Many well-known quilt artists often use curved piecing in their quilts and teach classes and workshops at shows and guilds sharing their methods and giving tricks and pointers. Four national teachers who specialize in curved piecing are Moneca Calvert, Sharyn Craig, Caryl Bryer Fallert, and Cheryl Phillips. Moneca pieces hearts into heart shaped background fabrics, Sharyn pieces glorified nine patch blocks, Caryl pieces flying geese in circles and swirls, and Cheryl pieces large and small circles into circular cutouts. Each teacher has her own techniques and style of piecing.
Curved piecing, especially the gentle curves that are in many of our traditional block patterns are not difficult if you know a few tricks and pointers. Just as there are many patterns available that have curved piecing there are many different opinions and methods for the actual stitching of the curved pieces. Here are a few things I have learned from taking classes, from reading, and from my personal experience.
Cutting for curved piecing
Always cut pieces accurately. If you have acrylic templates made especially for rotary cutting, use them. I find a 45mm rotary cutter works with acrylic tools for gentle curves. A 28mm rotary cutter works better for cutting medium curved seams and an 18mm cutter works best for cutting very tight curves. Be careful as you cut curved pieces so you don't cut into the acrylic tools and dull your rotary blade.
If you don't have acrylic tools to cut your curved pieces, they will need to be cut with shears. Make a template of template plastic. Carefully draw around the template with a sharp pencil. You may stack and pin layers of fabric for cutting but only cut the number of layers of fabric that your particular shears will cut without sliding. Some brands of shears are available with serrated blades and will hold more layers of fabric as it is being cut.
Sewing the curved seam
There are two kinds of pieces you cut to stitch together for a curved seam. There are convex and concave pieces. To help remember which one is which, remember that convex stick out and concave caves in.
For instance in piecing a Drunkards Path block. Mark the center of both convex and concave pieces with a pencil, a pin, or with a tiny clip within the seam allowance. With right sides together, place the concave (caves-in) piece on top. Line up the beginning of the seam and pin. Line up the end of the seam and pin. Then pin the center where you marked. You will only need three pins. Use a quarter inch piecing foot compatible with your machine. Begin with stitching about a half-inch. As you continue to stitch, carefully pull the concave piece that is on the top -- easing -- and matching the edges of it to the edges of the convex piece that is on the bottom. Be sure to keep both seam allowances at exactly a quarter inch. If your seam allowance is not an accurate quarter inch, puckers will occur. Continue seaming until almost to the center pin. Pull out the center pin before stitching over it. Continue matching the seam allowances as you finish the curved seam. If you need to use tweezers, stiletto, or a pointed tool to guide your pieces at the end of the seam, it is OK. If you use too many pins you will not be able to ease the fabric with your fingers and will have small pleats in your stitching.
You may press the seam allowance in either direction you wish, depending on the lightness and darkness of the fabric or which part of the piecing you want to "stand out" and which part you wish to "recede". These seams are on the bias and will press either way easily.
Some instructions specify putting the convex (sticks out) curved piece on the top and the concave (caves in) curved piece on the bottom. It is best to try both ways on your sample blocks and you will find which works best for you. When I am taking a class or workshop I always make at least one block as the instructor requests, but I still prefer to place the concave piece on the top for stitching.
The Curve Master Presser Foot
If you enjoy trying and using new quilting tools I recommend the Curve Master Presser Foot. The Curve Master is available at your local quilt shop or sewing machine dealer or for purchase on-line. If you follow the directions given with the Curve Master it is very easy to machine piece even tight curves such as a small drunkards path block. The foot automatically eases the curves -- with no pinning -- as you stitch. The Curve Master Presser Foot comes with a snap-on foot and four adapters to fit most brands of sewing machines.
With the Curve Master you will want to stitch two or three practice samples before actually starting your project. But after a few tries you will get the idea of how to maneuver the fabric through the foot. The foot does almost all the work for you -- you just have to guide the separate edges of the fabric. I did find if I use a stiletto, tweezers or other pointed tool to hold the two pieces together as the last half inch goes under the foot the pieces matched better at the end of the seam. For more information about the Curve Master Presser Foot visit www.justcurves.biz.
If you don't wish to purchase another presser foot, with a little practice, and the simple instructions given above, you will be able to piece curved seams your regular quarter inch piecing foot.