Want to sew your first quilt but want something with a bit more oomph than the basic squares or half-square triangles? Consider this mini orange-peel a.k.a. bird-seed quilt that is a bit more adventurous. Free patterns included!
Quilting can be intimidating. You see all these seasoned and professional quilters doing their thing like it’s a piece of cake, but when you try to plan your own first quilt, you feel like you can’t go more complicated than the basic squares and half-square triangles. If you want something a bit jazzier but don’t know how to sew curved pieces together (yet), you could make a mini orange-peel quilt that introduces basic piecing skills as well as appliquéing skills.
But wait - appliqué?! Trust me, with the right tools and materials, it’s a lot easier than it seems.
And once you realise how easy appliqué can be, you will feel like a whole world of possibilities open up for future projects.
Also, there will be no hand-sewing in this tutorial (save for a bit of basting). This tutorial will result in a final mini quilt of 50cm x 50cm. Seam allowance is quarter inch.
STEP 1: SELECT FABRICS
You will need:
(For the squares) 4 fat quarters of solid-coloured fabrics. My selections were dark green, dark brown, dark blue and dark pink.
(For the "orange peels") 4 fat quarters of coordinating printed fabrics in shades lighter than the solid-coloured fabrics (light green, light brown, light blue and light pink).
Note: You may notice there are 8 fabric prints in the photos of my finished quilt. They were basically 2 light greens, 2 light browns, 2 light blues and 2 light pinks. I ended up with lots of remnants and I imagine the end result isn’t going to be that much different if they were just 4 different prints. So, stick to 4 prints).
My initial draft of the quilt design and fabric selections.
There are 8 printed fabrics here, but looking back, 4 would be sufficient.
STEP 2: STARCH FABRICS
This step is crucial to prepare the orange peel pieces, not so much for the squares. But since starched fabrics and unstarched fabrics behave very differently when sewing, the solid-coloured fabrics should be starched the exact same way as the printed fabrics.
To starch, soak all the fat quarters in heavy liquid starch (such as the Easy On Double Starch) by spraying generous amounts onto the fabrics (I did it in a plastic basin to contain run off). Leave overnight, as flat as possible, to air-dry. Don’t worry about folds or wrinkles - they can be ironed smooth very easily later. If by the next day it’s still not completely dry, blow with hair-dryer (do this only if the fabrics are already somewhat dry). Then, steam iron to smoothen the fat quarters. The result should be stiff fabrics that are almost like thick pieces of papers.
Here’s a good video demonstration by Martingale on fabric starching. Although, I'd spray a lot more than she did in the video to get more stiffness to cater for the smaller scale of this project.
STEP 3: CUT FABRICS AND ORANGE-PEEL MOULD
STEP 3.1: From the solid-coloured fat quarters, cut out 9cm x 9cm squares in the following quantities:
Dark brown: 13 squares
Dark green: 16 squares
Dark blue: 16 squares
Dark pink: 12 squares
Cut solid-coloured fabrics into 9cm x 9cm squares.
There are more fabric squares here than required for this project.
STEP 3.2: From the printed fat quarters, cut out 6.5 cm long "orange peels" (download pattern here) in the following quantities:
Light brown: 52 pieces
Light green: 32 pieces
Light blue: 32 pieces
Light pink: 48 pieces
This is the tool I used to trace the orange peel shapes. The patterns in the download file are traced from this tool. The outer shape is the size of the fabric cuts, while inner shape is the size of the finished "orange peels" (i.e. size of the cardboard mould in Step 3.3)
"Orange peels" all cut and ready for Step 4.
There are way more here than required for this project.
STEP 3.3: From a thin piece of cardboard (cereal box type is ideal), cut out a few pieces of 5 cm long "orange peels" (download pattern here). You really only need one, but the rest are just standby in case the first one got destroyed along the process. I ended up using only one piece, although it looked tattered in the end (as you can see in the photos in Step 4).
TIP: If you want "orange peels" of a different size, it is easy to draw your own either manually with a ruler and a compass (the tool to draw circles, not the navigation tool) or digitally with Microsoft Powerpoint. The aim is to draw "true" orange peel shapes that form a perfect circle when 4 of them are arranged as follows:
To draw such orange peel shapes, see my post on "Soft Toys & Amish Puzzle Ball" and scroll down to the Amish Puzzle Ball tutorial on "How to create the lens-shaped pattern piece for Amish puzzle ball." (Lens shape is another name for orange peel shape. I can't seem to ever find the official name of this shape!).
STEP 4: PREPARE "ORANGE PEELS"
The following steps are basically trying to get the fabric peel to wrap snugly around the cardboard mould. Before going any further, make absolutely sure that all your cut fabric pieces are stiff from the heavy starch. The stiffer the fabrics, the faster this process will be. If you find them too flimsy at any point in time, you can still spray on more heavy starch and let them dry again before continuing.
STEP 4.1: Place the cardboard mould onto the wrong side of one fabric "orange peel" piece.
STEP 4.2: Fold the excess fabric along one curved edge of the fabric piece onto the cardboard mould. I did this by finger pressing followed by ironing (turn steam off, lest you burn your fingers!).
STEP 4.3: Repeat the same folding method on the other curved edge.
STEP 4.4: You will see excess fabrics at both tips of the "orange peel". Simply fold them underneath such that they are hidden from the front view, and press with iron.
STEP 4.5: Remove the cardboard mould wrapped inside the fabric. You will have to undo some of the folds, but if the fabrics were starched heavily enough, you should be able to redo these folds very easily.
STEP 4.6: Finger press the folds back on, then give the whole thing a good press with the steam iron. You now have completed one piece of "orange peel".
REPEAT for all the other orange peel fabric pieces. It may sound like a long process, but you will quickly get the hang of it and before you know it, your hands would be working like clock-work and churning out "orange peels" in record speeds. I didn’t time myself, but for this step I probably made one in roughly 2 to 3 minutes. I also recommend doing this while watching your favourite show on the TV or computer.
STEP 5: PIECING TOGETHER FABRIC SQUARES
Finally, it’s time to sew! Piece together the fabric squares from Step 3 in the arrangement illustrated below, using ¼ inch seam allowance. Basic patchwork method applies. Sew rows of squares first, then sew the rows together in long runs of stitches.
In the above illustration, the quilt top appears to be made up of all perfect squares. In real life, you should see seam allowances on all raw edges, which means the “squares” along the edges of the quilt top won’t be exact squares as there are still unused seam allowances.
Piecing fabric squares together. I chose to iron all seam allowances to one side as opposed to ironing them open. I think this is subject to preferences among quilters.
STEP 6: APPLIQUÉING
Using a disappearing ink marker, draw diagonal lines onto the quilt top as guides.
Using the guide lines, appliqué the "orange peels" from Step 4 onto the quilt top according to the following arrangements, leaving squares along the edges of the quilt top empty (see illustration below):
On each dark green squares, appliqué 4 light green "orange peels".
On each dark brown squares, appliqué 4 light brown "orange peels".
On each dark blue squares, appliqué 4 light blue "orange peels".
On each dark pink squares, appliqué 4 light pink "orange peels".
My choice of appliquéing method is using straight stitch (2mm-length) to edge-sew the "orange peels" onto the quilt top, because this is the fastest method. I used matching threads. Other possible methods include hand-stitching using the ladder stitch or blanket stitch, or other machine stitches like the zig-zag stitch.
Edge stitch to appliqué the "orange peels" onto the quilt top.
I used 2mm straight stitch for a neater finish.
STEP 7: QUILTING
Grab your choice of batting and backing fabric, cut them into squares of at least 50cm by 50cm, and baste together the quilt top, batting and backing fabric (in that order, top to bottom, wrong sides facing). I used fusible batting, which means I had to iron-fuse the batting onto the wrong side of the quilt top before basting them to the backing fabric.
Ironing quilt top onto fusible batting.
Got to be careful not to fuse glue onto the iron!
Then, quilt the layers together. This being my first-time quilting, I stuck to simple straight lines (vertical, horizontal and diagonal). I also drew lines (using that same disappearing ink marker) to guide my quilting.
STEP 8: TRIMMING AND BINDING
Trim off the excess quilt top, batting and backing fabric to form clean edges as shown below. Remember to leave behind ¼ inch allowance on all edges for binding (See Note* below).
Normally, quilters use single-fold binding tapes to bind quilts. They can be cut straight or on the bias - it doesn’t matter if the quilt edges are all straight lines. For this project, I used ready-made satin double-fold bias tapes (the type usually used for garments), because they were what I had in abundance. In my future quilting projects, though, I would definitely try to use proper binding tapes.
Note*: If you are using binding tapes of a larger width, make sure to trim the quilt leaving sufficient clearance for your intended binding width.
The mini orange peel quilt is now complete!
It's official. I just made my first quilt, albeit with a lot of flaws. But what do you know - I actually enjoy quilting more than I thought I would!