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Curved piecing in art quilts – traditional vs improvisational

by Christine Baker

Yesterday on QUILTsocial we looked at 10 ways to use Northcott’s Stonehenge fabrics in your quilts and today my box of Stonehenge Elements fabrics arrived!! Just look at these fabrics – so yummy and rich looking!! I have some ideas about what I want to do with these fabrics but first I want to experiment a little. I love the look of curved piecing and have done a few projects with the traditional technique but lately I’ve been drawn to the modern quilts and the way they use improvisational techniques to achieve curved seams. Let’s put the two techniques to the test and see how the Stonehenge fabrics look when they’re used for curved piecing in art quilts – traditional vs improvisational.

A selection of Northcott's Stonehenge Elements fabrics

A selection of Northcott’s Stonehenge Elements fabrics

Traditional Curved Piecing

Many traditional quilt patterns use round shapes which are pieced together with a curved seam. Think Drunkard’s Path, Orange Peel, Winding Ways and Apple Core – these are all examples of blocks with curved seams. Curved seams are a little harder to sew than straight seams but they’re well worth it!

I never even tried curved piecing until recently when I bought a Drunkard’s Path die for my AccuQuilt Studio cutter. After that, I WAS HOOKED!!! I’ve made a scrappy Dunkard’s path/four patch quilt for my queen size bed and Nellie and I designed our Lunar Eclipse pattern using Northcott’s Mikado line of fabric:

Lunar Eclipse – Upper Canada Quiltworks Publishing

This striking quilt was designed using the Mikado Line of fabric from Northcott. Instructions include directions for using the AccuQuilt GO! Drunkard’s path dies or templates.

There are many different tutorials on how to sew two curved pieces of fabric together. Some people say to pin liberally, some use no pins at all. Some people say to have the small curved piece on top, some people say it’s more accurate to put it on the bottom. I looked for YouTube videos on this topic and found this one to be the most similar to how I like to piece a drunkard’s path block:

How to Sew the Drunkard’s Path Block without Pins – YouTube

Ebony Love of LoveBug Studios demonstrates how to sew a drunkard’s path block without using pins. Helpful tools include a pair of serger tweezers, a 1/4″ pie…

I’ve cut my Stonehenge Elements fabric using my AccuQuilt cutter and 3½” Drunkard’s path die

The two pieces of the drunkard's path block cut with the AccuQuilt die

The two pieces of the drunkard’s path block cut with the AccuQuilt die

Making templates for curved piecing

1. To make the blocks without using the AccuQuilt GO!® Fabric Cutter, you’ll need to make templates to trace the shapes prior to sewing.

2. Use your favorite technique to make cardboard, template plastic, or freezer paper templates (instructions to follow).

3. Trace the templates on the following PDF to the dull side of the freezer paper.

4. Using sharp scissors, cut along the drawn lines.

5. Iron these shapes to the back of the fabric, then cut along the outside of each shape.

The Drunkard's Path template

The Drunkard’s Path template

Download PDF here

After I’ve sewn the two units together I pressed the seams to the side with the darker fabric and my finished block looks like this:

The back of the pressed block

The back of the pressed block

The front of the finished Drunkard's path block

The front of the finished Drunkard’s path block

These blocks can be arranged in many different configurations – here are several possibilities:

Twelve different ways to arrange Drunkard's Path blocks in a quilt

Twelve different ways to arrange Drunkard’s Path blocks in a quilt

As you can see, when you have many Drunkard’s Path blocks there are many, many ways that you can choose to arrange them in your quilt. Playing on your computer with software such as EQ7 makes is SO easy to preview different placements. The only thing you have to watch is the time – it’s addictive and you still want to have time to actually QUILT!! I don’t want a lot of these blocks in my quilt but I’m definitely going to make a few more and then I’ll decide what I’m going to do with them later.

Improvisational or Free Form curved piecing

This type of piecing is usually considered modern although some antique quilts like the quilts from Gee’s Bend appear to have some degree of free form curved piecing included. Although I’ve never done this type of piecing myself, I’ve been wanting an excuse to try, and here it is!! So again, I looked on YouTube and found a great video to watch that explains the process:

Curvaceous Piecing – How to piece free-form curves – Quilting Tips & Techniques 052 – YouTube

In this video I will show you how to cut and sew free-form curves – great fun!

OK – now it’s my turn!

Now that I’ve watched the video, I’m ready to go! I want my art quilt to be about 30″ wide, so I picked a few pieces of my Stonehenge Elements fabrics and cut them into 3” x 30” strips. I layered two of them right side up on my cutting board. With my rotary cutter in hand I made the first “tentative” cut!!

The first wavy cut through the two overlapping fabric strips

The first wavy cut through the two overlapping fabric strips

I took the larger section from each of the two colors and then sewed them together following the method used in the video. She’s right – it’s not hard at all!! You just have to go slow and I find using my awl to guide the top fabric helps a lot!

Now that the first seam has been sewn, I’m going to sew another color onto the bottom. So I layered the third color on top of the bottom fabric (both right side up) and cut another wavy seam through these two layers.

The third piece is layered on top with right side up and a second wave freehand cut is made

The third piece is layered on top with right side up and a second wave freehand cut is made

I sewed the two matching sections right sides together. After pressing this second seam I really like how the fabrics are looking with the wavy seams. I’m going to keep layering, slicing and sewing until my piece is about 30” square.

My art quilt is starting to take shape

Now that I’ve experimented a bit with curved piecing, I’m really loving the results from both methods. The traditional block can be set in many different orientations – many of them very modern looking. The Stonehenge Elements fabric looks amazing sewn into the traditional blocks. The improvisational, free form piecing is so fun and freeing!! And it looks so modern, especially with the Elements fabrics. So, in today’s competition for curved piecing in art quilts – traditional vs improvisational, I think it’s a tie!!

This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1:  10 ways to use Northcott’s Stonehenge fabrics in your quilts

Go to part 3: 3 ways to machine applique circles onto a quilt



mollie June 18, 2021 - 6:56 pm

What HV machine are you sewing on?

Lynn berg November 13, 2016 - 9:57 pm

Love this art quilt! Thank you for the tutorials on the techniques involved.

Sally November 13, 2016 - 9:53 pm

nice way to add interest

Marilyn Snow November 12, 2016 - 8:08 pm

Thanks for the great tutorial on curved piecing. I recently did a “Winding Ways” top that has fairly gentle curves and it went together quite easily. I have yet to try the “Drunkards Path” and am intrigued with the improvisational curved quilt that you showed here.

Christine Baker November 13, 2016 - 9:03 pm

I’ve done a few Winding Ways quilts and I love them too! I bet you would love the Drunkards Path – especially since it can be used in so many different ways.

Lauree Scott November 12, 2016 - 2:19 pm

I appreciate learning new techniques! Thanks!

Jessi November 12, 2016 - 9:30 am

I can’t wait to try this! Loved the tutorial

Christine Baker November 12, 2016 - 5:46 pm

Thank you!

kathy November 12, 2016 - 3:23 am

How fun to see all the variations of arrangements of the Drunkard’s Path block.

Liz Dicrescenzo November 10, 2016 - 11:04 pm

Thanks for the explanation. It makes me want to actually try curved piecing.

Christine Baker November 11, 2016 - 9:03 pm

Awesome!! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Angela November 9, 2016 - 6:52 pm

Thanks for the video for tips! I’m supposed to be working on blocks with curved pieces, but I’m too intimidated to get started.

Christine Baker November 11, 2016 - 9:08 pm

Get out some scrap fabric and practice first to make yoursef more confident!

Chris November 8, 2016 - 11:43 pm

The fabrics are wonderful and I really like the Improv curves.

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:27 am

Thanks! They are beautiful fabrics and the curves are so fun!

Judy Boots November 8, 2016 - 11:30 pm

I would love to try the wavy cutting technique with the Stonehenge Elements fabric from Northcott. It looks like fun. Thanks for the giveaway.

Pauline Perry November 8, 2016 - 10:54 pm

I really appreciate this tutorial and the video showing how to do curvaceous piecing – I am going to use the technique in some landscape work that I am planning to do – thank you.

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:28 am

You’re welcome! I think this technique would work really well for landscape quilts.

Shawna Yonts November 8, 2016 - 9:30 pm

The Drunkards Path is one of my very favorite patterns. Thank you for this great information.

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:29 am

You’re welcome! I love the Drunkard’s path block too!

Shannon November 8, 2016 - 9:16 pm

The blog posts and tutorials are wonderful. I am looking forward to trying out some of the techniques shown.

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:31 am

Thank you! Have fun experimenting!

Barbara Woods November 8, 2016 - 8:59 pm

Fabric great

Sharon Gates November 8, 2016 - 8:14 pm

I do love curved piecing, but find it challenging!

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:32 am

It is, but SO worth it in the end!

Linda Webster November 8, 2016 - 7:23 pm

The fabrics are gorgeous!

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:32 am

I know! I just love them!

Summer November 8, 2016 - 5:09 am

Lovely quilting ♥

Christine Baker November 9, 2016 - 7:34 am

Thank you so much!


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