Scrap Deliverance -- Quilting With a Purpose

I couldn't take their stares any longer. Every time I thought I could get going on a new quilt, their presence in my sewing room pierced my heart with daggers of guilt. I couldn't think clearly. I couldn't focus. I felt wasteful, neglectful, selfish. One day I had it. I lunged forward, grabbed them, and tossed them on the floor.

No! Not my children! They have great tolerance for my quilting (as long as I continue to keep them amply supplied with quilts). It was the boxes filled with SCRAPS -- big ones, little ones, strips, squares, snippets of fabric that I couldn't bear to throw out.I literally couldn't fit one more scrap into the largest of the four boxes and I could see that they were all going to take me prisoner unless I promised to give them meaning and purpose. So, right then and there, one day last week, I decided to do something about their relentless pleas. Little did I realize that this new mission would not only be a challenge, but actually be fun.

The challenge was in having to plan. That is an uncomfortable word to me and probably the very reason things got so far out of hand. "Scrap Quilt" was my general category as I dove in.

My very first step was to empty all my boxes of scraps onto the floor of my sewing room (which sometimes doubles as a laundry room) and pull out everything that I knew I hated or didn't want for various reasons -- decorator fabric, lames, satin, moires, etc. and put them in a box for my daughters to play with. That took care of about one-fourth of the pile.

Now for the PLAN. I let the pile "talk" to me. The sizes of what I consider scraps are mostly 6" square and smaller, with a lot of 1-1/2" to 3" strips. As one of my favorite quilting books is Judy Hopkins' One of A Kind Quilts, I consulted it for some ideas. She uses a "menu" of 4-1/2" blocks composed of squares, rectangles, and triangles. These 4-1/2" blocks are then used as fillers to surround theme blocks, pre-printed panels, etc. I decided to begin there and to also consider the component parts to make u a 6-1/2" block menu. Actually, the size is arbitrary. Consistency in cutting is the key word. And so I set out to do a little "cafeteria quilting."

The projects I had in mind as I was cutting were: 5" squares for charm trading; scrap Log Cabin blocks; (as many of the strips are 45" long); rail fence blocks; Four Patch and Nine Patch blocks; bow-tie blocks; primitive heart blocks; pioneer braided strips -- you get the picture -- anything goes with scraps.

I began by pressing a few small piles. I set out the various small containers I save (candy and cookie boxes and tins, shoe boxes, detergent boxes, and so on) to collect the strips. Then I went to my cutting mat. My plan was to cut squares of 5" down to 2" at 1/2" intervals. I put these into piles which eventually were stored in zipper-type plastic sandwich baggies.

My strips to be used in the "menu" would be 1-1/2", 1-7/8", and 2-1/2" wide and at least 4-1/2" long. I wanted to make some 6-1/2" and 4-1/2" random stripped string blocks for a real scrappy quilt. Odd width (especially narrow) strips went into a separate shoe box for those blocks. I cut up old sketch paper into those block sizes for string piecing. These went into the shoe box with the strips for when I felt like working on that project.

It was a big job. Every time I thought I had caught up I would find another detergent box filled with scraps from a particular project that I had put away and forgotten about. But it was fun. Besides "recycling" these scraps into future quilts I had the most wonderful time with the memories many of the fabrics brought to mind. I thought of people for whom I had made the quilts. I thought of places where I had found "just that perfect piece of fabric." And I felt good knowing that I was going to make something from little bits of nothing.

You, too, can deliver yours scraps from a life of obscurity. With your plan of basic blocks, cut your scraps into strips and squares. Create a smorgasbord of tantalizing blocks to place on your menu. In cafeteria quilting you can choose your entrees without fear of calorie gain. And in the process design a feast for the eyes!

Back to Quilting Lessons page