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  • Nicola

Vintage Circus Sew-along: month 1

Welcome to the Vintage Circus sewalong! Richla, from Got Kwilts, and I are looking forward to your company for the next five months as we create this show-stopping quilt together. Grab some popcorn and take your seat...

Magician's Rabbit, Ringmaster's Dog & Circus Wagon

We may be starting our sew-along with the smallest characters in our quilt, but they have a big role to play by introducing us to the key techniques we'll be using: snowballed corners, placement templates and raw edge applique.


The snowball technique:

For my first trick I'm going to show you how to create a snowballed corner. You may know this as an easy-corner-triangle or a sew-and-flip-corner. Whatever you call it, it's an incredibly useful technique, simplifying cutting out, minimising bias and keeping the edges of your units nice and square. I like to press my corners 'open' before I trim away the back layers so that I can check their accuracy first.

We're using quite small pieces to create our snowballed corners, but please use your standard stitch length. It's tempting to make the stitch length shorter when sewing with small pieces, but if you make a mistake it will be a pain to unpick the seam. Rather, turn down your machine's SPEED: you are far less likely to make a mistake.

Where possible I like to press the the side using a good quality, fine gauge thread - I love sewing with Aurifil's 50 wt - which helps to keep my seams nice and flat.


Creating the circus podium:

Here's a technique to help you stand out from the crowd: placement templates. Many of you will be familiar with templates used to CUT fabric and many of the ones we use now are made of acrylic so that we can use them with rotary cutters. Placement templates are used to MARK fabric, so the sharpest thing you'll be using with them is a pencil.

When we use templates to cut fabric, we often end up with small, irregularly shaped pieces with stretchy bias edges that can distort as we sew them together. Using templates to mark placement lines allows us to add a slightly oversized piece, stitch first then trim to size. It borrows a little of it's method from foundation paper piecing (without having to piece everything back to front, or tear out foundation papers, phew!) and the stitch-and-flip method we've just used to make snowballed corners.

The circus podium is, essentially, a pair of Triangle-in-a-Square units. There is a template at the back of your pattern which you will use to MARK placement lines on the red print squares. If you have a lightbox you don't even need to cut out the template, as I shared here, and can trace the lines directly from the pattern. If I don't plan to use my lightbox I cut roughly around the template and stick it to an old cereal packet using a glue stick before cutting it out accurately. With PAPER scissors, not my precious fabric scissors.

You will then cut oversized side pieces from the blue print, as shown above, which you will position on the line, shown below.

Position the blue print side pieces - right sides together - on the placement line and pin in place before stitching ¼" from the edge...

...then set your seam and press open before turning the unit to the WRONG SIDE. Use the red print square to trim away the excess side fabric accurately (which is where this technique borrows from foundation piecing). Once the block is trimmed to size you can snip away the back layer before repeating to create the other side of the triangle.

EDIT: For those of you who asked if there was a Foundation Paper Piecing template for the circus podium: you can now download one by clicking on the link, below. A rapturous round of applause to Vintage Circus sewalong participant, Andrea, for testing it for me.

Circus Podium FPP Template
Download PDF • 150KB

Raw edge applique:

Raw edge applique is such a fun, beginner-friendly technique, allowing you to add all sorts of exciting details to your circus blocks that won't have you jumping through hoops to create.

A sheet of fusible applique paper applies a fine mesh of glue to the wrong side of your fabric so that you can adhere it - using the heat of a dry iron - to the quilt block. I prefer to choose a lightweight product and it's important to read through the manufacturers instructions as each product varies slightly.

You can choose any stitch to secure the hoop in place - I find straight stitch very forgiving - and stitch slooooowly around those curves. The hand crank is your friend! It's important to note that the fabric will fray very slightly. If that bothers you choose felt or how about some sparkly tulle?


Strip piecing:

The bars of the circus wagon are made using the strip-piecing technique. This allows you to use longer pieces of fabric - which are easier to handle and press - subcutting them into the smaller units we need to make the wagon's bars.

As you'll be making several units together you can take your to time to PIN, PRESS - gently pushing the tip of your iron into the crease - and CUT CAREFULLY, lining up your ruler with the seam.

Reading back through this post there's a common theme emerging: taking your time. And if any of the techniques are new to you, practise with some scrap fabric before cutting into your precious Tilda prints. Practise really does make perfect, as any magician's rabbit will tell you.

See you next month, when we'll be tackling a character who's considerably larger...

Nicola xx


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