Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mission Impossible: Exploring My Options For Piecing Curves

Good morning!  Now that all but nine of 48 foundation paper pieced arcs of flying geese have been made for Lars's graduation quilt, I've turned my attention to the next and final step of assembling the blocks: the two curved seams that attach each arc of geese to the dark purple background fabric.

First Completed Geese In Circles Block!  MEH!
In quilting (as in most things in life!), there is always more than one way to tackle a challenge.  I have three options in mind for piecing these curved seams, and each has advantages and disadvantages.  So I'm experimenting, but I've made a pact with myself not to rip anything out and start over unless it's REALLY bad...  And so, although that first block is not as smooth or as precise as I would like it to be, it's good enough and it's not getting redone.  So ONE block is done, and FORTY-SEVEN remain!  

Invisible Machine Applique a la Curved Piecing: Appliquéing the Geese to the Background Fabric

This first block was pieced using Harriet Hargrave's Invisible Machine Appliqué techniques as described in her classic book, and as I learned in a workshop that I was fortunate to take with her back in .  When Harriet uses her invisible machine appliqué method to accomplish curved piecing, she calls it "Curved Piecing a la Appliqué," and in her class we all used this method to make Drunkard's Path blocks. 

Basically, you adhere a freezer paper template without seam allowances to the reverse side of one block section, use fabric glue stick to smoothly turn the seam allowance along the curve and secure it to your freezer paper backing, and then you glue baste the prepared block section to the piece of fabric to which it must be attached.  With very fine 60/2 cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin (color matched to your BACKGROUND fabric) and monofilament thread in your needle, you sew a modified Vari-Overlock stitch (Stitch #3 on most Berninas, with Stitch Length .90 and Stitch Width .40, upper tension lowered to 3.0 on my 750QE due to the stretchiness of monofilament, and needle in center position).  I ended up increasing the width a smidge up to .60 with this block because initially, I was missing the edge of the geese arc that I was trying to appliqué to the background.

Vari-Overlock Stitch 3 Modified for Invisible Machine Applique, on my Bernina 750QE
Yes, there is a built-in stitch for invisible machine appliqué under the Quilting Stitches menu of our Berninas, but Harriet's modified Vari-Overlock stitch is better because there are fewer straight stitches between swing "bites" so the appliquéd piece is better secured, and Harriet's swing stitch is so slight that it just grabs a thread or two of fabric.  But for the needle holes (which will close up when you wash the finished project or if you dampen them with water), this stitch really is pretty darn invisible!  By the way, Harriet recommends using the smallest available home sewing machine needle, a size 60/8, with monofilament thread, for two reasons.  First, it gives you the smallest possible needle hole.  But even more importantly, the diameter of a sewing machine takes up space and the larger the needle, the farther away from your appliqué edge those background stitches are going to land.  As annoying as it is to thread the microscopic eye in a needle that is too small for your semi-automatic needle threader, it's worth it if you want to achieve machine stitched appliqué that looks like it was stitched by hand.  Or, in this case, machine stitched appliqué piecing that looks identical to traditional curved piecing!

Additional Stitch Setting Tweaks
In this screen, you can see that I've lowered the default tension for Vari-Overlock Stitch #3 from whatever it was initially to Harriet's recommended 3.0.  The triangle with the exclamation point is highlighted because I'm using my 5.5 mm stitch plate and have engaged the security feature of my machine to prevent me from choosing a 9 mm wide stitch and breaking a needle.  The MEM button is highlighted because I've saved the altered stitch to my Personal Memory or whatever it's called.  The two triangles button that's lit up is the Mirror Image button, and I've engaged that function to flip the switch so the swing bite goes to the LEFT for appliqué rather than to the RIGHT as you would want it to do for stitching a vari-overlock utility stitch.  Then there's that button with the picture of the sewing machine needle, which I've circled in purple because I ALWAYS forget this step.  After taking the picture, I touched that button and changed the needle position from -5 to 0.  That centers the stitch in the middle of my Open Embroidery Foot #20D.  My 750QE Bernina thinks I am using the overlock foot #2A and there is no way to tell it otherwise, but it's a lot easier to see what I'm doing if the stitch isn't forming all the way to the left, up against the left toe of my presser foot!

Okay.  Now that I've shown you how my machine is set up for invisible machine appliqué, I can tell you how I prepped my fabric for this first block (and why I WON'T being doing it that way for subsequent blocks)!  Step one, I carefully removed the foundation paper backing from one arced geese unit.

I Decided to Applique This Section to a 12.5 inch Background Square
My two choices for machine appliqué a la curved piecing would be to either appliqué the foundation paper pieced section to a 12 1/2" background square (this is what I tried first) OR  to applique the inside and outside curved background units to the edges of my foundation paper pieced section.  I tried this way first because I liked the idea of the 12 1/2" square block background remaining intact throughout stitching, keeping everything straight, stable, and square.  However, it was a royal pain in the keister trying to line my freezer paper template up correctly on the back side of the geese, struggling to get the freezer paper template exactly 1/4" in from the raw edges on all sides, just to adhere the template to the appliqué.

Back Side of Arced Geese Unit, Ready to Applique
Once the freezer paper was stuck to the back side, the real challenge was turning the seam allowance over the edge of the freezer paper template and sticking it down with fabric glue stick.  These are long, gentle curves, no clipping needed -- that wasn't the problem.  The problem was the bulk where seam allowances intersected at the outer triangle points.  I struggled, I swore, and I used too much glue.  

Glue Basting the Prepared Applique Section to the Background Block
Then I positioned the arc on my square of background fabric, basted it in place with dots of glue, and slowly stitched down both sides of the arc with the machine applique setup described at the beginning of this post.

Again, all was smooth sailing EXCEPT for the bulk where I was trying to turn the bulky seam intersections under at the outer triangle points.  

Bulky Seam Intersections Don't Want to Turn Smoothly
See what I mean?  I'm not going to rip this one out and do it over, but it took a long time to wrestle with lining up the freezer paper on the back of this piece and then battle the bulging seam bumps along both curved edges.  All that time would only be worth it if looked AMAZING when it was finished!

After Stitching, the Backing is Trimmed Away So You Can Remove the Freezer Paper
After both sides of the arc were stitched down, I used my duck billed appliqué scissors to carefully trim away the backing fabric behind the arc so I could remove the freezer paper.  This particular pair of scissors is specially designed for trimming away background fabric behind applique -- you cut with the wide, rounded blade on the bottom, and it hold your applique fabrics away from the blade action so you're cutting ONLY the background fabric and don't accidentally slice right through your applique!  I use this scissor for trimming behind hand stitched applique as well.

The seam allowances had to be released from the freezer paper at this point, which was difficult because I'd used SO MUCH GLUE when I was desperate to turn those bulky seam intersections that did not want to be turned!  But I moistened the edges with water and was able to free the fabric and remove the paper without too much tugging and distortion of the curved seams.

Completed First Block, Back View
Here's what it looks like when it's done.  From the back, it looks just like the block was made using traditional curved piecing methods.  And -- crucially -- the block is nice and square and measures exactly 12 1/2" x 12 1/2".

Not Bad From a Distance...
From a distance, those wobbles and imperfect outer triangle points aren't as noticeable.  In the finished quilt, if this is the worst block out of all 48, it will be totally fine.

Rotary Cutting and Traditional Curved Piecing

For the second block, I decided to try traditional curved piecing.  I was able to rotary cut the two purple background units because I coerced my handy husband into cutting my templates out of 1/4" acrylic sheets with his jigsaw.  I'll tell you more about that process in another post, though, because this one is already way too long and I'm not even finished yet.

Rotary Cutting With My Custom Acrylic Templates
I first cut a 12 1/2" square of fabric, then cut the convex curved unit from one corner of the square and cut the quarter oval shape from the opposite corner.  My acrylic templates have seam allowances included on all sides and -- bonus! -- because they are a full quarter inch thick, unlike commercially purchased rotary cutting templates that are only 1/8" thick -- I will be able to use these acrylic templates for ruler work quilting on my longarm machine later if I want to replicate these same curves with the quilting lines.  The dots you see on the template are those rubbery stick-on things that keep the template/ruler from slipping out of place as you're cutting.  

I did the L-shaped convex curve piece first, using a ridiculous but (in my experience) necessary number of pins to match the opposite curves precisely and smoothly, with no pleats or tucks in the seam.
Pinning for Curved Piecing
So far, so good, right?  The pinning is a bit fiddly and it took me a few minutes, but it's basically like sewing a princess seam in a dress -- except EASIER because here we only have 14" seam allowances on either side of the seam line, whereas if we were sewing a dress we'd have 5/8" of seam allowances flopping around and getting in our way.  The purple fabric is soft and floppy, since it hasn't been starched to death repeatedly throughout foundation paper piecing like the arc of flying geese has been...

I'm sewing this seam with my piecing straight stitch, by the way, using my 475QE Bernina because my 750QE is still set up for invisible machine applique.  I'm using a dark purple cotton piecing thread, a size 75/11 Quilting needle, my Patchwork Foot #37, and my trusty screw-down seam guide.

Piecing This Seam Was SUPER Easy...
This seam was so easy to stitch once it was pinned.  All I had to do was guide the raw fabric edges against my seam guide, lifting the presser foot to ever-so-slightly pivot now and again.  And it turned out great:
Traditionally Pieced Outer Curve on Block Two
That looks so much nicer than the machine appliquéd seam, doesn't it?!  Yes, I know I've not gotten each and every outer triangle point just PERFECTLY perfect, but again, we're on a deadline and this is not a show quilt.  What's more, the prep time for pinning required by the traditional curved piecing took much less time than I spent on appliqué prep on block one.  I was all jazzed to do the second seam, but alas --

Pinning the Second Seam Was Not So Easy
Y'all, my foundation paper piecing method uses LOTS of starch, on purpose.  Especially with these geese arcs, I did not want to risk anything stretching out of shape on bias edges or whatever, so I starched every time I pressed a seam open and then starched the whole thing again after trimming it.  This pieced unit is as stiff as a sheet of tagboard.  So stiff that it was near impossible to bend it and pin it to the convex curve of my quarter oval piece!

I finally got it all pinned and carefully sewed the seam, only to open it up and discover THIS nastiness:

This Is What Upside Down and Backwards Looks Like
UGH!!!!!  You guys, I sewed the bleepin' quarter oval piece on UPSIDE DOWN.  My seam was so nice and smooth and accurate, and I had to rip it out and start pinning all over again!  I continued to struggle with trying to ease the fullness of my stiffened pieced arc section to the purple piece, and this time I tried sewing with the purple on top and the geese on the bottom, by the feed dogs.

THAT'S More Like It!  Block Two, Traditional Curved Piecing
Either way, this seam is a bear to accomplish via traditional curved piecing due to the stiffness of the concave geese seam.  

Combining the Best of Both Methods

So here's what I'm planning for Blocks Three through Forty-Eight:  I'm going to sew that L-shaped piece to my geese arc using traditional curved piecing, because it was quick, easy, and yielded great results in terms of accurate finished block size and a smooth curve.  But for the other curved seam, I'm going to do the invisible machine appliqué method.  Instead of putting freezer paper on the back of the flying geese and appliquéing that piece on top of the purple, I'm going to put freezer paper on top of the purple quarter oval piece and applique that piece on top of the geese.  That should work a lot better because:

  • My template will have two straight sizes meeting at a right angle, with seam allowances included.  That will make it much easier to quickly line up the freezer paper on the back of the purple fabric and fuse it in place with the iron.
  • The single layer purple fabric will be easier to turn over the curved template edge than the bulky pieced unit, requiring much less glue
  • When I glue baste the purple appliqué shape to the edge of the flying geese unit, I will be able to SEE all of those triangle points that I want to just kiss the edge of the purple fabric.  Much easier to get those points just right when I can see them!
  • Stitching should be easier as well, because my applique shape won't have those speed bumps knocking me out of whack every time I hit a seam intersection
Another very important consideration in all of this is that my mom has graciously, valiantly committed to helping me get this done on time for Lars.  She is amazing, but she is a beginner quilter (has never made a quilt before).  As I've been working out how to assemble these blocks, I'm wanting a method (or methods!) that are beginner friendly and will yield beautiful and correctly sized finished blocks with a minimum of frustration and as little frog-stitching as possible.  I know my mom can pin and piece that L-shaped curve piece to the geese arc with no problems.  And I know she can machine applique that quarter oval piece down on the other side.  Between the two of us, I know we can get this quilt top together before I leave for Quilt Week on Easter Monday!

Some of you may be thinking that the machine appliquéd seam isn't very strong for a construction seam, and perhaps if I was using the built in applique stitch, you would be right.  I assure you that Harriet Hargrave's recipe for invisible machine applique using the altered Vari-Overlock stitch is VERY strong and secure, and by the time I quilt through all three layers of the quilt there isn't going to be any stress directly on those seams, anyway.  Harriet Hargrave isn't the only internationally known teacher who uses monofilament thread to invisibly applique curved seams together in her quilts.  The ground-breaking, award-winning quilting superstar Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry uses a similar technique with monofilament that she calls Appli-Piecing (she has a free tutorial on her web site here).  

Caryl Bryer Fallert's 1989 AQS Best of Show Winner
Some quilters just don't like using invisible monofilament thread, perhaps because they had bad experiences with the early versions of this thread that were introduced years ago, but I've used monofilament successfully on lots of projects and I'm not just a fan -- I'm an invisible thread GROUPIE.  If "applipiecing" with invisible monofilament thread is good enough for a quilt hanging in the National Quilt Museum, then it's good enough for my son's graduation quilt.  :-)

Well, tomorrow we're off on yet another college visit, so I'll not be working on this project again until Saturday.  Meanwhile, I'm linking up with:


·      Needle and Thread Thursday at  


·      Finish It Up Friday at
·      Whoop Whoop Fridays at

·      Finished Or Not Friday at


·      Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts 
·      Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts
·      Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt

·      Moving it Forward at Em’s Scrap Bag:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hey, Rebecca! This Is How You Prepare Your Quilt Backings! Reminders To Myself for Next Time

The flying geese arcs for my son's graduation quilt are coming along nicely.  39 are finished, and 9 more are needed.  Each paper pieced arc of geese is taking approximately an hour and a half to two hours to complete.  So this week, even before I finish piecing those arcs, I think I need to start cutting out the purple background fabric and working out the kinks of the curved piecing required to turn these arcs of geese into quilt blocks.

This Week's Accomplishments, Bagged, Labeled and Ready for Quilting
But meanwhile, I had some loose ends to tie up with other projects in progress.  Quilt backings!  Remember last week's post, where I said I "just" needed to press, cut into lengths, and seam the backing fabric for my pineapple log cabin quilt?  HAHAHA!!!  How easily I forget how challenging it is to wrestle with accurately measuring and cutting such long pieces of fabric.  It reminds me of trying to make drapery panels, without the help of the giant worktables in a drapery workroom.

I wasted a good hour consulting all of my different quilt books, my APQS Millennium manual and beginner's class notes, etc., trying to remember how much bigger the backing needed to be than the quilt top, whether the seam should be pressed to one side or pressed open, etc.  To save time on future projects, I'm going to be recording all of that information in this post where I can find it more quickly next time around.

  • Quilt Top Size + 12" Added to Each Dimension is My Ideal Backing Size.  
  • Quilt Top Size + 8" Added to Each Dimension is My Minimum Backing Size for Longarm Quilting.  
  • Canvas Leaders on my 12' APQS Millennium Quilting Frame Measure 131 1/2"
  • 126" is the Largest Quilt Top I Can Load on My 12' Frame

For my 120" x 120" pineapple log cabin top, I'm using a 45" wide fabric so I'll need three full fabric widths for my backing.  I did NOT prewash the backing fabric this time (due to the unwashed yardage and unwashed jelly roll strips used in the quilt top) and I wanted to cut it into 130" lengths to give me an extra 5" on all sides of the quilt (quilt top + 10") when I load it onto my longarm frame.  My canvas leaders on the 12' frame are only about 132" long, so this is pretty much my max size.  

I wanted the backing lengths to be exactly the same length so there would be no easing of one panel to the next (which would increase the opportunity for ugly puckers or pleats to form in the backing during quilting).  And I wanted my backing to be perfectly square and perfectly on grain, again because the more "perfect" I can make my backing, the LESS trouble I will have loading it straight and quilting it successfully.

Pattern Weights Hold Yardage In Place While I Measure Where to Make the Cut
So I tore the fabric to get straight of grain edges.  And I measured my 130" lengths by smoothing a length of fabric down the edge of my 97" table, marking the 97" point with a pin, and then shifting the fabric down another 33" to the place where I needed to snip and tear the fabric.  This worked well; when I pinned the lengths of fabric prior to seaming them, they were virtually the exact same length.  

Measuring 130 inch Lengths of Fabric on a 97 Inch Table
Needless to say, just cutting my yardage into the three panels I needed for the backing took a lot longer than I thought it would when I said "I just need to cut the backing fabric into lengths and seam them together."  

Pinning Backing Lengths for Seaming, Selvages Still Attached
Once I'd cut my backing into three equal lengths, I pinned them together along the selvage edges prior to seaming them.  Why?  Because of past experiences seaming long lengths of unpinned fabric together and the feed dogs ever so slightly shifting the bottom layer along faster than the top layer, that's why.  Dual feed helps with that, a walking foot helps with that, but the only 100% foolproof way to sew a 130" long seam without the layers shifting is to pin them together!  I leave the selvages on until after sewing the seams because my goal is a perfectly straight seam, and the selvages give me a very stable, straight edge from which to measure my seam line.  Selvage widths vary slightly from one fabric to another, so I set up my seam guide (this is the guide that screws into the bed of my machine) so that my seamline is approximately a half inch inside the selvage.  Yet another reason I prefer this seam guide to the ones that are attached to the presser foot itself -- I can use it for any width seam allowance, not just 1/4".  

Seaming Backing Panels with Seam Guide, Selvages Still Attached

  • Seam Backing Panels with Matching Thread, 50/3 or 50/2 Cotton, Using Piecing Straight Stitch #1326 (Stitch Length 2.0, or 10-12 stitches per inch) and Half Inch Seam Allowance. That's because, once pressed open, the thread may show in the seam.

After seaming the backing panels together, I trim away the selvages with my rotary cutter and acrylic ruler before pressing the seams open.  I experimented with using the pinking blade rotary cutter for this step, thinking it might make for a softer ridge at the edges of the seam allowances, but the pinking blade kept skipping even though it was a brand new blade.  I decided the straight cut works just fine.

Trimming Backing Selvages AFTER Seaming Panel Lengths
All of this prep work paid off with smooth, straight seams and a square, flat, appropriately sized backing.  

Trimmed and Pressed Open
The backing SEAMS measure exactly 130", but the pieced backing measures about 132" in the direction that is perpendicular to the seams -- three widths of fabric minus two seam allowances.  The backing will be loaded onto the longarm frame with the seams parallel to the roller bars so that backing seams are not wrapping around the rollers and building up bulk.  That means that I'll be pinning straight selvage edges to my canvas edges (snipping the selvage every few inches to relax the tighter weave) and the couple of extra inches of backing will be in the length of the backing rather than the width.  This is a good thing -- I do NOT want to get the end of quilting this monster only to realize that the backing is too short for the quilt!

Once I'd seamed the backing, pressed seams open, and given the entire backing a final pressing, I had to enlist my husband's help to get it folded and onto a hanger for storage.  I use the pants hangers we get from the dry cleaners for smaller quilts, but for the pineapple quilt top and its backing I needed to use the larger hangers that the dry cleaner gave me when I brought my linen tablecloths in to be cleaned.  

Just as I did with the binding kick I was on a few days prior, I got other backing fabrics ready for quilting while I was in Backing Mode.  My Modern Baby Clam Shell quilt is only going to measure 40" x 40", so that backing just needed to be pressed, folded on the hanger, and bagged with the binding strips and binding thread.

Pressing Baby Clam Backing for Storage; (Vintage Repair Top on Wall Behind)
The vintage quilt repair backing got prewashed in HOT water (since the fabrics in the quilt top have been subjected to so many washings over the years), pressed, seamed, folded and bagged with the binding strips and binding thread.

Vintage Quilt Backing Seamed and Ready to Load

And I attempted to do the same thing with the backing fabric for my Jingle quilt top, only to discover that I had nowhere near enough of that fabric to back that quilt with it!  Aargh!  

This Will Not Be My Jingle Backing Fabric, After All!
Well, better to find that out NOW rather than waiting until the day I hope to start quilting it, right?  I found a replacement 108" wide backing fabric for my 72" x 72" Jingle quilt, ordered 2 1/4 yards of it and prewashed it in the Sanitation cycle of my washing machine to shrink it as much as humanly possible.  All of the blocks and fabrics in the Jingle quilt top had to be repeatedly soaked in boiling hot water with Dawn dish soap to get all of the bleeding dye out, so I wanted to make sure that my backing had the opportunity to do all of its shrinking ahead of time, too.
New 108" Wide Backing Fabric for Jingle Quilt 
This will be fine.  Jingle was always meant for wall display, so no one is going to be looking at the backing fabric anyway.

So now, when I look in my guest bedroom closet, this is what I see:
These Are All Ready for Quilting!
There are three completed quilt tops in this closet that are neatly bagged along with everything needed to load them on the longarm and start quilting: Paint Me a Story, Jingle, and Pineapple Nostalgia.  There is also backing prepared and binding strips cut for the Vintage Repair quilt and the Modern Baby Clam Shell.  Everything is tagged with sizes and notes about batting, color matched binding thread is included with each one, too (I always forget that I'm going to want a strong, construction-weight matching thread for sewing down the binding) and even preliminary quilting thread selections for a couple of them.  Knowing that I have these projects ready to quilt and waiting for me when I return from Paducah Quilt Week in April feels really good -- I'm going to want to reinforce all of the new skills I've learned in my workshops, and I'm all set to do that by quilting real quilts, not just practice samples!

My To-Dos for Tuesday are:

  • Finish piecing the remaining nine flying geese arcs for Lars's Geese In Circles graduation quilt, which is due at my church office exactly two months from today (yikes!)
  • Cut out the curved purple background sections for all 48 blocks of Lars's quilt
  • Start removing foundation papers and piecing the blocks

Grad Quilt In Progress: Foundation Pieced Arced Flying Geese with Binding and Backing Fabrics
My 72 x 96 XL Twin Design for Lars's Geese In Circles Quilt
I really, really would like to have this top completely pieced before I head to Paducah on Easter Monday, which would give me all of May to get it quilted, labeled and bound in time for the May 26th deadline.  Wish me luck!

I'm linking up with:


·       To-Do Tuesday at Stitch ALL the Things:


·      Midweek Makers at
·      WOW WIP on Wednesday at


Needle and Thread Thursday at