Have you read The Manifesto? Good. So what’s the deal? What are we trying to do with “scraps”?

Here’s the idea. First, we construct a new piece of fabric by putting scraps together.

Second, we use this scrappy fabric to make other stuff in much the same way we use fresh fabric. For example, this fabric basket, this quilt and these quilt blocks.

So we must begin by learning and practicing some techniques for scrappy piecing. This part of the tutorial concentrates on using rectangular scraps that are on-grain (that is, the threads of the weave are parallel with the sides of the scrap.) Next time, we’ll discuss how to deal with scraps that have bias edges.

Prerequisites: There are two things you must do before beginning to try this process…

(a) Learn how to piece a basic log cabin block. [Here is a log cabin tutorial.] Indeed, there are infinitely many ways to put scraps together. We begin with this one because the log cabin construction offers greatest stability to the final product.

(b) Take charge of any control-freak tendencies you might have. This is an improvisational process that can have unpredictable results. It’s best to know what is under your control and what is not.

  • You control the fabrics that comprise the block. That is, you choose your color/print palette. If two fabrics clash then they will continue to clash after piecing. In some instances, you don’t control which fabrics end up next to each other. So choose ones you like together.
  • You control the quality of the piecing. Make sure your seams are straight, press seams after each new addition, and periodically square up. There will inevitably be a wonky quality to your piecing, but “wonky” does not mean “sloppy.”
  • You control your ability to have fun. Relax. There are almost no mistakes in improvisational piecing. Just follow your instincts and moderate your expectations.

Block Size: This is a tutorial on a kind of free-form piecing that can be used to make blocks of pretty much any size.

Materials: You’ll need “scraps.” For this tutorial, I used pieces of various fabrics (more than 10 different prints). You can collect these from your scrap bin or cut them from fresh fabrics if you like. I tend to do both. Because the pieces can become tiny, solids and smaller-scale prints work best with this tutorial. In a later tutorial we will discuss how to use larger-scale prints in a similar manner. The amount you need depends on the size and effect you hope to achieve. Make a practice block and then rely on your instincts.

Cutting: The pieces used herein begin as rectangles about 4.75″ long. The optimal rectangles range from 1″ to 2.5″ in width and you really want a good deal of variation. Once you get the idea of the technique, you’ll be able to use smaller scraps quite easily. You’ll also need one 1.5″ square of any fabric.

Seam Allowance: Use 0.25″ seams throughout. This process is forgiving of variations in seam sizes, but you want to be aware that skinnier seam allowances will result in unstable patchwork, while wider seam allowances will create more bulk.

Piecing:

(1) Make strips sets about 4.75″ x 12″ by sewing the rectangular scraps together lengthwise. It is okay if the edges are uneven; we’ll square up later.

I like to randomly combine the colors and prints, but I avoid having repetition of colors/prints in a strip set. I pressed these seams to one side, but you can press them open, if you like.

(2) Square up the strip sets and then cut into segments lengthwise. My widths here are 2″, 1.5″ and 1″. You can cut yours any width you like. For the scale of this tutorial, widths no smaller than 1″ and no larger than 2.5″ would be optimal.

(3) The 1.5″ square scrap initially plays the role of the “center” of a log cabin square; it won’t really ever be in the center and it will eventually just blend in with the rest of the patchwork. My “center” is this red square.

Randomly choosing scrap strips of varying widths, piece a log cabin block using these strips as your logs. Press your seams open to avoid excess bulk.These pieces are on-grain, so you can go ahead and use lots of steam to make the patchwork nice and flat.

I also suggest using pins to stabilize the fabrics while sewing. With all these seams coming together, you are sewing over some rough terrain. A walking foot can help too, but is not necessary.

(4) Square up. That is, after every addition of a log, make sure that the sides are straight and the corners are nice right angles. (You likely won’t ever have a square, however.)

(5) Continue to build your log cabin block by adding more rounds until you reach the size of patchwork you desire. When choosing the strips to use, I only try to avoid having pieces of the same print touch each other. This juxtaposition can be fun to have happen every so often, but I prefer more variety. Here’s an 8″ square, showing the front and back.

Things to Look Out For:

– You might end up with a tiny bit of fabric hanging at the end of a strip. If that bit is less than 0.25″, then remove it and discard. If you don’t remove those tiny bits, then they will end up just adding bulk to the seams without adding anything to the patchwork. I ripped off that tiny blue piece there.

When you do end up using these slivers, you’ll usually have no choice but to press your seam to one side, since the seam will go through the seam allowance from previous piecing.

– You’ll have some short leftovers from strips. Go ahead and sew the short bits together to make new longer strips.

– Once your block reaches a certain size, your strips will be too short and you might not want to build longer strips. You can then build new kinds of “logs.” For instance, start piecing strip sets again like in step (1), but using the pieced strips (cut out in step (2)) instead. Square up and then attach to the log cabin block as if it were any other log.

Once you have at least a fat quarter of scrap patchwork, you’ll have enough to use in other projects. I like to build up a stock of scrap patchwork fabrics so that they are ready to go when inspiration strikes.

The pieces of fabric here are quite small and the seams are bulky, so I wouldn’t cut this smaller than 2.5″ squares when making it into something else.

Any questions?

Next week: More examples of how to use this fabric and then Scraptacularity, Part II: Using Scraps with Bias Edges