Monday, October 12, 2015

Building Scrap Quilter Muscle

This topic is not for everyone, but the fact is, scrap quilting requires fabric. Lots of it! And the more variety the better. If you're not in a stash accumulative mood or think the rest of us who hoard are greedy fabric pigs, that's okay. We'll catch up another day. I want to address an alternative method of building up our precious stash. I call this method 'Building Scrap Quilter Muscle' because it's really the most random bits and pieces of fabric that turn out the very best quilts.
The original rejected fabrics
The key to this method of fabric collecting is to get the word out. Plain and simple. Let your friends and family know that hello! You love fabric and will willingly take on their rejects. This is not for the faint of heart because sometimes what you end up with is appallingly ugly and only suitable for the dumpster. That's the gamble. {And the fun!} Gotta gird up your loins and dive in, because sometimes you can end up with absolute gems. Seriously folks, the best fabric is not always the brand new stuff sitting in the stores!
Doesn't look promising....
The best way to start is just to dump all the fabric out--onto the table, floor or couch, it doesn't matter. Just get it all out of the bag or box it came in. Then start making stacks. Go through the fabric quickly and make snap decisions--it's not rocket science. One pile for fabric you want to keep, another for maybe's and then the last pile for trash. Yep, there is almost always fabric that can only be classified as garbage. Don't even hesitate about dumping it!
The keepers
Remember, fabric you want to keep doesn't have to give you a thrilling little tingle to be found worthy. If you've been sewing long enough, you'll recognize certain colors you use on a regular basis or fabric that works great as blenders. These are no-question keepers! And of course, it goes without saying that anything interesting also goes right into this stack. Badda boom, badda boom. You can probably tell that I love getting the chance to do this!
The Maybe fabrics
In the maybe pile, throw anything that makes you wince or make a funny little face of indecision. We'll come back to them later. I don't know about you, but I'll occasionally keep fabric that has uncertain origins or isn't exactly billed as 'quilting' fabric. As long as it's 100% cotton, there is always hope for a place in my stash. Anything that is thin enough to see daylight through, looks cheap or was the sort of thing we made our FFA livestock booth decor out of, well, that goes right into the throw-away pile. Don't even second guess it because you'll never regret getting rid of these types of fabric!
The trash
In this batch of rejected fabrics, I also found a couple pieces of good quality flannel. I like to keep these fabrics because once in a blue moon, I want to make a fast rag quilt to give away. It's an easy-peasy gift and how much better if it's made out of free fabric! The tote below now has my first selection of keeper fabrics, including the four pieces of flannel I found.
First selection of keepers
Now this is where you and I might part ways. The next thing I do is go back to the maybe pile and do a second pass-through. This time I will look for pieces large enough to use in my quilt backings, yet not so hideous as to make me ill. I will also check out those 'uncertain' fabrics a little more thoroughly, try to judge whether or not I want to try my luck using them. Now my tote is getting a little more full! The thing I want you to know is this: All the fabrics from the maybe pile are always on probation. At any time (even after they find a way into my stash), they may still be discarded with zero remorse. I can be ruthless that way!
Adding in the probation fabrics....
Eventually there is a pile of garbage fabric {already disposed of} plus the box of stuff I just don't want in my own stash. {The hated words: It's not you dear, it's me.} And there are several things we can do with this particular fabric. For instance, I have a friend who will generally take what I don't want or I can also take it to the local Senior Citizens Center. They seriously love getting small boxes of discarded fabrics! Every area has different opportunities for donation, it's simple to find out what will work best for you.
My rejects
After I've combed through all the fabrics, then I do one last thing. I reach into the keeper tote and I dig out those pieces of fabric that seem extra special. The ones that make me smile for whatever reason. These are the gems, the reason for the entire exercise! Sometimes I only have a very small piece of an interesting fabric, but you can bet it will be carefully placed into the best possible quilt for that color or print.
The gems
And that's why I call it 'Building Scrap Quilter Muscle'. These are the sorts of fabric that add much needed variety, spice, value, liveliness, and even quirk to our quilts. Is it worth the time and trouble to sort through a little garbage to get to the good stuff? I guess that's up to you. All good fabrics have to go somewhere to die. I'm not too proud to be another stop along the way.*wink  

Linking up to Scraptastic Tuesday and my Courage to Feel Creative Series page.

*Please be advised that the resulting keeper pile is sometimes ominously small compared to the original anticipated return. I do not take any responsibility for a disappointing experience.


  1. How much fun!
    It's like thrift shopping, going through things others don't want & finding treasures.
    Great post

  2. I recently had a blogger friend send me a huge box of scraps that she was convinced that she didn't want to ever see again....but she knew that I could use some of them in applique or whatever and it was so much fun to go through what she sent me! :) I already used some of it

  3. What a great post. Looking through a box of fabric is exciting. I love the thought that even though a fabric ended up in the keeper box it is still on probation.

  4. Fun post Audrey...I've been on the giving end of scrap fabric for a few years now...have more for the church rummage sale whenever they need it...going through mom's stash has produced quite a few gems...I'm going to put some on probation too...mostly those mottled backgrounds for applique that's never going to happen...maybe...

  5. love your scraps - I say cut up small enough and you won't see the ugly!! Good idea - I think I need to pass the word that I will take scraps too

  6. I also make bags, so my ugliest scraps end up buried inside as interlinings. Invisible and useful - win/win!
    Now I just need to find someone besides my sister-in-law to give me scraps. (She only buys just enough fabric for her current project. (I know, right?))

  7. I love scraps, and always say bring them on! One of the best retirement gifts I received was two huge black trash bags filled with fabrics a co-worker was sure she would never use and had downsized since she was moving. Oh, that gift also included another two armloads of quilting books and magazines!

  8. A wonderfully entertaining post! All I can say is you must have quite a circle of friends to have accumulated all that loot! Thanks for sharing your method.

  9. A very interesting post today. I have had fabric donations given to me in the past. So much fun to dig through, sort, and play.

  10. "That thrilling little tingle" I swear you nail it every single time. You are awesome!! LOL

  11. This is exactly how I go through my fabric. My Stash Quilter Muscles are quite buff :) I wish I could say the same for my abdominal muscles. Great post Audrey!

  12. Great post, and thanks for the afternoon chuckles. Glad to see you are donating the fabric you don't want to a good cause!

  13. Well that figures... I like the stuff in your throw-away box!

  14. Interesting to hear some of your stash building exercises. I only keep a small stash but this is how I go through sale fabrics at the store. I've always put "ugly" fabric on the back - good quality but I'm tired of it. I'm sure I'd get into so much trouble if friends sent me random boxes of fabrics.

  15. I have no friends and so no muscle building exercises for me!

  16. I read every word of this post with such interest. All of this random scrappy goodness sure helps our quilts be the individuals they want to be;).

  17. You have better friends than me: not one has ever passed me fabric. On the other hand I do a lot of browsing in second-hand shops, which can amount to the same thing. You are right too, that these funny bits are little gems, that can give a piece of work a little edge and individuality. And I too like some of your rejects. :-)

  18. Oh, Audrey, I wish I had your fortitude to just pass on fabric that I don't love. Sometimes I can if I really, really dislike it, but I always imagine some use for even the pieces I don't like too much. But now this post makes me wonder if I might be a fabric hoarder. Ha!

    I don't have friends who give me fabric but there was an older lady from church a number of years ago who saved her scraps for me. There were never any pieces larger than about 2" square, and most were half-square triangles. I need more sewing friends, and I would gladly exchange instead of just being a recipient.

    Fun post.

  19. Oh wow Audrey, I do exactly the same! I've had a few bizarre things given to me for quilting though, including a moth eaten fox stole!!! Seriously, I've got some weird friends, haha! Another thing I do with fabrics I'm not too sure about is to cut a piece up into small pieces and then give away the bulk of it - that way I don't feel so guilty about giving away a gift! I also keep linen - a number of friends have given me linen trousers or shirts and even if I can't make them into a quilt (one day I'm sure I'll have enough) it makes great backings for cushions. Mind you, I've used a fair bit of linen in quilt tops along with quilting cotton lately and I love the extra texture I can get. I'm gabbling now - it's so exciting to discover you stash build in the same way!


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