Friday, January 13, 2017

Teaching Orange Peels and Improv: Behind the Scenes

My classes at The Quilt & Sewing Fest of New Jersey in March are coming up fast, so I thought I'd go into a bit more detail about each one (I also was interviewed recently! Fun, right?). Plus, I can explain how it works on my end/from the teacher's perspective! Maybe you'll join me in class? There are a few spots left!

 "Soar" - currently hanging at the Ontario Museum of History & Art - photo by Georganna Hawley.

Orange Peels and Improv, which runs from 9-4 on Thursday, March 2, is my most popular workshop. It's the best of both worlds - traditional patchwork and modern improvisation - and it's appropriate for confident beginners and up. The class changes every time I teach it. 

This is what I love most about teaching sewing - I am not a robot. My students aren't, either. We go with the flow, and I add more tips and ideas that I've discovered from watching and helping other students. You can have a plan going into a class, but you can never predict how you'll change instruction once you get there (as I've explained in detail before).

I revel in having the opportunity to walk around class and help on an individual basis. Sometimes students just want confirmation that they are executing the orange peel technique correctly. Others like to bounce color and placement ideas off of me. It's relaxing, encouraging, and most importantly, fun. I like to put on music and usually bring baked goods to share (breaks from sewing are encouraged!)

My favorite part about the first section of this class is marveling over students' color combinations (everyone else loves looking at fabric, too!). Once we've discussed the general idea of making a quilt like this, I lead students through orange peel making and everyone gets to work. There's usually not enough time to make too many peels - if the class is over two sessions, students have to finish their homework (make the rest of their blocks).

Laura's blocks (all pictures shared with permission)

The second part of class is very experimental and freeing - the complete opposite of making blocks. My goal is to encourage quilters to embrace their improvisational side (everyone has one - really!).

I explain several improvisation techniques and show different ways to put together a quilt top. Then, students start to sew. Improvisation can be time-consuming; you don't usually make more than a couple of small panels, but you are prepared to go home and create more. Once, I had a student attend another class of mine, and she brought her completed quilt!

 Donna's completed orange peels and improv quilt

 Kathy's finished orange peels and improv quilt

Others try improvisation and find it's not something they enjoy, so they don't force it, or they decide to continue with a more traditional orange peel quilt. This is a lovely option that I wholeheartedly support!

Robin's orange peel quilt

At the end of class, we do a show and tell of all work, and I send around a class survey (sometimes I even do this electronically, later on). It's very important to me to hear your constructive criticism, comments, and questions.

I can't wait to see the results after this upcoming class! If you'd like to get in on the fun, click the link here. Bonus - you'll get a special, mini tour of some orange peel quilts in my special exhibit at the quilt show itself!


  1. Isn't it great to see everyone take a skill and use it? Getting to see color selection and project progression is such a delight. I hope your upcoming classes are a lot of fun!

  2. I wish I could be there. Florida, lol. I want to make one f these one day.

  3. Love all the versions! Have fun with your classes!

  4. I really enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at your classes. And all of the quilts are beautiful, but I really love Robin's!


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