Friday, 21 October 2016

Scraps Happen: a guide to dealing with your fabric scraps!

Scraps. For quilters, this word can spark the same mixed emotions as ‘basting’ does. We have a love/hate relationship with our scraps – they’re happy little reminders of quilts and blocks gone by and the last morsels of delicious yardage. But as the scrap collection grows and grows (seriously, do they breed?) we begin to get the guilts about how to deal with them.

Most of us keep our scraps. Only the bravest few pass them on to friends or (gasp!) throw them out. While you don’t have to keep your scraps, bear in mind that you paid just as much for them as the yardage on your shelves. And some of the most interesting quilts feature a myriad of fabrics – which means you need lots of little bits of lots of different fabrics, which is where your scraps come into their own. And it is fabric (need we say more?). But many of us don’t actually use our scraps, and there are plenty of us who don’t have an effective way to store our scraps. I suspect these two facts are closely linked – if you can manage your scraps effectively, you’re more likely to use them. So it’s time to crank your favourite tunes, grab your favourite beverage, and tackle your scrap stash.

Step One: what should I keep?
The first step is to cull the scrap bin. Yes, I know we’ve just talked about how scraps are worth the same as yardage, but your scrap bins shouldn’t be full of ugly or unusable fabrics. So grab a garbage
bag, and be ruthless. Dump all your scraps out and sort the keepers out from the rubbish. It is okay to throw out fabric that is a) seriously ugly, b) seriously out of date, c) poor quality, d) too small to be useful, e) stained or damaged in some way.

Some people like to use ugly fabrics, cutting them small enough to hide the ugly – but it’s up to you to decide if you want to use them or dump them. Same goes for crumbs, those tiny, funny shaped
pieces. They can be great for small-scale improv piecing, but not a lot else. If you decide to keep your crumbs it may be useful to put them all together in one place (like a large zip lock bag).

It is preferable to keep your other (non-quilting) fabric scraps somewhere else so you know anything in the scrap bins can be used for a quilt.

Step Two: how big is a scrap?
How long is a piece of string? What is a reasonable serving size of chocolate? You need to decide what constitutes a scrap for Рsome people say anything smaller than a fat quarter is a scrap, but my stash includes a lot of fat quarters, so I choose to sort anything smaller than a fat eighth into my scrap bins. On the other end of the spectrum, I keep anything that is bigger than about two inches square (the more precious the fabric, the smaller the scrap). You need to decide what is useable to you based on how you use fabric Рif you do appliqu̩ you might keep tiny pieces, whereas someone else might deem anything smaller than a charm square as too small.

Step Three: how do I make my scraps useable?
Now you’ve got down to the fabric you want to keep, you need to get it useable again. Iron all your scraps (they’ll take up less space and they’re ready to go) and trim all the funny shapes and loose threads off them.

Step Four: how should I sort it?
I used to store all my scraps in a huge basket. Just tossed in all together, waiting for inspiration to strike. FYI: this system didn’t work at all and I’m pretty sure that it’s not one anybody would recommend, except maybe the cat who thought it was a good place to sleep. After extensive research, I discovered that most quilters with effective scrap storage systems either store by size or by colour, so we’ll look into those systems further.

Sorting by Colour
This is my preferred option, because it reflects how I quilt. I usually work by colour and I think in colour stories. I bought a bunch of cheap plastic storage containers and labelled them with each colour. I then sorted my scraps into each colour box.

Sorting by Size
Bonnie Hunter at has written extensively about storing scraps by size and it’s well worth checking out her website to see how she does it. The premise behind sorting scraps by size is that there are a few very common measurements in many quilt blocks and if you cut your scraps to these sizes then it’s very easy to start a scrap quilt using these pieces and you’ll make a huge dent in your scraps in the process. Here are some of the more common sizes to cut: squares in 1 ½”, 2”, 2 ½”, 3 ½” and bricks in 2” x 3 ½”, 2 ½” x 4 ½”, 3 ½” x 6 ½”. You can also keep strips in the same width as squares and then save them to cut down later – strips are great for blocks like log cabins. You can cut the same shapes as pre-cuts – 5” squares, 10” squares and 2 ½” strips and then you can use any pre-cut pattern.

Strings are strips of anything more than about an inch wide. Save all your strings together. It seems time consuming, but if you take time to cut your scraps to size at the end of every project, or in small blocks of time, it will get done and you’ll be left with a whole lot of useable pieces. Next time you have a project that requires a certain size of fabric, you simply go to that box and start with a whole pile of pre-cuts.

Sorting Exceptions
You may decide you want to keep certain types of fabrics together, such as 1930s prints, low volumes, fussy cuts and novelties or Libertys. Many designers make ranges that coordinate well together, so you might want to keep all scraps from one designer together, like Heather Ross, Kate Spain or Bonnie & Camille.

Step Five: how should I store it?
There are plenty of storage options and they don’t need to be expensive. As I mentioned, I use cheap plastic boxes that fit neatly on my shelves. These work whether you sort by colour or by size. Plastic storage drawers or even the humble zip lock bag are also practical options. Jars or baskets or decorative boxes are also a great solution that double as craft room eye candy. In their book Sunday Morning Quilts, Amanda Jean Nyberg and Cheryl Arkison use scrap fabric to make supercute storage boxes for their scraps (this book is a fabulous resource for any scrap quilter) – the boxes shown here are made from this pattern.

Using your Scraps
Now you’ve got your scraps all beautifully sorted out, it’s critical you actually use them if you want to keep them under control. Even though it seems they multiply on their own, they don’t sew themselves!

Scraps are perfect for little projects like pin cushions and pouches, and they lend themselves beautifully to English paper piecing. They’re also great for bee blocks and paper piecing. Hit up your scrap bins often enough when you’re making these little projects and you’ll make a dent in your scrap stocks.

Of course, the obvious answer to keeping your scraps under control is to make scrap quilts. There are many amazing scrap quilts out there – take a look on Pinterest for endless inspiration. The trick is to think of your scraps as a mini stash, pull fabrics that you think will play nicely together and use them together.You may choose to work in one or two colours, or the whole rainbow and then some. It is effective to choose a simple block and repeat it, like a nine patch or a log cabin. You can make each block in a single colour, or make each one in many colours. Or you can improv piece sections of fabric together for a different look.

It is useful to pay attention to value when scrap quilting, separate your lights and darks and use this to create contrast. Low volumes are also a great asset in scrap quilting as they act as white space.

It is also very effective to tie your blocks together with a commonality, like solid white or grey. Remember you don’t have to make a quilt from scraps. When you’re doing a fabric pull for a new project, make sure you pull out your scrap bins too and utilise the fabrics in them. Constantly using scraps will keep them under control. Get them organised and make a conscious effort to use them and you’ll find your scraps stay under control all on their own.