Curves Ahead: Freeform curves

It’s about time to kick off this sewing curves series and we’re going to start with (what I think is) the easiest of curves: freeform.  You’re in complete control of how curvy your pieces are, how wide they are and how simple (or complicated!) the whole piece is.

Let’s start with what you’re going to need:

  • rotary cutter
  • cutting mat
  • 3-5 different fabrics that coordinate (fat quarters or scraps)
  • sewing machine/coordinating or neutral thread
  • pins, optional
  • snips
  • iron/ironing board/fabric spray

Start by giving your fabrics a bit of a press with a touch of spray starch/Best Press for some added stability. It isn’t vital and lots of people do without it, but I use it so that my fabrics don’t stretch or fray as much as they might otherwise.

Now lay two of your fabrics on the cutting mat, overlapping by at least two inches.


With a nice, fresh, sharp blade in your rotary cutter, cut a smooth curve from side to side, through both fabrics.


Remove the extra bits from both fabrics and move to match up the curves. Now mark a little line at a couple of places along the curve, including the top and bottom of the curve. These will serve as your guides to make sure it comes together right.


Flip one fabric onto the other, right sides together. This is where some people pin. You have to pin very close together and work the fabric so it will ease into each other as the curves form.  I think it’s obnoxious and unnecessary, but I’ve been known to do things differently than others anyway.

  
If you want to try it my way, you can still get a pretty darn accurate match by using your hands to guide the fabric. Hold the top fabric up so that they only touch as they go under the foot. You will use both hands to feed it through. Keep an eye on your markings and put a little tension on on whichever layer is convex at the time.

Press seam allowance away from curve.Ta-dah!  Your first curved piece.  Now let’s try it again with a couple wonky curves in it.  You’ll do the exact same thing but with an additional wave in it. You can press the seam allowances all in one direction and with a little steam for a beautiful finish.  

Keep going with your gentle curves, varying the width and depth as you go.

The more you practice with little bits, the better you’ll get, so don’t be afraid to put those scraps and what-was-I-thinking fabric choices to use.  Add in a little wonky quilting and you’re good to go!

Dear Jane: My Favorite EPP Tools and Tips

I’m still plugging along, albeit very slowly, on my Dear Jane and already I’m a whole month behind. I’m trying not to panic, but I may have set up a little morning stitching time if I ever plan to keep up. Sheesh.

Work life has been busy lately with Road to California and this past week’s trip to Sewposium in Orlando. If I were thinking more clearly, I would have brought a couple of the Dear Jane blocks on the plane with me. Five-plus hours each direction is plenty of time to get some sewing done, but instead I read the entirety of A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Then I got bronchitis and still didn’t sew anything.

But I digress. Let’s talk English Paper Piecing (EPP).

This sewing/quilt-making technique has been around for  at least a couple hundred years, which seems both crazy and wonderful. I love the long history of textile arts, somehow connecting a thread between generations and continents, preserving a craft, an art for the future as well.  Luckily for us, these days, we have the high quality tools and this lovely thing called the Internet to make it a bit easier than the ladies had it back in the 1800s.

If you’re just getting started with EPP, or struggling a bit with it, let me tell you what I use and do to make it a fun and not-so-laborious venture.

•   Kai 4″ Scissors  

Small and sharp, these 4 1/2″ serrated scissors come with a cover that keeps them safe and easy to stash in the zipper pouch. Perfect for trimming pieces and clipping threads.

•   Clover Wonder Mini Clips  

I use a Wonder Clip on on the opposite end of the seam I’m stitching to keep the washi tape in place.

•   Washi Tape

Since I sew my pieces flat and washi tape keeps the seam aligned and even without trying to use pins.

•   Bottom Line thread  

Honestly, this is my favorite EPP thread by far. There are a few lightweight threads designed specifically for the task, but the Superior Threads version is super strong and never snaps. You can get it on pre-wound bobbins or spools.

•   John James needles

I like this brand, but as proven by the needle testing we did for Sew,Mama,Sew, it really is personal preference. I like a slightly longer needle without a sharp butt (I’m prone to stabbing it into my finger).

As I mentioned, I prefer to sew my pieces together when they are flat. I can get a tighter stitch that is not seen from the front. I used to simply try to clip it together, but they would slide apart. I started using blue tape because it doesn’t stick to the fabric. I switched to washi tape for the cuteness factor only.

Here’s a pictorial rundown of how I sew my pieces:

First, I pin the pattern piece to whichever fabric it needs to be made with. I’ve coded these as BG=background and G= grey.

I cut the fabric pieces as I go, trimming there to a heavy 1/4″ seam allowance. They are rarely even and often not-quite-straight, but in the end it doesn’t matter at all.

Using an obvious-color thread, I stitch right through the Dear Jane paper template. For my hexagons, apple cores, etc. I do not stitch through the paper, but because this project will live for a long time in a box and there are a lot of triangles and squares, I want to make there that papers don’t shift as I sew and then store them.

I get each square going by sewing just two pieces at a time. As I get pairs together, I’ll start putting the pairs together. No matter the order of assembly, all the seams start this way.

From the right side, I tape the pieces together, making sure the edges are even and correctly aligned.  Then I clip the end that I’ll sew last o that it all stays in place as I make my way across the seam. One of the issues I have when I don’t do this is that the pieces shift ever so slightly and the end won’t match.

I start by knotting the thread and securing it away from the corner/edge. Then I stab the needle through the very corner of each piece.

Working my way across the edge, I take tiny stitches, then tug them tight. It might look a little crazy-making, but once you get a rhythm going they piece together pretty quickly.  In the end, the stitches look fine from the back and are invisible from the right side.

  

I toss these back into my little zip pouch and keep putting them together, two pieces at a time until the block is finished. Now that life is a little more on-track, I’m hoping to get a few of these done this week. I’ve already got the templates for Rows B and C waiting for me, so I have to try to catch up a bit!

Are you doing the Dear Jane, too? How are your blocks coming along? Check out everyone else’s blocks on Instagram with a quick search of @dearjanegoesepp.

Just keep stitching!