Appliquéing round curves and corners

Appliqué is a great way to add a personal touch. Here are some tips on getting neat corners, points and curves.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an introductory tutorial on how to appliqué. I went over the basic technique, which you can find all over the internet, but I wanted to spend some time looking in a bit more detail at some of the more troublesome areas.

One thing you might run into trouble with is in sewing smoothly when appliquéing round curves and corners. So I spent some time running up some samples and exploring how best to sew round those awkward shapes.

Some terminology

How you sew round curves and corners depends partly on the type of stitch you are using, and partly on the type of curve or corner. So before we start, I want to define some terms.

I’m going to talk about inside and outside curves and corners, so here’s a diagram to illustrate what I mean by these terms:
inside-outside2
So an inside corner is the smaller 90 degree right angle – regardless of whether this is the applique shape or the background fabric.

Secondly, I’m going to distinguish between two types of stitch:

  1. Type 1: Those where the part of the stitch lies along the very edge of the appliqué shape; for example, appliqué (reverse blanket) stitch.
  2. Type 2: Those where the stitch goes either side of the edge of the appliqué shape, but the needle never goes into the fabric exactly on the edge – zigzag and satin stitch are examples of this.

If you’re using any other kind of stitch, then start by working out which type it is.

Appliquéing round corners

Appliquéing round a corner is relatively straightforward. You sew until you reach the corner and then you need to change direction by pivoting. The tricky bit is deciding when to pivot.

Pivoting for Type 1 stitches

For Type 1 stitches (eg appliqué) you want to pivot exactly on the corner.

Make sure the needle is in the down position at the corner point, lift the presser foot and rotate the fabric.

Pivot exactly on the corner

Pivoting for Type 2 stitches

For Type 2 stitches (eg zigzag and satin), the needle is never on the edge of the shape – it’s either on the inside of the corner or the outside.

So you can either pivot on the inside or on the outside. It’s a matter of personal preference which you choose (it looks different depending on what stitch you are using), but it’s best to pick one and stick with it.

Pivoting on the inside corner

  1. Stop with the needle down at the pivot point in the diagram below – inside the corner, half a stitch width from the actual corner both horizontally and vertically.
  2. Lift the presser foot, rotate the fabric through 90 degrees (a right angle) and continue sewing.

corner-inner

This will leave an open corner. This looks good with an open stitch, such as a loose zigzag, but can look a bit like something’s missing with a denser satin stitch.

Pivoting on the outside corner

  1. Stop with the needle down at the pivot point in the diagram below – outside the corner, half a stitch width from the actual corner both horizontally and vertically.
  2. Lift the presser foot, rotate the fabric through 90 degrees (a right angle) and continue sewing.

corner-outer

This will overlap the stitching at the corner, filling it in. This looks good with a solid satin stitch, but can look messy with a very open stitch.

Two-step pivoting

A more complex method is to pivot twice at the corner.

  1. First stop at the inside corner pivot point as shown below, with the needle in the down position.
  2. Lift the presser foot and pivot through 45 degrees ( half of a right angle).
  3. Take one stitch so the needle is now down in the outside corner pivot position. You may find it easier to take the stitch manually by turning the wheel.
  4. Again, lift the presser foot and rotate the fabric another 45 degrees so you have turned the full corner. Continue sewing.

corner-2-step
You can extend this to a multi-step pivot round the corner:

  1. Start by stopping with the needle down on the inside corner.
  2. Pivot though a small angle (the smaller the angle the more stitches you will take at the corner) and take a single step to an outside point.
  3. Pivot on the outside point so that the next stitch takes you back to the inside corner pivot position.
  4. Continue until you have gone round the corner.

corner-2step-satin
Note that you always pivot on the inside corner in the same position. This can take some practice to get it working smoothly!

General tips for appliquéing round corners

  • If you have the option, set your machine so the needle stops in the down position.
  • Go slower as you approach the corner so you don’t overshoot.
  • A shorter stitch length makes it easier to hit the right pivot point.
  • You can adjust the stitch length slightly as you approach the corner to get the needle to hit the right point, but don’t overdo it.
  • If you’re very careful you can raise the needle and the presser foot to shift the fabric slightly so the needle hits the pivot point – but take care when doing this!

Appliquéing round points

Appliquéing round points is similar to corners, but because a point isn’t a perfect right angle there’s a little bit more fiddling around.

Pivoting for Type 1 stitches

For Type 1 stitches, as before, you want to pivot on the point itself. Don’t pivot the full angle; adjust the fabric so that you are going across the point, not down either side. This is because on the appliqué stitch, the next part of the stitch is the bar – you want that going directly into the appliqué shape away from the point.

Take that stitch and then when the needle is back at the pivot point, needle down, then turn the fabric the remaining angle so you are once again stitching along the edge of the shape.

point1

Pivoting for Type 2 stitches

For Type 2 stitches, again you can either pivot on the inside or the outside of the point.

Pivoting on the inside is easier – it works the same way as for corners.

Stop with the needle down at the pivot point, half a stitch width in from each side. Pivot and sew the second edge. You may find with a denser satin stitch that your points can look cut-off with this method.

point2

Pivoting on the outside is slightly more awkward, as the needle will not naturally fall in a spot directly off the point, as it did with a corner. Instead, you will need to pivot twice on the outside.

Stop with the needle down on the outside just beyond the point. Pivot so you are going across the point. Take two stitches (a zig and a zag) across the point until you are at the second pivot point – a mirror image of the first. For a satin stitch, you may need to take a couple more stitches to reach the second pivot point, but the crucial thing is to make sure you take stitches in multiples of two.

Turn the fabric again so you are read to sew down the next side.

point3

A final alternative is the two-step (or more) pivot method following the instructions for corners. This gradually stitches round the point keeping it pointy.

point4

Appliqueing round curves

For gentle curves you may find you don’t need to do anything special other than take it a little slower than usual – you can gradually guide the fabric through as you sew.

But for tighter curves you can’t move the fabric enough in between stitches without stopping. So you’ll need to stop every few stitches with the needle down, and then pivot the fabric slightly to follow the curve. The tighter the curve, the more often you will need to pivot – down to every single stitch for very tight curves.

Pivoting for Type 1 stitches

For Type 1 stitches (eg appliqué) only pivot when the needle is on the edge of the appliqué shape (first diagram below). If you pivot when the needle is in the appliqué shape, you’ll get either gaps (as in the second diagram) or untidy overlaps.

Pivoting on the edge gives a smooth line following the edge of the appliqué shape, with any stitches off this angled round the curve.

curves-type1

Pivoting for Type 2 stitches

For Type 2 stitches (eg zigzag and satin), the needle is never on the edge of the shape – it’s either on the inside of the curve or the outside.

You can either pivot on the inside of the curve or on the outside. If you pivot on the inside, then the gap between successive stitches on the inside will be the stitch length – the gaps between stitches on the outside will be larger, and will change as the tightness of the curve changes. Conversely, if you pivot on the outside, then the gap between successive stitches on the outside will be the stitch length – the gaps between stitches on the inside will be smaller, and will change as the tightness of the curve changes.

So basically, you control the spacing of the stitches on the side of the curve that you pivot. In the diagram, the blue line is the stitch length – you can see how the spacing is constant on the pivot side, but changes on the opposite side.

vcurve-type2

You can choose either way, but stitching looks smoother if you pick one and stick with it. It makes very little difference for gentle and moderate curves, but I prefer to pivot on the outside of a curve as this tends to look better on very tight curves.

General tips for appliquéing round curves

  • If you have the option, set your machine so the needle stops in the down position.
  • Go slower than you would along straight edges, slowing almost to stitch by stitch for tight curves.
  • Shorten the stitch length for tight curves.
  • For a smooth curve, pivot regularly, eg every four stitches or every two. Pivot more often for tighter curves.
  • For a smooth curve, try to move the fabric by the same amount each time.
  • For tighter curves, you can either pivot more often or move the fabric more. For smooth curves, it is better to pivot more often, and only start moving the fabric more once you’re pivoting every stitch.

Combining curves and corners

The important thing to remember is that at any point in sewing round a shape you are only in one of the following situations:

  • sewing round a curve, pivoting on the appliqué shape
  • sewing round a curve, pivoting on the background fabric
  • sewing round a corner, pivoting on the appliqué shape
  • sewing round a corner, pivoting on the background fabric
  • sewing a straight edge

So once you’ve worked out which stage you are at, just focus on the pivot points for that step. The tricky bit can be working out where to change stages, especially when dealing with curves.

bumps1

Here we have two curves that join at a corner. Let’s pivot on the outside of all curves and corners. Then sewing from the left, we have:

  • curve (pivot on outside of curve – ie on background fabric)
  • corner (pivot outside corner ie on appliqué shape)
  • curve (pivot on outside of curve – ie on background fabric)

bumps2

In this next picture, the curve smoothly changes direction:
doublecurve-1
Assuming again that we want to pivot on the outside of the curve, then sewing from the left we have:

  • curve (pivot on outside of curve – ie in the appliqué shape)
  • straight (no pivoting required)
  • curve (pivot on outside of curve – ie in background fabric)

doublecurve-2


This has been a post full of diagrams, because that seemed to be the clearest way to illustrate exactly where to pivot in the different situations. But it’s important not to get too hung up on getting it perfect. In these close-up diagrams tiny discrepancies are magnified and just being slightly out looks like a disaster. But in real life, being slightly off the pivot points doesn’t show up as much and there’s a fair bit of wiggle room.

So don’t let all the detail here put you off – I always like to pull everything apart and understand what’s going on behind the scenes. But in practice, as long as you pivot in roughly the right area it will look okay.

Here’s an actual sewn sample.
corner-closeup

On the left-hand curve I pivoted on the outside of the curve every few stitches. On the right-hand curve, I pivoted sometimes on the inside of the curve and sometimes on the outside. If you look close-up, you can see that it looks slightly less even. And if you’re being fussy, the point of the corner in the centre is slightly off-centre.

But you only notice this in close-up – from a distance it all looks fine.
corner

One Response to Appliquéing round curves and corners

  1. MARYANNE SMITH 13 October, 2018 at 4:42 am #

    Very good informtion. Wish I had it when I started appliqeing. My nriends gave me info and the internet had simple instructions for curves. I will share that with students I teach.

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