This week I’m pleased to introduce to you IQCB, the inset quarter circle block, of my Simplicity quilt. I can’t claim credit for this design, because circles have been known to man since, well, man, but what I can own is how I explain the stuff to you.
There were so much words, graphics, and concepts popping up that I’ve decided to post a circle article at some point, like the one on hexagons. Circles are as cool as hexies, and if you understand the basics of them, you can with a compass, pencil, and ruler make inset quarter circles of any size you want. This includes the background and circle sizes, which means no specialty rulers are necessary to invest in. Before jumping into more theory, let’s take a look at the graphic version first.
The sharp-eyed reader will notice that the original design was a slightly smaller circle, but if you, like me, are working with circles for the first time (yep, this is how I roll, believe it or not, write a tutorial whilst learning as you go), it might be nice to have the circle a tad larger than 7” (with a 3.5” radius).
To help you have success with your block, I’ve taken many photos this time, but there isn’t that much text to read. The sewing itself was done in artificial lighting, so apologies in advance for less than optimal quality of those.
In this post:
- Making the templates
- Cutting pieces
- Block construction
- The finished block
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The tools you’ll need for making templates are:
- Freezer paper (or normal paper if you don’t have any)
- Pencil and sharpener
- Rulers you’re comfortable working with
- Rotary cutter
- Cutting mat
- Paper scissors
I use this less advanced rotary cutter for projects involving paper, whereas the deluxe model is “nicer”, but Carol Doak in her Craftsy class says she’s consulted manufacturers about cutting paper and supposedly it won’t dull the blade, but the latter is an urban myth. Go ahead and cut your freezer paper accurately in other words!
And another photo, just because I got a bit carried away with the macro once again. It’s been such a long time since taking photos of jewellery now.
So what’s a compass? It’s a device that will allow you to draw any size of a circle up until its largest possible radius, which in turn depends on the length of its legs and the largest angle between those. Maybe there’s a more accurate definition, but for the purpose of quilting, you need to recall radius and diameter of a circle. Check the hexie tutorial if you are unsure about these.
Sharpen your pencil and put it in place, with the two tips next to one another. Make sure it won’t slide in the compass or your templates won’t be accurate. Mine is of the school type, bought when in school still, and I don’t think there were any less expensive ones available on the market, but if the cheapest type seems flimsy, this will defeat its purpose completely, so cough up a few more coins right away.
Next up is the freezer paper. If you ever travel to the other side of the pond, buy a whole roll of it, because the price per metre here in Europe is ridiculous. It may be heavy in your suitcase, but I don’t think I’ll ever have to restock! (I wish. Hopefully I will, and I’ll have a reason for trans-Atlantic travels :) )
Notice how one side seems matte and the other has a sheen to it. The sparkle is glue. Don’t glue your iron, okay. I hear it’s messy to clean up. We’ll write on the easy, matte side, so hopefully this will help you remember, too. If you don’t have freezer paper at hand, regular copy paper will do, so don’t stop reading.
Making the templates
Now we’re ready to make our two templates. We will make:
- One (1) 6.5” square for the block background, from which we cut out a circle of 3.75” diameter.
- One (1) 4.25” quarter circle.
We can use these templates for all four 6.5” block units (for a 12.5” quilt block when sewn together), since the freezer paper is reusable a few times, so we only have to cut one set.
!!! EDITED TO ADD: Pre-shrink your freezer paper first! I only learned this tip on 2 August 2015. In other words, cut 7 inches or more, iron it on the matte side, and proceed as per the rest of my tutorial !!!
Start by cutting a 6.5-inch strip of freezer paper, “width of fabric” (WOF) if you like. If the paper slides heavily under your ruler, you can try rolling out a bit more and turning it around so the matte side faces you.
PART 1: For a 6.5” square template with 3.75” markings, we will do the following steps. Cut a 6.5” square from the “WOF strip” and grab your compass and small ruler.
For maximum accuracy, since a pencil will never reach as close to the ruler edge as a rotary blade will, we first slide one of the ruler lines along the template side a tad below what would be a quarter inch from the perpendicular template side. Draw a short line up from the “quarter-inch seam allowance” line on the ruler.
Turn the paper and do the same for the perpendicular direction.
Why? Because we need a starting point for the 3.75” quarter circle that we want to cut out from this background template. Due to mathematics and stuff we can’t start from the template corner, but need to begin from where there is no seam allowance but actual block fabric, and the quarter-inch corner marking we just did will be our accurate starting point for drawing with the compass.
Why 3.75”? Well, we want the inset quarter circle to be 4” on top of the 6” background piece, and maybe a bell is ringing already regarding quarter inch seam allowances? :) This is fun!
Moving on to drawing quarter circles!
You can place your compass metal tip at the ruler corner, but I found it really wobbly, so instead I put it at 3.75” and slid the pencil tip to the ruler corner. This will draw a 3.75” radius.
Go ahead and draw! And check the size, too, if you like.
Note that you start measuring from the quarter-inch corner, not the template corner.
As per Cheryl Arkison’s tips in her Craftsy class, I’ve marked both the background template (6.5” becomes 6” finished) and the extra quarter-circle template I will have if cutting neatly (3.75” becomes 3.5” finished).
Cut the 3.75” quarter circle out, and set it aside. We will not need it in this block! If you cut neatly, you can use it in another project, though.
PART 2: Next up is the 4” quarter-circle template. Cut a piece of freezer template approximately 5”x5” in size.
Measure 4.25” on the compass to include seam allowance, start from the quarter-inch corner marking, and draw a 4.25” quarter circle.
Check that your circle is of the right size. Add scribbles to your templates as per the photo below.
Notice that I added a visual aid to the background template in the shape of a square. I also wrote the size of the inset quarter circle needed, 4”, and a quarter circle next to the number.
The side-by-side comparison of the two quarter-circle templates might make you think there’s something seriously wrong with the 4.25” template. Stay tuned…
See, perfect overlap of half an inch in the seam-allowance area.
If you measure the length of what remains of the 6.5” inch background template, you’ll find it to be 2.5”, or 2” + 0.25” seam allowance for one side + 0.25” seam allowance for the other side (when the 12.5” block becomes a 12” block). Also, 2.25” + 4.25” = 6.5” (created during the circle seam sewing), just how we want one of our block units to be.
This is why I love mathematics on a practical level, and quilting with its easy quarter inches here and there really make it approachable somehow. In other words, you can mix and match by removing half an inch, less or more, on one template, then adding this length to the other template.
First I thought I’d provide you with downloadable templates, but I really think you ought to make them yourself. If you follow these instructions step by step, you will get the hands-on experience whilst learning by doing (unless you’re already well-versed in circles of course). I watched Cheryl Arkison’s class and thought I knew exactly what to do, but as I was about to draw my own templates, I needed to consult my notes for this block more than once. It’s quite similar when learning how to foundation paper piece actually, and yay hooray, we’ll make one of those blocks later in the sampler! (Don’t worry, it’ll be fun and doable.)
Because of the volume of photos, I’ve made them into collages from now on. The original size is larger than visible in this blog post, so feel free to open that one for closer inspection.
New tools you’ll need: fabric scissors, marker pen, possibly appliqué pins.
Once you’ve made your template, press your first fabric and place the templates on the wrong side (step 1). I don’t think water is a good idea nor too much heat, so I kept the iron dry and on a low-heat setting. The template adheres quite quickly to the fabric, after which you don’t have to keep pressing anymore. I’m also thinking heat and glue isn’t too great a combination out of a chemicals perspective, so even more reason to make this step a swift one. Finally, I noticed shrinkage due to too long a pressing, so had to make a new set of templates.
If you don’t have freezer paper at hand, trace with a pencil or marker pen around your template, then cut out as above.
Use your rotary cutter and ruler for the straight edges, and a fabric scissors for the curves to cut out your fabric (step 2). Repeat with the remaining three fabrics. Admire your fabrics (step 3). Place the fabrics how you want them to be positioned in the block (step 4).
Start the construction from the lighter block units.
Grab the first background piece and fold it right side together to create a crease in the middle of the curve. Bring the red dots together and finger press (step 1), then draw a small line within the seam allowance of the right side (step 2). To create quarter marks, bring the curve corner to the mark you just made, finger press (step 3), and draw another mark. Repeat for the other side (step 4). Do the same to the three other background pieces.
On the really dark fabrics, you may have to help by drawing on the wrong side of the fabric. I did this on all the dark pieces or I wouldn’t have seen the markings.
Make similar markings on the quarter-circle pieces (step 1). As you can see, the markings don’t “match”, but recall the overlapping templates earlier, and trust that it will all fit if your templates have fit together earlier when testing.
Place circles on backgrounds with right sides facing one another (step 2), whilst matching up the centre markings. Recall that you’re working with bias edges on both curves, so be gentle.
Start by pinning from the middle a small amount of fabric, find the quarter markings on the right and pin, and find the outside edge and pin (step 3). Move to the left side, wiggle the pieces gently until you can match the markings, and pin (step 4). Grab both fabric piece with one hand, slide the layers until the curve corners match up, and pin (step 5). Steps 6 and 7 show the pinned pieces from different angles. It’s supposed to look really weird.
Now we sew.
The key to a successful quarter circle is slow sewing with almost constant adjusting of fabrics during the process. Contrary to usual piecing, the fabrics can’t lay flat against the sewing machine, but will bunch up interestingly and you’ll need to use both hands. Your fingers are the pins at the seam allowance.
Place the quarter circle on top and presser foot down (step 1). Sew a few stitches, and stop, adjust fabrics (step 2). Sew a few more stitches, stop, and adjust. Repeat. Cut threads, remove, and inspect (step 3). (I had to sew again two seams, but be careful during ripping the seam. Don’t ask.) Flip open and inspect again (step 4). Repeat for three other units.
I know that some other people prefer the quarter circle at the bottom. I haven’t tried that yet, but will for the sake of comparison.
When pressing the curved seams, press toward the background for one diagonal (white and black background pieces) and toward the quarter circle for the other diagonal (light grey and dark grey backgorund pieces). This way you’ll have seams that nest when sewing block units together. Sew the rows, then the final seam. Pin generously the latter in particular.
The finished IQCB
This Inset Quarter Circle Block sure tested my skills, but once flipping open the whole thing after sewing the last seam I couldn’t help but crack a smile. The centre point isn’t perfect but whatever. Despite a couple of mishaps along the way, I think circles of various shapes and sizes will be in my future. I hope you’ll try inset quarter circles at least once, and maybe you’ll like them too!
What do you think of the block? Scary? It scared me a lot to include the design in my sampler, but now I’m so pleased I had the courage to throw it in. Stepping way beyond my comfort zone is the best expression for how I felt when making this block, but now I feel excitement only.
Please comment and ask questions if there’s anything at all on your mind! Happy Monday :)
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EDIT 2.8.2015: I have added a blurb about pre-shrinking the freezer paper into the section about making the quarter-circle templates.