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:


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I guess I have mainly done curve piecing the pinning method you have enough machine experience that you will have it all figured out in no time flat I bet and it will look perfect!

The Joyful Quilter said...

It's going to be stunning when done. All I can say is I hope he will realize how lucky he is!!

SJSM said...

That is a lot of work! I do see where the inner curve is easier to traditionally stitch. I’m not following how you are doing the outer curve and the freezer paper in the reverse. I’m sure when you show the pictures of your method I wil go, "oh! That’s what you meant." I’ve used Superior Threads monofilament with great success. I do like it. The quality of the thread is important. Getting your mom to help is great. I would help my daughter do such a thing and treasure the time together. I’m sure your mom feels the same way.

Have fun.

Lakegaldonna said...

Wow, your posts never fail to disappoint! I'm going to have to read this one again. I would also be afraid of the distortion going over the arcs where all the seams overlap. You are amazing.
I was fortunate enough to have a quilt in the AQS Daytona Beach show this year. I saw the Caryl Bryer Fallert quilt that you pictured IN PERSON at that show. It's amazing! I just wanted to stand there for a long time. All of her quilts are amazing.
Your quilt is amazing. Good luck on your time frame. With your mom helping it should work.

Janice Holton said...

Girl, the time and effort you put into research and finding the best way to do things is incredible! And THEN to document it all for your blog on top of that. You have to be one of the most detail conscious people I've ever "met"! :) But it also shows in your incredible creations. Thanks so much for sharing all of your processes and reasons behind why you do or don't do what you do. I always learn something.

PaintedThread said...

Wow - these flying geese blocks look great!

chrisknits said...

You area. master! I applaud your dedication to detail and form!!

Shannon said...

Wow! That is some amazing piecing!

Dione Gardner-Stephen said...

Thanks for sharing your process and research. I love your blog, it's like having a discussion with a helpful friend who loves quilting as much as I do.

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

Magnifique courbe, bravo ! Ce tissu est juste parfait avec ton vol d'oie, j'adore ;)

Preeti said...

I was with you completely till you started combining the two methods. I mean how are you supposed to appliqué something when there is nothing on the bottom?
Other than that, whatever Janice said.
Zeal of a Warrior, Sensitivity of an Artist.

CreationsbyPaulaMu said...

You are amazing!And I know Lars will appreciate your time and effort. It's going to be stunning!