A table topper in red, white and blue, with a dash of orange

Way back in May, Mary Etherington of the Country Threads Chicken Scratch blog suggested that her readers might like to join her in making a red-white-blue snowball table topper/runner/mat, what with Memorial Day, Flag Day and July 4th all approaching. I thought it was a great idea.

The National Day here in the Netherlands (King’s Birthday) is in April, and the other important national dates (Remembrance Day and Freedom Day) are at the beginning of May, but there is always next year, right?  Mary posted instructions for the snowball block, with blocks with a finished size of 4″. I decided to make a table topper of 7 x 7 blocks, and had got around to selecting potential fabrics from my stash when I had to go abroad for my work, and when I got back Mary’s mat was finished and posted…


Mary Etherington’s Snowball Table Mat.  Photo © Country Threads Chicken Scratch

Doesn’t that look sweet? Mary had shown a number of different lay-outs on her blog, plus the mats she posted from other readers. I knew I wanted to make the quilt red, white and blue, as they are the colours of the Dutch flag, but I wasn’t sure which lay-out to go for, so I drew a 7 x 7 block snowball quilt with three borders in EQ7 and played with the arrangement of colours. 


Different lay-outs that I made in Electric Quilt

Choosing was quite difficult! After testing design preferences on my husband, I decided to go for a pattern that didn’t look too regular (although it isn’t random) with snowballs in all three colours, and with more white than red or blue. 


The chosen design

Now although the Dutch flag is red, white and blue, the Dutch national colours add orange to that mix, as our Royal family is the House of Orange, so I decided to add a touch of orange to the topper: so there is one corner triangle in each row and column that is orange (7 in total). And the binding is orange too.

Because I used three colours for the snowballs, I also used three colours for the corners (treating the orange as red), so that the corners always contrast with the snowball and with the other nearby corners. This means the corners are a bit less obvious in the design than they would otherwise be (for example if all the snowballs were blue and all the corners red and white). I like the slightly scrappy, random effect that that produced.

To make the design even more Dutch, I decided to make it using only Dutch Chintz’s. These are 100 % cotton fabrics, a little more tightly woven than regular quilting fabric, and printed with designs that have been used here since the 17th and 18th centuries. There is still a dye works that makes these fabrics using traditional rollers to print the designs. 

So I pulled out all the reds, whites, blues and oranges from my chintz stash.


The Dutch Chintz’s from my stash

I discarded the cream print at the top middle and the clamshell blue and white at the left and the red at the bottom right, and used the remaining 5 blues, 4 whites, 4 reds and orange.

Once I had cut out all the 4 1/2″ squares, I laid them on the table and played around until I got the pattern right, and also had no two squares of the same fabric touching along an edge.


The squares laid out in the correct formation

Then I cut all the little 1 1/4″ squares for the corner triangles, making sure again that each corner contrasted with the snowball and with the corner next to it, and I laid them on top op the snowball blocks in position.


The distribution of colours for the corner squares

As it was important not to rotate the blocks in the finished quilt (otherwise the corners wouldn’t match), but I still wanted to chain-piece, I marked the top of each block: I did the first couple with a sticky note, but then changed over to a pin. Using Mary’s technique I chain-stitched each corner onto one block by rotating the block around 360°, and then moved on to the next block. I took a photo of the lay-out before I began, just as insurance! I used pale grey thread for all the piecing, as that blended well with all the colours.


A block with the corner squares attached, prior to trimming

After I pressed the blocks, I trimmed of the corners, pressed the triangles open and squared everything up to 4 1/2″. To do this I used a 4 1/2″ ruler and a small rotating cutting mat at my pressing surface. It was really nice and fast.


Squaring up a block on the rotating cutting-mat, using a 4 1/2″ ruler

Then I sewed all the blocks into rows and the rows into the top.


The blocks sewn together

I added three borders to frame the centre (which because all the fabrics are patterned looked very busy) and to ‘ground’ the topper and pull it all together. A dark blue 1″ border, a white 1/2″ border and a red 1″ border.


The borders sewn to the top

And then I sat back and had a think about how I wanted to quilt it. I decided that complex quilting would be a bit of a waste as the top is so patterned that one wouldn’t see it anyway, on the other hand I wanted have fun quilting it, and I wanted to do something to make the corners stand out more, but without having to stop and start all the time.  I decided to adapt the orange-peel block to make a quilting design. I liked the fact that this was an ‘orange’ touch too. Back to EQ7. I pared down the orange peel block to make a curved diamond pattern in the centre of the block. This avoided having to quilt over the bulky seams at the corners, but linked all the blocks together.


The curved shape I drew for the quilting design


So I cut the shape out of template plastic. I used plastic with gridlines to help me get the shape straight on each block.


The plastic quilt design template

Then I marked all the blocks with the design lightly in pencil: white on the red and blue blocks, pale green on the white blocks.


The quilting design marked in pencil on a block

Then I layered the quilt and hand basted it. The chintz is too densely woven to take pin-basting easily. I used Hobbs cotton batting.


The quilt layered for basting

I didn’t have a piece of chintz big enough for the back, so decided to use three pieces: red, white and blue in broad strips, which made the back of the table topper a Dutch flag.


The red, white and blue quilt backing

The quilting design looped across the quilt in a way that made it possible to quilt the whole top in just two goes: by beginning in the middle and looping outwards and then back in the following row it was possible to quilt the top all in one direction and then to start again and quilt in the other direction. I have never had so few stops-and-starts in a design, it was great!


The topper being quilted

I used a variegated YLI cotton quilting thread in red white and blue in the needle, so the visibility of the quilting comes and goes on the quilt top, depending on the colour of the thread and the colour of the snowball. I used pale cream thread in the bobbin. The looping design makes a curved diamond in each snowball, but also makes each set of corners the centre of a circle. The corner triangle units are much more visible in the quilted top than they were when it had only been pieced.


The quilting design in close-up (basting still in place)

Once I had quilted the centre, I quilted all borders in-the-ditch. Then I stitched around the outermost border 1/8″ from the edge to stabilise it, removed the basting stitches and trimmed the batting and backing. I also used a fabric eraser to gently remove any visible pencil lines.


The quilt ready for trimming

I made a double-fold 2″ binding in orange and stitched it to the edge. Although this is a table topper, one never knows, so I made a hanging sleeve on the back as well. I had just enough of the red fabric I had used for the backing to make the sleeve, so it is almost invisible.


The binding gets added

The table topper is 33 1/2 inches square, so there was quite a length of binding, I kept it under control with a jumbo wonder clip as I sewed.


Sewing on the binding


The binding attached to the front

Then I flipped the binding over on the front to create the mitres at the corners, pressed the binding flat and turned it to the back and fastened it in place with wonder clips.


The back of the topper, with the binding clipped in place. The quilting pattern is clearly visible on the dark blue


Binding…quilt back on the left, quilt front on the right

I sewed the binding down by hand. For the first time I used some Thread Heaven thread conditioner on my thread: I got the impression that it really made a difference, the thread didn’t knot very often, and when it did it was easy to get it undone.


Thread Heaven – you just slide the thread through the block before sewing

Once I had finished the binding, I made a quilt label and sewed it to the back of the quilt.


The ‘Dutch flag’ quilt back, complete with hanging sleeve and label

And my red, white and blue table topper with a dash or orange was complete. I’m ready for King’s Birthday 2017! Thanks for the inspiration Mary!


The finished table topper on the table in my studio


The table topper from above

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