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It may seem like sewing a quilt block just to cut it all up again is a little crazy, but, when the pieces are rearranged and sewn back together, they can make complex and beautiful patterns more easily than sewing a multitude of smaller pieces. And, who doesn’t like a shortcut? When I first heard about Disappearing Blocks, I did what everyone does when they find a new idea, I started an internet search. Google, and Pinterest, and Instagram, Oh My! Anybody else fall down that rabbit hole?
Holy Cow! There is a lot of information and a lot of different techniques. For this article, and the newsletters that will follow, I am going to focus on Disappearing 4-Patch (D4P) and its cousins Disappearing Hourglass (DH) and Disappearing Pinwheel (DP). Because, if you think about it, Hourglass Blocks and Pinwheel Blocks are just 4-Patch Blocks made of Half Square Triangles instead of solid pieces of fabric.
Here’s the basic idea: Take a 4-Patch block and make 4 cuts.
You will have 9 sub-blocks as shown here.
Arrange these as directed and sew.
The same thing works with
Disappearing Hourglass Blocks and
Disappearing Pinwheel blocks.
Simple enough, but when I started experimenting and trying to make my own patterns, I discovered a few things.
When making the standard D4P Block and the standard DH Block, the exact location of the 4 cuts isn’t critical. I call these blocks charm pack friendly and the cutting instructions for these is included below.
But, for the Disappearing Pinwheel Blocks, and many of the D4P and DH Blocks, the cuts MUST divide the block exactly into thirds. In other words, all 9 sub-blocks must be square. There is a chart with cutting instructions for these below.
If you make all the sub-blocks in the D4P and Disappearing Hourglass perfectly square, they can be re-arranged into hundreds of interesting blocks.
Number 3 may be hard to believe. Mathematically, 9 squares can be rearranged into 362,880 possible blocks. Of course, the vast majority of those possibilities don’t result in a useable block. However, with some experimentation (I am the Questioning Quilter after all) I was able to find dozens of interesting blocks and hundreds of quilt layouts. Some of these may be well known and found on the internet with starts like Disappearing Pinwheel Friendship star or Disappearing Hourglass Versions 1, 2 and 3.
Here are a few disappearing hourglass block variations:
I have decided to explore the lesser known or previously unknown possible arrangements, and explore the multiple quilts that can be made from these blocks
Here are a few disappearing hourglass quilt variations:
I eventually want to write a book on the subject, but until then the easiest way to share new blocks and new quilts with my readers is to include them in my newsletter. Sign up for my newsletter for a new pattern every issue.
My patterns have detailed step by step directions for blocks, but, for the newsletters, I have decided to use the “exploded block” to save room.
For example using the same 4-Patch pieces as shown above for the standard Disappearing 4Patch, here is the pattern for the Socket Wrench Block.
To make the Socket Wrench Quilt shown below you need two versions of the Socket Wrench Block.The one above an this one. When put together, they make a fun tessellating pattern.
Here is the completed Socket Wrench Quit,
I think that this is a really nice design for a guy, especially one who is interested in tools.
For those who subscribe to my newsletter, you will get a new block and quilt every time I publish. I am hoping once every 4 to 6 weeks. No matter when you subscribe, you will have access to all the archived newsletter to see previously published blocks.
This is the quilt I will be including in my first disappearing block newsletter.
The charts below have the cutting information for various size squares and blocks.
I find that the easiest way to cut the blocks is to measure from the center seam. Make a cut, then rotate the mat 90 degrees. Measure from the center seam and cut again. Keep rotating the mat and cutting until you have made 4 cuts.
A few of the Disappearing Block designs do not need to be cut into perfect squares. I am calling these blocks “Charm Pack Friendly” and that will be noted on the pattern. I have two sizes, 5″ for using charm pack squares and 4 1/2″ for when charm pack squares are used to create Half Square Triangles.
Charm Pack Friendly Blocks
Initial Square or Half Square Triangle
4Patch, Hourglass, or Pinwheel Before Cutting
How far to cut from center seam
All of the disappearing block that I will be exploring will work if cut into exact thirds. This results in all of the sub-blocks being perfectly square.
Disappearing Block Sizes
Initial Square or Half Square Triangle
4Patch, Hourglass, or Pinwheel Before Cutting
How far to cut from center seam
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It looks like we will be wearing masks for a little while longer. There is strong evidence that wearing a mask can help to stop the spread of Covid-19, and many states are requiring people to wear them out in public. After making a few hundred masks for various organizations, I began to wonder, as I often do, which designs work best.
Let me be clear from the beginning, I am not a medical professional (my background is engineering) and I don’t have access to fancy testing equipment. There is lots of evidence (like this) that heavy cotton can be effective at filtering virus sized particles, but clearly the fabric won’t filter anything if your breath doesn’t go through it. In an effort to test the different designs, my son came up with the great idea of using a vape to visualize what happens to our exhaled breath while wearing various masks.
First off, in most cases, an imperfect mask is still better than no mask. But, if you are interested in getting maximum protection from your mask, the most important thing is how tightly it fits your face. This controls how much of your breath actually goes through the mask. Air will always take the path of least resistance. Without a nose wire, all your breath will go straight up either side of your nose. If there are gaps on the sides of your mask or under your chin, that is where the air will go. I tested several types of masks and they are listed from worst to best. I have additional information about fit at the end.
Chin Mask. For all of you out there who won’t wear a mask, or wear it incorrectly, you are being selfish and shortsighted. So you think “I am young and healthy, my chance of dying is really low. I should be able to do what I want.” Maybe you don’t care about the much greater chance of hospitalization and permanent damage to your heart or kidneys.
But, what about the people you are exposing to the virus? You go to the supermarket and you risk giving it to a person who works with the elderly, or has an at-risk child at home. Why is it that some people who claim to hold all life dear don’t have any problem with possibly killing their neighbor’s grandma?
Masks with Valves. I don’t think most people understand that masks with valves only filter the air on the way in. It doesn’t do anything for the air we exhale. Because we are wearing masks to protect others as well as ourselves, I would strongly recommend using a different type of mask.
Bandana Bandit Mask and Folded Alternative. I see lots of people using it. It looks comfortable and is reusable. I had no idea before performing this experiment how ineffective it is. But you can dramatically improve the performance by folding it down two more times so that you are breathing through 6 layers of fabric instead of 2.
CDC No Sew Bandana Mask. This is from the CDC website but I don’t think it is that great. It is folded so many times (12 layers of fabric) that all the air goes over or under the mask. Personally I think you could just fold the bandana like I show in the second half of the Bandana Bandit video above.
Standard Rectangular Mask with and without a nose wire. You can see that without a nose wire, most of the exhaled air goes straight up either side of the nose. My personal opinion is that this is a great, easy reusable mask. Even without the nose wire, this mask is limiting how far the exhaled vapors can go.
If your mask doesn’t already have a nose wire, you can use a regular piece of tape to attach a wire, pipe cleaner, or unfolded paper clip to the outside of the mask (see my notes below).
Standard Paper Mask with a nose wire. This mask is cheap and readily available. It doesn’t seem to be any better at filtering the air than the simplest reusable fabric mask and unfortunately, are ending up in land fills, waterways or as litter. For that reason I prefer a reusable mask.
3 Center Seam Face masks Compared. There are a lot of masks similar to this. The first one is the Florence face mask (previously called the Fu face mask) and the second one is my variation on the pattern and the third is the addition of a nose wire. Many of these center seam mask patterns have directions for a filter insert. Unless you are using a nose wire, the filter isn’t going to do any good since so little of the air flow will be going through it.
I like this style because of the way it curves up to cover my nose. Some of the other designs will ride up and get too close to my eyes. It is important to find a style of mask that is comfortable to you. If it doesn’t fit well, you will be touching it more often and be less likely to wear it. I believe that consistently wearing the mask is more important than any small improvement in design
This Pattern is called Best Fit I wouldn’t say that this is the best, but what I do like about it is the use of craft/pony beads to make the straps adjustable. It also uses two pieces of wire held with electrical tape for over the nose. I think this works really well (see my recommendations about wire below). The downside to this design is the gathering at the sides of the mask. This causes space for air to escape out the sides. I much prefer pleats on the sides.
University of Florida, Prototype 2. This pattern uses ties instead of elastic. I think that contributes to how well it fits. It is one of the best fitting masks that I measured. The fact that it sticks out from the face may make it less hot for the summer, but because it is so tight the fabric goes in and out with each breath which can be a little distracting.
AB Mask (By a Nurse for a Nurse) Of the ones I tested, I believe that this is the best design. Not everybody likes the ties, but it results in a much better fit. The end of this video shows this same mask using elastic. As you can see the elastic pulls the edges of the mask together causing a gap on the sides of the face.
For people wondering if there is a difference in using batiks, quilter’s cotton, or heavy flannel, I wouldn’t worry about it so long as it is a heavy weight fabric. I ran this experiment with all those fabrics and there wasn’t enough of a difference for this VERY rough analysis to make a positive determination. If you are worried that it isn’t heavy enough, feel free to add one or two extra layers.
Medical Masks. The first is a Kimberly Clark surgical mask with a nose wire and double sided tape, given to me at my doctor’s office. The second is an N95 mask, left over from before the pandemic. (My husband is a woodworker.)
Not surprisingly, these work better than quilting fabric, but they should be saved for medical professionals. As you can see, without professional fitting, they still aren’t perfect.
Nose wire options It is clear that nose wires dramatically improve the performance of masks but there is some question about what to use. If you are making a mask or looking to insert a wire into a reusable mask you should avoid pipe cleaners as they rust very quickly. I tried 18 gauge aluminum craft wire, but it broke after only a few washings. The best wire I found is OOK brand 18 gauge copper craft wire which can be found at Home Depot. My second favorite choice is Vigoro garden training wire also found at Home Depot.
What if you already have a reusable mask and it doesn’t have a nose wire?
Never fear, a small piece of tape and some wire and you are good to go. Because the wire is just taped on, and won’t be washed, you can use any sort of wire from a pipe cleaner to a straightened out paper clip.
As you can see from the video, a piece of tape can attach a wire to the outside of your mask and works just as well as an internal wire.
For those who Don’t Like Nose Wires. I understand that there are people who don’t like the feel of the nose wire. I have seen plenty of people wear paper masks without bending the wire to conform to their noses. I wondered if there is anything that could reduce the air going up by the nose. A good friend of mine suggested goggles to hold that part of the mask against the face. That will certainly work, but not everyone has or wants to wear goggles when they go out. Instead I came up with two alternatives. The first is for people who are sewing their own masks.
I took two small triangles of fabric, stuffed them with batting and sewed them on either side of the center top of the mask.
Double Sided Tape Adding a 4″ piece of double sided tape to the center top inside of the mask helps stick it to your nose. You will have to reapply the tape each time you go out and probably wouldn’t be good for all day wear.
Two alternatives to using nose wires. This video shows a rectangular mask with nothing over the nose, then using nose pillows, then two sided tape then a nose wire for comparison. As you can see, the tape and pillows aren’t as good as a wire, but are significantly better than nothing
In conclusion, properly worn, well fitting face masks can help all of us stay healthy and help stop the spread of this virus. By being aware of which designs work better than others, and simple ways we can improve the fit of the masks we have, we can hasten the day when we won’t have to wear them every time we go out.
Mini Mini Quilts, did you know that these are a thing?
If you did, then you are more up to date on things than I am. If you didn’t then welcome to the club.
I found out about these darling treasures a few months ago when looking for ways to use my extra small scraps (called crumbs).
These things go by a lot of names, mini mini quilts, micro quilts, teeny tiny quilts, and my favorite micro mini quilts (I am going to use all these terms interchangeably in this article).
Just so we are all on the same page I have some definitions.
Small quilt is less than 30” X 30”
A mini quilt is less than 12” X 12”
A micro mini quilt is generally less than 6” X 6” with a lot of people aiming for less than 3” X 3”.
These definitions are just rough estimates and there are no quilt police who will come around and fuss that you have mis-labeled the size of your quilt. That is, unless you tell people your super intricate king size quilt is just a small quilt. Then people will accuse you of false modesty and talk about you behind your back.
Teeny tiny quilts have been around ever since people started making doll houses but they didn’t become a really big thing until a few years ago. It all started with @heart.xy on Instagram. On August 5th 2015 she posted “I’m going to start a new trend. Mini mini quilt swapping. It’s like baseball cards for cool people.” Her first response was on August 9th and the official start was Sept 9, 2015. By mid September, Night Quilter (@nightquilter) and other bloggers started spreading the word. More people started micro mini swaps. Then in July of 2016 Make Modern magazine interviewed @hart.xy and made a mini mini quilt competition (issue 11). Last year Night Quilter started a 100 days of sew smaller project and recently released her patterns ( https://nightquilter.com/2019/03/01/sew-tiny-sampler-pattern-release ). Last year also saw the publishing of a great book entitled “Teeny Tiny Quilts” by Donna Lynn Thomas (donnalynnthomasquilter.com). While this book isn’t about tiny blocks as finished quilts it has a lot of great tips and any of the individual blocks can be used to make a micro mini quilt. So if you think one person can’t make a difference, just think about @heart.xy and see the giant impact she made with mini mini quilt trend.
I asked Reddit, Facebook, and Instagram what people do with the micro mini quilts that they make. Here is what I found. I will talk about techniques in the next issue.
1)A Mini Mini Quilt Swap. This is really fun and can feel like Christmas any time of year.
I posted a quilt, just like the one on the right, on Instagram and asked if anyone wanted to swap with me. The most wonderful woman, @dolchebella, from NC said she would swap and sent me the gorgeous mini mini quilt on the left. Not only is this hand quilted, the yellowish squares with the blue quilting are hand dyed with botanicals from her own yard. Plus she sent me a box of ginger cookies. There is no doubt I got the better end of that swap!!!
2)Luggage Tags. For those of us who travel, it can sometimes be hard to quickly identify your suitcase in the crowd. Make your bag stand out with a one of a kind micro mini luggage tag quilt. As a plus, you will find new quilting friends while you travel when they will stop and complement you on your beautiful bag embellishment.
3)Zipper Pulls. This is the smallest quilt I have made to date and I think it makes a really easy way to make your zipper stand out. For those of you who make purses or bags, imagine how much more special your project would be with a custom, matching micro mini quilt as a zipper pull.
4)A Pin or Brooch. Make a fashion statement. Add some pizzazz to your favorite outfit with a personally made, coordinating micro quilt as a brooch. This lets everyone you meet know about your love of quilting and you will be amazed at the number of compliments you will receive.
5)Give a Teeny Tiny Quilt as a Teeny Tiny gift. Add these to any Birthday or Anniversary card to mark the occasion as being extra special.
Maybe your favorite quilting friend is finally retiring. Wouldn’t these make the perfect party favors?
Don’t forget your college bound children or grand-children so they don’t forget how much they are loved.
6)Refrigerator Magnets. I collect these and people know to bring me unusual ones from wherever they visit. If you like decorating your fridge or know someone who does, these make the perfect gift. Yes, it is OK to give yourself a gift.
This block is called “Round and Round We Go” is from the book “Teeny Tiny Quilts” by Donna Lynn Thomas.
7)Coasters or Small Mug Rugs. This is a traditional, and probably the most common, use for a teeny tiny quilts. Mug rugs can be anywhere from 4” X 4” to 6” X 9” Coasters are generally between 3” X 3” to 4” X 4” and can be either round or square.
This pattern is called Mini Prismatic Medallion and is free at http://www.craftadream.com/
You can also see it on Instagram at #miniprismaticmedallion
7)Mini Comfort Quilts. This was an idea by Marcia Wachuta ( http://wwww.craftysewing.com #marciasminicomfortquilts) who makes and sells these . They come with this note: “ I want you to have this mini comfort quilt. Tuck it into your pocket and it will keep you warm and comforted, knowing that I am thinking of you and saying a prayer for you.” (used with her permission) One of her customers gives these out at hospitals, which I think is incredibly sweet.
I made this one myself. It is simply a micro mini log cabin quilt.
8) Christmas Tree Ornaments. Lots of people make these for themselves and as gifts for friends and family. I saw these for sale at the AQS show in Lancaster last Spring (they had a sign saying no photos). Any micro mini pattern can be turned into an ornament just by adding a small string or ribbon for a hanger (which is what that vendor did), but I thought it would be more fun to try something more holiday themed.
Here is a 1 ¾” by 2 ¼” paper pieced tree.
I am including the pattern for this in my newsletter. Missed the latest issue? Don’t worry! Every issue comes with a link to the newsletter archive. Just look for the issue titled, “Micro Mini Quilt Ornament”.
9) Key Fobs. What could be simpler. Add a piece of ribbon to the binding then attach to a key ring. Everyone in the family will know which keys are yours. If only that would work with your good fabric scissors.
10) Doll House Quilts. These are the original Micro Mini Quilts. Most doll houses are 1:12 Scale (1 inch = 1 foot), which means that this 6″ X 6″ doll house quilt makes the perfect twin size doll house bed spread.
This is a Jacob’s Ladder variation quilt and the little squares are 1/4″ X 1/4″.
In making these little beauties I learned lots of tips and tricks which I will cover in my next issue.
I only write these articles a couple of times a year and I am hoping to have the next one done by spring.
Please subscribe so you will know when it comes out. Plus subscribers always get extra content.
Why don’t I write these more often? If you notice, there is no advertising on the site, and I don’t charge any money for the content. These take weeks and weeks to research, make the quilts and write the articles. Twice a year is all I really have time for. But I LOVE that you come and read them. Please subscribe and leave a comment below. That is my reward.
Welcome to the last installment in my scrap quilting series. In my first article I discussed turning your random scraps into valuable precuts leaving the tiny pieces left over as crumbs. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out my previous article: “What Am I Supposed To Do With All These Scraps?”. These tiny bits very often end up in the trash destined for the land fill. What a terrible waste! I hope that this article will inspire you to create beautiful art with these tiny treasures.
I thought of 3 types of quilts that could be made with these crumbs: Miniature Quilts, Micro-Miniature Quilts and Crumb Quilts. and I will write briefly about each one.
MiniatureQuilts, sometimes called Small Quilts are generally less than 24” on any side. The quilt to the right is simply a smaller version of a regular disappearing 9 patch using 1 ½” squares. It was quick and easy, but I learned that an EXACT ¼” seam is a lot more important in a miniature quilt than it is in a regular quilt. I can either admit to stretching the fabric in order to get the corners to line up, or pretend that I meant for the blocks to be a little wonky. So, here is my deliberately wonky quilt! The colors were organized in a roughly radiating pattern with the yellow orange, just left of center being the focus.
I used the lengths of fabric which are too short for string quilts and made these pot-holders. The perfect hostess gift! I show step by step how to make these cute little leaves in the latest issue of the newsletter. It’s not too late to sign up
I then made this original (9“ X 11 ½”) mini mosaic quilt. I started by drawing a swirl pattern on a plain piece of printer paper. Next, I took an 8 ½” X 11”sheet of “Steam-a-Seam” double stick fusible web. This is like normal fusible web in that it is see through, but it has adhesive on both sides. I took off the protective paper from one side of the fusible web sheet and stuck it to the top of the paper with the drawn swirls. I then removed the other sheet of protective paper. I cut tiny rectangles of fabric (from 1/8” to ½”) and placed them on top of the web. I could see the pattern through the fusible web and the glue on the top of the web made the little pieces of fabric stick. Once the design was complete, I carefully peeled the fusible web off the paper with the pattern and put it back down on a beige piece of fabric to be the background. A hot iron is needed to melt the fusible web and permanently stick the tiny pieces of fabric to the background. I used the protective paper from the fusible web as a pressing cloth to be sure that the tiny slivers of glue between the pieces wouldn’t get on the iron. I put the batting and backing on and quilted it with invisible thread following the swirls and making sure that I caught all of the little blocks.
Micro Mini Quilts are a thing! Who knew? What a cool idea! You can give one to someone to keep as a reminder of how much you love them. You could pop one in a birthday card, or attach it to a Christmas present. Really small ones could be used as key fobs or zipper pulls. These looked like just too much fun, so I decided to try making a couple myself. I found this great free pattern for a Mini Prismatic Medallion quilt by Jamie Swanson (http://www.craftadream.com/pattern/)
In order to keep all the little pieces aligned, the micro-mini quilts I found were paper pieced. I tried my hand at drafting my own little star quilt. This little guy is 3” by 3” and took me less than an hour to make. I can see how this could be really addicting.
Crumb Quilts are my favorite thing to do with these colorful bits of fabric. I love to play with the colors and patterns to make my own unique fabrics! And you can too!!
I sort my crumbs by color and keep them in zipper bags. Think of them as tubes of paint that you can mix up to create the exact look you want. For the block here, I mixed fabrics from the red and orange bags to create something entirely new. It is so much fun to use this new fabric in projects to a make them even more special.
Here is an example of a leaf block I used for another pot holder (do you notice a theme?). I don’t think it would be nearly as interesting or enjoyable to make if I had used a single piece of fabric.
I teach a workshop where you will learn how to think about your crumbs. Then I teach you my organized method to build beautiful crumb blocks. You will combine your new fabric with a white background to make the Tulip Wreath wall hanging shown here.
For the final quilt of this article, I decided to see if I could create an efficient color flow with crumb blocks. I started with my bag of yellow scraps then started adding in more and more brown crumbs. Then I started adding orange then moved to red. I was initially thinking of putting these blocks on a white background like the Tulip Wreath above, but then I looked at all the white and almost white crumbs that I had. It occurred to me that using these to make the background fabric would make the quilt so much more interesting.
I made 5” crumb blocks then made Half Square Triangles by putting a light and dark blocks together, marking the center diagonal, and sewing ¼” on either side of the line. I then cut along the marked line to get two Half Square Triangle blocks. These were then trimmed to 4 ½” square.
As I put this on my design wall and started experimenting with layouts, I realized that I needed a “splash” color. Going back to my Color Theory article, you can see that yellow, orange and red are analogous colors, with orange in the middle. The compliment of orange is blue, so I made blue crumb blocks to use as accents.
I am also very pleased with how the light crumb background worked in this quilt. If you look closely, the top half of the quilt has some very pale pinks in the background and the bottom half of the quilt has some very light yellows.
The quilt is 36” X 48” and shows what can be achieved by using crumb fabrics. The color fade and effect you see in this piece would have been nearly impossible using any other method.
I hope that this article has inspired you to try making something with your tiniest scraps instead of throwing them out. Or, at the very least, finding someone who would appreciate them instead of sending them to a land fill. I have a confession to make. Please don’t judge me, but I am that weirdo you see after you take a class, pulling tiny scraps out of the waste baskets. Maybe now, I won’t be alone.
If you would like to see an entire article investigating any one of these quilt types, Miniature, Mini Mosaic, Micro-Mini, or Crumb Quilt, please let me know in the comments below.
The first thing I would like to tell you is the good news. If you are making a truly scrappy quilt with a wide range of colors it is very difficult to go wrong. No one looks at a rainbow and say, “Meh, it’s OK but it would be better with less orange.” The classic scrap quilt and is charming and lovely just as it is.
Now for the even better news, with just a few simple ideas you can add visual interest and appeal to your work. There are multitudes of books, videos, articles, and classes on color theory. I can’t possibly cover everything on this topic in one post but I will try to share some of the things I have found as they relate to scrap quilts. (See my last article for a discussion of value: “Using contrast to add depth to scrap quilts”)
Google a color wheel to see what I will be talking about. You will see that the rainbow has been pulled into a circle. There are all sorts of terms used and I have made quilts highlighting a few of these concepts. For the quilt on the left the colors flow gradually from red to purple, blue, green then brown. I tried putting the colors in clearly defined rows and it looked like a stripy flag. I mentioned in my last article that the eye is drawn to patterns, so it seems almost counter intuitive, but if the color pattern is too obvious, it is less interesting. I think that the irregular transition causes the eye to move and linger a little while longer on the quilt. I also arranged the blocks to create a secondary pattern of light and dark vertical stripes
The hexie quilt above has lights and darks of the same colors together. I wanted to expand the pallet, but I wasn’t sure which colors to use. So for the disappearing 4-patch quilt (right), back to the color wheel I went. I saw that colors that are directly across from each other on the wheel are called complementary colors. These colors traditionally go well together. So, red was paired with green, yellow with purple (violet) and brown with, wait, brown isn’t on the rainbow. Well, my color wheel has the tint, tone and shade of each color (more on that later) and it seems that brown is a shade of orange. OK, the complement of brown is blue. I assembled the blocks with their complementary colors and again flowed the colors from one corner to the other.
< id=”#strip”>The next concept I wanted to investigate was analogous colors, the ones that are next to each other on the color wheel. Instead of flowing colors like in the previous two quilts they are mixed together. In this table runner I used blue, blue-green, green and green-yellow strips of scrap fabric.
Here is where I learned a little lesson in tone, tint and shade. A tint is made by adding white to the base color, think pink, or baby blue. A shade is made by adding black to a base color, think brown (for orange) or brick (for orange red), and tones are made by adding gray to the base color. Tint and shade will affect the value of a color, but tone will change how a color feels. The addition of gray makes the fabric look softer and more subdued. I guess that is why we “tone it down”. I looked through my stash as well as my scraps and was amazed at how many are actually tones. Green-gray, (olive, sea foam), blue-gray (coneflower, slate), purple gray, (mauve, orchid) etc. Even though not all of the fabrics above are tones, there are enough of them to give the overall piece a more mellow feel. This doesn’t look bad but wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when I started on the project. It is something that I will definitely keep in mind for future quilts.
For the final quilt, I looked at one more color descriptor, temperature. Temperature? That isn’t on the color wheel. Well no, but it is pretty simple. Most sources define the warm colors to be red, orange and yellow. The cool colors are green, blue and purple.
For this quilt I used 2” scrap strips, with a light, medium-light, medium-dark and dark fabric for each color. I didn’t flow the colors so much as generally grouped the warmer colors toward the top and the cooler colors nearer the bottom. When I tried making the colors flow more evenly as in the second and third quilts above, the colors were the first thing that caught the eye and the affect caused by the different values was diminished. With this layout, the color became the secondary pattern providing additional visual interest, without overwhelming the viewer.
As you can see, there are a lot of fun things you can do with scrap quilts using very simple concepts in color and contrast.
I hope that you liked this, and my previous, articles. I write a new article approximately two months. Please sign up for my newsletter to be alerted when the next article comes out, as well as get additional content. For example, this month’s issue talks bout the painless practice in free motion quilting.
This month’s topic was going to be about color and contrast in scrap quilts, but yet again I underestimated the depth of the topic. I made the quilt first, then started writing the article. Once I got into the subject I realized that just writing about value and contrast would be more than enough for one essay. Next month I will discuss color theory.
First let’s define a couple of terms. Value is how light or dark a fabric is. This is not the same as the brightness of a fabric. The value is how light the fabric is if you looked at it in black and white. This can sometimes be tricky for me. In the picture on the left below, I see the red as being brighter or the same brightness as the brown next to it. As you can see in the next picture, the red (on the left) has a darker value than the brown (on the right). Light colors are considered high value, and darker fabrics are low value
Contrast is how much difference there is between the values. If two fabrics have the same value, then there is no contrast, no matter how different the colors are. The greatest contrast is between black and white fabric.
Most of the traditional 2 color blocks consist of a lighter color and a darker color, or a primary color paired with either white or black fabric. Nearly all quilt patterns use value to create the design. We don’t always think about this when creating a quilt. But it is there.
Multi-colored blocks also take advantage of contrast. Even applique is generally sewn on either a very light or very dark neutral fabric. That doesn’t mean that you have to have high contrast to have a beautiful quilt. Low contrast quilts can be “calm” and very soothing. The first block in the row above is from a baby quilt that I made for a friend. Be aware though, low contrast is not the same as no contrast.
The sample below on the left has multiple colors but all of similar value. On the right, 10 patches were changed. 5 were randomly replaced with light squares and 5 were replaced with dark squares. There is nothing really wrong with the left-hand layout, but the right-hand image has more depth and visual interest.
I am not a doctor, but I have a hypothesis about why we find images with varied value (contrast) more interesting. The backs of our eyes are filled with receptors called Rods and Cones. The Rods are good in low light and see only in shades of gray. The Cones are good in bright light and allow us to see color. Even though we are predominantly using the Cones during the day, the Rods are still there and sending value signals to our brains.
Our brains have one more quirk which we can use to our advantage. We are “pre-programmed” to look for patterns. That is why we see a “man in the moon” or find faces in rock formations on Mars. Because of this, we often find “organized” layouts more captivating than random ones. The two images below are made with the same pieces of fabric. The layout on the left is as random as I could make it (I put the squares in a box and shook it up and took them out one at a time without looking). It is fun and colorful, this is popular in “Postage Stamp Quilts”. The design on the right takes advantage of the different values to create an entirely different image. This technique is often used with floral fabrics in “Watercolor quilts”.
I am not trying to say that one is right or wrong, or that one is better than the other. It just depends on your own personal preferences. Understanding these principles will help you to create a quilt that achieves the exact effect you want.
In my quilt from the last article, all of the colored pieces were of medium light, medium, and medium dark value set against a white background. This is what provided the contrast. It is effectively a 2-color pattern. The placement wasn’t truly random and I kept too many of any one color from sitting directly next to each other. A completely random quilt (because of probability theory) will have some color and value groupings. I am a little too OCD to allow for completely random placement. I invariably end up moving one or two pieces and then I have to fight with myself to keep from moving all of them.
For this article, I wanted to use three different values of fabric. I was considering variations of a “Triple Irish Chain” but didn’t like the large white space in between the chains. I came across an interesting design in the book Miniatures in Minutes, by Terrie Sandelin. Her version of this quilt is called Five Crosses. Mine is obviously not a miniature quilt, I didn’t paper piece it, and I used a lot more than five fabrics. Even though my quilt doesn’t look quite like the ones in the book, it shows that you can get ideas for quilts anywhere. Don’t be limited to what the pattern says or what the artist did. Expand and experiment, the changes you make to suit your style and tastes will make this your own work of art.
This quilt would look entirely different if I only used value to make the chain X with the dark fabrics and didn’t organize the colors. I wanted to fade the colors from one shade into another as a way to create movement. In order to give your eyes a place to rest,
I made the “Five Crosses” into plus signs where the top, bottom, left and right squares are all the same fabric and the center is a similar color but darker value. I made a few more of these plus signs and scattered them throughout the quilt. See for example the orange plaid fabric in the upper right-hand corner and the blue wavy fabric in the bottom left of the quilt. I wanted to use them to create a little fun/ small surprises for you to find when looking at the quilt. I sorted my scraps by value then picked out the colors I wanted from the piles. Even though I had an Idea what I wanted, it took a while to get an arrangement I liked. For more information about how I put the quilt together, go to my home page.
Next month, I will attack color theory for scrap quilts. Wish me luck.
This month’s newsletter is about the ruler work and the free motion quilting I used on this project.
You will get notification when I publish the next article and as always there will be extra content. I don’t sell your address or do anything else with your email except send you my newsletter.
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 “Color Concepts for 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.).
There is no easy way to see if I have enough of a particular size fabric for my project.
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.
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
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.
Here is 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.
The second layout is with 1 5” square, 2 2 ½” squares and 2 3” squares.
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.
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.
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. Every issue of the newsletter (which come out a couple of times a year) has a link at the bottom for this pattern.
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.
Have you ever grabbed a dish towel to take a cookie sheet out of the oven? Would this work as the batting for a pot holder? Maybe you made a pot holder and wondered how much batting is really needed, and if the special insulating batting really works. I wondered the same things and set out to answer these questions and more.
To determine how well different materials insulated, I took my trusty Bar-B-Que temperature probe and iron and measured how the temperature under the potholder increased with time. I used a variety of materials; cotton batting, an old stained dish towel, a terry cloth towel from Goodwill, denim from a pair of torn blue jeans, cotton knit from my husband’s worn out undershirt, pieces from an old flannel sheet and Insul-Brite. Insul-Brite is a metallic poly sheet with a thin layer of polyester batting on both sides. It is advertised as an insulating batting for pot holders, oven mitts etc.
I put the probe under a sandwich of two pieces of cotton fabric and the various battings and put a hot iron on top. I checked the temperature after 15, 30, 45 and 60 seconds. The results of the first round of testing is in the chart below. I then sewed up a variety of pot holders and retested the time, in case the quilting made a difference. It didn’t. I then wanted to give them a more practical test, so I put my hand underneath the pot holder and hot iron on top. I timed how many seconds before I had to pull my hand away. I know that using my hand isn’t the most scientific method, but it gave some interesting results. For example, the 4 layers of tee-shirt fabric with Insul-Brite in the middle got unbearably hot much more quickly than I would have guessed based on temperature alone. I have added these results in the last column of the chart and called it “Hot Time”.
It seems that “fluffiness” is the critical factor in providing protection for your hands. The air trapped in the fabric of the batting and terry cloth provide more insulation. To prove this definitively would require more work than I am ready to commit to this project, but my conclusion is that fabric like tee-shirts and denim are more densely woven and conduct the heat to your fingers more quickly. The dish towel that I sacrificed for this study was not only ugly and stained, but threadbare. I think that a thicker towel would have performed better.
If your pot holder is mostly decorative, or you are just going to use it as a trivet for items that are only a little too warm for your table top, don’t worry about the batting, use anything you want. If it is going to get a lot of actual oven use, I would suggest going thicker. I have taken a casserole out of the oven and only then noticed that all the trivets were in use and it took me several seconds to find a place to set it down. The last thing you want is for your fingers to start burning while holding a full pan of ground beef, noodles and tomato sauce. I would recommend that you use at least 2 layers of batting material. Either towels or cotton batting or a combination of batting and Insul-Brite.
What about Insul-Brite? Well, it absolutely works. It will keep your fingers 5⁰ to 10⁰ cooler or about and extra 5 to 10 seconds of carrying time. Please be aware that the instructions say to keep a layer of batting between the Insul-Brite and the heat source. They aren’t kidding. The fuzzy stuff on either side of the foil is polyester. See in the picture how the iron left a mark after 60 seconds. The Insul-Brite wasn’t even directly touching the iron, it was between two layers of cotton fabric. The foil layer means that this is not microwave safe, so keep that in mind for projects like insulated bread warmer baskets. It also makes a soft crinkling sound when bent. Used correctly, it is a great product and I would recommend it if you were very concerned about temperature. It isn’t absolutely necessary though, so don’t let a lack of this product prevent you from sitting down at your sewing machine.
If you want this quilt to be used as a trivet for very hot items, then look to how the products hold up after 60 seconds. According to Wilson Art, a manufacturer of laminate counter tops (similar to Formica), their glue can start to soften at 200 ⁰F and you should avoid prolonged contact greater than 150 ⁰F. Corian, solid surface counter tops, say their product can withstand 300 ⁰F. But other web sites say you should keep the temp. below 212 ⁰F. Wood will char at 248 ⁰F but the finish can be affected by much lower temperatures. I have seen a table’s finish marred by the moisture and warmth of a delivery pizza box. There is no exact number, but my best guess is that you would want to keep the 1 minute temperature at or below 140 ⁰F. I know that you bring things out of the oven as hot as 450 ⁰F, but realize that the pan is starting to cool as soon as it hits the room temperature air. So, while the bottom of the pot holder is getting warmer over time, the pan or dish is getting cooler over time. If you are really concerned, then go with a triple layer, it will keep the temperature below 130 ⁰F. The triple layer items are similar to the commercial pot holder which I have used for many years and never had it burn my fingers or mark my table.
My next question was how difficult would it be to quilt a potholder with thicker and thicker batting. My Bernina didn’t have any problem with 3 layers of cotton, but the final trim was a little difficult with my rotary cutter. I used an open toed foot, a walking foot and the free motion foot and didn’t have any problem with any of them. The triple layer of terrycloth towel, shown below, just barely fit under the open toe presser foot on the Bernina Artista 165.
To get to the center of the piece with the walking foot, I had to lower the feed dogs. There was plenty of room under the free motion foot. Once in place I had no trouble sewing through all the layers of fabric with any of the feet. I checked very carefully and only found one skipped stitch. It is worth noting however that the sandwich was so thick that the free motion foot didn’t appear to move up and down, but I was still able to move the fabric back and forth. There was also plenty of space under all of the feet on my Bernina B740. The real problem was using the rotary cutter for the final trim before adding the binding. I have three rotary cutters, a Gingher, an OLFA and a Fiskars. Only the Fiskars had enough space between the edge of the blade and the center holder to be able to cut through all the layers. Cutting the layers with scissors was slow and difficult until I pulled out my great hacking 10” Gingher Dressmaker Shears.
In conclusion, almost any scrap cotton items you have lying around will work fine for a decorative pot holder or one that only gets light duty. Cotton batting and towel material work best and you can add Insul-Brite to give it a little boost. My personal choice depends on whether this is for a gift or if I am going to use it myself. If I am giving this as a gift, I would use either 2 layers of terry cloth (1st choice) or 2 layers of cotton batting, depending on what I had on hand. I wouldn’t use the Insul-Brite because some people may not like the crinkly sound. For myself, I love the idea of turning an old ugly dish towel into something new and beautiful. I use 2 layers of dish towel with a layer of Insul-Brite in the middle. I don’t mind the sound and the extra insulation protects these quilting fingers.
So, before you throw away that old dish towel, beach towel or bath towel, think about giving it new life with some left-over fabric and a little imagination.
Don’t miss next month’s newsletter, it includes a free pattern!