Wow, guys. This quilt has been a long time coming. It’s been through a lot. I started planning this project last August, and started really sewing sometime in September, so it’s been over eight months in the making. And not just any old eight months.
While I was finally quilting, sitting at the sewing machine for hours on end, the quilt passing under my hands, I thought a lot about what it means to me. What making it meant to me while I worked through the first eight months of grieving for my mother.
In a very literal way, this quilt helped me work through the first steps of this seemingly never-ending process. The hand-stitching of appliquéd orange peels is a beautifully mindless process, allowing me to shut down my brain while keeping busy at the same time. And sharing the steps and my progress with you all gave me the vehicle to interact online again, before I was really ready to talk about casual stuff. Every bit of this project helped me inch forward in some little way.
This quilt has been a distraction, a comfort, and a friend. As I guided it through the machine, I thought about the actual tears that have soaked into its fabrics over the last eight months, and I wondered if it’s like the Sword of Gryffindor: what it absorbs only makes it stronger. Will it hold on to all of those feelings for me?
One thing I know for sure: this quilt is not just a blanket. And the moment I thought that to myself, I knew it was true of all quilts. We don’t make quilts because they keep us warm. For most of us, we don’t need to do that at all. We could go buy a blanket for a fraction of the cost at our local department store. I’m forever saying that I love how quilts are allowed to be, symbolically, a little corny. We join fabrics that symbolize special people or times in our lives. We sew together to symbolize a sense of community or bond between the makers. We quilt to celebrate special occasions or meaningful events.
It’s clear that making quilts means something to us, and (hopefully) to the people who use them. To me, my orange peels quilt was something like an amour – to both protect me from and insulate me in my grief. And for the rest of my life, it will remind me of a comfort that I can’t quite put into words. There is a sort of comfort in sadness, when you feel broken-hearted – and this quilt will contain that for me, forever.
I’ve invited a handful of fellow quilters to share their thoughts on the meaning of quilts. I’ve asked them to prepare a post, in any form or style they want, with the title, “What Quilts Mean” and I will share their responses over the coming weeks, or maybe months, or until I run out of contributions. I was overjoyed that they wanted to join me in this little project, though I know so many have thought about this topic from a million different perspectives – I can’t wait to hear some from our online community. I really hope you all enjoy the series!
To officially close up our quilt-along, good and proper, I wanted to share your hard work – with each other as well as with those readers who have stuck with my blog through all these quilt-along posts even if they weren’t taking part. My wonderful quilt-alongers did such a beautiful job. Thank you all so much for sharing your photos with me for this post – and for sewing with me. This project happened just when I needed it most and I will adore you all always for sticking with me and keeping me company through this project. And I’m so happy that you’ve all ended up with such beautiful projects!
It’s so cheerful, Wendy – and you’re almost finished, you can do it!
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Robin C., aka GingerScribble on IG and the interwebs, has become a lovely friend through this quilt-along, and she absolutely killed this project:
Robin didn’t just make her quilt (for her mother, in colors she doesn’t even like!) significantly larger than even myself, she finished first – and made a pieced back! I wish I had prizes, or ribbons, ’cause you’d definitely win this quilt-along, Robin!
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Barbara, who I don’t believe has a blog herself, joined us in spirit, but went her own way – a woman after my own heart! She’s used a different applique method and really went to town with hand-stitching:
I love the way Barbara took inspiration from this project but did her own thing. So so cool.
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Linda – also blogless as far as I know – made hers similar to my first peel wall quilt, but larger:
And hand-quilted it with thicker thread and yummy big stitches. I like how her stitches are very close to her peels, where mine were spaced out from the peels slightly – it’s amazing how that changes the look so much!
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Jenny (jeng_g_nj02 on IG) is the only one of us to have divided backgrounds and peels by solids / prints, and to absolutely charming effect:
So cheerful! I love how her choices mean that some blocks are dark-on-light and some are light-on-dark.
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Robin W, who happens to have been the winner of my recent giveaway!, did hers a bit like mine, in that the peels and backs are all in two colors, but in many different fabrics:
Robin said that she used the back-sides of a bunch of white-on-white and similar fabrics that she didn’t even really like, but lookit how elegant her quilt is!
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Rebecca (greenandbell on IG) is another wonderful friend I’ve been lucky to make through this quilt-along, and she’s endlessly inspiring as a quilter. Her peels are no different, such a beautiful and delicate combination of solids and prints –
– framed in a pair of wide borders. Lovely.
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And last, but of course not least, my very own partner in crime, Karen from Henry’s Shed. You may not know this, but Karen is half responsible for all of this orange peel madness – when I wondered about making a large version of the wall quilt the Mini Bee made together, she laughed at my hesitation and jumped in with both feet. We stitched peels together at the pub and talked peels strategy for hours on end. What a good pal. :)
Karen’s still assembling her top, and then she plans on hand-quilting it, but you can see how lovely it’ll be already!
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I love them all, guys, and I love seeing them all in one place, all of our hard work all together. I believe there are a few more WIPs out there in the wild, so if you joined in but aren’t in the post here, leave a comment with a link to a photo so we can see your work, too! I know I promised to show you my finished quilt last week, but I lied – I had to wait out a couple of days of crummy weather to get a shoot in, and I haven’t been able to prepare a post in time because it will be a little more than just FO photos. I’ll be back in a few days to tell you more, cross my heart.
Hey quilt-along peeps! I’ll finally be showing off my finished orange peels quilt later this week (just stitching down the binding and a tag to go!) and I’d love for us all to share our quilts together. No matter where you are in the process – whether it’s a stack of basted peels, a finished top, or a whole quilt – I’d love if we all shared. Could you pretty, pretty, pretty please send me a photo or a link to a photo (to julie at button-button dot co dot uk) of your beautiful peels?? PLEASE! Even if we’re not all finished, I loved this group project so much, and I really want to be able to see them all together.
And for our very last trick (man, it’s been so long we’ve been quilting together, quilt-alongers, I’m going to miss you guys so much! Good thing I have another quilt-along coming up in July! ;) ), we’ll bind our beautiful Orange Peel quilts. We done so good, let’s enjoy this last step.
Binding is actually my favorite part – particularly the hand-stitched finish. There’s something so satisfying about finishing off that last bit with the quilt in your lap, going around the whole thing, admiring your hard work as you stitch. I know some people machine stitch the finish, and that’s fine for them, but the few times I’ve tried have gone very badly, and I just enjoy the time with my quilt. It takes longer, sure, but we’ve spent six months working on this one – do we really want to scrimp on time now??
Just so you know, I use straight (not bias) binding and I join them with a straight (not angled) seam. I’ll walk you through the entire binding process, but first you have to figure out how much binding you need to make.
For this quilt, I’m using 2.25″ strips, because I want to attach it with a strict 1/4″ seam so that I don’t overlap any of my peels. (I do sometimes use 2.5″ strips for a slightly wider binding.) My quilt is 70″ square, so the length to cover is: 70″ x 4 = 280″. My fabric is 43″ wide, once the selvedge is trimmed off, so: 280″ ÷ 43″ = 6.511 (7) strips to cut from my fabric. Let’s make a nifty formula for that:
(2 x quilt length) + (2 x quilt width) ÷ width of fabric = number of strips
So now, press your fabric and get it nice and lined up on your cutting mat (line up the fold so you don’t cut wonky strips), trim the selvedge, and cut the number of strips your calculation told you to cut:
With right sides facing, sew each strip to the next with a 1/2″ seam, end-to-end. You’ll have a monstrously long strip.
Press seams open, and then press the entire thing in half, wrong sides together:
Huzzah! You’ve made binding! Good job. Now we’ll attach it to the quilt, which should now be all quilted, and the excess batting and backing trimmed away, nice and neat:
With raw edges aligned, pin your binding to the top of your quilt, starting about halfway down one side:
When you reach a corner, first fold the binding away from the quilt:
Then back over itself to continue along the next side:
You’ll have a funny little flappy fold there at the corner.
Now continue in this way around all sides. The only thing to watch out for is that one of your binding seams doesn’t fall on a corner. If this happens, unpin and start over at a slightly different point. Trust me, it’s a real pain in the ass if the seam is on a corner, it’s just not worth it.
When you get back to the beginning, fold each end so that they meet at the fold, and finger press. Sew the two ends together along that pressed crease (it’s awkward, but it’s only a tiny seam) and trim excess binding with a 1/2″ seam allowance. I’m terribly sorry, I was working on auto-pilot and forgot to take a photo of this step, but you can see it in this tutorial, and this is what you will have in the end:
You now have continuous binding pinned all the way around your quilt. Starting about 6″ or so from the top of one side (where I’m pointing – though it’s not important exactly where, just not at the top):
Start sewing the binding in place, with a 1/4″ seam. Remember that your peels are only slightly over 1/4″ away from the edge, and you don’t want to overlap them with the binding, so take care to make a neat seam!
Sew all the way down, stopping 1/4″ from the end:
Fold the flap over and start the next side, from the very top this time:
(Don’t forget to backstitch at the beginning and end of each side!)
Continue along the remaining three sides in the same way. When you get back to the last / first corner, do just as you did with the previous ones: stop 1/4″ from the end, fold the flap back, start from the top and sew down until you meet the point where you began. Backstitch and huzzah! That’s it!
Now you have to stitch the folded edge to the back, covering all the raw edges in the process. Binding is kind of ingenious, isn’t it? You’ll need a sewing needle you feel happy with, a thimble (optional), sewing thread to match your binding fabric, little scissors, and binding clips:
I love Clover Wonder Clips ’cause they’re totally awesome, but you can also use hair clips or even pins to secure the binding while you sew. Again, starting near the top of a side, but not at the actual top, secure a length of binding around the edge:
Now cut a length of thread about the length of your arm, or a bit shorter. Fold that in half, and then thread the cut ends through your needle. (I’m using a green thread here to make it easier for you to see, but I will use the navy Aurifil above to sew for realsies.) Take your first stitch through binding and the back, scooping up just a teeeensy weeensy couple of threads of each. Don’t pull the thread all the way through, but instead pass it through the end loop before tightening up the first stitch:
Now take stitches every 1/8″ – 1/4″, like this:
Basically, just like you stitched your peels! You can just see my little stitches there, which would be much more invisible if using matching thread. Some people prefer to ladder stitch, others have their own preferred method – this is just the stitch that I feel I can work fastest while being neat and secure.
When you run out of thread, sew a knot and bury the end inside the binding or quilt before trimming the thread, then start a new thread just as before. Hand-stitching corners is very similar to how you handled them on the front – sew to about 1/4″ the end, then fold over the next side, making a nice neat corner, and continue up the next side (I like to make an extra stitch right at the corner there, before turning):
Continue in this way until you get back to the beginning! And now, my friends, you have a finished quilt. How much do you love it??
Just like my recent basting post, I’m taking this opportunity to share quilting tips, but it’s not at all limited to an Orange Peel Quilt-Along topic. I’ve machine-quilted a hefty pile of quilts now, on a machine that isn’t especially good at it, so I might have some tips to share that could help you, too.
My machine is fairly basic – a Janome 7025, which I bought as the cheapest machine I could get with the ability to lower the feed dogs for free motion quilting. This was several years ago now, possibly more, and I had no idea then how much sewing I’d end up doing. I just thought I’d want the option to learn more if I took a notion to.
I don’t know if Saul (that’s what I call this machine) is perhaps not quite as good as he used to be, or if I’m a better quilter and can feel his limitations now, but quilting a large (70″ x 70″, yikes!) quilt on Saul isn’t the easiest. (Note! Janomes are great machines! I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing them in general, I just think perhaps I’m ready for an upgrade.) I’ll go through some issues I have and how I deal with them, and hopefully that’ll help you out as you continue your project!
My biggest issue with quilting on my home machine is drag. It’s really difficult to manage the heft of a large quilt without the weight of it effecting the smoothness of the feed. In case that doesn’t make sense, let’s put it a different way: I need to support the weight of the quilt as much as possible so that Saul isn’t fighting against it. I roll my quilt (the side going through the machine, seen in the photo above) as tightly / small as I can, and heave that over my right shoulder. Yeah, it gets tiring. I don’t have a huge table to work on (sit at the biggest table you can, that’s going to be the best possible weight support), so I also try not to let any of the quilt hang over the sides of the table, which would create pull as it goes through the machine. The pull / drag will effect the consistency of the stitching, so it’s important to try to develop a set-up that helps support the weight as you work.
A related machine issue is feeding the layers of a quilt through evenly. You absolutely have to have a walking foot for quilting, there’s no arguing. I actually don’t use Saul without a walking foot for anything, except zippers, because that extra help feeding is just generally handy. But there’s no substitute for quilting – they’re expensive, but it’s just one of those things. It will help prevent your layers misaligning and bunching on your lovely quilt top.
You might also need to adjust the presser foot pressure, lift the pressure just a touch. Your machine will probably have a dial / knob to raise or lower the amount the foot presses down. On Saul, raising the pressure one notch is too much, I get the opposite problem – slippage. But on Bettie, my vintage Singer Featherweight, I do raise and lower the pressure constantly, based on what I’m sewing.
Stitch length is, I suppose, personal preference – on Saul, I usually sew at a 2.5 stitch length, and the quilting in these photos is a 3. I used to use a longer stitch, but I’ve been trying to get better quilting results, so I wanted to try out a shorter stitch for my peels. I also had to mess with my tension a little – after fixing some really faulty bobbin tension (the bottom thread kept breaking, thanks a bunch, maintenance people), I ticked the top tension up just a teeny weeny touch and that seemed perfect.
Absolutely make a scrap batting-and-fabric sandwich and test your stitching and tension out before you dig into your quilt. Nothing will simulate the heft of a quilt and the effect that will have on the process, but you can at least check tension and stitch length and make sure you’re happy with that before you start!
This is just a little run-through of the things to keep in mind as you get started on a big project, if you’re new to machine quilting. Of course, no amount of checklisting will compete with the knowledge that comes with experience, so get going! Get those peels quilted and I’ll be back with a binding tutorial later in the week, peeps!