I heart circles

When we last met, I mentioned my love for circles in quilts — pieced circles (wedges…), whole circles — I’m an equal opportunity circle lover. Except when it comes to execution of quilts with lots of whole circles. I’d get all jazzed up about starting a circle quilt, start with my favorite method of prepping circles and then get entirely bored and bogged down in the prep work. ::sniffle:: No circle quilts until you prep your circles, young lady!

Mind you, I’d had one of those quilt-life-altering experiences when I took a class from Karen Kay Buckley. You know, those moments when a great teacher shows you something and you feel like they’ve just unlocked the secrets of the universe. That’s what she did one fine spring day in northern Michigan. She showed us how to make perfect circles with heat resistant templates (or washers, at the time), starch and a running stitch. As in, trace your circle template, stitch an even running stitch within the 1/4″ seam allowance (leaving a nice tail), put the template back in the circle, pull up the stitches, paint the seam allowance with starch and dry it with a medium hot iron. Carefully, loosen a few stitches so you can remove the template, gather the circle back up and give it one last good press. Voila! Perfect circles, no pointy, uneven or flat bits.

Now, if you want to see a demo of this, Karen Kay Buckley has a new applique DVD out. I am certain it is wonderful because she is a fabulous teacher! You can also go see the lovely Janet’s post which includes another mind-blowing idea for small circles (i.e., don’t cut out your circle until you’ve done the running stitch!)! We are surrounded by genius!

Anyhoo, since the Karen Kay Buckley class, I’ve used this method to prep circles. But, gosh, a girl’s attention can start to wander when she has eighty-bazillion large-ish circles to prep. The running stitch on the larger circles just takes such a long time. Whine, whine, whine.

Knowing that, I — for some reason — volunteered to do a circle quilt recently. Well, what can I say, the fabrics were fun and the method was a stroke of genius by Mary Lou Hallenbeck. This method makes great use of the fabric because you cut out your circle from a square and then you applique a circle back onto the square after you’ve done a little magic trick to the square — make the hole in the square smaller by adding 1/4″ seams.

But there was still the problem of prepping the circles that would be appliqued to the squares…hmmm…. I do love a good round of Trouble-shoot This Quilt (the home game). What to do, what to do. I went to my bookshelves. Surely there was circle info and inspiration there.

Here’s something to consider, the six-minute circle as described by Dale Fleming in Pieced Curves So Simple:


You can find a tutorial for this at HGTV’s site or over at Dioramarama.

Nope, that wouldn’t work in this situation since I didn’t have a square upon which to applique the circle. I mean, I guess I could have tried and then wept in frustration because my seam allowances weren’t working out.

I also had Reynola Pakusich’s Circle Play book:


Say, what’s this? She cuts out circles from freezer paper, irons them to the wrong side of the circle fabric, cuts out adding seam allowance and then MACHINE STITCHES within the seam allowance. She then gathers the machine stitching and presses it around the freezer paper. That sounded promising.

So, I tried it. But I found that I was getting flat spots when I pulled up the stitching. I then tried NOT pulling up the stitching. EUREKA! The machine gathering stitch made these nice little cups anyway, so I could insert my heat resistant template into the middle, paint the seam allowance with starch, press with the iron and do a dance of joy.

I started out with a pile of circles and a pile of, well, holes:


I machine stitched around all of the circles making these Gelato cups:


And then I added the circle template (cut from heat resistant template plastic):


And worked my way around, painting the seam allowance with starch, drying it with the iron, painting a little more seam allowance and so on. I really like using a small stencil brush for painting the starch on — the bristles are short and strong and really help to turn the seam allowance up over the template’s edge:




I can then easily slip the template plastic out of the pressed circle:


Keep going until you have a pile of prepped circles:

Meanwhile, your sewing alter ego is stitching 1/4 seam allowances in the holes:

Next, you’ll wanna clean the dried glue out of your Roxanne’s applique glue applicator:


Yes, it’s worth it to do this…

Then apply glue dots around the circle’s seam allowance (I found it is less messy to put the glue on the circle rather than on the hole…):


Then turn a hole square, if you will, onto the back of the circle and ease the hole around to make it fit onto the circle. This was tricky because I didn’t have much leeway given the method involved and the touchiness of the seam allowance. I decided to use this approach because the background/hole square was very unstable at this point. I figured glue basting would help me out. The seams in the background/hole square want to poke out, so it’s very important when glue basting to get the seams securely glued to the circle’s seam allowance.


I then let my squares dry for a while before taking them to the machine to applique:


After they’ve dried for a little while, I use invisible thread and a variant of a blind hem stitch on the machine to applique the circles to the background:


After the applique is done, I like to give the squares a shot of starch and then press with a pressing cloth. I may have to trim some of my corners to straighten the blocks slightly.

The prep with this method is a little tricky, like I said, because you’ve cut the circles from the same background squares. The finished circle size MUST cover the hole in the background. I found it helped to take a generous 1/4″ seam allowance in the background squares.

I think this method works best for larger circles, the ones above are about 4 1/2″, the ones below are 3 1/2″. I’ll continue to do a hand running stitch for smaller circles as I think it will give the best result for the smaller ones.

But, really, this method of prepping circles can be used when you don’t have the added trickiness of having cut your circles from your background squares. I mentioned Anne Perry’s Jelly Beans quilt yesterday and I have begun prepping circles to make a version:


This is going to work wonders for this quilt!


I now have a tidy pile of circles to hand applique to full squares of background. Can almost get one done while sitting in the kid camp pick-up queue.

I don’t know, this has just been a very satisfying session of trouble shooting this week and I feel like I’ve broken through my barrier (laziness…) to more circle quilts. I hope this helps someone else too. If you’d like something clarified or have questions, just leave a comment! Happy circling!

Now I’m off to see an art show — the gallery showing of what the art campers have done this week. Up until today, I thought we’d paid only for a t-shirt and the orange band indicating that someone had passed the swimming test. Now, I’ll get to see all of the inspired creations too!



  1. Stephanie said

    I LOVE circles too!!! Oh gorgeous, gorgeous. I just love how you put the circles back in the holes…like a donut hole, perhaps?

  2. Anita said

    Brilliant! I’ve got to try my hand at making some circles!

  3. claudia said

    how absolutely marvelous!! i won´t try that for quite some time cause i am a newbie quilter. this is sooo impressive – great, thanks so much for explaining.

  4. Jennifer said

    Thank you for all of the suggestions and photos to help describe what you are doing. Your circles really do look perfect.

  5. Great technique, new to me. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I’ve done circles similar to the way you described, with stitching around the fabric around the template; however, I just used spray starch and then used a little fabric glue to attach to a square of fabric before hand stitching. I’ve never cut away the fabric behind any of my applique work. A local quilt shop offers a class on the 6 minute circle, and I’ve been thinking of trying it. They swear by it!

  7. Jan said

    Wow…lots of info to digest here! Thanks for all of the tips.

  8. Cathy said

    Oh that is so helpful, I’m a big circles fan and the prep is always daunting. But your method turns out such perfect circles every time. Thanks for taking the time to explain this to us, your quilt is going to look fabulous xo

  9. Andi said

    Looking forward to seeing what you create with all these circles.
    Andi 🙂

  10. dorothy said

    i’m hoping to make a big circle quilt–like the one by Lizzy House (Marble Champ Quilt)–with a bunch of Japanese fabrics (the cutesy kind)–so your thingking-out-loud-process post is perfect! of course i probably won’t get to it for a few years (am in the midst of another big hand project) but i like to be prepared. i always enjoy lurking around your blog–you make beautiful quilts 🙂

  11. auntiepami said


    Have you tried the circle ruler(s) by Phillips Art (I think that’s right). So simple. If you can do Elisa’s templates, you are set! Can’t wait to see your finished project. I really want to do something in solids. This is looking familiar…

  12. Janet said

    You’re brilliant! I’m mad on circles too and I’m just going to have to put a Kaffe one on my list. Figuring out methods is fun and soooo satisfying. I love the ombre fabrics, do tell what line they are.

  13. Great information and photos – on to circles!!

  14. AnnieO said

    DD #2 is interested in my making her a quilt with circles. Luckily it is not ALL circles or I would probably deter her from the pattern! Circles are a lot of durn work no matter which method you choose, that’s for sure. Yours are coming out so well, it must be very satisfying! Can’t wait to see what the end result looks like with all those yummy Gelato colors…

  15. Jackie said

    I have used this type of technique before and just love it! You quilt is going to be simply gorgeous! I just love circles! Have fun at the show.

  16. MichelleB said

    Looks great! There are so many different ways to make circles – it get mind boggling! But I love your method. Now, I just need to find the template. lol

  17. Sarah said

    You are the circle queen. That’s a great method, and using one of my all time favourite products, Roxanne’s. I can’t live without it for applique and just about anything else I can think up to use it for.
    Just on a different note – Anne Perry’s quilt was actually designed by Australian teacher and designer, Sue Cody. Sue unfortunately doesn’t have a website or I would link you to it, but I know she would want it pointed out that Anne made that quilt in her class. Sue teaches this quilt and others in lots of shops around Sydney including Killara Village Quilts and Cottage Quiltworks, for anyone who lives here!

  18. lily boot said

    You are indeed the circle queen Amy – what an amazing post – i was “glued” to it! I have been wanting to do circles for ages and had also been thinking about having squares with the circle bits cut out – but I was going to be lazy and cut the two separately – you have an awe-inspiring attention for detail. The plain colours quilt is going to be exquisite – as is the Kaffe number! Beautiful stuff dear girl, beautiful stuff!

  19. mariajhmom said

    You’re crazy! And I say that with the utmost respect!

  20. Gorgeous!!! I’m going to so envious of the finished quilt!
    I love circles but i know my own limitations – i think i’d want to gnaw off my own limbs by the 5th one…*sigh*.

  21. LOVE circles and a great method. Thanks for sharing!

  22. nanette said

    Holy Cow Amy. Unreal. Truly unbelievable. I saw you were on whip up too. You are the circle princess.

  23. kwiltykim said

    Oooooh! I like a LOT! Stunning!!!! Thanks for sharing your method! Awesome!

  24. Martha said

    Thanks, Amy, for taking the time to teach us your technique. Your instructions are very clear and the photos are beautiful as usual. I love the idea of cutting the circles from the background since I am generally working with vintage fabric and can’t bear to waste even a tiny bit.

  25. What a nice post….so fun to see all your circles!!! I love circles and dots!

  26. I love circles too! My favorite method is the Dale Fleming 6 minute circle – I swear by it. That fabric is so lovely!

  27. Margaret said

    I love the thrift of re-sizing and using the squares. I am gearing up to give this a try!
    But I have a question: are 1/4″ seams large enough when resizing the squares? Will that provide enough overlap when the circle is applied?
    I have been drafting this before actually cutting any fabric. If 1/4″ seams are used throughout, the circle overlaps the square a scant 1/8″. But maybe that is enough? It makes me a bit nervous! LOL

  28. Elizabeth said

    I am all for simple. This looks like a stress free way to make a variety of curved blocks.
    Thanks for sharing

  29. Linda Campbell said

    Thanks for sharing your helpful information on preparing circles. I love your
    humorous comments as well 🙂 Quilt on! Linda

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