Sunday 15 August 2010

Pieced Circles Tutorial

I am making a baby quilt for a new niece/nephew due in September and this has involved circles, circles and more circles.  

Over this week I have - with a lot of unpicking and muttering under my breath- perfected a way of insetting a circle into  a fabric background.  The circle is pieced using a seam and sewn on the machine rather than appliques and sewn on top.  I have tried lots of different sizes- too small is too difficult and I ended up sewing these by hand, but from about 3 1/2 inch diameter upwards (the bigger they are, the easier it gets) I have taken a method briefly described in Compendium of Quilting and expanded it, done a few things differently and made it into a tutorial -  so here goes...

1. Draw a circle on your chosen fabric- at least 3.5" diameter/ 1.75", your finished circle diameter will be half an inch smaller than this because of seam allowances.   You will need to have the this circle matching the grain of the framing fabric so if you are fussy cutting bear this in mind.   Draw a circle the same size on a piece of paper.  The paper is to help put guide marks on the fabric- it is not a template.   On your framing fabric, draw a circle which has a finished diameter 1 inch smaller and do the same on the piece of paper.  

Cut  circle out of framing fabric, be as accurate as you can it makes a big difference when seaming the inner and outer together.  You need the frame, this circle is for scraps

Cut the other larger fabric circle.

2.  You can see faint marks on the pics above like compass points.  I use blue chalk pencil for North, East, South, West and Pink for NE, SE, SW, NW.  You need to mark these points on the right sides of the circle and the circle frame.  Using the paper as a guide for this is much easier.  Keep the marks small so they will disappear in the seam allowance.  You can see this best on this pic again.

3.  Place circle right side up and place  fabric frame on top, also right side up- the grain should match- it makes sewing much easier and gives a more even circle when finished.  

4.  Fold the wrong side of the backing fabric over at the top, North,- right sides will now be together and there should be a mark to match up- pin with the pin point facing outwards.  You will now see some different fabrics showing how to seam the circle, I hope it is not too confusing!

5. Repeat for South, then East and West.  

Then pin the points between- NE, SE, SW, NW.  Pins work best for me, I tried tacking and it was a disaster!

6.  You need a 1/4 foot or guide on your machine.  Place the fabric under the machine presser foot. so the frame fabric is on top (wrong side up) and the circle fabric is underneath.

and the circle fabric is underneath.

Using the slowest speed on your machine , 1/4 inch seam and a small stitch- 2mm, sew slowly around the edge of the circle- the smaller the circle the more you will need to stop and ease the fabrics to fit.  I take the pins out just before they go under the foot and use a seam ripper to hold the fabric together as they go under.  

7.  With smaller circles- e.g. under 4 inches- you may need to clip the circle frame- the top layer -as you sew to ease it in.  Only a tiny snip is needed!

I confess to unpicking and re-seaming where there were wrinkles and puckers that shouldn't have been there, but on bigger circles- e.g 6 inch diameter and larger, they can come out perfect first time!

8.  Press the reverse with the seam towards the centre of the circle, it should press nice and flat.
  You can press the other way(outwards) and the finished circle will appear to recede.

and when you turn over there should be a circle set into the fabric frame.  This one is 3.25 inches diameter.

Once you get the hang of the technique, you can do circles in circles.  I am setting a whole load of circles in to a big backing square of Kona snow- floating around like bubbles!

Here is a big one- over 9 inches diameter

I hope it works for you.  I tried freezer paper applique and Anna Maria Horner's excellent super circle foil method but I like crispness of this method, no stitching is visible on the right side- and the fact I can sew it all on the machine.  If you have any questions or problems do let me know!

Happy sewing x

sib blog


  1. it...will pop it on the Freebies blog...hugs Khris

  2. Great tutorial! I was going to tell you that I saw it show up on the Freebies blog, but they've already been by.

  3. I usually machine applique the circle to the square . . it was the only way I found I could get them right.


    I'm going to give this a try.

  4. I hope it works for you Dee- couldn't find your email- it is the best method I have found for myself x

  5. I have to try this - it looks genius - what I can't get my head round is why one circle is a whole inch smaller than the other if you are using a 1/4" seam - what is it not 1/2" smaller or do I just have to try it and see!

  6. OK just realised the diameter is one inch smaller so 1/2" all round - OK makes sense to me now!!!

  7. This is exactly what I wanted to learn how to! Thank you, Kerry!!

  8. just tried it and it works like a dream - my first ever pieced circle and it looks fantastic - thank you so much for the tutorial which I will be name checking when I post my circle later today (it's a circle within a circle so I have one more to do before it is ready to post!).

  9. What a great tutorial! I think I am going to find a small project to try this very soon!
    Thank you for sharing this tip.


  10. I'm totally going to try this soon! What a fabulous way to do this. And it makes complete sense. Very much like sewing a quarter square circle, but obviously doing the whole thing. Love it! Must add to my blog list of things to try!

  11. thanks for this tutorial! i have been battling with this same process. i could get it with the little ones and freezer paper but i am anxious to try this one!

  12. I hope it works for you Leslie, I saved a lot of time especially on bigger circles doing it this way

  13. I realize this is an older post -- but, hooray! -- I'm happy to find it. You have done a lovely job explaining this. I am comfortable with the sewing part of the process, but it was the measuring bit that had me stumped. I don't know why...I was once quite good with numbers.... Regardless, thank you, thank you, Kerry!

  14. Okay, so the circle frame is 1" smaller in diameter than the circle? Wow, had to read that a few times. I have to wonder about my brain sometimes! I'm so excited to try this technique...much thanks!

  15. Kerry, thanks for the tutorial, I was just searching for a non-applique circle tutorial and I'm glad I found you! Very well described, I'll try it soon.
    Hope to meet you in London again next year :o))

    1. Glad you liked it! I will be back for more FQ fun in London next year!

  16. Kerry,
    How can i THANK YOU enough for this tutorial. Your excellent photos (and expert N S E W pinning technique) was just what i needed to understand the method of turning it inside out with right-sides together. I adore dots and circles but found them too tedious with hand stitching or just plain awful looking before this crisp method. LOVED IT!!
    ps who was the lucky mermaid?

  17. I took a course on Craftsy and it was amazing"

  18. Help!!!! This didn't work. My diminsions were incorrect so I had more inside circle than framing fabric.

    When u said framing fabric needed to be 1" smaller I cut the circle out as a 4" and my inside circle was 3"????

    1. Hi Jo, in the first step of the instructions,I do mention that circles smaller than 3.5" are very small to work with and I recommend 3.5" and above. An option is to snip into the seam allowance of the framing fabric- cut no deeper than ⅛"- this will give you more ease from the frame so it will allow the circle that you are setting in the frame to fit.


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