One of my favorite techniques to teach is piecing curves. Curves are magical—they look complicated to do, but they’re really not. So many quilters are intimidated by curves but if you can sew a ¼” seam you can sew beautiful curves. Seriously. All you need are some tips, a bit of patience and practice. To all you skeptics out there (yes, you) — YOU CAN SEW CURVES!
Looking to try something new and add a different type of block to your toolbox? Let’s try making some curves!
Here are my top 7 tips for sewing curves:
1. If you’re super anxious about trying curves, start with a block design that has a gentle curve, like a Flowering Snowball block.
2. Starch your fabric prior to cutting.
This will prevent the edges from fraying, especially when working with curves. While I love Best Press and other smoothing sprays, when it comes to preparing for curves, I use plain old starch on my fabric. I like to apply by spraying and pressing using brands of starch like Niagara and Faultless (found in most supermarkets or Target in the laundry aisle).
3. If you use templates that you trace and cut (on cardstock or plastic template material), take it slow!
Accurate templates are important to achieve good results.
• I like to use a rotary cutter (that I dedicate for paper) for the straight lines and paper scissors for the curves.
• If cutting accurately is a challenge, consider selecting a pattern with matching acrylic templates.
4. When cutting your fabric (traced from your cardstock, plastic templates or directly from acrylic templates), continue to take it slow!
You want to be as accurate as possible since you will be using the curved cut raw edges as a guide for your scant 1/4” seam. I find that I cut more accurate pieces when using a combination of sharp fabric scissors and a small 28mm rotary cutter. Try both and see what works best for you!
5. Pin, Pin, Pin!
Pinning takes extra time, but I find that the results are well worth the effort.
I take the two curved pieces (a convex and concave piece) and mark the centers of both curved edges by folding them in half, unfolding and placing a pin at the creases.
I then fold the bottom and top edges to meet the center pin, keeping the edges aligned, unfold and place pins at the creases.
Once these marking pins are in, I position and pin (right sides together) the center marks of both the convex and concave pieces together. I then match the remaining marking pins, pinning the fabric together, assuring the raw edges are aligned. Lastly, I pin the edges together to meet. You’ll need to stretch/manipulate your fabric slightly to get all of the points to match up. You will find by starching your fabric before you cut it, this prevents your fabric from fraying like crazy.
The pinning isn’t over yet! I add additional pins in between to keep the raw edges aligned. Yes—this is A LOT of pinning, but so helpful when you’re on your machine. I typically have a pin every 3/4” to 1”.
Also, using THIN pins definitely make piecing more accurate. Since I’ve taken the photos in this post, I’ve switched over to Iris Superfine pins. I love them because they’re super thin yet they’re hard to bend (unless you hit them with the needle on your machine).
Be sure to remove the marking pins you inserted to indicate the folds.
BONUS TIP: Don’t panic. Your pinned pieces won’t lay flat due to the nature of sewing curves. They will lay flat after you sew.
5. Sew slowly and stop if you need to!
When sewing curves, go slow and make sure the raw edges stay aligned as you go along. You may have to stop and adjust the fabric to avoid pleats. Make sure to always stop with the needle in the down position so your block stays put on the machine. Use a ¼” presser foot or a seam guide (shown in the photo below) set to a scant ¼” from my presser foot, to get the perfect seam allowance.
6. Sew with your concave piece on top.
I find it a bit easier to control, but if it doesn’t feel right to you, try sewing with the convex piece on top.
7. Getting puckers or pleats?
Stop more often and with your finger make sure your layers are laying flat in the area you’re about to sew together.
With some practice, you’ll be sewing a beautiful curve in no time!
I hope you’ll give curves a try. Want to get started? Here are some of my quilt patterns that incorporate curves:
Make cutting pieces for both quilts even easier!
Get an optional Picnic Petals Acrylic Template or Big Island Acrylic Template set.
I’d love to hear from you!
Questions? Have curved quilt progress updates to share? Comment below!
Great tips! Instead of pinning, I have used glue. It was not faster overall, but it made it so much easier at the sewing machine. I used Roxanne’s glue which came in a bottle with a very fine tip.
This makes me want to do some more curved piecing!
Hi Brit, Yes! Some people find gluing easier. Even with fine tips, I made a total mess out of glue and get so frustrated! Isn’t that the best thing about piecing & quilting?!?! There’s pretty much more than one way to do anything. I always show my my students all of my tips and tricks but tell them to go with what works best for them! Thanks for reading the blog. –Sheri
I’ve been working on a quilt with curves. My question is ironing. Every site that gives me tips stops right before the ironing of the block. I have a horrible lump where my four pieces are connected. What do you do? Iron to convex side? concave side? dark side?
Hi Adrianne, so sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I typically press towards the dark side when piecing curves. When I’m joining blocks, it depends. Sometimes I’ll press seams open (if I can consistently match thread colors), other times I’ll press going the same direction. In my online class with Missouri Star (see above), I cover and demonstrate pressing!
Thanks so much, Sheri
I tried very hard to do everything right, but when I go to square the curved pieced block it’s off by a mile! Am I stretching the fabric too much while I’m sewing do you think?
Hi Martha, I’m sorry to hear you’re having so much issues with curves. Without seeing what you’re doing, it’s difficult to tell exactly what to try. I would HIGHLY recommend starching (not Best Press or Flattening Spray) and make sure you’re sewing with a scant 1/4″ seam allowance. If you’re still having issues, perhaps you’d be interested in taking my online class (http://bit.ly/PiecingCurveswithConfidenceClass_msqc). I walk you through all of my tips, tricks, and techniques. Happy quilting, Sheri
If there are layers of curves, similar to a rainbow would you start at the center and work your way out? or on the outside layer and work your way in? Thanks
Hi Patricia, That’s a good question. I would probably start on the inside and work my way out. That said, I would do a test block and see what works best for you! Happy quilting, Sheri
Nice instructions for sewing curves.
Here’s another trick. When sewing a bunch of curved seams, I press a center fold in each piece. Press convex piece fabric front inside and concave piece front out ( or vice versa). Folds will nest to line up centers.
Hi Joy Lily—Yes… the wonderful thing about quilting is that there are so many ways to do things! I essentially do the same thing you describe. After finding the halfway marks on both pieces, I then also find the quarter way marks and line those up too. Happy quilting! Sheri
Sherri, you are my idol!!! I love your precise, concise, down to earth approach,and find it very exciting. I’m learning fpp from your tutorial and can’t wait to try curved picing-already have the templates. I was amazed by you when I read about your commission about “What do women do? They hold each other up!”, and have known since then that you are the master quilter. Thank you So Much for Sharing yourself!!! Patricia Kendel
Hi Patricia—thanks so much for the kind words. I can’t wait to see your FPP projects! Be sure to email me a photo when you are ready to share. Happy piecing! Sheri
In looking at your photos above, I see you sew over your pins. I’ve been taught not to sew over pins and worry about hitting them and breaking the needle, or worse yet, jamming my machine, particularly when using a shorter stitch length. Do you use special pins and needles?
Hi April, Good question! Leaving my pins in while I sew is probably one of my worst sewing habits—I do try to remove them as I go, but I don’t always. If you can remember, it’s probably best to do so. Luckily I use pretty thin pins (link is above in the blog post) and while I do ocassionally hit one, I haven’t done any damage (yet). You are correct—always best to remove them and NOT run them over! Happy sewing! Sheri