Friday, June 23, 2023

Nann's Scrappy Largesse, Halo Quilt Progress + A Mini Curved Piecing Tutorial

I don't know about you, but when I've been slogging along forever on a project, trying to combine the same old scraps from my scrap bins in new ways to create blocks that don't look exactly like all the others on my design wall, there's nothing like a fresh injection of someone else's scraps to make the work feel fresh and exciting again.  

A month or so ago, Nann who blogs at With Strings Attached mentioned to me that she'd just finished reading a 1932 novel called The Sheltered Life by Ellen Glasgow.  When I expressed interest in reading the book, she offered to mail me her copy -- and she stuffed the flat rate postage box full of fabric scraps!!  I felt like I'd hit the scrappy jackpot!  I've been working in as many of Nann's scraps as possible and having a grand time with it.  Don't you love this sweet Wizard of Oz fabric?  The orange and blue arcs, pink quarter circle, blue and white dot, larger blue floral quarter circle, and the pink mini floral print are all Nann's fabrics in the block below.

This Block Contains 5 Scraps from Nann

In the block below, the yellow floral HSTs surrounding the blue center square are definitely Nann's, and I think that curved tumbler patch at the bottom that has sprigs of yellow flowers on a white background might also be from Nann.

Yellow Floral Print HSTs are Also Scraps from Nann

Although I've been busy long arm quilting this month, I've also had more social sewing opportunities on my calendar lately and that has really helped me keep the momentum going with this project.  Below you can see I have my Jen Kingwell Block Wrap all packed up with six different blocks planned out, ready to piece at a recent guild Sit & Sew event (this post contains affiliate links).  

I'm also using random Tupperware now to try to keep track of the random pieces of fabric I've cut so far that haven't yet made it into any of my blocks.  

Trying to Keep Organized...

Here's what the design wall looks like lately.  I'm trying to include a few planned elements in my Halo quilt that I really enjoyed from Jen Kingwell's original quilt (you can get the pattern in her Jenny From One Block pattern booklet here, and I highly recommend getting the template set as well, found here).  As in Jen's quilt, mine is going to have three blocks with all matching fabrics, three places where quarter circles and arc fabrics match at the block corners, and three places where the arcs at the block corners meet up to form a matching circle (but with scrappy centers).  This makes more sense visually than it does when I try to describe it in words:

Planning Where the Matching Patches Need to Go

Instead of having all of my completed blocks in solid rows and columns, I've spaced them out so I can plan for where I want those fabric matches to happen and then work on filling the remaining "holes."

So I was scrolling back through the thousands of photos in my iPhone and realized that I'd taken some step-by-step photos of how I'm handling the curved seams in these Halo blocks, but then I forgot to share them with you.  Without further ado:

Rebecca's Mini Curved Piecing Tutorial

The first thing I have to tell you is that pattern designer Jen Kingwell is a hard core hand piecer, and the easiest way (not the fastest, but the easiest!) is to hand piece the blocks.  There are little holes included on all of her acrylic templates for marking your fabric pieces for hand stitching, which makes it practically goof-proof.  While machine piecing is faster, the way that we stitch through seam allowances by machine creates bulky intersections at those points in the block where the square-in-a-square touches the center of the corner arcs.  When hand piecing, you stop right on the dot that marks the seam intersection and your seam allowances remain free, able to be flipped out of the way, making the center of that pieced concave curve more flexible and easier to work with.  Just throwing that out there for those of you who might be on the fence about hand vs machine piecing for this project.  This time around, I'm on Team Machine Piecing!

Two Curved Corner Seams Remain to be Sewn

The photo above shows how this block goes together.  First you construct the center square-in-a-square unit and attach the four curved "arms" to create a curved plus sign unit.  Each quarter circle corner piece gets a C-shaped arc attached to it, and then those quarter circle units get attached to the plus sign main body of the block with another curved seam.  This particular block has two corners remaining to be attached.

Chain Piecing for Efficiency; That's the Center of the Next Block

In the photo above, I've just finished a seam in what will be my next Halo block after this one.  To conserve thread and avoid triangle points getting chewed up down the needle hole of my stitch plate, I grabbed pieces from my next block rather than cutting my thread after sewing in the last curved corner.  Things to notice from this photo: I'm working with my Bernina 790 Plus sewing machine in my studio, which has the wider spaced feed dogs of a 9 mm machine.  Instead of using the 9 mm stitch plate that accommodates zigzags and fancy decorative stitches, I've put a straight stitch plate on my machine -- see how my needle is in the Down position, and the needle hole is just a little bigger than the diameter of my needle?  I only have the zigzag/wide stitch plate on my machine if I'm actually going to be sewing wide stitches or if I need to sew with my needle in an out of center position for some reason.

Other things to notice: I'm using Foot #97D, the 9 mm Patchwork foot with a cutout at the back to accommodate my machine's Dual Feed feature, and the Dual Feed mechanism is engaged.  However, I'm not using the screw-down seam guide that came with foot #97, that attaches to the bed of my machine.  For sewing curved seams, I want more visibility along the right edge of the foot right up to where the needle is penetrating the fabric.  My thread is Aurifil 50/2 cotton, plenty strong enough for a patchwork seam but thin enough that it's not bulking up my seams, and my needle is a Schmetz size 70/10 Microtex.  I'm also using piecing straight stitch #1326 on my Bernina 790+ (it may be a different stitch number on other models), which has a shorter stitch length of 2.0 and lower tension than the default straight stitch #1.  This gives me a straight, flat seam in my lightweight quilting cotton fabrics that doesn't pucker.

Step One: Match and Pin the Centers, This Side Up

I have folded my quarter circle corner piece to make a little crease marking the center of its arc, and matched that up with the seam intersection in the center of the concave curve to which I'll be attaching it.  I'm also looking to see that the corner point of my quarter circle piece is lined up with the bottom corner of that light pink HST at the bottom of the square-in-a-square unit.  I line it up like this carefully, with the raw edges touching just at that very center point, and then I very carefully flip the whole thing upside down on my table to secure the matched centers with a pin from the OTHER side.  This needs to be sewn with the flat quarter circle piece on the bottom and the gathered-up main body of the block on top.

Same Block Flipped, Pin Marking Aligned Centers

The kind of pins I'm using are important because I'll be putting a lot of pins in this seam, and if I was using the thicker dressmaking pins that would create a lot of distortion (and more potential for damage to my sewing machine).  I'm using Karen Kay Buckley's Shorter Perfect Pins, which are so fine they are like what a horticulturalist would use to mount a butterfly specimen for display.  

Clover Extra Fine Patchwork Pins Anchoring Both Ends

It's really important that the raw edges at the outer ends of the curved seam remain straight and aligned, so I'm using a longer 1 1/2" Clover Extra Fine Patchwork Pin there, woven in and out of the fabric like a couple of basting stitches.  Something else to notice -- see where the tips of my pins are exiting the fabric?  Right at or just inside where I'll be stitching my quarter inch seam.  Two opposite (concave and convex) curves will fight to get away from one another as you're trying to sew them together but the pins offer the most security at the points where they enter and exit your fabric.  Oh, and I am now remembering that the way I pin will look backwards to a lot of people.  That's not a mistake; this is what works best for me, pinning with the tip of the pin right where I will be stitching and the heads of the pins sticking out to the left.

Filling In with More Shorter Perfect Pins

The Battle of the Curved Seam is won or lost in preparation -- it's all in the pinning.  I find that it's easier to align and evenly distribute the top curve to the bottom piece below if I let the whole thing curve in my hand or on the curve of my thigh.  Pinning the two seams together takes a lot more time than actually sewing them, but it definitely gets easier and easier the more of them you do, I promise!  I'm filling in from that first center pin out to each of the pinned edges, placing one pin in the center between the two existing pins, then placing pins in the center of the spaces between those pins...  And because I have a stiffer seam intersection right at the center of my curve, I always place an additional pin about 1/4" to 1/2" away on either side of the center to make sure I get a smooth curve at that spot where it doesn't want to flex as easily.

All Pinned and Ready to Sew

That's what it looks like when I finish pinning, and now I have to get that three-dimensional voodoo sculpture under the presser foot of my sewing machine.  Again, see how this would be easier to hand piece, since you could hand stitch that seam without having to flatten the curve first?

Smooshed Up to Flatten the Seam for Machine Sewing

That's how I smoosh the excess fabric up so I can get the block under the foot of my sewing machine.  Yes, I am going to sew over these pins, but they are so slender and fine and I am going to be sewing so slowly that there is no chance of causing damage to my sewing machine.  If my needle hits a pin at turtle speed, it's going to deflect.  Worst case scenario, I will get an occasional bent pin and have to throw that one away.

Chain Piecing Onto the Start of the Curve

So now you see how I left that bit of the other block attached to my machine and just started stitching right onto the start of my curved seam.  I am only watching and caring about the fabric that is right under my needle and presser foot and the fabric about a half inch in front of my presser foot.  I want to be sure that the raw edges of both fabric pieces stay perfectly aligned and that those raw edges are lining up at the very right edge of my 1/4" patchwork foot, every stitch of the way.  Sorry I couldn't get you pictures of how my hands are guiding the fabric through the machine (I needed to hold the camera!), but my left hand is on the bulk of that wadded up mess and my right hand is holding a stiletto tool that I neglected to get a picture of...

Both Raw Edges Align with Right Edge of Presser Foot, Every Stitch of the Way

The key to success is to make sure that both raw fabric edges are just barely visible at the right edge of the presser foot with each stitch, going slowly and pivoting as often as necessary.  Don't try to worry about controlling the whole unruly thing all at once, just watch that fabric is where it's supposed to be right when it's coming up to the needle.  The Bernina FHS Free Hands System (the knee bar that lifts the presser foot) makes it so much easier to do this without having to take my hands off the work.  If you're new to sewing curves and you have a tendency to go too fast when you're nervous, try slowing your machine down to half speed for the curves if your machine has that feature (there's a slide speed control on most Berninas).

As you're sewing the curve, you'll notice that the top fabric wants to pull away to the right instead of raw edges remaining aligned, and that's where my stiletto tool comes in.  It's just a pointy stick that I can use to drag that top fabric back where it belongs right before it goes under the presser foot to be trapped in place forever by the seam.  There are lots and lots of different stiletto tools on the market, but my preference is for one that is either sharp, rubbery, or sticky somehow -- it has to be able to actually grab onto the top fabric and drag it back where it belongs.

Anyway, that's the end of my Mini Tutorial.  I hope that helps anyone who might be struggling with this step on their own.  Like I said, with the first block I thought "this is insane no way am I doing this for 36 blocks," but then the more of them you do, the muscle memory develops and it becomes an automatic process that you're not even really thinking about anymore.  Each one really does turn out a little better than the last one.

One more thing that will be helpful to beginners is to choose soft, flexible fabrics to work with.  I know we all love the 365+ colors of Kona Solids, but those are thicker, stiffer fabrics and they will fight you more on the curves.  Softer, supple fabrics will ease into the curves better and be a lot more forgiving.

And now, do you see what I'm doing?  Are you impressed with my restraint?  I am ending this blog post right now instead of launching into a completely different topic for another 1,500 words, even though I have at least sixteen amazing clients' quilts that I am dying to share with you.  I'm saving those for another day.  Meanwhile, I'm linking up today's post with my favorite linky parties, listed below, as well as with .  Have a great weekend and happy quilting!


Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More

Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts

Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre

Beauty Pageant at From Bolt to Beauty

 TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: TGIF Friday


Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework


Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  


Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter


Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  

Tips and Tutorials on the 22nd, open 22nd through end of each month at Kathleen McMusing


Gretchen Weaver said...

Your Halo quilt is beautiful! The infusion of Nann's fabrics gave you a new burst of creativity! Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself, cut up fabric into little pieces then sew them together. When I view the finished project, I think to myself, "this is why I do this". That is how you are going to feel with Halo. Of course you'll drive yourself nuts deciding how to quilt her but I'll leave those comments for another day.

Anonymous said...

I had no clue that my BERNINA had a special stitch for piecing! Excellent tutorial. I am not a piecer but I totally get how your pins are important. Good to know that I need two kinds of pins for two different purposes. Thank you!

The Joyful Quilter said...

I'm not at all surprised that Nann shipped you a box of fabric scrap. After all, she needed to protect the book somehow, Rebecca!! :o))
Your Halo quilt is coming along beautifully and Nann's scraps fit right into the mix. Thanks for the Halo piecing mini tutorial! It should prove helpful when I finally begin my own quilt.

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

great tutorial - you should link that up to Kathleen's tips and tutorials I think the link is still open.
the colors are so delightfully scrappy and although it looks like a lot of work you will be so pleased with it in the end.

Anonymous said...

That was an excellent tutorial. I bought Jen's book just for the Halo quilt. Thank you!

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

It's looking fabulous, Rebecca!!!!

Chantal said...

What a lovely quilt this will be. I love the idea of the 3X3 blocks that will be different from all the others. Thanks for the tutorial. You make it sound so easy. Enjoy! ;^)

LA Paylor said...

whee! love love love this! keep going... then make one for me! LeeAnna

Melisa- pinkernpunkinquilting said...

Such sweet and cheerful blocks. I love the fabrics you are using, Rebecca. Great idea on using the Tupperware too.

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

I love how you incorporated some of Nann's scraps, they look fabulous in your blocks! I love how your design wall displays all the current blocks, it going to be a gorgeous quilt.
Thankyou for sharing the tutorial and linking up!

dq said...

How wonderful that you received scraps in the mail - that is super fun! Those pieces fit into your quilt perfectly.

Thank you for the tuturial. I have not started the Halo quilt yet, getting finishes instead and trying to decide on fabric for it as well.

Did you read the book yet. I am wondering what you thought about it said...

Loved your tutorial!

Sara said...

Wow! Amazing quilt! I'm currently doing some curved piecing, and find that the smaller the curves the harder it is. So you are skilled!!!

Linda Enneking said...

That was an excellent tutorial. I have never used curved seams in piecing, but have done them many times in other sewing projects. You're right, it's all in the pinning. And I didn't think your way of pinning was backwards, it's exactly the way I would do it for setting in a sleeve. Putting the pins in perpendicular helps to control the ease so there are no puckers and it also makes it easy to remove the pins with my left hand as I sew.

LIttle Penguin Quilts said...

That's going to be a beautiful quilt, Rebecca! I love the scrappiness of it, and how fun that Nann sent you some of hers, too. Your tips for sewing all those curves are amazing - I never would have thought about the type of pins to use. Keep going!

Sandy said...

I'm really late reading this, as I was away with almost no internet access, but I really enjoyed reading your explanation of stitching curved seams! I have had amazing disasters with this, but I'm going to give it another try at some point, and I'll refer back to your tutorial. :)

Marie said...

Love your Halo! It's making me think that it's high time I got back to mine. And just for the record, there is nothing better that getting scraps from your sewing buddies (our gang calls is klepto quilting...). I've never seen Jen's little carriers for moving blocks but now I think I need some!

Linda @ kokaquilts said...

How lovely to be able to use scraps from another quilter, and so generous of Nann. Loving your halo blocks, such a delightful mix of fabrics & colour! And thanks for the tutorial, I enjoyed reading it. I have tried curved piecing a few times, but not nearly as many times as you are undertaking here!

Pat at Bell Creek Quilts said...

What a great way to use Nann's scraps and thanks for the tutorial!

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

How sweet of Nann to send you scraps with the book! I love how you incorporated them into Halo. Your techniques for sewing curves is right on--great tutorial. Thanks for sharing on my weekly show and tell, Wednesday Wait Loss.

Kathleen said...

Fabulous tutorial on machine piecing curves. The key is in the pinning and going slow as you say. Thanks so much for linking up to Tips and Tutorials!