“orange peels”

What Quilts Mean (& Orange Peels FO)

What Quilts Mean Header

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.

Orange Peels Quilt

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.

Orange Peels Quilt

In a very literal way, this quilt helped me work through the first steps of this seemingly never-ending process. The hand-stitching of appliqu├ęd 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.

Orange Peels Quilt

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?

Orange Peels Quilt

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.

Orange Peels Quilt

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!

OPQA: Quilting Your Orange Peels / General Quilting Tips

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.

It's going so quickly now! Less to lug around and, working on the diagonal, each row gets shorter. Almost there!!! #OrangePeelQAL2014

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.

Huzzah! Only 1/4 left to go - and I always leave the easiest section for last.

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.

I should be sorry for the gratuitous overgramming of this quilt, but I'm so in love with how it's turning out, I'm really not sorry at all.

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.

I flippin' did it! Eeep! Now binding and burying all those threads! #OrangePeelQAL2014

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!

OPQA: Peels Quilting (Finally!)



I finally got sick of my own dithering and forced myself to choose a quilting pattern:


This design was actually not my own idea, by my friend Christa’s; she suggested the pattern for a mini-quilt I made in a recent swap and I absolutely loved the effect. It is at once subtle and modern, over a very traditional quilt top. Let’s hope it works out as well as it looks in my doodle!

I had a little false start when I started with lines 2″ apart, only to decide that 1.5″ would’ve been better, but I’m cooking now! Time to start considering binding …

Orange Peel Quilt-Along: Assembling The Top

Orange Peel Quilt-Along!

Hello again, quilt-alongers – welcome to the last tutorial on your way to a finished quilt top! Eeep!

Hopefully you’ll now have 36 / 144 / some other crazy number trimmed blocks, and you’ll have decided on your layout. If you haven’t played with your layout yet, read on, because this post might help you with that.

OPQA - Assembling the Top

Of course, I’m sure you’re all quilty enough to know that assembling the top is nothing more than sewing all of your blocks together (except for taking care to keep your peels each pointed in the right direction). Most quilts with single, same-sized blocks would be sewn together first in long rows, then each row together. You could totally do that. It would make pressing seams nice and simple (all to the right on Row 1, all to the left on Row 2, etc). But, to keep our peel points meeting nicely, and keeping the focus on the rings (or x’s, depending on the layout you choose!) that the peels create, we’re going to first sew bigger blocks, then join those blocks into blocks, and so on. The risk of the row-by-row system is that a couple of slightly-off seams will shift along the row. For a design like this one, it could get messy.

So instead, we’ll make larger blocks from 4-peel combos. From your layout, take the top left four blocks (the corner four, if that makes sense) and join like so:

OPQA - Assembling the Top

First sew (with a 1/4″ seam and thread to match your backgrounds) the top two, and press seam to the right. Then sew the bottom two, press seam to the left. Then join top to bottom, and you should have a nice peel-y ring (we’ll call them ‘ring blocks’ – or, with the peels meeting in the middle, you could choose to have ‘x-blocks’, that’s totally up to you):

OPQA - Assembling the Top

Note: You’ll notice I haven’t pressed that horizontal seam yet. If you press the vertical seams as above, you’ll always have alternating seams when you join your ring blocks. To make sure my horizontal seams alternate, I’ll hold on pressing them until joining the ring blocks, just to make it easier to keep track of.

Here I interrupt this tutorial to talk about layout for a moment. If you are making a gigantic quilt and deciding on a layout for the whooooole thing out of tiny peels is a little daunting, you could leave it up to chance and first make a stack of random ring blocks, THEN lay THOSE out. This isn’t that helpful for wall quilt makers, there’s just not enough blocks to play with, but could make it a little less crazy for large quilt makers. BUT! If you do that, don’t forget to mind your seams when you lay out the ring blocks!

OPQA - Assembling the Top

Label your first block ‘1’, with a pinned post-it or something, to keep track, and set aside. Repeat for the next four peel blocks, repeat, repeat, repeat.

To assemble the rest of the top, continue in the same exact way, now using four ring blocks to make an, erm, quadruple-ring-block, and so on. For wall quilt makers, your assembly will be a slightly abbreviated version of the same:

OPQA - Assembling the Top

And huzzah, you’re finished with your quilt top! Sit back and admire it for a few minutes. You done good. Lookit all that glorious hand-stitching and all those beautiful fabrics you picked out. I’m so damn proud of you all!

I will post a check-in late next week, to give you all time to work on these steps and myself to catch up (yikes!) and then I hope you’ll show us all your progress then. If you are making this quilt as a holiday gift, you’ll probably want to just get on with the next steps, so go on, get quilting – but pleeeeease stop by next week and show us how it’s going! If you are going to stick with me to the bitter end, we’ll discuss how to progress next week.

Happy assembling – and, as always, shout if you have any questions!

Orange Peel Quilt-Along: Layout + Prepping Blocks

Orange Peel Quilt-Along!

As we established yesterday, we (ahem-me-ahem) aren’t all ready to start laying out our blocks just yet. But those that are can start planning their final layout and prepping their blocks for assembly.

We aren’t actually going to discuss layout – that’s totally up to you, of course. My only advice is to just keep playing with them until you’re happy! Depending on how you want to organize the next steps, you may choose to lay out your quilt first, then pile each row up separately and trim from those piles. I myself am working with a million blocks, so it’s probably simpler for me to just trim them all in a big heap, then worry about layout. So have a think about what will work best for you, and when you’re ready, here’s how we’ll trim each block:

First, press each block well, making it all nice and crispy neat.

OPQA - Trimming blocks

Now we’ll actually trim! If you happen to have one or if you decided to splurge (which I did, because jeeeez, 196 blocks, people!), this will be simplest with a 5.5″ square ruler. If you don’t have that exact size, use another ruler that is at least 5.5″ on each side, this will make it easier to trim two sides at a time and properly line up your peel.

OPQA - Trimming blocks

Positioning these blocks for cutting is easy-peasy: just line up the diagonal marking on your square ruler with the points of your peel. You want to place it so that the ruler corners are positioned 1/4″ outside your peel points – this is your 1/4″ seam allowance.

OPQA - Trimming blocks

OPQA - Trimming blocks

You may notice that it’s not exact, and you’ll probably have a seam allowance that is slightly more than 1/4″. It’ll probably be more like 3/8″ if you center your peel along the diagonal of your square ruler. That’s totally ok – I planned that little tiny bit extra in from the beginning. If your peels really went exactly right up to the corner of each block, it’d be really easy to sew over the points if you do not have a precisely perfect 1.4″ seam allowance while sewing the blocks together. And who is really that precise all the time, I ask you?! It’s just a bit of safety space that will not effect the overall look of the peels meeting at their points.

OPQA - Trimming blocks

So, you’ve got your ruler positioned with the diagonal across the point, so trim trim trim! If you have the 5.5″ square ruler, you can trim on all sides at once, taking care to not to let the ruler move as you go. If you have a different size ruler, position the diagonal so that you can do two sides at once, then flip the block and do the same for the other two.

OPQA - Trimming blocks

That’s it! Trim every block in the same way and then come back Friday (the 28th) for tips on assembling the top!

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