What Am I Supposed to Do With All These Scraps? pt. 1

It seems like a simple question. Cut them, sort them, measure them, arrange them etc. This doesn’t fully answer the question though. As one of my co-workers (shout out to Adam) used to say, “All questions are easy. It’s the answers that are hard”. In an effort to fully cover this topic, I am breaking this question into several parts. I hope that you stay with me as I endeavor to slay this dragon.  Next month will be “How Can I Use Color and Contrast To Add Pizzazz to My Scrap Quilts?

I am the sort of person who likes to measure and record and prove something to be one way or another. Unfortunately, the information presented here will be my opinion instead of provable fact. I will include my logic in making certain decisions, and if it makes sense to you then good, if not then try something else.

Scrap Bin 1
Scraps sorted into bags

All of us have scraps, the first question is, do you keep that fabric, or throw it away? That depends on how big the piece of fabric is. You aren’t going to throw away a half yard of that extra fabric you bought for backing. What about a quarter yard or an eighth yard? How about the strips left over from binding the quilt or, the extra blocks or, the irregular shapes left after cutting fabric for applique or curved piecing? Everybody has a limit to what size left over piece of fabric they will keep and what size if any they will throw away. Whatever sizes you keep or your reasons for holding onto that left-over fabric, you are not alone. Now we just have to figure out what to do with it.

Scrap Bin
Scraps tossed into a bin

 

Over the years I have read lots of article with lots of suggestions for handling and organizing scraps.  One woman suggested sorting the scraps by color and keeping them in zipper bags.  I organized my heap, but  I couldn’t bring myself to start on a project not knowing if I would have enough of the correct size or color of any fabric.  If I had a project in mind, I would survey the fat quarters and yardage in my stash and would use that, go out and buy new fabric, or both.  My heap of scraps just grew and grew.

 

Short Lengths of fabric
Short Lengths, between 1/4 and 1/8 yard

Over the summer, my quilt guild had a “String Quilting” workshop using scrap strips.  I spent a couple of hours going through my scraps, selecting and cutting pieces which I hoped might work.  At Christmas I bought “Charm Packs” for some of my friends and kept a couple for myself.  Then it occurred to me, what if I turn these hard-to-use scraps into fun and convenient pre-cuts.

Crumb Potholder
Potholder made from fabric crumbs.

First, I would like to define some terms.  I regularly buy fat quarters and fat eights. So any extra fabric I have from a project that is the dimensions of a fat eight (9” X 22”) or bigger, I don’t consider a scrap, I consider it a “left over”. That size is big enough for any of a variety of projects, so I like to leave it whole, fold it up and put it with my other “short lengths”.   I consider scraps to be pieces that are big enough to cut into usable squares or strips.  Smaller pieces, that could be sewn together into blocks are generally called “crumbs”. And finally, the tiny bits of fabric left over from trimming blocks I call “shreds”.  Most people throw these away, but I have challenged myself to find at least a couple of uses for these as well.

 

Green Scraps
Color sorted scraps in a bag

How do I go about cutting the scraps? I read an article where the author said she cuts all the scraps into strips and puts them into containers labeled with the width of the strip.  This way she said that she could cut different size rectangles from the fabric if the pattern called for them. I thought about this a great deal and realized that it wasn’t for me because of the following reasons.

  1.  The pieces are still not “quilt ready”. I would have to dig through the container and pull out all the pieces I like and then cut them again (double work? I don’t think so.).
  2. There is no easy way to see if I have enough of a particular size fabric for my project.
  3. This is not the most efficient use of the fabric.  I did some calculations (you knew I would) and pre-cutting the fabric to a multiple size squares allows you to squeeze more usable pieces out of an irregularly shaped piece of fabric.
Green scraps
Green fabric ready to be cut up.

So, squares it is.  But what sizes?  The obvious choices are 5” squares (standard charm pack) and 2 ½” squares (mini charm pack).  These are tremendously popular, just google “charm pack quilts” and you will see more projects than you could complete in a lifetime.   I wanted to get the most squares from a piece of fabric, so I needed some in-between size squares.  I chose 3” and 4” squares.  There was no super compelling reason for 3” and 4′.  If you go to etsy, you can see that many people are selling their own pre-cut scraps at whole and half inch sizes, so there doesn’t seem to be a consensus.  I wouldn’t cut my scraps into all the different sizes (3, 3 ½, 4 and 4 ½).  While it is true that this would lead to more different sizes of blocks and less waste, you would have fewer blocks of any one size.  I also chose not to cut smaller than 2 ½ inch

Fabric cut into blocks, strips and crumbs
Fabric cut into blocks, strips and crumbs

squares because I don’t see myself making many quilts with blocks that tiny.  If you do, then go ahead and cut a bunch of 1 1/2″ squares.  The next thing I saved, were strips longer than 8 inches and thinner than 3 inches, down to ¾ inch wide.  Any strip wider than 3 inches was cut up into blocks.  I left the 2 ½ inch strips in tact because that is the size of a jelly roll and there are lots of patterns out there for them.  I didn’t trim the strips to any set widths because string quilting doesn’t require it and there would be less waste.  Anything less than 1/2 inch is too small to use because it will completely disappear in the seam allowance.   Finally, any piece that was at least 1inch in any direction was saved as a “crumb” and sorted by color.

How do I go about cutting the scraps?  First you will need to press the fabric.  Yuck!  Bummer, but if you don’t, the squares won’t be the correct size.  But, since they will be pressed, you won’t need to do it again before you start sewing.

Rectangles are easy, just cut the largest size that will fit.  Irregular shapes take a little more thought.

Scrap to be cut up
Sample irregular piece of fabric

Here isScrap Layout 1 an example of an irregular scrap piece of fabric.  In order to maximize the blocks from this, I experimented layouts with previously cut squares.

The first layout is with (1) 5” square (1) 2 ½” square and (1) 4” square.
Scrap Cutting layout 2

The second layout is with 1 5” square, 2 2 ½” squares and 2 3” squares.

Fabric after it was cut
Scrap fabric cut into squares and crumbs

I chose the second layout because it made the most squares and had the least amount of crumbs.

So, I ended up with 5 pre-cut squares and 7 crumbs.

While it is not completely necessary, I cut the curves and irregular edges off the crumbs.  I was already standing at my cutting mat so it didn’t take much extra time and I figured it would save me time when I was sewing them together.  You will see exactly how I use these in a future article about crumb quilting.

Home made charm pack

All of this pressing and cutting did take up a fair amount of time.  But the time spent here is saved when you actually start on the project.  Having all these beautiful cut and pressed squares just begging to be sewn into a quilt can be pretty inspiring.

One other side benefit, is that all of this fabric now takes up significantly less room.  It will take up even less room when I start making quilts out of it.  After all, that is the reason for this whole exercise.

After several days of ironing, cutting and sorting I ended up with (250) 5-inch squares, (370) 4-inch squares, (520) 3-inch squares, (410) 2 ½-inch squares, (250) strips, a rainbow of crumbs and a basket of shreds.

Cut and organized scraps

How much is all of this fabric worth?  It is impossible to get an exact number, but you can get an idea from what it would cost to buy.  Name brand charm packs average about $10 for (42) 5-inch pieces, and I have found people selling their own 5-inch scrap pieces for as low as $10 for 100 squares.  So, in the picture above, I have between $25 and $55 just in the 5-inch squares.  Using the same method for the other sizes I calculate that just the squares in the above picture are worth between $120 and $200.  That doesn’t include the value of the strips or what you could make from the crumbs.   Not too bad for stuff that was just laying around in the bottom of the closet.

By all rights, this article should end here, but, I promised my subscribers a free pattern in my newsletter.
It’s not too late.  Sign up for the newsletter and get the pattern for the quilt shown below. 

Jacobs Ladder Variation Quilt Top

 

I decided that a scrap quilt using some of these blocks would be just the thing.  I used 2 ½” and 5” squares (made into ½ square triangles) and laid them out on the design board to decide which pattern I liked the best.  You can see all the different layouts on the home page.

This beauty is the winner!

 

Has this answered the question of what to do with all your scraps?  No, it is only the start.  I plan to explore ways to use all of the pre-cuts we have just made.

Please let me know what you think of this article in the comments section below.

See you next month!