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Sewing Curves

How to sew curves

This tutorial is an extract from the brilliant beginner’s quilting guide Quilting Basics by Michael Caputo and published by Cico Books.  

Sewing curves looks so difficult that many people never learn how to do it—but with some simple preparation and careful sewing, you will be wowing your friends in no time.

There are a few different ways of sewing the sections together. Some require pinning and others a more freestyle approach. Each method has its pluses and minuses, and it’s up to you to decide which works best for you and practice it until you are a pro. Start with a larger block size so that the curve will be easier to handle. As your skills progress, you will be able to attempt smaller units.


Making your own curved templates

With a bit of measuring and simple math, making your own curved templates is pretty easy. You will need a few pieces of cardstock, a ruler, a pair of compasses, and scissors. The steps below show how to make a quarter-circle template, which is used in many traditional patchwork designs, but the same principles apply to any curved shape.

How to sew circles

Start by deciding the size you want your finished block to be and add ½ in. (1.5 cm) to the overall size for the seam allowance (¼ -in./6-mm on all sides). If you’re making a 7-in. (18-cm) block, for example, you’ll need to cut your first sheet of cardstock to 7½ in. (19.5 cm) square. After cutting the square, mark a ¼ -in. (6-mm) seam allowance on all four sides.


Quilting circles and semi-circles

With your compass and ruler in hand, decide on the size you want to make your quarter circle. I decided to give it a radius of 5 in. (12.5 cm), so I subtracted that figure from the finished block size. Measure up from the bottom left corner and put a pencil mark on the seam at that point. Place the point of your compasses at the bottom left seam cross and then adjust the legs of the compass to meet the upper mark. Swing the penciled end of the compass, creating an arc. This will be your seam line.


Sewing curved edges

From the curved line that you have just drawn, measure ¼ in. (6 mm) on both sides for the seam allowance. With the compass starting at the same fixed point, draw both curves. (For clarity, we’ve shown them in a different colour here.)

Quilting Basics book

This might sound wrong, but you need to mark the inner line as the outer curve cutting line” and the outer line as the “inner curve cutting line.”

Sewing curves without pins

With sharp paper scissors, cut along the “outer” curve cutting line. Set the outer section aside.

Repeat Steps 1–5, but this time cut along the “inner” curve cutting line. Now you will have two template pieces that look like they don’t match—but don’t worry! If you align the original middle line on each template, you will see that the overlap is just in the seam allowance.


Sewing curves, method 1: pins

The best method to use when starting to sew curves is the pinning method. With a bit of fiddling and practice, you will be sewing curves into everything.


Find the centre of both inner and outer sections by folding and pressing the pieces with either an iron a seam roller; the crease doesn’t need to permanent. I like to fold the inner section wrong sides together and the outer section right sides together. They will nestle correctly for the next step.


Pinning method of sewing curves

Lay the outer section right side up on your work surface, with the curve at the top. Place the inner section right side down on top, aligning the centre crease. Pin the layers together through the centre crease.

Sewing curved edges

Pin the two outside edges together, making sure they are secure. Work your way along the edge, pinning as you go. You may need to rub the two pieces of fabric together and fiddle with them to get them to align. Take your time and pin as often as you need—about every ½ in. (1.5 cm) is more than enough.

Sewing circular patchwork pieces

Fit a ¼ -in. (6-mm) foot on your sewing machine and carefully place the pinned fabric under the presser foot. The outer section should be on top. Slowly stitch around the curve, removing the pins as you get to them. Smooth out fabric as it gets to the front of the foot and try not to sew through a folded piece of fabric.


Pressing curved seams

Remove the block from the machine: you will see the stitches and the seams naturally folding in one direction. Press the seam toward the inner section for a smoother curve.


Sewing curves, method 2: no pins

This is a slightly less accurate but much faster way to make curves. It looks odd, but it does work well with a bit of practice.

Sewing curved patchwork with no pins

Start with both the inner and outer sections in front of you, right side up. Position the outer section to the left of the inner.

Sewing curved patchwork by Michael Caputo

With the outer section in the same place, lift and flip the inner section so that the pieces are now right sides together and aligned at the curve.

Sewing curves on a sewing machine

Carefully place the pieces under your ¼-in. (6-mm) sewing foot and drop the needle through the fabric, holding it in place. Start as close to the edge of the fabric as possible.

Now the tricky part. With your right hand crossing over your left, take hold of the inner curve. Your left hand will be holding the outer curve. As you slowly start stitching, pull your hands back to normal and align the curve at the front of the foot. As you get to the end of the curve, you may need to grab a pair of tweezers to hold onto the last ½ in. (1.5 cm).


How to press curves

Remove the block from the machine: you will see the stitches and the seams naturally folding in one direction. Press the seam toward the inner section for a smoother curve.


Squaring the curved blocks

If some of your blocks turn out slightly off square, it’s not the end of the world: you can simply trim them to the right size.


Learn to sew curved patchwork

With the inner section at the bottom, use your quilter’s ruler and match the seam allowance on both sides—in this case, 3⁄8 in. (1 cm) from the seam on both the top and bottom. Cut the 90° corner with a rotary cutter.


Patchwork tutorials

 Rotate the block 180° and then square off the other two sides.

Credits: Quilting Basics by Michael Caputo, published by CICO Books (£14.99)

Photography by Penny Wincer © CICO Books
For other patchwork tutorials please visit our techniques page and click the ‘patchwork & quilting’ tag.