Mary's Clamshells

I have been smitten with the clamshell shape for some time now! And nothing makes my heart go pitter-pat more than a scrappy clamshell project. Several years ago, I explored different methods of stitching together clams to use in a project. But about 5 years ago, I settled on a method that works best for me. This method does not require any papers or basting the curvy edge....let's face it, this could be called Mary's Lazy Clamshells! 

I am attaching a clamshell template here, but this method can be used for any size clamshell. So you may want to enlarge or reduce the size of the template in your printer, but if you choose to use the template I have used for my little zippered pouch, you will want to print the template at 100% . It should measure about 2.25 " wide by 2.25 " tall.

If you search online, you may find many free clamshell templates. Or if you have an Electric Quilt program, you may find a template there. I have the Electric Quilt 6 program and I can pull up a clamshell stencil in the Library. Then it is easy to change the size in the Layout feature of the program.

Mary's Clamshell Template

Once you have your clamshell template printed, you will need to trace your clam on quilters template plastic to make a durable, transparent template. You could also transfer the template to card stock or card board, but an opaque template will make fussy cutting a bit more difficult.

Next, gather the supplies you will need, including: glue (a glue stick or basting glue), a disappearing marker (I used a Frixion pen for this project because my lines are hidden), scissors, rotary, an acrylic ruler, needles for applique (I love Richard Hemming Milliners in size 10), and thread.

As I mentioned earlier, the method I prefer does not require clamshell papers for EPP or to baste the top curve. I simply use needle turn applique to apply my clamshells to a foundation. The foundation I use is a piece of muslin or kona cotton in natural or white. You can make the foundation piece of fabric any size you want. It should be large enough for the project you have in mind. I usually cut a foundation piece larger than I will need. It's much easier to cut your panel down to fit your project rather than the other way around.

The foundation fabric I am using for this tutorial measures 11.25" X 11.25". You will need to draw a grid on the panel to keep all your clams in straight order. Your grid should measure the width of your clams by the height of your clams. For this tutorial, I have drawn a grid 2.25" by 2.25". And I am drawing my grid with a Frixion pen so I can iron away any marks left after I am finished. If your clamshell template measures something other than 2.25" X 2.25", you should draw a grid that matches the measurement of your clamshell template. So if your template is 3.5" X 3.5", your grid should be 3.5" X 3.5".


Remember as you work, the grid is just to keep everything straight. Don't worry if your clamshells don't fit perfectly in the squares. They will be very close to fitting perfectly, but it's not a deal breaker if the edge of your clamshell is a 1/16th. of an inch off. It's okay.

Next, cut trace your clamshells using the template and cut out. Place the plastic template on the right side of your fabric and trace around the template with the disappearing marker of your choice.

Cut around the traced clamshell, leaving a little more than a 1/8th. of an inch excess outside the drawn line. You DO NOT need to leave any excess at the bottom point of the clamshell. The bottom can be cut on the traced line. **The top curve is the only part you will applique. The concave or scooped out section toward the bottom will be covered up to the drawn line by the row below it. Leaving a little wider raw edge in that area is perfectly fine.**   


Place a bit of glue on the center of the wrong side of your clamshell. Place the clamshell in the first square of the foundation fabric. The drawn sides of the clamshell should be positioned so they are touching the side of the square, the top drawn curve should be just below the top of the square (this top section is going to be trimmed), and the point should touch the bottom line of the square. Fill in each square in the first row in the same manner. **If you prefer, you may add a clamshell to the foundation fabric one at a time. Glue baste a clam to the foundation, stitch and add the next clamshell. working from right to left.**     


The sides of the clamshells should not be glued to the foundation fabric, so you can easily turn under the edges using needle turn applique. Begin on the right hand side of the foundation piece and starting at the right hand side curve, applique the top curved edge of the clamshell to the fabric foundation. Continue to the next clamshell and work your way stitching through the row until you reach the left hand side of the fabric foundation.


You are ready to add the next row of clamshells. The next row falls between the clamshells above. So the drawn top curve of the row below should just about touch the drawn concave (or scooped out) curve underneath. Again, they just need to be close...its okay if it doesn't match up perfectly. It's the overall effect. You just want to make sure all the raw edges are covered. And remember you have that allowance outside of the drawn line to make sure the foundation fabric and all raw edges are covered. **the top curve should be smooth and rounded**

You will notice that every other row has a clamshell that hangs out over the edge. You will trim the outside edge when you are ready to use your panel. Or, you may want to cut a clamshell in half lengthwise and use just a half clam on the ends of those particular rows.

Continue adding clams and stitching them until you have completely filled the foundation panel.


Once your panel is filled and ready to be used, you may want to trim the top edge so the foundation fabric does not show.

Tips for needle turn applique:

Needle turn applique is, literally, what the name implies. You are applying a shape to a foundation fabric and turning the raw edge under with the edge of your needle as you work your way around the shape. Here are a few of my tips which may help you to be more successful with needle turn applique. 

Begin with a good needle. I love Richard Hemming Milliners in size 10. A milliner is also known as a straw needle. It is long and thin.

Use a single strand of thread and match your thread to your applique shape (clamshell). If you are making a scrappy clamshell, you may want to use a neutral thread color rather than change your thread color with each clamshell. I like to use a light grey or an ivory.

I used a Frixion pen for marking my clamshells and the grid. My lines are almost all completely turned or covered, so for me the pen works well. There are quilters who will not use Frixion pens. I would not use them to mark quilting lines or for any area where the marks will be visible. But for needle turn, it works well for me.I have not had a problem with the marks leaving a shadow or returning once ironed, but its always good to test your fabric.  

Add some bold stitches with perle cotton to define your clamshells! Plus it adds a charming touch of whimsy!  

I would love to see your clamshell projects so be sure to tag us @sunnydaysupply and use the hashtag #sunnydayclamshell

Happy Clamming!