Many sewing machines have a circle maker for stitching circles onto fabric. I took a class in this technique from Libby Lehman at the AQS show in Paducah years ago. She was an absolutely wonderful teacher, and I was blessed to have taken many classes from her. Sadly, this was the last one prior to her stroke in 2013. Libby was an inspiration to many and her energy, talent, innovative quilts, and crazy sense of humor are truly missed by many of us.
I think of her whenever I look at quilts of mine which she inspired. The samples from her circle class are among those.
I share them in my “Going Round and Round” lecture and the last time I presented it I decided the time had come to put them into a quilt. The kit for the class included some of Ricky Timm’s hand-dyed fabric, we brought along our own variegated threads and… here are the sample blocks I made – up close and personal:
To make the above blocks we layered 2 squares of fabric and used the circle technique to straight stitch 3 circles of different diameters. We then cut away the top fabric from the center, and from the last “ring”. The fun began when we covered that straight stitching with decorative stitches and beautiful threads.
Our first decorated block was made with just a single layer of black fabric, so the circles of stitches are very obvious. Then we jumped into the colorful ringed pieces.
I learned a great hack for doing this type of stitching without the fancy gizmo for the machine, and it’s a lot of fun! Here’s what you need to try it:
- a sewing machine with fun pre-programmed stitches (these are the stitches we want to play with, but seldom have a use for ?)
- a 9″ square of fabric
- a 9″ square of stiff tear-away stabilizer, or plain paper (I like to use scrap sheets from my printer)
- variegated or bright colored thread in a variety of colors
- a flat head thumbtack
- a 2″ square of thin cardboard (cereal boxes work well)
- clear mailing tape
- a rubber eraser pulled from a cheap mechanical pencil
1. Fold the fabric square in half and then quarters to find the center. Mark with a pin. Secure the back of the fabric square to the stabilizer/paper square with a light spritz of spray baste, or pins in the corners.
2. Push the point of the thumbtack through the center of the cardboard square,
and place this on the bed of the machine, thumbtack point up, directly to the left of the needle, with the point of the tack half the diameter of your desired circle from the needle (this is called the radius – for a 6″ circle, the tack will be 3″ from the needle). Be sure the tack is directly to the left of the needle. Secure to the bed of the sewing machine with mailing tape, pushing the point through it.
3. Push the eraser over the point of the tack to protect your hands until you’re ready to sew.
4. Thread the machine with a pretty thread on top, and a thin polyester thread of similar value in the bobbin. Set the machine for a fun, decorative stitch.
5. Place the marked center of your fabric square onto the thumbtack, right side up. Lower the presser foot and begin to stitch – hands free! This may seem counterintuitive, but the feed dogs will pull the fabric under the presser foot while it pivots around the thumbtack, thus creating a stitched circle.
You may need to adjust the stitch length the last 1″ of each circle to get the stitch pattern to match (this takes a little practice).
Once a circle is stitched you can move and retape the tack a different measurement from the needle, change the thread and chosen stitch (or keep it the same), and create another circle. It’s loads of fun – and sew very simple!
Next week I’ll share an exciting way to put the blocks together – Quilt As You Go!