Turned-Edge Applique: Challenge #3

Smooth curves challengeTurned-edge appliqué creates beautiful results but it does present some challenges. So far, we have addressed marking the lines and turning under the seam allowance. But just because we know four ways to technically turn under the seam allowance, that may not be the real challenge. The real challenge may be achieving smooth curves or handling inside points, outside points, circles, or skinny stems. So let’s dig a little deeper and discover how to attain a perfect smooth turned edge.

A smooth turned edge is most commonly an issue along outside curves. To address this challenge, it might be helpful to first understand what is actually happening. An outside curve has excess seam allowance and this extra fabric must be eased in as the seam allowance is turned under. To get a visual of what this eased seam allowance looks like, I tried stitching a circle to clear plastic so we could see through the back. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to photograph plastic – but you can get a bit of an idea nevertheless.

Easing seam allowance for smooth curves

What tends to happen though, is the extra fabric in the seam allowance folds over itself rather than easing evenly around the curve.

How a bump is formed

These little folds can create bumps along the turned edge, rather than the smooth edge we are looking for.

Smooth curves comparison

So how can we avoid this? How can we minimize the folds and bumps and encourage the seam allowance to ease smoothly around the curve? Here are a few suggestions.

Reduce the width of the seam allowance

The bigger the seam allowance, the more fabric that will need to be eased around the outside curves. Try leaving a little less than the standard quarter-inch – perhaps 3/16″ or so.

Take smaller stitches

If you think of the space between each stitch as a straight line, a greater number of straight lines will produce a smoother curve. In the same way, a greater number of stitches will produce smoother turned-edge appliqué.

Straight Lines for curves

Needle-turn small segments

With needle-turn appliqué, the seam allowance is turned under with the tip of the needle as you sew. To keep curves smooth, turn under only a small segment of seam allowance ahead of the needle. For very tight curves, I may only turn under enough for the next stitch!

Try the Apliquick method

With the Apliquick method, the seam allowance is turned under with a stainless steel rod and glued to light-weight fusible interfacing. The pointed end of the rod is very useful for easing out any folds or bumps in the seam allowance before the appliqué is stitched to the background.

Apliquick rod for smooth curves

To clip or not to clip?

I’m asked this all the time. I clip inside curves (where there is a lack of fabric to go around the curve) but I do not clip outside curves (where there is excess fabric). Here’s why.

Clipping outside curve

If the seam allowance along an outside curve is clipped, it will overlap itself rather than ease. At this point of overlap, a small bump will tend to form. Think again of the series of straight lines and how many clips you would have to make to create a smooth line!

For smooth turned-edge curves, the trick is to clip the seam allowance along inside curves and to ease it around outside curves. Try reducing the width of the seam allowance, taking smaller stitches, needle-turning smaller segments, or using the Apliquick method. You can do it! Since we used a round shape for all our examples, it seems fitting that our next challenge should be turned-edge circles. Stay tuned for part 4!


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