When I finished my scrappy Bear Path quilt top, I knew I wanted to hand quilt it to give it a more “vintage, worn in” look. I toyed with the idea of straight lines, or echo quilting, like I did for my Wildwood Bear Path and my Cover Bear Path quilts. And yet, they didn’t feel right, even though they also felt like I’d be pushing the easy button. I decided instead to bust out of my creative comfort zone and do orange peel hand quilting!
My creative process went a little like this:
1. Google “orange peel hand quilting”
2. Get annoyed that all I was finding were results for applique orange peels. (certainly I’m not the first person to want to hand quilt orange peels??)
3. Decide to forgo the internet search and figure out a process that worked for me. Let’s do this!
This tutorial will show you how to create orange peels of any size, since we’ll be making our own template! Also, a note before we begin. Orange peel hand quilting is extremely time intensive. The results are incredible, though, and totally worth it. But just be prepared to make this a longer term project!
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Prefer video? Scroll to the end of this post for the video version!
- A basted quilt! I used my Bear Path quilt pattern, whose angles were a great contrast to the curvy quilting. I thread basted this quilt, and I recommend thread or spray basting for this type of quilting.
- Marking tools: hera marker & chalk
- Flexible plastic chopping mats for creating a template (you may also use cardboard)
- Scissors for cutting template
- Thread: Aurifil 12 weight preferred
- Hand quilting supplies: needle, thimble, scissors
The first step was deciding how big to make my orange peels and creating a template. Bear Path is a big-block quilt so I knew that I could get away with bigger orange peels. I also knew that I didn’t want my orange peels to be the exact same size as the log cabin pieces, because if they didn’t quite line up and were slightly off, it would annoy me to no end. I ended up pulling out a variety of Pyrex lids and placing them on the quilt top to see which size I like best. Very professional, I know.
I ended up going with a circle that was 5″ diameter. Next step was creating the template. I traced my pyrex lid onto cutting board plastic. I buy this at Dollar Tree for, well, a dollar. I love this plastic for making templates for hand quilting and EPP, because you can see through it a bit if you’re fussy cutting, it is rigid enough not to break, but easy to cut with scissors (just don’t pick up your sewing scissors by mistake! Ahem, Eliane). I cut out my circle, being careful to keep the circle intact. (cut a slit in the center of the circle, then cut towards your traced edge, and then cut gently around the entire curve). I also deliberately made my template about 1/2″ away from the edge of the plastic, and kept it larger than I needed to. I didn’t want to fiddle with trying to keep my fingers out of the way while tracing circles. I also traced my pyrex lid on a scrap piece of paper and cut that out. I folded it into fourths, unfolded it, matched it up to the plastic template, and drew four lines with sharpie on my template. These reference points are helpful later, you’ll see.
Okay, now our template is made, it is time to prep our quilt top! Since my circle is 5″ in diameter, I drew a grid with my hera marker on my quilt top as follows:
- 5″ vertical lines
- 2.5″ horizontal lines
If your circle is a different size, your lines will be as follows:
- Vertical Lines = diameter of your circle
- Horizontal Lines = half the diameter of your circle
I used the quilt top as my guide to make sure my lines stayed straight as I traced. I also made sure to start the lines 1/2″ from the edge and finish 1/2″ from the edge. Ish. You just don’t want to start your circles right at the edge of your quilt top, since you have the potential to cut your threads when trimming and squaring the quilt top later. I always leave about a 1/2″ of non-quilted space around the perimeter of my quilt top when I hand quilt.
You might start thinking that this is a lot of lines we’ve just drawn, and aren’t we going to stitch yet? Not yet, my friend. This is a labor of love we’re doing. Buckle up.
With our grid drawn, it is finally time to draw circles! I used a combination of hera marker (light fabrics) and chalk (dark fabrics) to draw my circles. I started by drawing circles that stacked on one another. This is hard for me to explain but I’ve drawn a diagram for you below. Essentially, I decided to do the entire first pass of the quilt, then come back through and do the interlocking circles afterwards. This is primarily personal preference, but I always feel better when my whole quilt has some quilting and I can go and fill in the rest, instead of finishing up one portion while the other half of my quilt top is completely unquilted.
To draw the circles, you want to make sure your template is inside a 5″ square in your grid, and trace. Then, repeat for the one next to it. The grid is in place to keep your rows and columns straight. Especially for a quilt like Bear Path, which is very linear, I didn’t want my orange peels to go wonky.
Once I drew the circles, which I did about 2-3 rows of circles at a time, I went ahead and quilted them up. Then I drew 2-3 more rows of circles, and quilted those. Rinse, repeat, until your entire first pass is done! Woohoo! But, don’t celebrate quite yet, we’re only halfway done. Don’t worry, all this time and effort makes for the most beautiful quilting.
To quilt the rows, I did a snake-like motion, quilting across the entire row, then coming back the other way to complete the circles.
Now we’re going to go back in and draw the interlocking circles. Remember those lines we drew on the template? Here’s where they come in. You’ll line up the horizontal lines on the template with the 2.5″ horizontal lines from the grid you drew. The vertical lines line up with the 5″ vertical lines from your grid. This will keep your orange peels looking uniformly quilted and straight. Again, I drew about 2-3 rows worth of circles, quilted them, and then drew some more. You can go ahead and draw out the whole quilt if you prefer, but since I was using chalk, which likes to fade and disappear with too much manhandling, I figured this was a safer course of action. Plus, it kept it interesting, as I would sew a bit, mark a bit, sew some more, and so on.
Pretty soon, you get a few rows in and your orange peels start to take shape. What a beauty, huh? Continue until you’ve completed your entire quilt! Then step back and admire that you quilted this!