Thursday, May 31, 2012

{Clam}Shell Game....

When I began this clamshell project, I was clueless on the construction of clamshell quilts.  I checked a few of my quilting books for guidance, but found little. There were templates for clamshells and a brief description but little else.

So I decided to explore different ways to put a clamshell quilt together.  Please, if you are a follower and have constructed a clamshell quilt, leave a comment on your preferred construction method.  This whole sharing of ideas {blogging} is much more fruitful if everyone shares their tips and suggestions.

My first inclination was to try piecing these beauties together using English Paper Piecing.  This was also the method suggested in the Ultimate Quilting Bible. works, but is a tad bit fiddly since the papers do not allow you to 'ease' in on the curves.  I will run through the steps I used briefly....


First I traced my clamshell template onto freezer paper and cut out the shape.  Then I pressed the waxy side of the paper to the wrong side of my fabric and cut out 1/4 inch beyond the edge of the paper template.

I clipped the curves and then wrapped the excess fabric around the paper and stitched using a long basting stitch....

To attach the clamshells, I first finger pressed the clamshell in half....

Clamshells can have any arrangement as long as they fit together properly.  For my little experiment...I simply chose to use the more traditional arrangement.  The clamshells are next to one another and then the row below is center between the two clamshells above.  
With EPP, I treated piecing these together just as I would any curved piece.
So with the concave piece facing me, I pinned one end of the curve to the center of another clamshell and the other end of the curve to the end of the other clamshell.

As I mentioned, this is challenging because with the papers it is difficult to 'ease' in the fullness of the curve.  Use a whip stitch and connect the shells.

This is the order I used for English Paper Piecing the clamshells....

I found that using this method I needed to press anything that did not lay so smoothly into submission!  Of course, you can remove any papers once all sides of that piece is connected to other clamshells.


Next I tried to machine piece the clamshells.  Not an easy task.  The pieces are small and the curve is fairly tight.  I think this method would be much easier if you increased the size of the clams.
For machine piecing I traced the clamshell to the wrong side of the fabric and cut out on the pencil line {this resulted in a bit of a squatty clamshell so adding a 1/4 inch seam allowance would result in a better looking clamshell}.

I approached this the same way as EPP.  Have the concave piece toward you and pin the center and the ends...just exactly the same way I did the paper piecing.  The only difference is that I found it was easier to get a better looking center point if I stopped stitching about 1/4 inch from that center pointy part.  That way when I add the next clamshell I can lay all those seam allowances down to create a nicer point.  You will have to play with it and see how if works best for you.

This is not the method I would use.  Yikes!!!  


When I began playing with these clamshells, I received a comment from Alison of Cardygirl ...
She mentioned that she had done these and left the bottom curve open and just layered the next row to cover the curve! 
Well, a light bulb went off in my head and I thought - heck yes - applique these little clams!

I decided to use a foundation fabric and I was only doing a small I cut a piece of fabric about 18" X 14".  I pressed 4 sections into my foundation fabric so I had lines to follow.

For this applique method, I traced my template onto the right side of the fabric and cut about 1/4 inch from the pencil line.  Again, I clipped the curves.  This time I used  Roxanne Glue-Baste-It to baste my top curve.

Simply fold the top curve around to the back and use a little dot of glue to baste...

 My pencil line was my guide for folding back and I used the basting glue to hold the clamshell once I had positioned it into place.

Use a good straw needle and applique only the top curve into place on the foundation fabric....

With the applique method, I stitched a row at a time.  Remember that the next row will lay on top of the bottom curve {hiding the pencil line} of the row above....

So what is the final assessment?  I love the clamshells!  All the color and the shape are right up my alley.  I most definitely prefer the applique method - thanks Alison!!!  And, while I only played around with a small sample, I can't wait to do a whole quilt full of colorful clamshells!!!!

After I had my foundation piece full of clams - I added some pick stitching with black perle cotton....

For a quilt, I would not leave the top with the foundation fabric showing....but this was a small piece and I decided I needed to do something with it....

What to do with this little sample?  I made a pillow!

I would love to hear from you if you have done a clamshell and your favorite method!
Happy Thursday!


  1. Yes, I have just completed my clam shell quilt and am now hand quilting it.

    I did a complete tutorial on how I did mine here a year of so ago. It can be found listed in my labels sidebar on my blog. I really do need to add and update to mine because how I started out doing mine I changed a little towards the last few rows I did. I ended up using the dots of glue to attach my clams together instead of pinning.

    You are right about this being a tricky project, but I LOVE mine and am sooo glad I persevered and finally got it finished.

    Your little pillow is just sweet as sweet can be!!!

  2. this is so adorable..i love the hand stitching. you are amazing

  3. I shouldnt swear but holy moly Mary this IS fabulous...maryopologie!!!

    Applique seams really obvious, I'd loved to have seen you doing your trials!!

  4. when I first saw a post a while back - and saw you were EPPing, I thought to myself, ''why doesn't she applique them?'' Glad you found that method the best - if I ever did a clamshell quilt, applique would be the way to go! :) Your pillow (and LOVE all your scraps!) is fantastic!

  5. I love your cushion cover! When I tackle clamshells I'll be using Inklingo - it's fabulous for projects like this!

  6. Helen...could you explain how Inklingo works? I would love to hear your explanation...or do you have a tutorial that you could share!

  7. Karin...I am not sure what my problem is {although I am sure my children would have something to say about that!} but I have to work on things before I 'see' the best way around it. As I said, my Quilting Book clearly states EPP is the easiest method! Yikes! I beg to differ!!! I do really like the applique technique :)

  8. This looks like quite the challenge you took on!

    Amanda Rose

  9. Thank you for sharing, I am going to pin this in case I decide to do one in the future!

  10. clamshells have long been a favorite of mine... i just made a pillow for my mom's couch, using drunkards path blocks. time consuming, but so lovely.

  11. the cushion is amazing!

  12. Its so wonderful that you take the time to explore different methods and that you've shared them with us. I'd heard the appliqué way. I'm impressed that you tried machine piecing them. Your cushion is gorgeous, a whole quilt will be amazing!

  13. You are a quilt machine Mary! No wonder you don't sleep! You could certainly teach my students a thing or two about 'inquiry learning'!!! Your clam shell pillow is adorable! Thank you for your generous sharing of the process you went through!

  14. Wow you amaze me. I love the pillow and how the clams turned out. Great job.

  15. thank you for sharing all the ways you tried to create. The pillow is adorable.

  16. Great post Mary! I have always loved clamshell quilts but have been scared off by the techniques involved. Thank you for de-mystifying them. Jean over at Linen & Raspberry blog is making a very beautiful one, having attended a class with Brigitte Giblin (Aussie quilting legend). I think her technique involved applique onto a foundation which had been marked with a grid. Brigitte has a PDF pattern with her techniques detailed here:
    Cardygirl may well have learned her technique from Brigitte too. Sounds like you've conquered it though. Your cushion is fantastic! Best wishes, Ros.

  17. I love how you figured different methods out and then shared them with us. The clamshells are faubulous and I love the look the black pick stitch gives. I think the applique method is the one that seems the winner.

  18. What a fabulous way to do clam shells! I might just have to put this on my to do list now.

  19. Thanks for all the inside "how-to" stuff. Your pillow is lovely! I saw a cute clam shell quilt at Market last week. I think I have a picture ...I'll send it to you.

  20. I found you through Jeni @ In Color Order, and am so glad I did! Adding you to my Google Reader right now. The black stitching on these clamshells is killing me, it's so cute and vintage-y. I really want to take on a clamshell project but hadn't got my head around it. I pieced 500+ axeheads two years ago, and figured I'd just hand-piece them like the axeheads (pin-pin-pin-snip-snip) but maybe your applique way is better...

  21. I'm SQUEALING! I LOVE your clam shells! I have admired antique clam shells in this pattern, but never stopped to think about the construction until I found this post. Yikes! Knowing they are so challenging just makes them more enticing. Thanks for posting your methods, as well as your lovely finished project!

  22. Thanks for sharing your exploration of techniques - and for inviting comments that result in more ideas. Blogs really are a great way to share.

  23. Mary, I made a raw edge clam shell mini quilt.
    I went the raw edge appliqué route : )

  24. Wow, I love it! :) I have the papers for the piecing, but I haven't gotten around to using them yet. I wondered how difficult it would be to get the fabric around to that point..

  25. I'm so glad you're doing this first to work out the kinks for me ;) I'm hoping to do it as a quilt as you go method. I just need to think it through a bit more and do a test. Love that pick stitching!

  26. I have always love to see your work on flickr, Mary. As for Clamshell, I'd recommend inklingo as well. Look at this lady who blogs here I don't think I will tackle this kind of patchwork with other method.

    Here is a video on clamshell with inklingo :

    The rest of videos by Linda Franz

  27. Emily has a clever tutorial here:
    Her technique seems similar to yours, but the pieces are larger and she is top stitching them together after pressing the seam allowance on the top curve over a card template (clever!). I have considered doing a 'cheats' clamshell by staggering half-snowball blocks as I'm not sure I'm up to curved piecing. The appliqué/top stitching route is very appealing, though! Thanks for sharing x

  28. Found you from Jeni at In Color Order. Your clam shell pillow is out of this world beautiful. Where can I get the "shape" pattern? Not sure what to call it ... A template maybe?

    I love it ....thanks for sharing!


  29. I've been following your progress on this and I'm so glad you did a technique post since I've wanted to tackle a clamshell quilt for ages. I'll definitely be doing your appliqué method and think I might try it with gridded fusible as the base so that I font veer off true part way.

    And if money weren't an issue is make it all out of liberty!

  30. What a cute pillow you ended up with! Thanks for sharing all your techniques. Curved piecing can be very difficult (especially for me) and even though I took a class a few years ago machine piecing the clam shells, I don't remember exactly how we did it. I like the applique method myself. Always enjoying your great posts!

  31. I've followed your blog for a while now, because I love how ambitious your projects always are!

    I haven't finished a clamshell quilt, yet, but I have started a quilt using the shapes. I do all my piecing by hand, but even I find the EPP method to be a bit fussy. Instead, I just use a running stitch! I trace the clamshells onto the wrong side of the fabric, marking the midpoint at the top and bottom (I used a permanent marker to mark those points on an acrylic template, so it makes it fast and easy to find mark the midpoints while I trace the shapes). I cut around the shapes, leaving a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Then I just pin the shells together at the sides and the two midpoints (depending on where I am in the row) and just do a simple running stitch. Curved seams are actually ridiculously easy to do by hand without needing to use EPP or applique. Sure it takes a wee bit more time than machine piecing, but it's quality time spent with beautiful fabrics, right? :D

    I found that they pressed really smoothly and evenly, by the way. I didn't have to do any clipping for the curves.

    Here's a picture of the clamshells I've pieced so far:

    Libery Clamshell Quilt

    It's inspired by a photo of a quilt in one of Kaffe Fassett's books, of a clamshell in the V&A. It seemed only appropriate to use the Liberty V&A line to stitch it up!

  32. Your clamshells are so full of the colour - lovely! I must put hexagons and thumbling blocks back and try.
    Greetings from rainy Gdańsk :)

  33. Hi Mary...just catching up with you and your lovely clams! They look the "road test" of methods too! Glad you had fun...the cushion is fabulous!

  34. what lovely quilts! It's been years since I've made a quilt. I used to like to make the 9 patch quilts.

    I finally finished knitting my skirt and now just have to do the minor touch ups and add the embellishments.

  35. Genius!! Thank you Mary for taking us through the different steps and methods. I like your applique method best and would love to try it. Can you tell me where you found the clamshell template? What a great scrap user. :0)

  36. I have just done a blog post about english paper piecing and curves/clams. I linked this in for further detailed ideas of different clam techniques, I hope this is ok x Kerry

  37. I have just done a blog post about english paper piecing and curves/clams. I linked this in for further detailed ideas of different clam techniques, I hope this is ok x Kerry

  38. I have just done a blog post about english paper piecing and curves/clams. I linked this in for further detailed ideas of different clam techniques, I hope this is ok x Kerry

  39. Thank you for a Wonderful tutorial for Clamshells,you clamshells are beautiful! I just started and I have been using your steps to learn the steps,Using the paper seems to be my favorite,I guess until I am reading for the Machine.Clam shell are so pretty they are one of my favorites!

  40. This was so helpful! I have one question though, if you say you wouldn't leave the foundation on the top if you made a quilt, what would you do?