Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Improv Circles - A 2016 FAL Tutorial

Today, as part of the 2016 FL Tutorial Series,  I am sharing a tutorial about how to make improv circles. There are, of course, many ways to improv a circle, this is just the way I have been exploring. 

You will see from the photos that I make an improv quarter circle and then trim it with a ruler into a nicely squared quarter circle block. Although the quarters do not line up perfectly, the squared up seams make the completion of the circle block easy and it gives a look I like. 

First, get a nice selection of fabrics handy. Making improv circles, and most any other improv work, requires you to be able to play with the colours as you go. I find that heading to my solids shelf gives me too many options, so I pick a selection of fabrics to have handy as I work.

Pick a starting fabric and freehand cut a quarter circle. In terms of size, you just have to eyeball it and you may find that your first couple of quarter circles are too small or too big or too "something". This is pretty normal for me when I start improv so I set aside, rather than ripping out or tossing out, those too "something" bits, as often, as I make more, those bits fit back into the work, often adding interesting differences. If not, toss them into the scrap bin for reuse later.

The other aspect of size is that if your block is getting too big, you can always trim it down. So just start with a size, you can see that my quarter circle start is about 5" on each of the straight sides. I am making large circles, each quarter section is about 12" square so the entire circles is a 24" square block. If you want smaller circles, just start with smaller bits.

If you were working with prints, this would matter so I am mentioning it. Put your first quarter circle cut on top of your next fabric, right sides both facing you so you can see them both. 

Cut the second colour, the first colour ring, along the edge of the quarter circle already cut. Then cut the outside of that ring. Bear in mind that about 1/4" on both sides of this ring will disappear in the seam allowance and chose your width accordingly.

I join the ring portion just as I join all circle and curve pieces. You can watch my just over 1 minute video here and read the related blog posts here and here.

Basically, I  lay out the pieces right side facing up.

I move them to my sewing machine and I turn them as shown. You can sew this curve with either piece on the top, but my preference is for the "pie" shape to be on the bottom.

Now take the top piece, in my case the "not pie shaped" piece and flip it right side down and match the starting points as shown. Given the nature of curves, and the fact that you will sew 1/4" inside the cut edge, there will be extra fabric at the end, so feel free to have extra of the top piece sticking out over the edge of the bottom piece.

Stitch 2 - 4 stitches and stop. Raise your presser foot and realign the pieces and then drop your presser foot.

This step is better illustrated in my video. You need to keep both pieces at the 1/4" mark on your presser foot as the go under the foot. Hold the top fabric up (this is important), but don't tug on it as you will stretch it on the bias. Keep your other hand (not photographed as it was holding the camera) on the bottom piece guiding it along the the 1/4" mark. Constantly adjust the placement of the top fabric so that it is meeting the bottom fabric at the 1/4" mark. Sew slowly and deliberately.

Improv circles will look a bit like this when done. 

I press each addition, pushing the seams to the centre.

In this photo you can see that a 1/4" seam allowance was achieved. It does not have to be perfect, but if it is too narrow, restitch so that the piecing does not come apart later as your quilt is used.

Add your next ring using the same method. Sewn piece is placed right side up on the next fabric which is also right side up. Cut your next ring.

You will see that you are also cutting left over chunks of the next fabric. Save those for other circles.

After a few rings, the piece might start to pucker. A trim of the edges usually takes that pucker out. I often trim after each ring is added as well. This is also a good time to adjust the size if your piece has become bigger than you wish it to be.

The last fabric is your background. I cut the square or rectangle of the background first and then, using the same method, I cut the curve for the background fabric.

It is the same approach to laying out the background piece for sewing. I line it up right sides up and then flip the top piece over to stitch.

Then trim your block on both edges that contain the improv. This photo shows the first cut and then I trimmed the bottom as well.

This is as far as I got with this new circle this afternoon. Once you have a full circle you can piece it together by sewing the four blocks together. Or you can keep the pieces separate until you have all the circles you want to create done which allows you to easily change the order of the quarters as the piece progresses.

I wanted to share some things. You can see that the quarter circle photographed for the tutorial, the first quarter - top left - is not so much curved in the centre as almost triangular. In part that happened because I did not cut a pronounced quarter circle and in part because the trimming cuts off the edges as you work. At first I wanted to toss out that quarter as being too triangular, but now I am liking its difference, so it is still on the design board. Don't be quick to judge any improv work, give it time before you edit it out.

Let me know if you have questions. And if you have not yet done so, get your Q4 finishes posted, you can link up on my blog here or link on any of the global host blogs.




Archie The Wonder Dog said...

This looks like a great way to make improv curves - thanks for a really clear tutorial!

Yvonne from Quilting Jetgirl said...

I do improv curves pretty much exactly this same way. The only thing I occasionally do different is put both my fabrics right sides up and make the piecing cut at the same time which means I sew, cut, sew, etc. instead of prepping each arc at once. I also suggest starting with larger arcs (5" or longer on each side) for those new to curved piecing as larger arcs are easier to learn and nudge along than tighter, smaller arcs. Great tutorial!

Debbie said...

Thanks Leanne. I do improv curves very similarly, probably because I learned from you! ;-) It's good to read your narrative tho - things to think about during the creating process...

Teje Karjalainen said...

Happy New Year Leanne! I love these so much! Just thinking a whole quilt with improv. circles in bright solids makes me happy! Thank you for the tutorial! x Teje

elle said...

Happy New Year! A great start.

Jan said...

this is really helpful for learning to sew curves which I need to work on - I like the improv circles!

Esther said...

Thanks for this Leanne...looking forward to giving it a try!

felicity said...

I do it exactly like you, Yvonne!

Sophie Zaugg said...

Love your colour choice ! I've bookmarked your tutorial and I'm looking forward to trying it. Thanks a lot Leanne !

Salley said...

Lovely clear tutorial. Thankyou!

myBearpaw said...

Me too! But this way works well for nervous cutters. Great tutorial Leanne :)

Angela said...

I love improv circles like this! If I may ask, do you like your Gingher rotary cutter? I've been considering getting one, but didn't know if it would be worth the price. I've noticed the replacement blades are quite a bit more expensive than others.

Cut&Alter said...

Thanks for this tutorial Leanne - it's great and something I have wanted to have a go at for a while now.