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Hand Piecing – Inset Seams & Curves

Further hand piecing techniques

This hand piecing guide article is written by Kerry Green.  Read part one to learn about basic hand piecing tools and techniques

Now you’ve mastered the basics of hand piecing quilt blocks you’re ready for something more challenging.  Inset seams – also known as set-in or Y seams – are when three seams meet at a single point.  Hand piecing is a great way to master Y seams at your own pace and the Formal Garden block is ideal for this with four Y seams to sew.  Curved seams can also be tricky to sew by machine, but hand piecing them will help build your sewing confidence so you’ll be happy to sew them by hand or machine.  The Simplified Royal Cross quilt block has a range of curves, big and small, along with inset seams.

Formal Garden Block

Hand piece a formal garden block

Finished block size, 4” square

 You will need fabric scraps in three colours. The centre square works well when fussy cut.

Formal Garden


 Print the templates at 100%. To check scale, template A should be 1½” square.  You can use card or template plastic.

Templates for formal garden block

If you are using template plastic, print the template on to paper first, then use a glue stick to lightly adhere the paper to the plastic.

How do I hand piece patchwork?

Then cut out using a quilt ruler and rotary blade or knife.

  Trace around the templates on the wrong side of the fabric using pencil and a sandpaper board to hold the fabric.  Add ¼” seam allowances to each edge; this can be done with a ruler and rotary cutter when you cut each piece out. 

Template A (square): trace 1. Cut out.

Template B (triangle): trace 4 and place the long edge on the straight grain. Cut out. 

Template C (diamond): trace 4. Cut out.

Using acrylic templates for patchwork

Note: this template will need to be used with the wrong side uppermost, if you want the diamonds to lie in the same direction as the example block.



1. Arrange the block pieces.


Y seams in patchwork

2. Sew one diagonal edge of each B triangle to a diagonal edge of each C diamond. Remember to stitch the seam lines only, secure at each end, and leave the seam allowances free.  Make four BC pieces.

Hand stitched quilt blocks

3. Now sew the left vertical edge of square A to the corresponding BC piece.Open the square out. This forms an angle into which the next BC piece will fit.


Formal garden block

4. Join the left vertical edge of square A to the corresponding edge of the next BC piece. At the end of the seam, make a securing stitch, pull the needle through to the wrong side of BC but do not cut the thread; we are going to start to stitch the next seam, which is a Y seam.

Sewing a Y seam

 5. Rotate the fabrics so the needle point passes from the exact end of the seam on piece BC and diagonally through to the start of the diagonal seam on the next BC piece to be joined.; the fabric pieces will need to rotate to come into line with each other with the needle point acting as a pivot.  Make a securing stitch and then sew to the end of the seam – this will be on the outer edge of the block. 

Note: you need to be precise and secure your stitches at each Y seam point to avoid a hole!

Sewing an inset seam

6. Continue adding the other BC pieces to the centre square and then stitching the inset seam until the block is complete.

How to press patchwork blocks

The seam allowances can now be pressed to the direction of your choice.


Simplified Royal Cross (variation)

Learn to hand piece

Finished block size, 12” square

 Once multiplied and tiled as in the photo above this block creates lots of interesting effects so you may want to download the planner and test some colour ideas before you cut your fabric!

 You will need fabric pieces in five colours.

Royal Cross Templates



Print the templates at 100%.  To check scale, on template C the two equal sides should each be 4” in length.  The straight edge of D also measures 4”.  As before, use card for templates, or template plastic.  Cut out with a quilt ruler and rotary blade or knife.  Curved templates are best cut with scissors.

Hand piecing curves

Trace the templates onto the wrong side of the fabric following the directions below.  Seam allowances of ¼” need to be added to each edge. For the straight edges e.g. on C, use a ruler for this.


Add seam lines to a curved template

For the curved edges a seam wheel like the Clover seam marker is helpful for this.

Template A: trace 4. Cut out.

Template B (centre): trace 1. Cut out.

Template C (triangle): trace 4 (2 in each colour) and placing the longer diagonal edge on the bias and the other edges on the straight grain. Cut out.

Template D: trace 4 placing the straight edge on the straight grain. Cut out.



1. Arrange the block pieces.

 2. Sew C triangles to the straight ends of all A pieces.

Patchwork piecing techniques

3. Sew the top left diagonal edge of the B pieces to the short edge on the top left of piece A.  Repeat with the lower right diagonal edge of B and the short edge of the lower right piece A. This is the central diagonal strip of the block.

Joining curved seams by hand

4. To join the curved sections (pieces A and D), find the mid point on the curved edges of the two unattached A pieces and all D pieces. The easiest way to do this is to push a pin straight through the start and end of each seam – this folds the piece and when the seam edges are aligned the fold will be the centre point – mark with a crease or pencil mark.


Free patchwork tutorials

5. Working with an A piece and the corresponding D piece, place piece D on top, pin at the start, mid point and end of the seam; the fabric edges will only meet at these points and we will ease the pieces together gradually as we sew.  Start stitching at the first pin; the fabric edges of A and D will only align for a few stitches, sew for half an inch or so, add a back stitch and then match the edges again and sew a few more stitches. Repeat until the seam is finished.  Now join the next corresponding D piece to other curved edge on the A piece in the same way.

Hand sewing patchwork blocks

6. Repeat with the remaining A and D pieces.  You should now have three sections, as shown above.

Sew a block with curved seams

 7. To join the three sections, firstly pin the lower left diagonal edge of the B square on section 2 to the short edge of A on section 1; you will need to fold the seam allowances away at each end of the seam.  Stitch the short seam, secure at the end and cut the thread. 


Intermediate patchwork skills

8. With section 1 uppermost, pin the curved edge as in step 4 and stitch and secure the seam.  Repeat on the other curved edge so sections 1 and 2 are fully joined.  Where the seams meet at the centre square, you will need to sew each seam precisely to that point and secure with a backstitch or two to avoid any holes!

9. Repeat step 6 to join section 3 to the other edge of section 1. Your block is complete and your seam allowances can be pressed to the direction of your choice.