Wander into any quilt store today and you’ll see aisles and aisles bursting with a rainbow of fabrics – and the hardest part will be deciding which prints to bring home. In the presence of so many amazing patterns and products, it’s hard to remember that quilting has a surprisingly thrifty background. Some of history’s most amazing quilts are rendered from the leftovers from other projects.
From feed sacks to clothing, yesterday’s quilters gathered and saved every scrap they could find and incorporated them into the art we admire and emulate today. Ready to embrace the history and spirit of these pioneering quilters by making the most of your scraps and leftovers? Read on.
When you finish piecing a project, sort your leftover fabrics into scraps by size. Pieces that are large enough to be considered fat quarters or fat eighths can be stored away until needed for your next quilt. Don’t throw the smaller pieces away though – there are plenty of ways to use them up and make sure you don’t waste a single scrap.
1. Use your quilt scraps to make a traditional charm quilt. While the term “charm squares” is widely used today to refer to the 5” pre-cut pieces sold in bundles, the original charm quilts featured much smaller pieces. Often referred to as postage stamp quilts due to the size and shape of the pieces, many charm patterns use a single template and every piece is cut from a different fabric. A true charm quilt offers you the opportunity to use up scraps as small as an inch wide; the template you choose will determine how large your pieces will be. You can use traditional methods to piece a charm quilt, or use a fusible product to speed the piecing process.
2. Turn small pieces into big pieces. Love the look of crazy quilts but keep ending up with an orderly pattern when you sit down to make one? Consider piecing your smaller scraps into larger pieces of fabric as you go. Each time you complete a project, combine the scraps into a single piece; the more projects you complete, the larger your piece will be. Don’t worry about layout, just stitch your scraps wherever they fit; make sure you use straight, not curved lines for best results. Once your scrap piece has grown large enough, use it for a whimsical base for embellishing or for a decorative accent project.
3. Save your selvages. The selvage edge of fabric often features interesting logos, colors, and designs; instead of throwing this finished edge away, make use of it in a simple project instead. The finished side of the selvage edge is designed to be stable, so you can make ruffles and other dimensional effects without having to hem the edges. Consider piecing your selvages into a line, using them as ruffles or accents, or gather and coil into a circle to form dimensional flower pins or appliques. Once you look at the selvage as a piece with a conveniently pre-finished edge instead of a piece to discard, the possibilities are endless.
4. Applique. If you enjoy machine or hand applique, scraps in a variety of sizes are a must, and even your smallest pieces may be of use. From flower stamens to eyes and other tiny details, your scraps don’t have to be big to be useful. Save all of your scraps in one bin, and dig through it as you complete your next applique project; you’ll be surprised at just how many embellishments you have on hand.
5. Use as stuffing for toys or pillows. Tired of paying high prices for those lofty bags of fiberfill? Use your scraps instead. The small pieces you just can’t piece or applique and the cast of edges from your serger make a great replacement for fiberfill. Snip your scraps into confetti – the pieces don’t have to be perfect—and use in place of commercial stuffing. The weight of the cotton is an added bonus for stuffed toys and home projects and your improvised filling will be machine washable, too.
6. Swap it away. Even if a charm quilt or tiny applique project doesn’t fit you project goals, other quilters are actively seeking your scraps. A true charm quilt may hold thousands of unique fabric pieces, so swapping your tiniest bits can help another crafter meet her goals. Bring your bag of scraps to your next guild meeting and watch them disappear!
No matter how you choose to use them, your scraps can be a valuable resource for your next quilting project. We’d love to see what you do with your scraps! Do you use them, save them, or swap them away?
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