Learn to Make Orange Peel Blocks

This is a guest post by the lovely and talented Sarah Hunter of Lazy Cozy Quilts. You can find Sarah on Instagram @lazycozyquilts where her feed is full of gorgeous color and bright, bold designs — and her newest quilt pattern, Sonic Bloom, featuring the orange peel block! Learn to make this versatile block with step-by-step instructions to ease you into sewing curves!

Here’s a little more about Sarah in her own words:

In my former life I was a social butterfly and Home Economics drop-out. Now I'm a socially awkward homebody with a sewing machine and a bad quilting habit!  Since I get bored easily, I'm constantly looking for ways to make each step of the quilt making process a little more fun and a little less time-consuming.   My goal is to write patterns that push the boundaries of your comfort zone, while giving you the resources and encouragement to push past it! 

*Sarah is generously offering our blog readers 20% off her Sonic Bloom pattern using the code GHTCO. The pattern can be purchased on her website here and we also have kits in our shop! Sarah and I worked together to curate the perfect bundle of fabrics for our Sonic Bloom Quilt Kit, using Art Gallery Fabrics Terra Kotta and Decostitch Elements. Sewing it up is the easy part, so let’s get started! 

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Sewing curves has an undeserved reputation for being difficult, but I promise you, it’s not! Remember when you first learned to sew, and mastering your 1/4” seam felt hard? After a bit of practice, you got the hang of it! Curved sewing is the same way, so bust out your scrap fabric and get ready!

I’ll be showing you how to sew the Orange Peel block, which is great for beginners, as it’s a much gentler curve than a quarter- or half-circle. This is the same block that is used in my new Sonic Bloom Quilt pattern, and once you get comfortable with this technique, a whole new world of quilt patterns await you! 

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Inspired by Impatience…

Before sewing machines were widely available, Orange Peel blocks were hand sewn using the English Paper Piecing method. Later, appliqué became the most popular method to make this block and there are plenty of fabulous patterns that use the appliqué technique today. 

If you’ve been hanging around Lazy Cozy Quilts for long, then you already know that I’m too impatient to use either one of those techniques, so I set out on a curved piecing pilgrimage to learn how to make them with my machine. Luckily, I found oodles of resources, and put it all together to develop a game plan that worked for me. I’m sharing that method here as a starting point to help shorten your learning curve (See what I did there?)!

Anatomy Lesson

Orange peel blocks are made up of three pieces; I’ll be referring to the center piece as the petal, but you may see it referred to elsewhere as the convex shape. The remaining two pieces are what I call the corners, although they are also known as the concave shapes.

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Almost every pattern will include templates for the convex and concave pieces of your block. You will need to cut the shape out, transfer it to something stiffer, like cereal box cardboard or template plastic, and use that to cut your fabric. Alternatively, you can use a specialty ruler to cut your curved fabric pieces quickly and accurately. Since the Sonic Bloom Quilt pattern includes detailed instructions for templates OR the Classic Curves Ruler, we’re going to skip straight to the fun part — sewing! 

Prepare, Sew, Stop, Repeat

Step 1: Prepare

Measure your fabric pieces to ensure they are the correct size. Fold the petal and one of the corners in half and finger press to mark the center.

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Line up the centers of each piece and pin right sides together at the crease.

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Carefully align the edges of both pieces at the end, and pin, being sure the edge of the corner is square with the tip of the petal, as shown below.

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Repeat on the other side. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly if your pieces look like a wavy sailor’s hat!

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Step 2 – Sewing the First Corner and Petal

Place the end of the pieces under your 1/4” presser foot, aligned with the edge of the foot. The corner piece will be on the top.  I like to take a couple of stitches to secure the pieces together and then remove the first pin. SLOWLY resume stitching, keeping the fabric edges aligned as you work your way toward the center pin. You will likely have to stop and lift your presser foot a few times and use your left hand to squish the fabric down. 

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Watch a short video of Sarah sewing a curve on her Instagram here!

The fabric that’s NOT under your presser foot will look like it’s bunching and that’s fine, let it! As long as the bunching isn’t in the path of your 1/4” seam, it’ll be okay, pinky swear! Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders (I see you!) and carry on. 

Stop when you reach the center pin, remove it and lift you presser foot to realign the edges, and continue around the curve. As you approach the end, you may have to stop, lift and adjust a little more often.

Troubleshooting:  If you have to pull or stretch your fabric to reach the end, your templates are not cut to the right size. 

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Ta-dah! You just sewed a curve!

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Keeping in mind there are stretchy edges (the bias) carefully press your curve in the direction indicated on the pattern.

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Now we’re going to repeat the process on the other side. 

Step 3 – Sewing the Second Corner to the Petal

Nothing new here, repeat Steps 1-3 on this side! Fold your second corner piece and your petal/corner unit in half, pin, sew, lift, align, repeat.  Press. Don’t panic if your block is a little wavy, because most patterns will ask you to square it up to a certain size. 

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You just made an Orange Peel block, HIGH FIVE! 

My Best Tip for Sewing Curves

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “This is going to take me forever to sew just one block!” I thought the same thing when I first started. And it’s going to feel like it takes forever, just like it did when you made your first-ever seam on a sewing machine. Read on…

Here is my BEST piece of advice for learning to sew curves

Sit down and practice on two blocks one day, then walk away. Do it again the next day and walk away. Keep coming back each day and do a few more practice blocks. Within a week’s time (10-12 blocks), you are going to get faster and might even start enjoying yourself (GASP!).  Also, think about all the bragging you can do the next time you meet up with your sew-sisters and show them your work! 

Here are a few more tips for a successful start:

1. Don’t start with your good fabric. Get out that pile of scrap fabric you bought on sale but don’t really like, and practice cutting your pieces. Then practice sewing on those pieces! 

2. Measure twice, cut once. The number one reason people have difficulty fitting the pieces together is because the templates are cut incorrectly. For new-to-curves quilters, I highly recommend using the Classic Curves Ruler. If you are using the template, measure it (twice!) to make sure it’s printed out at the correct size according to the pattern specification, BEFORE cutting your fabric! 

3. Put a pin in it — three, actually. Always start with the middle pin, then the two end pins. If you want to use more pins, by all means do that, but start with these three in this order first. 

4. Practice, and then practice some more. It’s going to feel awkward at first, as does anything you try for the first time. Remind yourself that tomorrow you are going to be even better at it than you are today. A week from now, you are going to be MUCH better at it if you practice as prescribed! 

If I can do it… No, seriously! My first orange peel block was AWFUL. So was my second. Want proof?  Check out my pile of practice blocks:

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After sewing almost 400 blocks in three months and incorporating the feedback of a dozen pattern testers and other designers, I’m confident that these steps will enable you to conquer curves! It’s certainly not the only way to sew curved pieces, but it will give you a solid foundation to find your own way. 

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So, are you ready to give it a shot? Get you Sonic Bloom Quilt Kit from Justine, or choose your own fabrics from her selection, then head over to my website to get your pattern (don’t forget to use the coupon code)! 

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Justine and I are dying to see this bundle become a quilt, so be sure to tag us (@greatheronthreadco and @lazycozyquilts) on Instagram and use the hashtag #sonicbloomquilt.

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