by Crystal Sands
When I first learned about the old Maine flag a few years ago, I fell in love with it. It thought it looked like something that was quilted by women a hundred years ago. It was simple and represented some of my favorite things about Maine—the trees and the stars.
The old Maine flag, with its pine tree and blue star, was the official Maine flag from 1901 to 1909, and its fame is growing. I’ve seen the pine tree in different forms in images around the internet because flag makers could interpret the old Maine flag differently, as there was no set standardize design for the flag. The legislation simply stated that the flag should be “buff charged with the emblem of the state, a pine tree proper in the center and the polar star (a mullet of five points) in blue in the upper corner.”
If you’re interested in making an old Maine flag quilt like mine, you can make your tree however you like it, and that’s part of the beauty of this flag’s history. Flag makers interpreted the flag in many styles, with different pine trees and different shades of buff.
These quilts make wonderful gifts for anyone who loves Maine and Maine’s history or just admires the simplicity and beauty of the old Maine flag and can be made in any size. I have had particular interest in my Etsy shop in old Maine flag baby quilts.
With Maine’s bicentennial occurring this year, it seemed like a good time to share with others my process for making these simple but lovely quilts. They are rustic, but, to me, that’s all a part of the charm. I also think the simplicity and sturdiness of this quilt speaks to the essence of Maine to me. I am not originally from Maine. I am from “away”, but I love the beauty of Maine and feel connected to my adopted home state every time I make one of these homemade quilts. I love all things homemade, and since so much of the stitching in this quilt is hand stitching, the process feels extra special to me. Especially when I make a baby quilt, I try to put love into the stitches. I hope it works.
Making this quilt requires a process called applique. There is more than one way to create applique for a quilt, but I use a process I learned when I was young. It works well, is fairly simple, and, while it can be a little time consuming the first time you try it, the results are completely worth it. Plus, as with anything, the more you do it, the quicker and easier the process becomes. You will also use tie quilting, which is a quick and easy way of putting together the layers of a quilt, which helps you save a lot of time in the overall process.
Making Your Old Maine Flag Quilt
To Make a Throw-Sized Quilt (approximately 50 inches by 75 inches)
*Fabric requirements for a baby quilt (approximately 45 inches by 45 inches) are also noted below
¼ yard of green cotton fabric for your pine tree
*same for baby quilt
2 and ½ yards of cotton muslin fabric or any shade of “buff” that you prefer
* 1 and ½ yards of muslin fabric for baby quilt
2 and ¾ yards of blue cotton fabric for your backing and for your blue star
*1 and ¾ yards of blue cotton fabric for baby quilt
Quilt batting – throw or small project size
Green, blue, and cream embroidery thread to match your fabric for your tie quilting
Blue and green threads to match your fabric choices for your stitching and for sewing up the sides of your quilt in the end
Pins (so many pins)
Regular sewing needle and a larger embroidery needle
*Be sure to pre-wash your fabric before beginning this process. If you do not, when the cotton fabric shrinks upon first wash, your quilt could be ruined.
The Applique Process
Using an image of the flag that suits you best, draw your star and your tree, simply, onto some paper. To get my tree big enough for my quilt, I had to tape four pieces of paper together and then draw my tree. Do this for both the tree and the star. Cut them both out.
Place your star on your blue fabric and your tree on your green fabric and pin them to the fabric.
Cut out carefully around each item, leaving just under a ½ of an inch of fabric at the edges, enough room for the fabric to be folded over and pinned to the paper.
Pin the star thoroughly and then start turning over the edge and pinning the fabric to the star around the edges. This can be a little tricky and will take some practice if you are new to the process. Be patient with yourself and give yourself some time. It won’t take long for you to get the hang of it.
You will end up with pieces full of pins, as seen below.
On the other side, your star and tree should look like this.
Your next step is to loosely stitch the fabric to the paper, so you can get rid of all those pins. This is another tedious part of the process, but it’s so rewarding when you can remove those pins. In the picture below, I have stitched the fabric to the paper, and you will notice I have had to make tiny cuts to make the curves and angles work. This part takes some practice as well, but, hopefully, the pictures will help you make good decisions as you make your cuts.
Once this step is complete, it is time to pin the star and tree to your background fabric and begin the process of blind stitching the pieces to the background fabric. I know. More pins!
To blind stitch your star and your tree to your “buff” background, simply sew in between the layers of the fabric instead of on top. To sew, you should double your thread for strength, and you will make a fairly big knot in your thread to get yourself started. You don’t have to worry about hiding this large knot, as the back of your fabric background will be hidden within the layers of your quilt later.
Then, stitch in between the layers, just like your thread is the middle of the sandwich, and your tree or star are the top of the sandwich with the creamy fabric being the bottom of the sandwich. You will want to make sure you do not make your doubled thread too long, as it can easily become tangled in all of the corners of the tree and star. I recommend starting with a double thread that is about 12 inches long from the eye of the needle to your knot.
Stitch your tree to your background with your green thread and your star to your background with your blue thread. Make sure you hide the thread with your blind stitching as much as possible, but if a little thread shows on the tree or star, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have made sure your threads match your fabrics well.
After both the tree and the star have been blind stitched to your background fabric, turn over the fabric and cut a slit in the middle behind the tree and the star. Very carefully pull your paper out of the slit. If you have accidentally sewn some of your paper in while doing your blind stitching, that is okay. Just give it some gentle tugs, and, of course, the paper will tear out for you.
Once you have blind stitched the tree and the start to your background fabric, you have now finished the front and are ready to add your quilt batting and your backing.
Putting Your Quilt’s Layers Together
You will need a fairly large space to work in order to spread out your quilt’s layers, even a throw size. You can use a large table or clear a workspace on the floor. First put down your blue backing fabric, with the pretty side facing out. Then, lay out your quilt batting and trim to fit just a little smaller than your backing. I try to leave about 1 inch of space between the edge of the batting and the blue fabric. Then, put your “buff” fabric with your tree and star on top. Align everything as neatly as you can and trim the edges of your fabric to your desired size. Just try to keep the extra inch around the border for your blue fabric. This will help when you are making the edge.
Once everything is lined up just right, starting in the middle, using an embroidery needle and thread that matches the fabric you are working with and run the thread through once and tie it together on top. I triple tie my knots, just to be safe because I am definitely a triple knot kind of human.
I place one tie about every seven or eight inches. It doesn’t matter where the ties go, as long as they are on the matching fabric and are close enough together that you are keeping your quilt’s layers together.
Making the Quilt’s Edges
At this point, things are really coming together, and your cat may claim your quilt. This makes your work even more difficult, of course. But if you can persevere, it’s time for more pins.
There are several ways to create an edge or binding for a quilt, but this method is quick and simple. Bring the backing up and fold over the edge and then fold that edge over the top layer of your quilt. Pin this fold (I aim for about 1 inch for the visible edge of the fold) to the backing in order to create an edge for your quilt. To create the corners, simply tuck one of the layers under the other, making it straight, and then pin heavily to hold in place.
It’s helpful if you can remove your kitty from your quilt during this process.
Once your edges are created and pinned well, use your sewing machine with the blue thread (the color of the backing as well as your edge. Proceeding carefully and taking out the pins as you go, sew the edge of the quilt, making sure your machine’s needle is always staying close to the inside of your quilt’s blue binding.
After you have sewn up your edges, you are finished! This is an image of my completed throw on our rocking chair. It’s a beautiful throw that reminds me of all that is lovely about Maine, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial than to make a lovely little quilt paying homage to Maine’s beautiful old flag from the turn of the 20th Century.
If you are interested in purchasing a throw or baby quilt from my Etsy shop, you can do so here. Proceeds from all Farmer-ish Maine Etsy shop purchases help pay our writers and support Farmer-ish, the journal.