I love old cars. My preferred vintage automobile is a 1965 Mustang. What do old cars and quilts have to do with each other? Bear with me for a few paragraphs and I’ll explain.
I’m a retired high school educator. If you took any of my classes, invariably at some point, you would write a research paper.
I was trying my best to get these kids ready for college. I had a student who was as passionate about old Volkswagen Beetles as I was about old Mustangs.
Her research paper covered the history of the VW Bug and for her senior project, she and her father rebuilt a Volkswagen from the frame up. She drove it to school the day she presented her project. Years later, I am still in awe of the paper and the project. It was one of those rare occurrences when the teacher learned far more from the project than the student did.
I learned the Volkswagen Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porche (yes…that Porche…the same one who created the snazzy sports car). He wanted the car to appeal to everyone, so he did a little covert research. He would station himself outside at a café or park at a table. On the table he would place shapes … squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, etc. Then he would ask the folks passing by which shape they liked the most. The majority of them liked the circular forms.
Thus, the rounded shape of the VW Bug was born.
The tie-in between old cars and quilts is this: Circles. Automakers like circles. So do quilters. Circles are attractive shapes no matter what you’re making (like cookies…most cookies are circles…so are pies and cakes). Circles are everywhere – the bakery, in the middle of some flowers, the sky, the playground, cars, jewelry, architecture, etc. Circles are the third most appearing shape in nature (the first is the hexagon). Half-circles appear as arches in architecture. Chances are, no matter if you’re a piecer or an appliquer, you’ve made or seen quilts with circles. Circles can seem challenging, no matter if you’re piecing them or appliqueing them. However, don’t let the absence of corners or points intimidate you. If you know how to handle the curves, circles are no harder to applique or piece than their square-ish counterparts. This blog will deal with applique circles. I’ll write one on pieced circles later.
We worked with raw-edge applique circles earlier this year (go here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/04/13/the-final-steps-in-raw-edge-applique/ ). Generally, these circles are straight forward: Draw the needed size circle on the fusible, cut it out, fuse to the wrong side of the fabric, cut the fabric circle out, fuse into place, then either zigzag or buttonhole stitch around the circle. Larger circles with gentle curves are easier. Small circles with tighter curves sometimes have to be sewn one stitch at a time.
Finished-edge applique circles – no matter whether if they’re to be sewn down by hand or machine – seem to have nearly endless construction possibilities.
In this blog, I will attempt to cover ten ways to make these circles, but keep in mind there’s probably more ways to construct circles than I have in this blog. Every time I think I have learned all the methods available, I find out there’s more.
Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles
These circles come in two sizes – small-to-medium and large. Karen also has Perfect Ovals, if you need a more elongated type of circle.
These forms are made from heat-resistant plastic. The original set of circles contains 15 different sizes (7/16-inch to 2-inches), with four plastic templates of each size.
The larger circles are also made from heat-resistant plastic and range in size from 2 ¼ to 4 ½-inches. Besides use in applique, these are great for constructing the Mariner’s Compass and as a template for Drunkard’s Path.
Perfect Ovals (which are great for making flower petals), are made from heat-resistant plastic, and each pack contains 20 ovals in 10 sizes, two of each size.
This system is the circle-making-method I was introduced to when I began applique. I take the plastic circle disk, and trace around it on the wrong side of the fabric.
Then I cut the circle out. Don’t cut directly on the drawn line but leave about a ¼-inch fabric margin around the line.
Thread a needle (helpful hint: hand quilting thread works GREAT here) and hand sew a running stitch around the circle, between the outside edge and the drawn line.
Insert the plastic disk in the center of the circle and pull thread up around it.
On the wrong side of the fabric-covered disk, and using a small paintbrush, I dampen the edges with starch or a starch substitute, then press with a small iron.
Once the fabric has cooled, I remove the plastic disk. I may have to re-shape the circle a little, if removing the disk makes the circle a little wonky. Between any needed reshaping and sewing then it down, the circle comes out about as perfect as possible.
Like everything, Perfect Circles/Ovals have their pros and cons. The pros are:
- You can make more than one of the same sized circle at a time.
- The heat-resistant plastic is sturdy and holds up to some serious abuse.
- These can be found on Karen’s website, at your LQS, and on quilting websites.
- They’re not terribly expensive.
- Karen Kay Buckley’s products come from a woman-owned business.
The cons are:
- You are limited to the sizes available in the packages. If I can’t match the size Perfect Circle to what I need, I either go with the next size up or down. However, in some quilts, this is not possible. I’ve needed some fabric circles as tiny as 3/16-inch and the Perfect Circles are not this small.
- You are limited in how many circles you can make. The original Perfect Circles have four of each size and the larger Perfect Circles have two of each size. If you’re constructing a quilt with lots of circles, it may take you a long time to make the number of circles you need.
- Whether you’re making three circles or thirty circles, this process takes time.
These little circle-makers are the new kids on the block. Applipops are a set of nesting metal washers. They’re easy to use. You find the washer which corresponds to the size circle needed, then find the washer one size up from this, so the two will nest snugly together.
Cut a square of fabric larger than the washers and place it right side down in the larger washer. Insert the smaller washer inside.
Trim away the excess fabric.
Then with a small paint brush and some starch or starch substitute, thoroughly wet the edges of the fabric. Immediately press the fabric edges in, towards the center of the Applipop.
Once the metal washers have cooled (because they will be really hot), you can pop them apart and admire your circle.
The Applipop Pro Set (which is what I have) makes eight circle sizes – 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, 1 1/4 “,1 1/2″, 1 3/4″, and 2”.
Here are what I consider the pros and cons of the Applipop Method.
- Because the Applipops are constructed from metal, they conduct the heat from the iron really well. This means your circle edges are sharp and don’t get out of shape easily.
- I find these easier to use than the Perfect Circles…and this is a difficult thing for me to admit, because I adore Karen Kay Buckley.
- They come with a holder, so it’s simple to keep them organized and all together.
- This method is pretty fast so you can make your circles quickly and easily.
- If you have lots of scraps, this method works well to turn those scraps into super-nice circles.
- Applipops is a woman-owned business.
- You can only make one size circle at a time unless you have the Applipop Pro Set or two sets of the regular Applipops.
- While the metal conducts heat well, it also retains heat—which means you need to let everything cool completely before removing the Applipop.
- They are pricey, the costs running anywhere from $35.00 to nearly $60.00 depending on what kind of set you purchase and where you buy it from. However, unlike heat resistant plastic which may warp over time and use, the metal lasts forever.
- You are limited to the sizes available. Unlike Perfect Circles, the Applipops have bigger “jumps” between sizes. To get the needed size, it may not be possible to use the next size up or down – there may be too much of a difference.
- It’s easy to get pleats on the front of your circle if you’re not careful.
English Paper Piecing
This method is definitely “old school.” You’ll need some card stock, a pencil, a pair of paper scissors, a hole punch (optional), needle, thread, starch or a starch substitute, a small paint brush, small iron, and something to make your circles – a compass, a circle template, drinking glass, coffee cup – any circular shape which is the same size as the needed circle.
On the card stock, draw a circle the same size you need for your project. I use a hole punch to make a hole in the template. The hole makes it easier to remove the template from the circle after it’s made.
Place the template on the wrong side of your fabric and trace around it. A small piece of double-sided tape may come in handy here to keep the cardboard template in place.
Cut out the fabric circle about ¼-inch away from the drawn line. With a hand sewing needle and thread, sew a running stitch between the fabric edge and the drawn line. Insert the cardboard template in the fabric circle and gently pull up the thread so it gathers around the cardboard and tie off the thread to hold the shape. With the paintbrush, apply starch around the edges of the fabric. Using a hot iron, press the edges until dry to help the circle hold its shape. Allow to cool. At this point, personal choice can be used. If you want to make enough cardboard templates for every circle, you can leave the templates in until you’re ready to applique the circle down. If not, you simply pop the cardboard circle out. Here’s where the hole in the middle comes in handy – you simply insert a seam ripper, a stiletto, or my personal favorite – The Purple Thang – and remove it without a lot of fuss or the fabric circle losing its shape.
There are a couple of ideas to be aware of with this method. First, if you have any kind of scan and cutter, such as Brother Scan and Cut or Cricut, many times these can be programed to cut the size circle needed. You can make an entire 8 ½ x 11-inch sheet of circles with a touch of the button and repeat the process until you have all you need. If you have an Accuquilt cutter, there are circular dies, but the sizes are limited. Still, it’s faster than cutting everything out by hand. Second, it’s awfully tempting to use left-over lined index cards or those cardboard inserts that come in magazines or clog your mailbox.
The ink from the ruled lines or the advertising inserts may transfer itself to the fabric when you wet the edges with starch. And that makes a mess
ask me how I know.
Here are what I consider the pros and cons of the English Paper Piecing Method.
- You get the exact size circle needed.
- You can produce as many as you need in an assembly-line fashion.
- If you have some type of electric scanner and cutter, you can produce as many templates as you need with a touch of the button. Easy and accurate.
- Most of the card stock templates will only hold up to a few uses, so you must plan on making lots of templates.
- This method is probably takes the longest because there are so many steps you must undertake by hand. Even if you have a scanner and cutter, this type of circle-making takes time.
- I don’t think you get the crisp edges with this method that you do if you use Applipops or Perfect Circles.
Apliquick/Glue and Orange Stick Method
If I have to make a lot of circles, this is my preferred method. I find it both quick and accurate. I will add a caveat to this: I’ve used this the Apliquick technique for a long time. If you’re new to this method, you may find it takes a little while to get used to it. For this method, you’ll need some fusible interfacing or stabilizer, the Apliquick tools or two orange sticks, a circle template in the size needed, pencil, scissors, iron, fine grit sandpaper or a sandpaper board, and a glue pen such as Sew Line.
On the non-fusible side of the interfacing or stabilizer, draw the number and sizes of circles needed. Cut out on the line.
Fuse the circles to the wrong side of the fabric, leaving about ½-inch between circles and let cool. Cut the circles out, allowing for about ¼-inch fabric margin around the circle.
Place the circles on the sandpaper (this helps keep them in one place while you’re turning the edges) and using the glue pen, add a line of glue to the stabilizer. Hold the circle in place with the Apliquick tool that looks like a fondue fork or one of the orange sticks. Use the other Apliquick tool or second orange stick to turn the edges over and press so the fabric sticks to the glue.
It works better to do a small section at a time and it’s okay if the fabric on the wrong side of the circle has some pleats – these won’t show on the right side. You may need to smooth the edges just a bit with a fingernail.
- You get the exact size circle needed.
- This method lends itself to assembly line production
- It is scrap-friendly
- It’s fast
- If you don’t have a few of these notions already in your applique toolbox, this method can be a bit pricey. I don’t recommend purchasing the Apliquick tools until you know you really like this method and will use it.
- This method takes a while to get comfortable with. If you need lots of circles quickly, you may want to use a technique you’re familiar with until you’ve practiced a bit.
Tale as old as time … that’s what needle turn is to applique. This is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest hand applique method out there. You will need a circle template in the size needed, a fabric pen or pencil, applique thread to match the fabric, and applique pins. The method is simple. Draw a circle the size needed on the right side of the fabric. Cut it out, with about ¼-inch margin of fabric around it.
Pin or baste in place. Then using the needle turn method, applique into place, making sure to follow the drawn line.
That’s it. Easy-peasy.
- This probably the easiest method of circle production
- It requires no fancy-smancy tools
- It’s a fairly quick method of circle-making.
- If you don’t constantly follow the drawn line, the circle will come out wonky. Most of the time if I use this method, I will also draw the circles on my background fabric. This way I have both the line drawn in the circle fabric and the one drawn on the background fabric to go by.
- The edges of these circles are not as crisp as the ones made by the other methods.
- I find making small circles via needle turn difficult and no matter what, they don’t come out smooth.
Most of us appliquers are familiar with the freezer paper technique. Either we’ve used it ourselves, or we’ve heard enough about it to be familiar with it. That said, I’ve never been particularly successful using freezer paper in the circles. I always use it on top of the right side of the fabric. For this method, you’ll need freezer paper, pencil, paper scissors, a circle template in the size needed, and an iron.
Using the circle template, draw the size circle needed on the non-waxy side of the freezer paper. Cut out and press to the right side of your fabric. Now cut out the fabric circle out, leaving about ¼-inch of margin.
Pin into place on the background fabric. Using the freezer paper template as a guide, turn under the fabric and applique down (the same way you would for needle turn).
- Most of what you need should already be in your applique toolbox
- Most freezer paper circles can be reused several times before the waxy underside loses its “stickiness.”
- You can “assembly line” several circles at a time
- This method makes any size circle possible
- Like needle turn, smaller circles are more difficult to make smoothly
- You must follow the form of the freezer paper circle closely or your circle will turn out wonky. Like with needle turn, if I use this method, I also draw the circle on the background fabric as an additional guide.
- The edges are not as crisp as with other methods
I use this method the least, because I find it only works best with large-ish circles. Lined circles use a piece of sew-in interfacing and a sewing machine. For this method, you’ll need a circle template the size of the needed circle, medium weight sew-in interfacing (you can use fusible interfacing if careful), a fabric marker, your sewing machine, and hand sewing supplies.
Using the template, draw the size circle needed on the wrong wide of the fabric and cut it out, with ¼-inch fabric margin. Then with the same template, draw a circle on the interfacing and cut it out, again leaving a ¼-inch margin.
Place the fabric circle and the interfacing circle right sides together. Using a small machine stitch, sew around the drawn circle.
To turn the circle inside out, cut a small slit in the interfacing and use that to turn the circle.
Once the circle is turned right-side out, press it.
- You can make a lot of circles fairly quickly
- Most the supplies are probably already in your quilt studio. Those which may be needed are inexpensive.
- You may find sewing the circle on top of a piece of stabilizer will result in a smoother edge.
- I have only had success with this method on large-ish circles. Smaller ones tend to get eaten by the feed dogs or are too fiddly to sew well.
- Sew-in interfacing works best. Fusible can be used if you press carefully and make sure the fusible side is next to the wrong side of the fabric. Otherwise you’ll fuse the circle to your ironing surface. And it’s easy to get wrinkles you can unfuse with fusible interfacing.
There are a few “non-traditional” methods to make circles. I’ve always said outside of the LQS, a quilter’s best shopping spots to find things to use are office supply places and hardware stores. For circles, you may want to plan a visit to your local hardware.
These are the types of metal washers I mean:
If you like the Applipop method, but find they don’t come in the sizes you need, a stroll down the nuts, bolts, and washer area in your local hardware may produce some substitutes. These can be used in the same way Applipops are, however, there are a couple of factors about regular washers to keep in mind if you chose to use them. If push comes to shove and you can’t make them work with the Applipop method, you can still use the metal washers, just treat them the same way you would Perfect Circles.
- Make sure the washers are made from stainless steel. The washers will get wet from the starch used and regular washers will rust. Stainless steel ones won’t.
- These washers may be thicker than the Applipops.
- The inner circles on these washers are smaller than Applipops and the outer rim is fatter. Make sure they’ll nest properly.
- You can make lots of circles in all different sizes
- This is a fairly inexpensive method, and the washers can be reused
- You may have difficulties finding stainless steel washers which will nest
- The thicker washers may not give the desired look.
Mylar washers look like this:
And some of them are heat-proof – which is not the same as heat resistant. Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles are heat resistant – meaning you can use an iron on them, and they won’t melt or warp (at least not for a long time or unless they’re in continual use). Heat-proof mylar washers may melt or warp from the direct heat of an iron. So how do we use them to make circles if we can’t use an iron? Use the same method as Perfect Circles, but instead of pressing the edges with an iron, saturate them with starch or a starch substitute and let dry overnight. If I use this method and need my circles in a hurry, I have employed the aid of my blow dryer.
- This is a relatively inexpensive way to make lots of circles in all sizes
- These are easily assembly-lined
- Mindless prep – plan to binge watch something while constructing them
- Mylar washers can be reused
- May not produce as crisp of an edge as desired
- Circles may need re-shaping after the washers are removed
- Must be completely dry before removing the mylar washers
I’ve used this method before I discovered how to use Apliquick to make small circles. This is a great way to make lots of tiny circles. As with the metal washers, be sure to use a nail which won’t rust – such as aluminum or stainless-steel nails.
For this method, you’ll need nails which have the same size head as the circle you need, aluminum foil, starch or starch substitute, and nails.
Cut the circle the size of the nail head, plus ¼-inch. Completely saturate the circle with starch or starch substitute.
Cut a square piece of aluminum foil large enough for the circle to rest on, plus about ½-inch margin. Lay the fabric circle on the foil.
Place the nail head on the circle.
Then crimp the aluminum foil around the nail shank and let dry overnight.
- You can make lots of circles at the same time
- This method lends itself to assembly line prep
- This is a good way to make lots of small circles
- The nails can be reused
- Again…plan on something to binge-watch
- Watch out for the nail points…
- The circles may need reshaping a little after the nail is removed
- The fabric should be completely dry before removing the circle from the nail
With both the mylar washer method and the nail method, I plan to let my starch-saturated fabric at least dry overnight. This means a little more advanced planning if you use either of these methods.
Just like with the VW Beetle, circles are great shapes to use in a quilt. They are used in so many applique quilts. You see them in flower centers, grapes, oranges, and berries. They appear as bubbles and balls and balloons – and the list goes on. If you applique at all, chances are, you’ll have to make some circles at some point. With so many different methods available, I encourage you to find the method which works best for you and perfect it as much as you can. However, I think it’s also important to have several methods in your applique toolbox. I use different methods depending on the size circle I need to make.
Just remember, if circles could make a car famous…imagine what they can do for your quilt.
Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam