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How to Handle Your Curves (The Sequel)

I’ve written a blog for a good while now.  I looked at my older blogs (quilteratheart.blogspot.com) and those go back to January 2011.  In short, I’ve blogged about quilts, quilters, and quilting for nearly 12 years. That’s a lot of words, a lot of stitches, and a whole lot of fun.  I’m not about to quit now, but at this point after so many years, I’m bound to repeat myself. And this is one of those blogs. 

In a way, I think this is natural.  Quilting isn’t static.  New tools, new fabrics, and new technologies are always in play in our art form.  Couple those with the fact quilters as a whole are highly innovative and are constantly developing new techniques and you’ve got continuously changing craft.  Which brings me to this week’s topic:  Curves.

I promised a blog on this a few weeks ago and after the marathon two-parter on guilds, I knew I needed to get back to a “how to” blog, as these tend to interest the majority of my faithful readers (of which I am incredibly thankful for).  However, as I was putting in my rough outline, there was this niggling feeling in the back of my mind: Hadn’t I already written a blog on this?  And wasn’t it fairly recent?  Or did I just think I wrote a blog on curves because I felt I needed to write a blog on curves and my subconscious was throwing me a curveball about the whole curvy blog situation?  This was what was running through my over-active brain about 3 a.m.

Seriously.

So, after pouring myself a cup of coffee this morning and grabbing a half of a bagel, I did a Google search on my blog sherriquiltsalot.com and curves.  Sure enough, there it was:  November 25, 2020 – How to Handle Your Curves (https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2020/11/25/how-to-handle-your-curves/).  It’s almost two years old, and everything that I wrote then applies now.  However, I have learned a few more tricks I want to share with you.  I suggest if you haven’t read that blog (or can’t remember it), go and give it a quick read.  It reviews the way I handle curves and my techniques haven’t changed that much.  What I would like to do with this week’s blog is expound on some of those methods and make them easier for you. 

I love quilts with curves.

For me there’s something very soothing in gentle curves.  It allows the eye to freely travel over the quilt top, viewing each block.  Gentle curves are my favorite, not only because they’re easy to piece, but also because I think they’re more attractive. 

The smaller, tighter curves almost demand the eye follow them across the quilt.  They make your line of vision move fairly quickly.  I also think the tighter curves have endless possibilities as far as quilt blocks go.  I’ve used the tighter curves to make birds, entire circles, and all sorts of “joiner” blocks or block units.  In general, I’m talking about this little block:

This block is known as Drunkard’s Path, and my November 2020 blog goes into the history of this little square.  It can be used by itself or as a block unit in a larger block.

Before we jump into what I’ve learned since 2020, let’s review a few of the basic guidelines concerning curves.

  1.  Starch or Best Press #2 is your quilting BFF for this block.  Because both pieces of Drunkard’s Path employ curves, you’re constantly dealing with bias.  To keep the bias stable so it doesn’t stretch hopelessly out of shape, liberally spray your fabric with either starch or Best Press #2 before cutting, no matter if you prewash or not.  I’ve found several applications of either work best.  Lightly spray the fabric, then press in with a hot, dry iron.  Do this several times until the fabric almost feels like paper.  Don’t try to perform this step with one heavy application of starch or Best Press #2.  Soaking the fabric with either and then trying to press it dry only results with lots of flaking. 
  2. You will work with templates.  If you want to trace around your templates and then cut them out with scissors, make sure your marking tool doesn’t drag across the fabric and your scissors are sharp.  If you’re using acrylic templates and a rotary cutter, a smaller cutter (such as a 28 mm) works better than a larger one.  Make sure your blade is sharp and doesn’t drag across the bias.
  3. If traditional piecing is the technique you want to use, be sure to pin, pin, pin.  Judiciously.  Please read my November 2020 blog for more information on this.
  4. When it comes to sewing the two pieces of fabric together, remember two things:  First, speed is not your friend.  Sew slowly.  Sometimes a walking foot works better for Drunkard’s Path than a traditional quarter-inch piecing foot, as it feeds both pieces of fabric evenly over the feed dogs and under the needle. Second, you may find a scant ¼-inch seam allowance is easer to control than the full quarter inch.

With the basics covered, let’s move onto what I’ve learned since the first blog. 

Glue is a viable option for pins.  That’s right.  Basting glue can be substituted for pins.  If you hate stopping and starting during the sewing process (because you shouldn’t sew over pins), you may want to try glue basting the two pieces of the Drunkard’s Path together instead of pinning.  It takes a bit of patience and some good basting glue (such as Roxanne’s Glue Stick), but this works well for curves, especially the gentle ones.  I have used it for tighter, smaller curves, but honestly, it sometimes takes longer to glue baste these tiny curves than it does to pin them.  You have to decide which you detest more – sewing over pins or spending more time on glue basting.

Correct pressing is incredibly important.  Remember in my 2020 blog, I named the two pieces of the Drunkard’s Path.  This is “pie”:

And this is a la Mode:

In nearly every Drunkard’s Path block, you press towards the “a la mode” piece, even if this piece is a lighter colored fabric than the “pie.”  If the curve is super-tight, you may find snipping the curve helps the pressed seam lie flat.  However, there’s also this pressing tool:

This is called a tailor clapper.  If you may remember this semi-obscure sewing tool if you took tailoring or home ec.  Your mother or grandmother may have had one in their sewing or ironing space.  And if you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s just a big block of wood!”  you would be absolutely correct.  A clapper works by quickly dissipating the heat from a freshly pressed seam.  Once the seam is pressed, run the clapper over top of it.  Because the wood rapidly dispels the heat, the seam lies flatter than if you allowed it to cool on its own.    I’ve found using a clapper on a Drunkard’s Path seam results in a smoother, flatter seam without snipping any fabric.

There are options other than templates.

If you have a computerized fabric cutter, such as a Brother Scan and Cut, downloadable templates are available for Drunkard’s Path.  This method requires some additional fabric prep, and you can only cut so many at a time, but the trade-off is both block unit pieces are extremely accurate.  Plus there’s no tracing and cutting on your part or dealing with pushing a rotary cutter around curvy acrylic templates.  Likewise if you have an Accuquilt cutter – it has Drunkard Path dies.

Remember applique – by either hand or machine – is always an alternative.

The Drunkard’s Path block is only two units, but those units are curved.  If you machine piece them, you’re placing a concave curve to a convex curve, pinning or glue basting like crazy, and then sewing them together. This takes time and patience.  And while gently sloping curves aren’t too difficult and neither are large Drunkard’s Path blocks, I find myself using a different technique if the blocks are smaller than 6-inches and/or has a tight curve – applique by machine or by hand.    Truthfully, hand appliqueing the curves takes no longer than machine piecing. I think raw-edge applique may be the quickest way to make Drunkard’s Path blocks and gives the least headaches! 

I hope this additional information for managing your curves is helpful.  The longer you quilt and the more you’re exposed to different technique and tools, the more you find yourself changing up the way you make your blocks and quilts.  I think I may comb through some of my older blogs and give a few updates on them.  There are some older techniques I seldom use any longer.  The quilting field is always changing and evolving.  It always has and always will.  Embrace the change.

I do realize other quilts have curves – such as the Double Wedding Ring.  Even though those curves are a bit different from the curves of Drunkard’s Path, quilters must remember this:  A curve is a curve, regardless of the block.  All curves can be handled the same way (although I don’t think I would applique the rings of the Double Wedding Ring Quilt – that would look a bit odd to me).

For those of you who have sent messages and emails concerning my COVID diagnosis, I do have an update.  The doctor did give me a prescription cough medicine and orders to rest as needed and not push myself.  He also told me to return to his office in two weeks if I was not better.  Thankfully, the cough medicine was a miracle worker and did the trick.  The fatigue is almost all gone, so I think I can safely say I don’t have the Long Haul Covid.  However, this new strain going around is something.  If I did not know I had been exposed, I honestly would have thought for the first couple of days I just had a bad head cold. Ya’ll take care of yourselves!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

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