26 August 2010

Refelections on: fabric scraps

Fabric scraps are everywhere in my sewing studio. Boxes overflow with them. I am constantly trying to grapple with their storage and it has led me to this critical question – should I keep every scrap of fabric, no matter how small?

There are two eternal quilt making truths – cutting up fabric is addictive and as soon as you throw out a particular scrap of fabric, you will need it for your next project. Well, to be honest, there are probably many more truths, but these are the ones that are bugging me at present.

I already own more fabric than I will probably ever use, yet I still purchase additional stock when I see a print that calls out to me. They are seductive, those fabrics. They wait patiently on shelves until I pass by and then they sing their beguiling song – “buy me, I’m the fabric you want”. Mobile telephone companies that talk about sending messages to your phone when you walk pass products you’ve bought before have a lot to learn from the way fabrics entice you to their shelves. But I digress.

Once the fabrics are in my possession, I don’t want to squander them. When cutting out pieces for projects, I am fairly careful about wastage. I keep extra strips and odd-shaped pieces in my scrap pile so that I can easily find a snippet when required. Some of my friends organise their strips and scraps by size, but I can’t bring myself to be that systematic. There are only a certain number of hours in the day, after all.

The crux of my dilemma is: how small a scrap should I keep? One of my friends recently made a hexagon quilt by the English paper piecing method with each piece only three sixteenths of an inch. Imagine! Certainly tiny scraps are all she needs for this project, but would I ever want to make something that tiny? Having seen her sewing her quilt, I’d have to say no, but what it I change my mind in the future? Will I regret throwing away precious tiny fragments?

Scraps are also handy to add variety to appliqué, but since I rarely use these techniques in my quilts does that mean I shouldn’t bother with larger scraps either? I do dream of appliqué designs, though, and plan to use that method in the future. The dilemmas abound.

I try to analyse the types of projects I make. There really are two types – pieced contemporary quilts and small art quilts. My pieced quilts usually result in leftover pieces of fabric and these go into my scrap pile. I mostly love to make scrappy quilts and like combining many different fabrics to give a visually interesting effect. My philosophy here is that the more prints there are, the better I like it.

My art quilts are small and give me the opportunity to play with different effects and techniques. I use lots of fabric scraps in these, too, but often employ non-cotton fabrics to provide particular impacts. I include ATCs in this category and they certainly only require tiny fabric pieces. So I guess that no matter what I make, I tend to use scraps of all sizes.

Another of my friends often says that “it’s only fabric” when I hesitate about cutting a piece of a favourite print. While I know she’s absolutely correct, I sometimes have a fear that I might cut the fabric in a way that won’t result in my desired outcome and that my cutting would lead to wastage. Geez, I sound like a total ditherer.

I think I've reached some decisions. My stash holds enough fabric to make a multitude of quilts. I do not have to worry about ever running out of fabric. I do not have to worry about keeping absolutely every scrap of fabric. Finally, I know I will absolutely, positively, never make a quilt that uses three sixteenths of an inch hexagons - will I?


  1. Anonymous9:37 am

    I have a friend who uses those tiny pieces, and she is going to get them .... big time .... though I know she also has a habit of giving them back as a quilt sometimes!

    Perhaps i will give them to her in installments, so she doesn't get enough at once to make a whole quilt but will put them in her charity quilts!

    Judy B

  2. Oh my goodness you could have been read the dozens of converstaions that I often have with myself in my head. I never thought that there would be others out there like me.
    I am often too scared to cut into my fabric in case i make the wrong quilt with it.

  3. These truths are really true for a lot of us:-). Some fabric I have had for years = not wanting to cut it??? What is it with that? Then I hoard scraps chronically and do the occasional scrap quilt. Can't throw it away - no way.

  4. I am at the SABLE stage and somewhat ashamed of my stash vs my output but I still adore scraps but 2.5"square is as big as I will keep.

  5. I made a conscious decision a little while ago that anything smaller than 1" square is too small. I put all the little bits into a shoe box or zip lock plastic bag, and when its full I take up to the kindergarten at my kids school and they make collages out of them. Problem solved - I don't feel like I'm wasting them by throwing them out and I don't ever have to make a quilt that will result in hand cramps and blindness.

    As for hacking into those precious pieces - hack away I say, unless they are the pieces on my favourite, favourite shelf and then they stay where they are so I can take them out and pat them a bit and put them back. hee hee


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