Piec-lique Circles & Drunkard's Path: Tutorial

August 16, 2013 2 Comments

Piec-lique (pronounced: piece-li-kay) is a technique, developed by Sharon Schamber (my mama), for creating any type of curved seam. More than 10 years ago, She began developing the technique , and published her book, "Piec-lique: Curves the New Way", with AQS, in 2005. For those who have taken classes from my mom, or myself, the technique is often an "Ah-ha!" moment. We've seen eyes light up and minds open to so many possibilities for their sewing and quilting.

Sewing curved seams can be very intimidating. Most of the other techniques, out there, require special feet for your machine, plastic templates, many pins, and/or tic marks. All of which can be costly and tedious. Piec-lique requires none of those. It just needs you to be willing to give it a try.

Once you learn the basics of Piec-lique, you can apply the technique to ANY (yes, ANY) curved seam design in the sewing and quilting world. My mom has developed three ways to use Piec-lique: 1) Inset Curves (like the circle), 2) Layered Curves and 3) Paperless-Paper-Piecing (layered straight lines). You can find more info, and detailed, high quality instruction for all of these methods {here}.

Are you ready? Let's get started!! I know you're going to love this!

First up: Supplies
The Cast of Characters

  1. Washable Basting Glue, with a fine tip. I use Elmer's Washable School Glue, and attach {this} fine tip to the top. It gives me the perfect fine line of glue, that I can control and won't get gloppy.
  2. Spray Starch (Regular or Heavy) & a Small Cup or Bowl (I just use the lid, though)
  3. 2 Pieces of Freezer Paper. Renyolds works well**. If you have access to heavier weight freezer paper, that's even better. You can order the heavier from my mom {here}.
  4. Small Stencil or Paint Brush. I generally use a 3/8" stencil brush.
  5. Scissors for Fabric and Paper
  6. Pencil
  7. Rotary Ruler, Cutter & Mat
  8. Iron - Hot and Dry
  9. A Circle Template, or Something to Trace a Circle From
  10. Fabric - Fat Quarters work great: One for the background, and one for the circle.
  11. Sewing Machine, ready to stitch (I'm using a 50wt cotton thread, and 75/11 embroidery needles.)
Step 1: Creating Your Freezer Paper Template Shape

Trace, or print (you can print onto freezer paper) the size circle you'd like. I prefer a pencil, if tracing, because I'm paranoid that the ink from a pen will bleed. If you print from a printer, try changing the ink color to a light color to prevent bleeding. The shape only needs to be on one of your pieces of freezer paper.

The circle can be place in the center, or off center, of the paper. We're not worried about it very much. We'll be centering it on the fabric later, using guides we'll create.

Step 2: Preparing Your Freezer Paper Template

Once you have the circle traced and ready, lay both of your pieces of freezer paper on your pressing board, SHINY SIDES DOWN. I can't stress that point enough. If you put shiny sides up, the paper will stick to your iron. If you put shiny sides together, you'll adhere the pieces together, incorrectly, and won't be able to use them for Piec-lique.

You might be wondering why 2 pieces of freezer paper, instead of the typical single piece. Making your template with two pieces makes it much stronger, durable, and reusable. Doubling the layers will let you use the template 5-8 times, easily.

As you're pressing, apply a good amount of pressure to make sure the layers stick, and any bubbles or ripples are flat.

Shiny Sides Down!
After the two layers are pressed together, cut the center of the circle out, leaving the outside frame intact. Be sure to cut with smooth movements. Any bumps or gouges will show up on your fabric, later.

Our circle is cut and ready for the fabric!

Step 3: It's Fabric Time!

Cut a square piece of fabric that is a few inches larger than your circle. My circle is 4" across, so I cut my fabric at 8", but I would have been just fine with 6". We'll true up our block, making it the actual size you'd like, once we're done. You could cut your fabric to size now, but if this is your first time trying Piec-lique, I recommend giving yourself extra to work with.

Lightly starch and press your background fabric.

Finger press center creases into both your background fabric and your circle template. Draw a little line, or mark, on the creases of the circle template. This will help us center the circle, just right. If you want to play around, and off set the circle, go right ahead!

Line up your marks on the background fabric and template. Hold it in place, and press it, shiny side down, with your iron, to the back of your background fabric.

Press the template well, so it completely sticks to your background fabric. You should have no bubbles or bumps.

 Step 4: Cutting Out Your Circle

Next, you'll cut the center of your circle out. This can be a rough-cut. Give yourself at least a 3/8" seam allowance, here. That extra width in the seam allowance will help give you more control when you sew. Once we sew it up, you'll be trimming it off, to make it a nice little 1/4" allowance.

Discard the center that you cut away, or add it into your scrap bin.

Next, clip the inside curve of the circle. We are going to be pressing this up and over the edge of the freezer paper template, and the clipping will allow it to open up, creating a nice smooth circle. When you clip, stop about 2-3 threads/fibers before the freezer paper template. If you clip too close, a pesky little hole will show up on your lovely circle.

Gauge your clipping, so the allowance will turn to make a smooth circle. Too far apart will keep your circle from looking smooth. Too close is hard to manage,when your pressing. Mine is usually 3/8", or a tad smaller, for a circle. The wider the curve, the wider my clipping.

Step 5: Starching the Seam Allowance

Spray some starch into a small cup, or bowl. I usually just use the lid of my starch can. It will probably foam up some. When the foam settles, the liquid will be left.

With your stencil brush, paint some starch along the inside edge of the seam allowance. It should be damp, not heavily wet. Paint it around the entire circle. You also paint on the starch a bit, then iron, then paint on more. Either way is fine.

Step 6: Pressing the Seam Allowance

Be sure your iron is hot and dry. Pull back the little "tabs" of the seam allowance, over the top of the freezer paper. You'll feel when you "hit" the template. Don't pull on the tabs too much, to prevent the freezer paper from folding over, as well.

Press the tabs down, with your iron. Move around the circle, pulling over the tabs, and pressing them down. Slowly and smoothly.

When it's all pressed it will look a lot like the cog of a wheel. You should have a smoothly pressed circle, all the way around.

Step 7: Adding the Circle Fabric

Cut the fabric for the center of your circle. Since my circle is about 4", I cut a 5" square. The square doesn't need to be precise or cut perfectly. It just needs to be bigger than the center circle. I'm using Lilly Belle by Bari J. from Art Gallery Fabrics.

Remove the freezer paper. If you press it lightly with your iron, the wax of the shiny side will warm up, and release more easily.

Draw a fine line of glue around the circle, on the inside edge. See how close the edge I place it?

Place your circle fabric, right side down, and be sure it covers the seam allowance on all sides. Heat-set it in place with your iron.

Now for the big reveal! Turn it over, and take a look at your gorgeous circle!!!

Step 8: Sewing it all Together

Turn your circle back over to the back, and open up the crease you made when you starched and turned  your background. See that crease you made by pressing the allowance over, and against the freezer paper? This is your sewing line! Awesome, right? It's like magic!

Place your circle on your machine, and get ready to do some stitchin'. Be sure that the tabs of the allowance, and the right side of the raw edge of the circle fabric are to the right of the foot. You will be sewing through two layers, just like when you piece normally. Line your needle up with the crease, and begin with your needle down.

Slowly stitch directly on the crease, going around the entire circle. I guide with both hands, using my left to keep the bulk of the background out of the way of the needle. If you catch the background under the needle, you'll get tucks and puckers. I used a 1.8/2 stitch length, here.

When you get back to where you started, backstitch a few stitches.

This is what the seam will look like.

Once it's sewn, trim the allowance down to 1/4".

Turn it over, and press out any creases made from the sewing process. Feel free to starch lightly, if you'd like.


Step 9: Truing Up Your Block

To true up our block, we'll be working from the center out. This will give you a much more accurate measurement.

The following instructions are for making a centered and square block. If you'd like to play around with your circle and cut it off center, or make it wonky, go right ahead. There are so many fun things you can do with Piec-lique circles.

First, mark the centers of all four sides. It's a good idea to mark at the edge, and a small mark closer to the circle. Our original mark will be removed, as we cut away the edges. The additional mark, will help us we true it up.

Choose a measurement mark on your cutting mat to center your block on. I chose the 5" mark, but you could choose the 10, or anything you prefer. Lay your marked block on your mat, and line up your verticle marks with the measurement you chose.

Decide how big you want your block to be. I wanted a 5 1/2" block, unfinished, so as I trim, I will be measuring 2 3/4" from the center out, to be sure my block is accurate at the end.

Cut the right side first. Line up your ruler, from the center line, to half of the measurement that you want your unfinished block to be. For example, my block will be 5 1/2", unfinished, and 2 3/4" is half. That will be my mark for cutting. I lined up my center mark to the 2 3/4"measurement on my ruler. Then cut off the side with your cutter.

Next, line up your ruler on the left side of your circle block, going out, from the center, the same measurement you cut before. For mine, I went out from the center 2 3/4". Then cut.

Turn your block around, line up the bottom of your block to a horizonal measurement line, to keep it square. Repeat the measuring and cutting process for the last two sides.

TA-DA!!!!!!!!!!!! You did it!! Once you get the hang of this technique, you'll be making circles, of all sizes, and making them really fast. Now, I can finish one circle in less than 10 minutes.

The Drunkard's Path:

Turning your circle into a Drunkard's Path block is so crazy easy! There are only 2 steps. All you need to to is cut your circle in half, right down the center. Then cut both halves of your circle, in half. And just like magic, you have 4 Drunkard's Path blocks.

So freaking cool!!!

You can make a bunch of different circles, and cut them up to give you some scrappy Drunkard's Path blocks. There are so many layouts you can create with Drunkard's Path. I know you'll have a lot of fun with these blocks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had fun learning Piec-lique.

**A note about freezer paper: If you use Renolyds, or another brand found at a grocery store, it will need to be preshrunk. When ironed, freezer paper shrinks in width (about 1/8"), but not length. Preshrinking it will prevent inaccuracies as you reuse the template. To preshrink your freezer paper, tear off your desired length, lay it shiny side down onto your pressing board. Lightly spray it with spray starch, and press it with a dry (NO steam) iron until it is completely flat and dry. Repeat for your second piece of freezer paper. You'll notice it pulling in on the width. Once it's dry and flat, it's ready to be used. If you order freezer paper from my mom, it doesn't need to be preshrunk.

2 Responses

Deborah Montgomery
Deborah Montgomery

April 22, 2020

Awesome instructions – very clear and concise! I’m just starting to learn quilting and want to make the drunkards path quilt design! Thanks sooo much for your instructions!

barb vedder
barb vedder

September 02, 2018

thanks! this is an awesome tutorial and I just linked it on my blog today.

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