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Using Contrast to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt

How to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt Using Contrast     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

value example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"
Value Example. Red on the left and brown on the right.

Value example in black and white value example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"
Value Example in Black and White. Red on the left and brown on the right.

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.

2 color quilt block from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast" 2 color block example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast" 2 color block example 2 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

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.

low contrast log cabin from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"New York beauty block from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"applique example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

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.

value example 1 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast" value example 2 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

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”.

value example 3 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"value example 4 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

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 wmid value an white example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"ill 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,

How to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt Using ContrastI 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.  


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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!

 

 

 

What is the best batting for a pot holder?

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.

cotton batting dish towel as batting terry cloth batting denim as batting tee shirt batting flannel as batting insul-brite batting

 

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 quiltichecking potholder insulationng 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 pot holderit 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 andIron Mark on Insulbrite 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 leaf pot holderafter 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. Triple Terry Cloth batting

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.  finished pot holder 2My 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!


Description
 Thick
inches
 Thick
mm
Temp
15
sec
 Temp
30
sec
 Temp
45  sec
Temp
60  sec
 Hot
Time sec
No Batting, 2 pieces of cotton fabric  0.02  0.51  139  160  203  245
Double Layer Tee Shirt  0.055  1.397  135  148  156  175
Single Layer Blue Jeans  0.062  1.57  125  164  198  233
Single Layer Cotton Batting  0.066  1.67  126  142  161  185  14
Single Layer Insul-Brite  0.067  1.7  115  136  156  177
Single Layer Old Dish Towel  0.082  2.08  130  151  160  183
2 Layers Blue Jeans  0.088  2.24  107  145  158  165
2 Layers Cotton Batting  0.091  2.31  114  129  137  144  35
Single Layer Terry Cloth Towel  0.096  2.44  125  145  152  161
4 Flannel Sheets  0.1  2.54  115  138  150  160
4 Cotton Tee Shirt  0.102  2.59  116  143  152  157
Cotton Batting on Top Foil on Bottom  0.105  2.67  108 123 135  149  40
Foil on Top Cotton Batting on Bottom  0.105  2.67  109  126  140  154
6 Layers Tee Shirt, no outer fabric  0.112  2.84  106  133  146  157
2 Layers Old Dish Towel  0.12  3.12  106  131  140  148  24
6 Layers Tee Shirt  0.134  3.4  95  124  135  141
2 Blue Jeans Insul-Brite in the Middle  0.137  3.48  109  132  141  147
4 Flannel Sheets Insul-Brite in the Middle  0.15  3.81  100  127  135  140
4 Cotton Tee Shirt Insul-Brite in the Middle  0.152  3.86   98  124  132  138  25
2 Layers Terry Cloth Towel  0.163  4.14   93  124  134  140  40
8 Layers Flannel Sheet  0.183  4.65   90  120  135  141
2 Cotton Insul-Brite in the Middle  0.186  4.72   92  113  118  124  55
Triple Cotton Batting  0.188  4.78  100  119  123  129  49
Triple Dish Towel  0.193  4.90   86  109  125  135  35
2 Dish Towel Insul-Brite in the Middle  0.199  5.05   88  113  126  131  45
2 Terry Towel Insul-Brite in the Middle  0.25  6.35   81  101  118  128
Triple Terry Towel  0.274  6.96   80  101  119  128  85
Commercial Pot Holder  0.281  7.14   88  112  128  138  65

All Temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t miss next month’s newsletter, “What am I supposed to do with all these scraps”.