How to Sew Inset Circles

Kimberlee Tanner

How to Sew Inset Circles

This week we are sewing a different kind of curve! Instead of cutting up our circles and sewing it in pieces, we are going to cut out a circle from the inside of the quilt block and sew a new circle into it in one piece!


What is an Inset Circle?

When talking about inset circles in quilting, we are referred to when you piece a full circle into the center of a quilt block. Instead of dealing with seams and partial circles sewn together, this method cuts a circle out of the center of the block, cuts a circle out of the circle fabric, and sews them directly together.

Can I only Sew Circles using this method?

Absolutely not! You can sew lots of different organic shapes using this same technique! We encourage you to play around with it and see what you can come up with. One thing to keep in mind, you can’t go very concave (inside curves). If you do that, you won’t be able to get your sewing machine foot inside enough to sew it.

Materials Needed to Make Inset Circles

We don’t need a lot of fancy items to make inset circles, but we do need two extra items, as well as the background fabric and the circle fabric.

We are going to need freezer paper and washable school glue. This does need to be freezer paper, not wax paper or parchment. The reason is because freezer paper has a shiny side that when you iron it, it sticks to your fabric. This is a temporary stick and it is then easily removed. We are going to use this as a template for our circle, making it really easy to get the shape and size we want.

How to make Inset Circles

First, you are going to need a ruler or template for your circle. This can be printed from the computer, traced on a circle ruler, or even a circle drawn around a cup or bowl. This is the size you want your circle to be finished.

Second, you’ll need your circle fabric. This needs to be at least 1/4″ bigger than your finished circle. It can be any shape you want, as the background fabric will determine the actual size of the circle.

  1. Trace your desired finished circle size onto the matte side of the freezer paper. Cut out.
  2. Place your template (with the circle removed) on the wrong side of your background fabric wherever you want the circle to be, shiny side down. Iron in place.
  3. Cut inside the circle at least 1/4 inch from the edge of the template.
  4. Snip notches around the circle going back to the template, but not into or beyond the freezer paper.
  5. Iron these notches back. This creates the seam allowance.
  6. You can either remove the freezer paper now, or wait till after step 8.
  7. Place small dots of glue along the seam allowance.
  8. Place your circle fabric on top of the glue and press, giving it a few minutes to dry.
  9. Remove the paper if you have not yet.
  10. Folding the background fabric back gently, sew along the circle, following the ironed edge created with the freezer paper. Go slow and use your needle in the down position to pivot around the circle.
  11. Trim the extra fabric from the back, creating a 1/4″ seam.
  12. Press and done!

It seems like a lot of steps, but as you get the hang of it, it’s really not complicated. As mentioned, you can use these same steps for other organic shapes as well, just don’t try to do concave curves.

One fun use of this method, is lining up piecing between the background and inset circle. If you have different fabrics and shapes, you can use these steps to easily place and line them up for a fun finished look! Simply sew the seams where you want them in the background and circle, then when gluing, adjust the circle as needed to match the seams (or offset as desired). You can go very simple, or quite complex without having to worry about lots of crazy templates pieced together.

When you are done with your block, you can reuse the freezer paper a few times before needing to make a new template. With one piece of freezer paper, you can easily do 4-6 quilt blocks.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Happy Quilting!

Kimie and Missy

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