look lovely, very striking, but they can be a bit daunting. This has helped me have more confidence about attempting them.

  • Pam Harris

    May 30, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Great big huge thank you! This is hugely hugely hugely helpful!

  • mjb

    June 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I just tried curves for the first time with a free-form paper pieced new york beauty like in the 2nd picture, and was bummed that not everything matched up. I feel validated seeing it here that I can use it anyway after trimming (and also am wondering why I didn’t embrace the improv in such a free form piece anyway!)

  • allison sews

    January 25, 2014 at 4:05 am

    I really need to work on curves. Thanks for the tips!

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