Gentle Curves

I feel I’ve been remiss about a blog.  When I wrote this blog: I approached it with the primary emphasis on tighter curves, such as this

Quilt block containing several Drunkard Path Units

I mentioned gentle curves, but beyond giving them a passing reference and telling you I really liked them, I didn’t go into any details about how to handle them or how to make them.  So, this week I want to correct that oversight and deal with the gentle curves

Of the quilt world.

Much like their counterpoint tight curves, gentle curves lead the eyes across the quilt.  And depending on how the quilt is designed, the curves can lead away from the quilt outward

Or focus the eyes toward the center of the quilt.  They give movement and direction to almost any quilt top.  And, if you ask me, they’re a bit more fun and a little easier than their tighter-curved sister.  So, let’s take a look at how you construct and quilt gentle curves.

Like Drunkard’s Path, gentle curves can be appliqued on or pieced.  This quilt block

Known as Orange Peel, has easy curves and is simple to applique.  The orange peels (often called “melons”) can be stitched down by hand or machine without a lot of trouble.  This quilt block can be pieced, but it would be tricky.  Much easier just to applique those melons in place. 

When these blocks are placed together, they form a beautiful quilt center that beckons the eyes to follow the curves across the front. 

Notice the Orange Peel Quilt has primary and secondary patterns.

There is also this quilt block

Called Clamshell.  And it’s really not so much a quilt block as it is a unit.  Depending on the desired look, it can have a tighter curve or a gentler one.  Again, this unit is for applique—either by hand or machine.  When the clam shells are appliqued onto a background, the results are beautiful.

This type of quilt is a great stash buster and is nearly mindless work. 

This quilt block**

Which is really a mixture of tight and easy curves is machine stitched – just in case you were wondering if all gentle curves had to be appliqued.  This block usually requires templates and the ability to sew accurately in really tight spaces. In all honesty, this quilt block requires some slow sewing and determination and a glass of wine doesn’t hurt, either. However, the payoff is one outstandingly beautiful quilt.

Now let’s look at all three quilts:

It’s easy to see how the curves pull your eyes across the quilt.  Even though the curves aren’t as tight as a Drunkard’s Path, the movement is still there.  It’s rhythmic and soothing.

These three quilt blocks are made from patterns.  And while I love these quilt blocks (even Winding Ways), my very, very favorite gentle curves are improv curves – curves you don’t need a pattern for.  These are improv curves:

These are gently, wavy curves which remind me of the ocean.  These are super-easy to make, too.  All you need is to get over any fears of not having pattern directions and some fabric, a rotary cutter, and your imagination.

To begin, cut your fabric into rectangles.  I always cut my fabric larger than my block.  So, if my finished square needs to be 12-inches, I may cut my rectangle strips as long as 14-inches.  How many I cut is up to me.  I’m literally sewing strips of fabric together to make a square of fabric.  For the sake of not complicating things too much, let’s cut three strips 5-inches wide by 14-inches long.  This gives us lots of squaring up opportunities. 

Take the two of the strips and place them both right sides up, one on top of the other.

If there’s any doubt about how sharp your rotary cutter blade is, now is the time to change it.  A dull blade is going to make this next step much more difficult.  In the middle of the vertical side of the two rectangles, make a straight cut of about an inch.

It’s much easer to control your curve if you begin with the straight cut.  If you go in at an angle, the fabric will shift, which will make things a little cattywampus.

After you’ve made this first cut, make a gentle, wavy cut with your rotary cutter. Don’t go too much above or below the middle of the rectangle.  For the sake of example, I’ve marked my rectangles with a Frixion pen so you can see how much above and below the center of the rectangle I steer my rotary cutter.  And at the end of my cutting, I also exit the rectangle with a straight cut.

Now remove the top pieces.  You’ll find the two bottom ones will match up with these two pieces just like a puzzle.

Like sewing any other block units together, match the two pieces, right sides together and take them to your sewing machine.  You may want to shorten the stitch length just a bit.  I lower my length from a 2.5 to a 2.0.  This shorter stitch lets you control the curves just a bit better.  If you have a ¼-inch piecing foot, it will come in handy here.  Line the edge of the fabric up with the foot and sew.  Your job is just to guide the fabric.  I’ve found if I slow down my speed just a tad and then just let my fingers guide the fabric over the feed dogs and out the back, this works well for keeping the gentle curves intact.  Don’t try to force it.

Once you have both pieces sewn together, repeat with the remaining two. 

Now we need to add the third strip.  Take the two blocks you just pieced and lay them right sides up on a rotary cutting mat.  Take the third strip and place it right side up on the pieced squares.  Here’s where you have to be a bit careful.  When you make your gentle cut, you do not want to intersect the seam, so be sure to stay away from it.  Using the same technique as above, make about a straight 1-inch cut on the side and then carefully make a gentle, curvy cut, and exit on the other side with a straight cut.

Line the pieces up. Then take them to your sewing machine and sew them together, letting your fingers simply guide the fabric and not force it.

Let me add a couple of caveats here.  First, with all these curves, you’re dealing with a lot of bias.  I spray my fabric well with either spray starch or Best Press 2 Starch Substitute.  Either of these tend to make the fabric a bit stiff which not only keeps the bias in check, but I also think it makes cutting the fabric easier.  Second, don’t force the fabric in anyway.  Let your fingers gently guide it.  Third, despite my nearly rabid love of pins and pinning my block units, this is not the place for either.  That’s right.  You heard correctly.  Don’t use pins.  I personally find them more of a hindrance with these types of curves than a help.  You may need to stop (with your needle down) and re-line up the fabric pieces so the edges meet, and then resume your sewing.

Once the strips are assembled into a block, give it a good press, and wait for the block to cool before any additional cutting or trimming. 

At this point, there is so much you can do with the block.  You can keep adding curvy strips, so the block becomes a placemat, table runner, wall hanging, or small quilt.  Simply square up the piece to eliminate the uneven edges, quilt, and bind.  However, one of my favorite uses for these gently curving blocks are as backgrounds for applique.  I am not crazy about solid fabrics used for backgrounds in applique.  They have no movement and don’t pull the eye in towards the applique pieces.  In the past, I have always used a background with a small print, mottled colors, stripes, checks, or even muted plaids.  The mixed colors and print add a subtle movement to the background which enhances the applique.  However, once I became comfortable working with improv curves, I began to use those in my backgrounds.  I generally don’t have more than three curvy pieces in the background (because too much of a good thing still can be too much and I don’t want the background to distract from my applique), but having three neutrals sewn together (and with this technique, one of the pieces of fabric could be a solid) definitely adds something special to the applique block.

Let’s look at another way gentle curves can be used in quilting:  the quilting itself. 

The absolutely great thing about these gentle curves is that they can be made with a walking foot.  So, for all you quilters out there who are still just a bit apprehensive about dropping those feed dogs and free-stylin’ it, gentle curves may be just what you need to begin the journey of quilting your own quilt.  Besides using the walking foot, quilted gentle curves have some definite advantages.  First, they are super-easy.  Used either horizontally or vertically, most of the time you don’t even need to mark your quilt. 

However, there are also some additional gentle curvy quilting designs which may require a bit of marking, but still use the walking foot.

And if you have a quilt top with a lot of geometric shapes, curvy quilting can help balance the quilt out by offering a total opposite look with the quilting.  It can tone down those harsh lines. 

**Now, let’s go back to this quilt square:

I breezed over the construction in the first part of the blog.  However, I anticipate I may get some questions about how to construct it.  I decided to include those instructions at the end of my blog. 

Three very important issues to deal with before we begin sewing instructions.  First, color placement is everything in this quilt.  When the color placement is right, you not only have the gentle curves in the block, but you also have the illusion of large circles.  It’s a super-good idea to sketch out this quilt and color it in or use a quilting software program such as EQ 8 to make your color and fabric choices.  Second, templates will be used.  Fortunately, free templates for this block are readily available on the internet.  They can be downloaded and printed on cardstock.  Lots of quilt stores have the acrylic templates, also.  Missouri Star, Marti Mitchell, John Flynn, and Amazon offer lots of selections for purchase.  You can either trace around the templates with a fabric marker, Frixion pen, or pencil and cut the pieces out with scissors or use a rotary cutter.  A small rotary cutter is easier to use – it seems to handle the curves better than a larger one.  Third, the larger a Winding Ways block is, the easier it is to construct.  My rule of thumb is this:  If I plan to machine piece my Winding Ways blocks, they’re never smaller than 8 ½-inches unfinished.  Any smaller than this and I will hand piece them.

To make one block, you will need to cut four of template A in your focus fabric and four of templates B and C in your background fabric.

On the pieces cut from template A and template B, you will need to find the center.  Fold the piece in half and gently finger press it to find the center.  You may want to mark the center with a dot made by a water-soluble fabric or a Frixion pen.  Then make a dot ¼-inch in on the top of the left and right sides of the pieces.  Many time acrylic templates already have holes drilled in them to make marking the fabric units easier.

At this point, pinning these units will seem similar to how we construct a Drunkard’s Path.  Piece A is your pie and piece B is the ice cream.  As the ice cream goes on top of a piece of pie, so piece B goes on top of piece A.  Pin the centers together, and then put a pin in the dots on the sides of the pieces.  Now you need to pin the curves just as you do with a Drunkard’s Path block. 

Sew A and B together and press. 

Repeat this process with Piece C on a long edge of Piece A.  Make four of these units and then lay them out to make sure you have everything placed correctly. 

Join two of the units together and then repeat for the other two.  Be sure to press the seam to the side

Sew these two new, larger units together and press.  I admit I press this seam open, as curved seams are difficult to spin in the middle. 

There you have it – a beautiful Winding Ways block!

I hope this blog encourages you to embrace gentle curves.  They’re so much fun and are so easy to make.  They allow you to think a bit outside the box and can add lots of dimensions to a quilt or an applique background or the quilting itself. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,


4 replies on “Gentle Curves”

I have always recommended curved or rounded quilting to contrast with geometric blocks. I think it softens the piecing. If I were going to make a Winding Ways quilt (it’s not on my bucket list) I’d probably purchase the Accuquilt dies for it.

I do, too. I’m still can’t quilt circles well, but I tend to use gentle, wavy lines with geometric shapes. If I ever do a Winding Roads quilts, I
would make the blocks at least 8-inches and use the Accuquilt for sure or a laser cut kit.

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