Monday, 16 February 2015

Free-hand Foundation Piecing Tutorial

Welcome to the first stop on the Oakshott Colourshott Blog Hop! Hosted by Lily's Quilt Blog this little season of inspirational posts will be bringing you a whole host of new ideas for using the wonderful Oakshott cottons!

Recently I've returned to one of my first patchwork loves - foundation piecing, and more importantly free-hand foundation piecing, something I have been doing for more than 20 years. 

I taught 'Free-hand New York Beauty' at last year's Stitch Gathering and recently the very challenging 'Free-hand Pickle Dish' at my studio. So I thought I would treat you all to a tutorial on my method.

I am calling this my Sea Urchins Wall Hanging and I hope you'll all be brave enough to have a go yourselves!

Oakshott kindly sent me one of their Colourshott 10" square packs to play with. To make the wall hanging you will also need 1 metre of background fabric (I chose a pale grey) and a pack of sew-in interfacing (if you don't have any of this you could use some light cotton for a foundation, like an old sheet but it can be a little harder to draw on).
I started by dividing up my colourshott pack into 4 colourways that I thought would work well as 4 separate blocks.

Cut 4 squares measuring 16 inches each from your sew-in interfacing. Draw a centre line top to bottom and left to right. I started off using a pencil but switched to a permanent fine tip pen so that it would show better in the photos.

Now it's time for the free-hand bit! You are going to draw wonky circles on to your interfacing, one inside the other.
Start gently with pencil until you are happy with your curves then use a pen to make a finished line. Try to make each quarter different - it can be surprisingly difficult not to be regular!

Now draw your sectional lines all the way around between the 2 circles, these should be wider wedges with narrower wedges in between. I found 5 wide wedges per quarter fitted about right. One of the wedges will always stop at the quarter line but it doesn't matter whether it is a thick or thin wedge. Again try to be as random as you can. If you are not very good at drawing straight lines use a ruler.
Also mark on 'top left', 'top right', etc. on the 4 corners.

Now cut you interfacing into 4 quarters along the drawn quarter lines.

Cut a strip from your background fabric that is the same width as your 'tallest' wedges plus in inch.

We are going to start with the purple/pink block. Cut your squares in half but slightly off centre by about half an inch. This will give you a good variety of sizes for piecing.

Now we will start foundation piecing. For those of you familiar with paper piecing it is exactly the same as this except for a few points:
1. Foundation fabric doesn't get removed
2. It is easier to unpick and doesn't fall apart if you make a mistake.
3. As we have drawn our pattern on we can re-draw it at any time if we make a mistake/misjudge amount of fabric needed.
But just like paper piecing you put your fabric right side up on the wrong side of the foundation and sew from the right side (side that you drew on to).

Before you start piecing you might find it helpful to number your wedges. I have numbered these anti-clockwise as that is the direction that makes the most sense for me to work from but you could work from which ever feels most natural to you.
Cut a piece of background fabric that is the same size as wedge number 1 but with at least a quarter inch seam allowance around all 4 sides. You can see it above sitting underneath my foundation here. It is harder to tell with solid fabrics but this is the wrong side of the fabric that you can see.

I'm not going to sew this bit down as it will get attached when I sew my second piece. So I have placed the purple piece (right sides together with the grey) so that it will 'flip' over to the correct position (covering wedge number 2) once it's sewn.
Sew along your first wedge line, through both fabrics. Start a quarter inch before the line started and finish (reversing either end) a quarter inch beyond end of line.

Turn your fabric over and fold back your purple fabric, press (or 'finger press').

Now trim your purple fabric so that it covers all of wedge 2 with a quarter inch seam allowance (at least, you can trim more at either end later) on all four sides. This is easiest to do from the back (drawn line side), fold your foundation back on itself so that you can see a quarter inch seam line through the interfacing and cut with your rotary cutter or scissors (don't cut through the foundation fabric!).

It should look like this once trimmed. Wedge number 3 is very thin so the seam allowance from wedge 2 covers it completely, this is fine but try not to lose any of your wedges, use your numbers to keep track.

Place another piece of grey, right sides together on top of your purple (check that it has enough room to 'flip' over before you sew) and sew from the right side of your foundation again (remembering to sew into the quarter inch seam allowance).

Hopefully you are getting the idea now. This sort of piecing is hard to describe!

Trim wedge 3 and add wedge 4.

Keep adding wedges, making sure you leave at least a quarter inch seam allowance round each piece (don't worry if it is more you will be trimming soon).

Once you have completed all the wedges you can move on to your next quarter.

First let's have a look at the back and make sure we have enough seam allowance. Trim you beginning and ending wedges so they have a quarter inch seam.

Pay attention to your quarter placements (top left, top right, etc.) so that you can get your colours to grade around the circle.

I went from dark purple through pink and lilac and back again to get some movement around the ring.

Once you have completed your 4 quarters it's time for the next scary bit - curved piecing! But don't worry, I am going to show you a wee trick to help with this.

Turn a quarter over to the back and trim away your excess fabric to an exact (or near enough) quarter inch from the inner circle line. I do this by eye with my cutter but if that seems a little hard for you then you can draw a line then cut it with your scissors.

Turn your pieced quarter over and place on top of the right side of a corner of your background. You don't need to cut anything you can just open out your whole metre and pick a corner. Line up your quarter so that the background overlaps by at least a half inch (from foundation) on either pieced side (as above). Now using the trimmed quarter circle as a guide cut the exact same curved line from the background.

Flip the background quarter circle over so that it's middle point sits on top of the pieced quarter circle, pin.

Take to your sewing machine and start sewing from the middle, easing the curve around gently and slowly.

If it is quite a tight curve you will need to take this even slower, sometimes making just one stitch before you need to ease your quarter circle around a little more.

Sew all the way to the end. Then flip it over and go back to the centre and sew the rest of the seam, this time with the pieced quarter on top.

This can feel a bit weird at first because it is harder to see your inner circle beneath, but actually it is easier this way as you are easing something with more stability and less opportunity to stretch.

I find starting from the centre an easier way to curve piece and less prone to distortions. But be careful you don't 'catch' your underneath fabric when you begin at the centre again. It is actually easier to begin with the pieced bit on top, but much harder to describe this way!

Once finished give it a good press. Don't worry about trimming at this stage.

Now we'll piece the outer circle. Turn your quarter over again and trim a quarter inch from drawn line as before. Take this and your discarded bit of foundation and put on top of another corner of background fabric (both flipped back over to the pieced side). Line up your discarded foundation piece so that there is an inch of background around the right angle and sit the pieced quarter so it sits a quarter inch below it (as shown below).

With the pieced quarter in this position cut around the curved line through the background as you did with the inner curve. Cut this outer quarter piece away from your background.

Flip your outer quarter over your pieced quarter so the middles sit on top of each other and sew the curve from the centre out like you did with the inner curve. Turn over, start back at the middle and sew whole curve. This curve is much easier than the inner one! Press.

Now we just need to trim our quarter. Turn over to the back of your piece and using a 12 and a half inch square ruler line up the original foundation edges (of the pieced section) a quarter inch in from the edge of the ruler, making a right angle with it's point at the inner circle centre. Trim this right angle.

Turn you ruler around and trim the other right angle of the block so is measure exactly 8 and a half inches.

Finish your other 3 quarters in the same way and sew together to make your first block which should look very similar to your original drawing!

Using your other colourways to make 3 more blocks. Try to make your free-hand circles and wedges different each time.

Sew your 4 blocks together, baste and quilt as desired. I used my walking foot to quilt in the ditch around the wedges. I then free-motion quilted around the rings and in the centres with a 'circles within circles' pattern.

I used left-over Oakshott fabric to make a scrappy binding.

As always the Oakshott was wonderful to work with and it's stability worked so well with this project.
When I had finished I thought these looked a little like sea urchin shells hence the name.

The wall hanging is 32 inches square. I bet this would look great as a full sized quilt too (if anyone has the patience!) Having said that this project only took me 2 days.
And one more thing about it - I will be taking it to Austin with me this week as it is going to hang in the booth of Pinwheels, one of the QuiltCon vendors who will be bringing Oakshott to sell!

For the next 2 weeks there will be 8 new posts in the Oakshott Colourshott Blog Hop. Head on over to Lynne's for the schedule. I can't wait to see what everyone else comes up with!!


  1. Thanks so much, this is a great tutorial!
    More on the to-do-list! :-)

  2. A great quilt and fab description too - very understandable! I love the organic nature of the offset circles.

  3. Wow!!! Thanks for the tutorial!! Beautiful idea!!!!

  4. Jo this is such a fab tutorial! And it works so well with the beautiful Oakshotts. Gorgeous quilt!!!

  5. I love this! Thanks so much for the tutorial.

  6. I love this! Thanks so much for the tutorial.

  7. Thanks for a beautifully written and photographed tutorial for a gorgeous block!

  8. What a fun quilt and great tutorial! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Fabulous tutorial and surprising how little waste there is with your method. Love oakshott.

  10. Wow. I am feeling inspired. Great tutorial I want to have a go. I hope it is as easy as you make it look.

  11. What a spectacular quilt!! And such a great tutorial, thanks!!

  12. Awesome Rawsome!! I will be wishing I was in Texas and miss you madly!!:)

  13. That quilt is "drop dead" gorgeous. Thanks for the tutorial, but I doubt I'll be doing that anytime soon-too many other things on my plate!

  14. This. Is. Amazing. Why didn't I think of it? I love everything about this, and your tutorial is so followable. I am going to share it, and forget everything I said about not starting anything new until I finish my ufos. This is top of the list. Thanks!

  15. Love this quilt and the tutorial is perfect! I'll be giving it a try, though only after my Oakshott-in-progress has been finished...

  16. what a fantastic method, great tutorial and a beautiful quilt - thank you :-)

  17. This process looks both intricate and freeing at the same time.Looks like fun! Thanks for sharing your method. It pairs so well with the Oakshott cottons - the colors are so rich.

  18. That looks amazing. Thanks for the tutorial.

  19. Thanks for the tutorial! I want to give this a try. Love your wall hanging!