Each month we have a Technique of the Month class at The Corner Patch where I teach. My blogs this year have been largely based on these classes. This last month in class we looked at stitching curved seams by making Drunkard’s Path units and blocks. Dressmakers, used to stitching in sleeves or cuffs, usually have little difficulty with these but for others they can be quite a challenge to get right when using a machine. By hand they are much easier as you have plenty of time to ease everything together.

Everyone eventually finds the best way for them to sew these seams– whether it’s by hand or machine, lots of pins, no pins, a few pins, dabs of glue, one stitch at a time or just pedal to the metal. There is (as with so much in quilting) no ‘right’ way, only the way that works for you. For me it works best (usually) with just three pins, take it slowly and have the ‘pie shape’ on top.

Drunkard’s Path units are made from two shapes – the ‘pie’ and the ‘L’. Somehow these two curves have to be persuaded together. First you need to find the centre of both seams, so fold the shapes in half and pinch a small crease on the seam line. Put the pieces right sides together, matching those pinch marks, and put a pin there. Then bring the ends of the ‘pie’ up to meet the ends of the ‘L’ and pin again. If you wish you can ease the rest of the curves together and pin until your seam resembles a hedgehog; or you can use little dabs of fabric glue instead of pins.

Take it to the machine, take a deep breath, and start stitching – remove the pins as you go and don’t attempt to stitch over them. Keep one hand under the ‘pie’, easing the ‘L’ straight and keeping the little creases (that are determined to form) under control and away from the stitching line. Your other hand is on top doing much the same with the ‘pie’ while keeping it all in line with the ¼ inch seam mark or the edge of the foot. Try not to stitch through your fingers! Once you have made it to the end of the seam you can take another breath and cut the threads. Press the seam the way it wants to go, which is usually towards the ‘pie’. This method works quite easily with bigger units.

Sorry, but the computer seems determined to put the photos in the wrong order – so above are the unit neatly pressed, then the stitching completed and ready for pressing, and lastly the wrong side pressed to the ‘pie’.

Once you get down to 3 inch (or even 4 inch) units it can be much harder to keep everything under control – those of us who are innately fumble-fingered find it particularly difficult. But, as ever, there is a simple solution called applique. You can just cut the ‘pie’ shape using the template and then cut a square the size of the finished unit plus ½ inch as your ‘L’, turn under the seam allowance on the curve of the ‘pie’ and applique in place. Or you can use a larger square and applique a circle in the centre, then cut the square into four equal quarters.Trim away the background fabric from underneath the ‘pie’.

The applique is easy to do – make cardboard templates of the ‘pie’ without a seam allowance on the curve, or a cardboard template of the size of circle (without seam allowance) you want. Put these on the wrong side of your ‘pie’ or roughly cut circle and paint starch around the seam line. Fold the seam allowance over the card and press. Remove the card and give another quick press – you should have a beautifully even curve pressed into your fabric all ready to be appliqued in place. You can use a straight stitch as the seam allowance has been turned under, or a zig-zag, or why not decorate the edge of your Path with a fancy embroidery stitch? Or you can cut the seam allowance off all together and just zig-zag over the raw edge, or cover it with ric-rac or bias in a contrasting colour.

There are so many designs you can make with Drunkard’s Path units from using just four in a block called Plane Thinking to the sixteen in more complex blocks from Drunkard’s Path itself through Cleopatra’s Puzzle to Mill Wheel. Or you can design your own – like the one at the top of this blog which has been christened Pac Man by the class. Try using different sizes of ‘pie’ in the corners as well. So many possibilities – so little time (and space)!

These are all blocks made in class and are 12 inch finished size. Note the interesting use of stripes and checks giving movement to the blocks – don’t be afraid of using these and cutting them so the stripes are not straight.

And here’s a few ‘virtual’ ideas thanks to EQ8.



    1. Chris Franses Post author

      Good luck! I’m glad to have encouraged you to have a go. Not being a dressmaker I admit that curved seams scared me rigid for years; then I found I needed to teach how to do them – talk about staying one step ahead of the class.