Two weeks ago I happened upon an episode of “Sewing with Nancy” that featured Victoria Findlay Wolfe and her amazing quilts. Victoria Findlay Wolfe spoke about her technique for using scraps to improvisational (improv) piece together fabric and then use that fabric to make traditional patchwork blocks. I was so struck by the process that I found myself thinking about it for days on end until I got up the courage to give it a try myself.
In April I’ll be participating in the Charm Dash Quilt-Along with Melissa (of Ms Midge) and I’ve been toying with how to work my magic with her pattern and so I decided to give scrappy improv a go. It worked a treat so today I’m going to share with you how I did that so you can do it to with whatever quilt block pattern you’d like to turn into a scraptastic masterpiece.
Firstly though, let me walk you through my scrap management system (that makes it sound much posher than it is!). I thought I’d start here so if you’re looking for a way to manage your scraps this might give you some ideas. There’s heaps of scrap sorting systems out there, you just have to find the one that works best for the way you like to work.
I am a huge lover of the plastic storage box. I picked these up from Costco (I’m really sorry but I have no idea who they’re made by, etc.) and they were about $40 for 8 of them. Money well spent! I love my label maker nearly as much as I like the plastic storage boxes so I’ve labeled all the boxes to try and keep some order (cause having all of one colour in one box isn’t enough for me…).
As you can see I have a number of boxes (and labels). Not all the boxes are scraps, most of them are fabrics in half yard or yardage, trims, works in progress and non-quilting fabrics. I do have a couple of different sizes of plastic boxes though for fabric scraps (turns out I use a lot of blue, black and white). As you can see, I also like to keep all the crazy knick-knacks that I’ve amassed over the years in my sewing room… and candy, I like candy.
I also keep a big (purple) tub at the end of my cutting mat to act as a catch all for my rubbish and threads. It’s rather handy because it hold a lot of rubbish and I can (mostly) get all my offcuts in there without them ending on the floor.
For those interested my sewing table is a $40 timber dining table from Gumtree that my wonderful Hubby cut a hole in the top of and did some magic shelf work (inspired by this awesome tutorial) that allows my machine to be flush with the top of the table. I have (loosely) covered the top with Mexican oil cloth (it’s pinned to the underside of the table) to help fabric slide over it while I work. Best $50 ever spent!
I keep a small square plastic bucket and a small plastic rubbish bin under the table near my cutting mat that I use to put my scraps in as I work on a project. Once the project is done (or they’re both filled to busting) I spend a few minutes sorting the scraps into their plastic boxes. It’s a rough sort and I tend to not keep anything under 1″ square. But it’s handy.
So that’s my sewing room set up, I hope it might have given you something to think about when it comes to scrap sorting. Now, on to the real fun – scrappy improv patchwork blocks!
What you’ll need:
- Rotary cutter and cutting mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Sewing machine and sewing supplies
- Lots of scraps
I made these blocks using a mix of my red, purple, pink, orange, blue and yellow scrap boxes but you could use all the one colour if you wanted – the possibilities are endless.
1. Get all your scraps ready for using. I’m lucky enough that most of my scrap boxes will fit on my table and leave me enough space to work. If you can’t do this then just grab handfuls of scraps and put them into a bucket or box to use and work with smaller amounts of scraps at a time. I find it handy to have them there so I can rummage through them and get pieces that I want to work with.
2. Victoria Findlay Wolfe recommends starting with a 5 sided scrap, and as she’s the expert I follow her advice. Chances are you’re not going to have a five sided scrap just laying in a box waiting for you to use it so using your rotary cutter just make a 5 sided scrap. The sides don’t have to be even, you just need an number of sides greater than 4 to stop it looking like an improv log cabin. (I’m guessing a triangle would work too…) I’m going to call this your “starting scrap”.
3. Pick a scrap to add to the first side of your starting scrap. Join right sides together with a quarter inch seam. Victoria Findlay Wolfe recommends you use a shorter stitch length to help keep your pieces together when you’re cutting them up. Again, she’s the expert so this is also what I did.
4. Press the seam to the outside and then trim the added scrap to line up with the next side of your starting scrap. You want to even the sides up so that you don’t have Y seams to navigate. Don’t despair about cutting up your scraps, just add them back into your scrap box and use them again. The beauty of this method is that you can use orphaned blocks, excess binding and all those little half square triangle offcuts to continue growing your scrappy fabric.
5. Repeat step 4 until you’ve sewn on to all sides of your start scrap. Just keep adding and trimming, adding and trimming until you reach your desired size.
6. Once you’ve made your scrap fabric piece big enough, trim down to the size you need. This is where the magic happens for me – I just love seeing those scraps turn into a recognisable shape (it appeals to my OCD). Don’t throw away the trimmed off pieces, pop them back in your scrap bucket and use them for your next scrap fabric creation.
In the Charm Dash example above I inverted the pattern and opted to use white fabric in place of the patterned fabric and scrappy fabric for the background fabric. You could do this with any patchwork block to create a wonderful new take on the patterns created by the block geometry.
I must admit to finding improv difficult (too much of a control freak) but this technique just has me captivated. I can’t wait to share my scrappy improv patchwork version of Melissa (of Ms Midge)’s Charm Dash Quilt as part of the Quilt-Along in April.
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