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!

Tools & Toys Tuesday: Use Drawing Apps to Trial Quilting Patterns

Here’s another little tip that isn’t just for our quilt-along, but this seems like a perfect time to share it: when I’m considering how I’ll quilt a new project, I like to trial quilting patterns by doodling over a photo in a drawing app – instant quilting test without sewing a stitch!

I’m currently using Aviary on my iPad with a stylus for drawing – I take a photo of my quilt top, then use a fine line in an unobtrusive color (usually a light gray, but it depends on the quilt) and just doodle away. It’s a great way to try out different ideas and experiment. Here’s three basic options for my orange peels, just to show you what I mean:




I’m also playing with the idea of free motion quilting in the spaces between peels, which would be great FMQ practice. But I usually like a minimalist quilting approach best, so I’ll probably doodle a million ideas and then go with one of the straight line options above. I’m so predictable that way. :)

OPQA: Tips for Assembling The Top!

Orange Peel Quilt-Along!

Hey, remaining quilt-alongers! How are you doing with your quilt tops??? I’m sorry I left you hanging for a while – we had another loss at Christmastime when our gorgeous and funny Mr. Winston got suddenly very sick and then passed away. Sigh. I miss him so much.

So I didn’t get much / any peel stitching done over the holidays, and since then I’ve been trying to catch up. I’ve now finished hand-stitching ALL ONE-HUNDRED-AND-NINETY-SIX PEELS. Yeah, boi. And you know what? I totally miss them. I’ve gotten so used to them as my evening project, I don’t quite know what to do with myself now! I’ll catch up on some knitting projects I’ve been wanting to do, but then I have another idea for a hand-stitching project – but more on that in time.

Anyway, so my peels are all stitched, and trimmed (oh, the humanity. That was definitely the crummy part of this project – though I didn’t help myself by powering through it and trimming them all in two afternoons):

OPQA: Tips

(The photos in this post are mostly from Instagram, where I’ve been posting as I work, with a few unedited ones in between. I’m sorry they’re not the best, but I’ve been sewing at night and taking quick snaps as I go.)

Now I’m working on assembling the top, and as I work, I’ve noticed a few things that might be helpful to share, for anyone still to assemble theirs. This is how I’ve gone about mine:

First, I laid out piles on the table, based on peel fabric. (You could do it with background fabric too, I suppose, it depends on your selection, really.)


From those piles, I made pairs of peels, as randomly as I could, trying not to repeat pairs too often and keeping directionality of print in mind (where applicable). Once I had a massive stack of pairs, I chain pieced them, which saves both time and thread. If you aren’t familiar with chain piecing, it just means you feed one pair of fabrics in one after the other, without removing the fabric or trimming the thread. They will be all sewn together in a ‘chain’ when you’ve finished, then you can clip them apart. It’s pretty awesome.

One note about sewing your peels: I don’t have a walking foot on my Featherweight and sometimes she wanted to swerve around the peel corner bumps (this will totally make sense when you sew them, I swear), making my seam wonky. If you have a walking foot on your machine, this probably won’t be a problem. To adjust for this with Bettie, I raised the foot pressure just a touch, and added a little pressure from the side as I got to that point in each block –


– to make sure she took that little step up over the thicker area. Again, I know this won’t make so much sense now, but I’m sure it will once you start joining your peels.

When I had a stack of peel pairs, I divided them into pairs containing a directional print, and pairs without. This might not be an issue for your fabrics, but I had quite a few that would look silly upside down. I matched directional pairs (right, below) to non-directional pairs (left):


And then set the pairs aside with a pin in them. Once I had a stack of matched pairs (aka soon-to-be ring blocks), I pressed the seams of each match like so: seam of top pair pressed to the right, seam of top pair pressed to the left. Then chain pieced those pairs, same as before …


… which left me with a stack of ring blocks!

At that point, I could have finally laid them all out and placed them just so, but two things stopped me. First, I would seriously have to move a lot of furniture to lay out a top this big – I wan’t prepared to do that last night, but I wanted to keep sewing!

Second, I wondered what I would really gain by nitpicking over the layout at that level. Yeah, I might’ve made it perfect – but I’m trying to question what ‘perfect’ really means in this context. Who says a layout obsessed over will really end up more ‘perfect’ than a random one? Maybe it’ll be exactly the same. Or maybe it’ll look overworked and less interesting! Mom was always trying to teach me this, but I think it’s just something that has to come on its own with your own confidence in your craft. But that’s probably a post for another day – the point is, I decided to just wing it and see what happens! Of course, my quilt is so large, it’d be so difficult to really fine-tune so many peels into a ‘perfect’ layout. It was always going to be pretty random. And I only have two colors, so I don’t need to worry about creating a balance in that way – depending on your fabrics and quilt size, you may really need to have a look before you start putting them together.


Anyway, so now I’m putting together quadruple-ring-blocks. :) Then I’ll lay them out. I ordered my batting from Doughty’s today, so that should get here just as I’m finishing up. I’ll share more about how I baste quilts as soon as I get there!

How’s your quilt going? These are just tips and whatnot, so I won’t add a link-up, but let us know in the comments!