Category Archives: quilts

American flag quilt

American Flag quilt by Noelle Olpin

American Flag Quilt by Noelle Olpin, 36″ x 31″

I made this pattern up myself, I’ve had the idea of an American Flag quilt tucked away in a corner of my brain for awhile. A few elements that influenced it’s making: First of all, I dislike throwing any scrap of fabric- no matter the size or shape, so I had plenty of scrap fabric ready to go. Second, I admire the quilters of Gee’s Bend (this is an extreme understatement). And lastly, my love for flags has been growing throughout the years as I’ve traveled, participated in humanitarian work in Nepal and Cambodia and sent my kids on foreign exchanges and adventures of their own.

All kinds of flags have caught my eye- country flags, nautical flags, Native American Indian tribe flags– all intriguing and beautiful in their representation of solidarity and national pride. And the useful (sneaky to land lubbers) messaging aspect of nautical signal flags in the coolest. Through these aligned preferences and concepts, this quilt was born.
american flag quilt1I started by collecting up all of the tiny scraps of red, white and blue fabric I could possibly find, and began randomly sewing them together.

american flag quilt, making the stripesAs I pieced things together, I tried to roughly create the shapes I needed- long narrow strips for the red and white sections, then blocky blue and white strips for the star section.
making an american flag quiltAfter continuing to piece together reds and whites into long skinny pieces, I starting sewing them together. My goal was obvious imperfection and wavy lines- which is a lot harder than you would think. I put the rotary cutter away and cut everything with scissors… in my lap and not on a flat table.
stars on the flagI made the ‘stars’ section in strips of white and blue squares.  A tiny bit of basic math went into this part because I was striving for 50 white pieces or stars in there. I tried to make the blue and white sections about 1-2″ squares. Nine rows of 5 or 6 white chunks, semi-lined up and sewn together with blue strips in between.
making the stars for flag quiltI found this actual star fabric while searching through my collection of blue fabric scraps and decided to incorporate it, a strong mental suggestion for those who aren’t compelled by abstract patterns.

american flag quilt, abstract starsLooking at the back… very messy and in my opinion it’s intriguing to see the process and framework. As you can see, I still did plenty of ironing throughout the process.
building the quilt stars back
building the quilt starsIf you look closely, you can see that some of the selvages (unfinished fabric edges) have been left exposed on the quilt top and sewn with visible top stitching. I want the exposed edges to be visible and the slightly frayed aspect to add texture and imperfection of the finished quilt.
stars and stripes quiltIn laying out the three pieces, I found that the blue and white section was too small and needed more white stars too. So I pieced and added another small blue and white section.
american flag quilt, making the starsHere’s the added-to blue section (the part to the farthest right)- finally making the entire section the right size.

american flag quiltHere are all three pieces ready to be trimmed and sewn into one.
stars and stripes

stars and stripes quilt

And, of course,  a view of the backside.

flag quiltAnother look at the back as the pieces come together.

abstract american flagHere’s a backlit look at the finished pieced flag quilt top, showing off all of the tiny pieces that combine to make up the color portions.
american flag quilt topI love looking at the light coming through the fabric, before the batting and the back fabric get put on.
american flag quiltNow, I’ve got to decide how to quilt the top. I’m picturing simple, but hand stitched… This is going to take some time, but the end result with be worth it with a very organic, homemade and home grown feel.
red and white top stitchingI did a bit of machine top stitching to hold layers in place, then finished up with an easy running stitch with embroidery floss and pearl cotton thread in coordinating colors. Mostly straight, uneven stitching with an occasional swirl built in for some fun and curvy lines.
am flag top stitch
american flag details
topstitching on american flagI added an occasional embroidered star over the white star blocks with a couching or double running stitch.
flag quilt signature

With a final embroidered signature in the corner on the back, the American flag quilt is finished.
back of flag quilt

Here’s a view of the full back side. I always sew a sleeve for hanging at the top of all of my quilts. A flat, thin piece of wood (or metal, I’m using a yardstick in this picture) cut to the just under the width of the quilt helps the quilt hang straight across the top and keeps the quilt from eventually sagging in the middle like fabric is inclined to do.

Note: A hole is drilled into each side of the pole or stick, close to the ends. Then the holes are placed over nails in the wall to hang it up.

back of quilt

Nautical Flag Quilt

nautical signal flag quiltAny guesses on what this quilt is saying? So… I’ve been working with flags lately after a longtime fascination with flags and more recently, nautical flags, has gotten me going about a few new projects.

Chart-of-signal-flagsFor those of you land lubbers, inland dwellers or non-sailors who don’t know yet- there’s a international code of signals used at sea for relaying communication back and forth between ships or from ship to shore, before the radio or during times of required radio silence. They are used individually or together to spell out short messages.

BVI flags Cooper IslandA recent trip to the British Virgin Islands got me thinking about my love of all flags, especially signal flags and the secret code aspect that makes them just a bit more intriguing.

piecing nautical flagsIn a recent visit, a friend and I came up with this quilt idea- our last names spelled with nautical signal flags.

nautical flag quilt piecingSome everyday math was required to get the dimensions of the flags right- within each flag and in relation to each other on the face of the quilt. Each flag measures 8 inches by 9 inches. I used a few different blues and yellows on purpose for a bit of dimension and to leave uniformity in the dust. All squares were pieced together on the machine, save the “i”  (black dot square above) which was hand-sewn (using a turn under applique method) to the yellow, and not perfectly round on purpose.

nautical flag quilt topI decided to go with a linen fabric for a plain background that made the flags pop but still has the textured, weather beaten look of a old sail bag, or a sailors face or the look of the linen shirted folks hanging out at any given yacht club… or maybe I just love linen. The dimensions of the whole quilt are 5 feet wide by 5′ 3″ long.

signal flag quiltHere is the quilt top all pieced together and ready to be quilted.  I was really curious how the linen would look once it was quilted, and how it would act in the long arm quilting machine.

nautical flag quilt with tribal eldersI previewed the quilt at Thanksgiving, a nice surprise for the family members for which the flags have meaning in their secret-code order. The family elders and even the little ones, absolutely loved the idea.

nautical flags on the wallThe finished quilt with a built in sleeve on the back for hanging. I really toyed with the idea of making the backside a bright colorful fabric to contrast the business-in-the-front look, but in the end, I kept it simple and just put the same linen on the back.

signal flag quiltingThe quilting is a super-small, wave-like pattern in gray thread throughout the whole quilt. It’s machine quilted (or it wouldn’t be finished for 50 years) and even with a machine, it took 12 hours- yikes!  Recently I’ve been going with a bigger quilting design and always wishing I’d gone smaller, so this quilt was the tiny design test.

quilting detail, nautical flagsOf course it’s hard to see at a distance, but close up and to the touch, I really like the way it turned out- even if it made the machine quilter friend of mine nearly crazy by the time it was finally finished.

quilting detail, signal flagsLovin’ the linen next to the cotton flag squares.

If you’re loving the nautical look, check out my nautical flag banners (great for a nautical themed party) available on Etsy. The fabric is hand-drawn, designed and made specifically for the banners. The alphabetical version is available in my shop but custom orders are welcome!

nautical party theme

an experiment in abstract quilting

mountain quilt 1The Big Rock Candy Mountain quilt is finished- all quilted and bound! As with most projects, the first step is the hardest and that was definitely true in this case. Working without a pattern requires a huge mental effort and so I must admit I walked away from this project for months at a time because I was having a hard time seeing the big, final picture. But all the hard work in abstract quilting was so extremely rewarding, and now, I think I’m hooked.
mountain quilt backFabric with assorted keys on the back, a panel from Urban Outfitters I found a few years back.
big rock candy mt quiltThe quilting was done by Corn Wagon Quilt Company in Springville UT. They have done custom work (freehand by the human operator, not a computer programmed stitch) for me before so I trusted they would do a good job again. I was very undecided on how to quilt this project. I went back and forth on various ideas, asking everyone’s opinion and you can see what won out- based on majority rule. I had Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night pictured in my minds eye when I saw the background. I had pictured swirls bigger than these but I didn’t specify exact size and I think these smaller swirls suit just fine.
big rock candy mountain quiltThere are a few stars in the sky- I had pictured more but I think it works out just fine. Someday I’ll have my own long arm quilting machine and I’ll be free to quilt whatever I can dream up (after hours and months of lessons, practice and messing up I’m sure).
triangle pieced quiltI love the way the straight stitches on the mountain really make the points and geometry stand out. Very simple- in a good way.
backlight quiltBacklit and blowing in the wind, it took me about 5 minutes with the camera poised and ready to get this picture. The wind was making it flap and twist, but I had to get at least one good picture with the mountains in the background and the sunlight coming through the fabric.
keys on the backsideI learned from my mother-in-law to always title, sign and date a quilt. Here is one way- just a corner of muslin or plain white fabric in the back corner, hand stitched on, for the important details. This location works well because you can easily flip the bottom corner over for the details without taking the quilt down off the wall. (And I’d better not forget to sign it…)
hanging a quiltIf the quilt is meant to hang on the wall, include a sleeve at the top when stitching the binding on. About 2 or 3 inches wide across the top should suffice. This picture is actually a great bad example of what to use when hanging the quilt. I’ve got a very bendy piece of wood that is twisting and turning (as you can see) and not allowing the quilt to hang nicely flat against the wall. Chose a strong, flat and thin piece of wood for hanging and there will be minimal to no sag over the years.
quilting from the backA view of how the quilting stitching looks against the keys on the back.
folded quilt
mountain quilt with timpOne last look, with my neighboring mountains before this quilt goes off to it’s new home. it’s going to artist Colt Bowden and growing family. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye. (I might have to make another one for me).

For a look at this quilt in the piecing triangles process look here.