Scrap User's System!
TOO FUNNY!! A friend in
California sent this pic!
This is truly a "Sign
of the Times" :c)
sure we've all heard "Oh, it's just scraps." Have you ever
stopped to realize that your scraps cost you just as much per yard as
the original fabric purchased that they came from? Your scraps could be
worth $9.00 or more a yard. Makes you think twice about tossing them
out, doesn't it? Or relegating them to the lowly position of
"just a scrap"? :c)
used to be if I wanted to make a 'scrap quilt' I'd have to dig
through all my scraps, big chunks, odd shapes, pieces of this or that
all stuffed in a basket or box for 'some day'.....I'd have to iron
them, sort them, cut them...even before I started sewing. I think I
would lose interest before the quilt even got started! Are you the same
thought first about calling this the "Scrap Saver's" system, but the
point is...we want to USE our scraps, not hoard them! The purpose of
this little explanation is to show you how I continually work my scraps
so they are always at the ready for scrap piecing. I've been doing this
for years now, and it WORKS for me. I have shared this with many
quilters who ask how I get so much done. So this is my effort in
explaining how I work with scraps, and make my scraps work for me.
when you were little that wooden blocks came in different
pre-cut sizes (or legos if you aren't that old!) and you could make
things with them? Build a house, build a road....certain sizes just
went together and FIT. I think of my scraps like building blocks...and
that is what they do go for, building QUILT blocks!
off: STORAGE! You need a way to have your scraps at hand in the
sizes that you will use them most. I like those stackable
sterlite/rubbermaid type plastic drawers that come in all sizes. I like
the ones that have the clear drawers, it helps to be able to see what's
in them. You can also buy those little plastic 3 drawer rolling carts.
I have some of both! I am lucky to have a great place for these,
because I use the space that is underneath my longarm machine
In these bins are rotary
cutting tools and rulers, notions
and marking tools. And then there are strips of various sizes, all in
their own bins by width, and all my FQ's, sorted by color. I also have
some LARGE bins (far right in pic) that hold my collection of 30's
prints all together, some UFO's, and one big bin of denim jean pieces,
and the last bin is for "strings". I think of "strings" as anything
less than 1.5" wide, or something long and tapered from squaring off a
cut of fabric. I like string quilts so I toss those into that
bin. But only save strings if you are going to USE them. That
goes with anything else I say here. Do what works for you, and use it!
The rolling cart drawers hold pre-cut squares and bricks, and one
drawer for left over odd sized triangles.
Bin of strings, and drawer of the smallest crumbs that I
can't bear to toss away. I DO use these so it is okay for me to save
I sort my strips
in sizes of 1.5", 2", 2.5", 3" and
3.5". I've pretty much STOPPED doing the 3" strips because they
don't seem to work with other strips in any combination. (They
don't play nicely with others! :cD) The 1.5" and 2" and 2.5" can
combine with each other in different combinations and then go with the
3.5", but there are not a lot of combinations that work with the 3"
strips! (not a lot adds up to 2.5" finished) So I'm going to have to
challenge myself this year to come up with some quilts that just use
3" strips and squares or something to deplete that drawer. It might be
just ALL SQUARES, but it will use them.
I consider a strip anything
about 12" or longer. Anything shorter than that gets cut into squares
have 1.5", 2", 2.5",
3.5" squares and I have bricks in 2"X3.5" and 2.5" X 4.5". A brick is
the height of one square, with the width of 2 squares, plus seam
allowance. If you wanted larger bricks, another useful size would be
3.5"X6.5". (finished at 3"X6", twice as wide as tall plus seam
allowance, get it?) :c) Bricks are used for flying geese type units as
well as by themselves.
of my strips are
separated by light/dark If there are enough strips to have 2 drawers of
that size strip to contain them. My 2" strips are this way. One bin for
light 2" strips, and one bin for darks. I haven't separated the others
yet, I'd need more drawers!
do have the 2.5" squares
also separated into lights and darks. The 2" squares are all thrown in
a bin together as are the 3.5" squares. I just don't have so many of
them yet to need more than one bin for them.
people are really into
collecting "nickel squares". (5"X5" charm squares) I find that I can
work up the nickel type patterns easier and faster with more variety by
using my pre-cut strips, squares and bricks, than if I had cut my
scraps into nickels only to have to cut them down again into smaller
units in order to make the nickel quilts. Look at the block mock ups,
see what the units are constructed of, use the pattern as an idea, but
see what you can do with your strips and squares easier and faster
because they are already cut and waiting for you to dig into! A lot of
your scraps aren't going to be big enough to cut nickel squares out of
in the first place...but you can often make the same blocks by using
your 2" or 2.5" strips...
Just for your
information, did you know that you could get three 1.5" strips, three
2" strips and three 2.5" strips all from a 1/2 yard of fabric and it
would be out of your nagging stash, into your strip bins and ready to
be used? If you really want to slice up larger pieces, this is the way
to go. Cut a few slices of different sizes and feed them into their
bins! You'll be using those strips in no time.
So, how to start? Do you need
all sizes of strips all at once? NO!
What started this whole
process for me was the desire to make a scrappy broken star log cabin:
needed a gazillion 1.5"
strips in lights and darks! So...as I worked on taming my scraps, that
was the size I concentrated on. Once this top was born, I still
had a lot of left over strips! No problem, I knew I could do 4 patches
and 9 patches and rail fences and other things with them. Bin #1 was
thought about a quilt
I wanted to do that could use 2" strips, so for the next while I
started trimming things down to THAT size...I was off and cutting for
I suggest you do is find
a pattern...any pattern...something that calls you, something that says
MAKE ME! And start taming your scraps with that pattern in mind. And
plan to have LEFT OVERS! If you are cutting across a piece of
fabric for 2.5" cuts..and there isn't enough left at the end of the
fabric to get a full 2.5" width...cut the next size lower...feed it
into the 2" or the 1.5" bin or into the strings.
overwhelm you, try this....set your timer for 15 minutes and just trim
for that long! Then reward yourself and go sew something :c)
trimming something you
really HATE? Don't be afraid to throw it out if the fabric content or
quality is questionable.. I have come across poly/cotton blends from
when I was first sewing and said good riddance and poof they were gone.
No guilt there!
you aren't sure you
like, but don't want to toss out? My rule? If it's still ugly, you just
didn't cut it small enough! Cut
it as narrow as possible! 1.5" is good! By the time you take the seams
you've only got 1" of fabric showing. And don't forget something I
learned from trying watercolor quilts...(which I gave up on, but that
is another story! *LOL*)...you can always use the BACKSIDE of a fabric
if you don't like the way the front looks...look at the back side
before you give up on it!
You should have SEEN what uglies I used up in my Perkiomen Daydreams quilt!
(this pic is before quilting cuz it's the closest pic I've got)
It doesn't look too
does it? But take a look at ONE BLOCK!
There are some real OLDIES and EWWW's in here. But by the time the seams are all taken, the
overall effect is great! This quilt was made entirely from the 1.5"scrap strip bin.
seems I am always trimming
down some leftovers from something and putting them into this bin or
that bin. Right now I've got the left over borders from a quilt, a long
5" wide piece of left over border, and a strip of 2" inner border...the
inner border went into the 2" bin right away...this 5" border I think
I'll just cut in half and put it in the 2.5" bin. Anything 6" or wider
I fold and tuck in with the FQ's. I clean up after every quilt
this way and keep channeling things into their proper spaces. It always
gives me something new to work into my scraps!
like to think of my scrap
strips like sourdough starter. You know, to make a batch of sourdough
bread, you take some starter, add it to the recipe.......but before you
are finished, you have to add something BACK to the starter to keep it
going. Even though I am continually using my scraps, I continue to add
back to them with the trimmings from other projects, pieces of binding,
borders, sashings, backings, and other pieces from block construction.
Cleaning up after a quilt is finished, trimming down those pieces and
adding them back into the scraps is part of the process for me!
that you are thinking
about sorting your scraps and making them useable, you need to think
about how to USE them! I am always on the lookout for patterns and
ideas that will use what I have already cut, rather than the other way
around. Most people see a pattern first, decide to make it, then go to
their stash to pull fabrics. Well, my fabrics are ready, I just need to
find the pattern that is out there waiting to use it.
blocks can be broken
down into grid units. A 4-patch is a 2X2 grid. A 9-patch is a 3X3
grid...a pinwheel is a 4X4 grid, etc. You can make any block any size
with the grid system. Graph things out on graph paper! You can see how
things are broken down into units that will use the strip/square/brick
sizes that you already have on hand. You will get good at
I could make that block with my
2.5" strips and
are many formulas for
scrappy quilts. I tend to like the 'kitchen sink' variety where I throw
EVERYTHING in and separate lights from darks as the only method of
contrast. Sometimes there can be a common element that settles things
down, like using one background, and all scrappy darks.....or the use
of one color in one section of the block, repeating in ALL the blocks
to bring out the pattern. I did this with the scrappy sister's choice.
They all have scrappy 9 patches in the centers, different in all
blocks. All have scrappy lights for the backgrounds, but the one common
element is the use of green for all the star points.
the way, the sister's
choice block is a 6X6 grid pattern! All pieces came from 2.5" scrap
Can you see how the green
star points, even though each block has a DIFFERENT green, adds some
continuity to the quilt top?
scrap quilts are very
effective in controlled color pallets. I have done several. One of my
favorite color combinations is blues and lights. My blues might range
from very light all the way to navy and everything in between. The
lights might go from white to cream to beige to tan, but they are still
considered 'light' against the blues.
This would look totally
different, and completely wonderful in 'kitchen sink' variety as well.
This block is a 4X4
If you were to super-impose
lines over the block, you could count 4 grid squares across, and 4
This block used 2" strips, or
2" squares...and 3.5" strips.
How about three colors? This
quilt (quilting in progress) uses one common white background with
various scrappy blues and reds as the main design element:
solid white background
gives the eyes place to rest against the busy-ness of the many reds and
Thoughts on using solids?
This "Ohio Stars and Rails"
Quilt used 2.5" scrap strips for the blues and reds. The solid white
was 2.5" strips cut from yardage. (Can't do EVERYTHING from scraps!)
seems there are always
"RULES" in scrap quilting, and authors are always quoted as saying "Do
not use this with this" or "You must use this with this." I have read a
book recently that states:
"AVOID solid fabric,
all it does is read flat."
have to add to this....I
*DO* like to use solids, because to me they are another way of saying
"almost neutral" because they ARE flatter than a print would be. They
also show up the quilting detail much better than a print would, so
they are a GREAT place for showing off really nice quilting.
of quilts from the
1800's used prints and solids. I am LOVING the leader/ender
project I am doing now...There are 5 squares in a row that go
dark/light/dark/light/dark...and then on the ends of these are a SOLID
red....it is going to act as a 'margin' between the pieced strips, and
the plain strips I put between them.
If I used ANYTHING else
besides that solid red....any print at all....it would be mushy and too
blendy for what I wanted. The solid red is my 'punch card'. it says
HERE I AM!
Here is a close up of a
friendship braid quilt I did:
If I used ANYTHING other than
the solid red....you wouldn't have seen the cornerstones in this
pattern. Solids CAN be a good accent if they are used in the right way.
(and can you tell I'm so partial to turkey red!?)
This is my "Somewhere In
It also uses a solid turkey
red. I was replicating this antique top from the
Here is a pic of a double 9 patch
used a solid navy as the
sashings because I wanted a space for the eyes to rest between the
printy blocks. The light blue is also a print...and I just thought a
navy would be a great place to showcase some pretty feather quilting
because the 9 patches were too tiny to do something fancy in (they
finish at 3") and the little blue squares were only 3" too....so solids
here did it for me. I don't think they look "flat" at all, do you?
And this scrappy 6 pointed string
star uses a wonderful solid civil-war poison green:
I guess no rules are set
in stone and I like using solids in my reproduction quilts. You can use
them anywhere you would use muslin.....challenge yourself. Give it a
try. You just might like the results!
(Btw, that same author says
to purchase backing fabric only AFTER your top is finished so you can
pick out a fabric that compliments the quilt top. She thinks they need
to be compatible and interesting. I'm not going there! See my scrappy
Storage ideas for Quilts-in-Progress!
Some other things I really like to help keep me more organized:
zip lock bags are
great for keeping groups of blocks sorted from each other and yet
together. You can file them upright and flip through them to pull which
one you need. And of course, zip locks are reusable, I keep a drawer
full of various sizes, from snack size up to 2 gallon size.
plastic pencil boxes, plastic shoe boxes...just anything that keeps
things together. Things with lids stack nicely!
I like containers that are clear so I can see what is in there.
Back-to-school time is a great time for finding bargains on containers
like these. Otherwise, if it's out of sight, it's out of mind!
use safety pins to pin together units by 10's...10 blocks, 10 sections,
10 whatever....so it is easy for me to count how many I have and how
many I need. For instance I needed 42 houses for the happy scrappy
wonky houses quilt...as I was making them, I'd pin them together in
sets of 10, so I wouldn't have to start counting at ONE every time I
wanted to see how many I had done and how many left to go.
while we are talking
about using up our fabrics....don't forget about the BACK of a quilt!
You can ALWAYS make a
big dent in the scrap stash by piecing your backs from many fabrics. I
like to cut 10.5" squares of lots of fabrics, usually from the same
color family, all blues, all reds, all neutrals, all pinks, etc. Why
10.5" squares? Well...I can get 4 squares across a 44" wide piece of
yardage, and have really NOTHING but selveges left over. Total fabric
annihilation! :c) The squares finish at 10"...so it is easy for me to
figure out how many squares I need to go across the width and down the
length of my quilt to construct my back. You can use any size of square
you want, but I like to keep the math easy for me. I sew the squares
block to block, but if you want to avoid seams that intersect you can
offset them for a whole different look. Experiment with it! If you are
like me, and have fabric coming out of your ears, who is really
thrilled with the chore of having to go buy a 6 to 9 yard piece of ONE
fabric for the back of a quilt?
I have machine quilted AND hand quilted through these pieced backs and
they haven't caused me any problems at all. give it a try!
Here are some pic links of quilt backs I have pieced. These used up
a lot of big sized chunks, left over pieces of yardage I didn't wan't
hanging around anymore (less than 1/2 yard pieces I wanted to clear
out) and I think they really make the backs fun!
Other fun pieced backs:
Quilt backs are a great place
to use up oddball or left over
orphan blocks that didn't fit into a quilt, as in the "other" fun
pieced backs above. Even the left over length of Pioneer Braid piecing
found a home in a quilt back..even though the piecing was totally
unrelated to the front!
(Don't we all love them??)
Susan R writes:
If you don’t mind I have
question about the attachment shown
in some of your sewing pictures. It seems to be something screwed
into the base of your sewing machine. I can’t see it clearly in
the pictures and have been trying to get something similar for my
Bernina. Would it be too much to ask you to take a real close up
picture of it so I can show it to my dealer and not sound like such an
idiot trying to describe what I am looking for. Maybe you can
post a picture to your web site since I can’t possibly be the only
person interested in it.
This little nifty gadget is
called a "seam guide" It is sold
by bernina for bernina machines. You can get it at your bernina dealer.
The dumb part is that the set screw is sold SEPARATELY from the guide
itself, so be sure to ask for both. A way for them to make more money I
Whatever kind of machine you
own, check with your
manufacturer/dealer to see what is available. My bernina has a screw
hole already drilled into the machine bed, so the screw just threads
into it. I use this for ALL my piecing, it is terrific when speed
feeding piles of strips through. The only thing that I 'don't' use it
for is if I am having to match points with pins. The guide gets in the
way of feeding the pins through. But it is fabulous for putting on
borders and binding. Just screw the guide up against your 1/4" foot and
voila....straight seams! The guide acts as a little fence to feed your
fabric up against, keeping the seam allowance even and straight.
Newer berninas even have a
niftier foot....the seam guide is
built right into their 1/4" foot. It has a little 'knife edge' thingy.
I've heard that janome and pfaff also have their own version of the
knife edge foot, so check with your manufacturer.
If you have a featherweight,
these are available for you too. One came
WITH my featherweight, and I use it up against the 1/4" foot by little
No screw hole and no foot
available? Never fear, a couple
layers of mole-skin (sold in the pharmacy section for using as cushion
for bunions, etc) will build up a fence for you to stick to your
machine bed. You might have to trim out a space to fit around your feed
dogs, but it is worth it!
a 1/4" seam is CRUCIAL when
piecing, and chances are, if you
can see the edge of your fabric at all at the edge of the foot, you've
already gone a few threads more than 1/4".
page on making scraps work
wouldn't be complete with out listing some of my favorite tools!
A regular rotary ruler for
cutting straight strips. One I use all the time is from creative grids
and it measures 6.5" X 12.5"
rulers have so many markings that it is hard to find just what you want
and need to be lined up with on the ruler. Since my scraps are cut and
sorted in 1/2 inch increments, most of the time I don't need things
with 3/8" lines or 7/8" lines. And as I get older, my eyesight gets
more persnickety, so there are some others that are great for the way I
smaller cuts I LOVE the Easy Square Jr by EZ. It has 1/4" markings, and
1/2" markings. That's it! I like the dotted 1/4" line all the way
around the square. I use this one a lot when trimming paper piecing
because I can put the dotted line on the line on the paper, and trim 1
/4" past it... It's great for cutting smaller scraps into squares and
bricks without having to use a huge ruler. Great for squaring blocks by
keeping that 1/4" seam allowance line where you want it to go.
is the Easy Angle 6. I use this to cut 1/2 sq triangles from strips
without having to add that 7/8" to the finished size! You just add 1/2"
to the finished size to cut your strip, and the rest of the math is
added in for you on the angled side. Cut matched sets with your strips
right sides together and you are ready to just feed the 1/2 sq triangle
pairs through your machine. This works GREAT with my scrap strips,
because I don't have that 7/8" to worry about. It works with the sizes
of strips I have already cut.
is another great ruler! It's the Companion angle. Called the Companion
because it goes with the Easy Angle above. This is the "goose" part of
flying geese units. You also don't have to figure the math with this
one. It uses strips in the size you have already cut. And then you use
the easy angle above to cut the 'sky' part of the goose block using the
SAME SIZE STRIP...This is a very versatile ruler. This ruler also makes
'hour glass' type blocks easy. I also used this ruler to make the
hidden spools quilt and others:
Hidden Spools Quilt
The Wonder Cut Ruler is a terrific
tool for when you need TONS of pieced 1/2 sq triangles in a hurry! I
use this ruler a lot even for things like string piecing. It's a great
tool to have.
This "Diamond Strings" quilt
was made with the wondercut ruler!
These are just the
basics of what I use on a daily basis in my quilt making. Try
everything! Find what works for you! I know we have all bought rulers
that we thought were going to be *IT* for us, and sometimes they didn't
live up to their reputation or they just weren't for us. But you won't
know if you don't try something new.
I hope this gives you
an idea on how I make my scraps work for me, and makes scrap quilting
fun instead of a drudgery!
or Comments? I would love to hear from you!! Bonnie@Quiltville.com
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