Designing with quilt scraps: block-by-block tips

From Simple Strategies for Block-Swap QuiltsScraps, spare parts, and leftovers. If you’re a quilter, these aren’t references to the local junkyard, or a plea to the family to clean out the fridge for dinner tonight. They’re a testimonial to scrap quilting! We save little bits of fabric, dreaming of stitching them into a glorious design that evokes a beauty equal to that of our quilting ancestors. But without some sage scrappy know-how, getting scrap quilts to come together can be hit or miss.

If you love making scrap quilts—or desperately want to become better at it—you’ll become fast friends with designer Lynn Roddy Brown. A student of scrap-quilting masters such as Sally Schneider, Roberta Horton, and Jinny Beyer, Lynn soon became a master of quilt scraps herself, creating her own spin on the time-honored tradition. She’s got her own set of scrap-quilting rules, and in her three popular books, she shares all of those (totally bendable and breakable) rules with you.

Lynn starts with simple, traditional blocks that are easy to sew.

Bow Tie Circles quilt
Simple Strategies for Scrap Quilts: a simple Bow Tie block

UFO Complete quilt
Simple Strategies for Block-Swap Quilts: Triple Four Patch block

The Broken Path quilt
Patchwork Play Quilts: Broken Path block

But you can see that when these easy blocks are infused with a hodgepodge of quilt scraps using Lynn’s color, value, and design ideas, complex and richly textured quilts emerge.

Today, Lynn shares a few of her secrets for making beautiful scrap quilts with a down-home, traditional feel that matches those of her scrap-quilting heroes. Below you’ll find Lynn’s tips for designing your own quilts, using quilt scraps as your only medium. Dare to try her tricks—you won’t be disappointed!

Designing with Scrap Blocks
From Simple Strategies for Scrap Quilts by Lynn Roddy Brown

I think the most important thing about making scrap quilts is to keep an open mind. The second most important thing is to have a design wall (learn how to make one). A stack of scrap blocks and a design wall are all you need for hours of fun and endless possibilities for creativity. When I make quilts I usually start with a plan, but very often during the design process an entirely different quilt emerges.

Least scrappy to most scrappy quilt blocks
Lynn’s trial-and-error blocks: least scrappy to most scrappy.

When making any quilt, I make about two-thirds of the blocks required. I put them on the design wall and then decide which direction I’d like to go with the remaining third. Doing this gives me more options than if I wait to start the design process after all the blocks are made. Once I have the blocks on the wall, I turn my back, walk away, turn back to the wall, and pay attention to my first reaction. Roberta Horton says your first reaction is the one you should go with. Maybe I love the purple. I might see a pink that doesn’t go with anything else in the quilt. I notice that all the green is in one corner. The quilt is boring. So what now?

Advantages of scrap quiltsGo with What You Like
If the purple looks good, select and cut several more purple scrap strips. Make sure the purples are different shades and textures from the purple already in the quilt. You might begin thinking about purple for the main border. If you use a purple border, the purple blocks in the quilt will be the first ones you see, and the quilt will become a purple quilt.

Take It Out, Add More, Build a Bridge
When a block doesn’t seem to go with the rest of the quilt, it’s often the intensity of the color that’s off. Maybe one pink block is clear and bright and the other blocks are grayed. Sometimes it’s best to take the single block out. Another solution is to add more pink. This keeps the original pink from being a focal point. Usually, an odd number of a strong color works best. Include three, five, or seven pieces of different pinks scattered over the surface of the quilt.

The last option is to build a bridge, a technique I learned from Jinny Beyer. Maybe there are reds in the quilt. If you add a couple of reds that have a pinkish cast and a few pinks that lean toward red, then the color differences won’t be as stark.

Hot Stars Over Texas scrap quilt
The reds in “Hot Stars Over Texas” range from tangerine to deep scarlet, and each print is distinctly different from the others. From
Patchwork Play Quilts.

Scatter the Colors and Textures
If all the green is in one corner, move some of the blocks to scatter the color. Many of the quilts in my books use sets of blocks made from the same fabrics. If there are four blocks in the set, I put them in different quarters of the quilt. If there are two blocks, I put one in the top half and one in the bottom. When choosing fabrics for blocks, be sure each set has a variety of colors and textures. If you scatter the blocks, the colors and textures will also be scattered.

Jazz Up a Boring Quilt
If you feel your quilt is boring or lacks something, read on for several options that will spice it up and add that spark to take it from boring to exciting.

1. Add Diagonal Lines
Diagonal lines add interest, causing the viewer’s eye to move across the surface of the quilt. If you’re just beginning to make your quilt, you might choose blocks that have a built-in diagonal pattern, such as “Echoing Squares,” “Texas Two-Step,” and “Amish Bow Ties.” These blocks offer many design possibilities.

Projects from Simple Strategies for Scrap Quilts
“Echoing Squares,” “Texas Two Step,” and “Amish Bow Ties”

Arranging the blocks in groups of four to create an “x” results in diagonal patterns going in two directions, such as in “Wild West Shuffle” (below). “Echoing Squares” (above left) is an example of blocks arranged in a barn-raising set. Any block with a diagonal line can be used in these sets.

If you’ve already made your blocks, try setting them on point to create diagonal lines. “Love to Mary” and “Floating Spools” are examples.

Projects from Simple Strategies for Scrap Quilts 2
“Wild West Shuffle,” “Love to Mary,” and “Floating Spools”

2. Add color
I don’t know a lot about color theory, but red, yellow, gold, and teal are strong colors that will stand out from the rest. A little goes a long way. A few blocks using these colors will perk up the most boring quilt. Strong colors also work well for inner borders, creating a line to frame a quilt. Mary Ellen Hopkins says purple goes with everything. I put purple borders on the first three scrap quilts I made, and it worked. One of these quilts has a teal inner border, and it’s still a favorite.

Goose the Fox quilt
Purple-bordered “Goose the Fox” from
Simple Strategies for Block-Swap Quilts

3. Other tips
If you’re having trouble with value, try viewing the quilt in dim light. I do this in the evenings, as it’s getting dark. Different levels of light show me different things. My design wall is across from a sliding glass door. I’ll often study the reflection of the quilt in the glass and see things I wouldn’t see otherwise. Taking digital photos and then examining those snapshots can also be a great help in making design decisions.

Have Lynn’s simple, don’t-sweat-it solutions inspired you? If so, be sure to check out her popular scrap-quilting books!

Scrap-quilting books by Lynn Roddy Brown

Then you’ll want to get acquainted with the perfect fabric-selection tool, the Ruby Beholder.

Ruby Beholder

The Ruby Beholder is a value-finding tool that makes choosing and evaluating scrap fabrics a cinch (it’s the equivalent of viewing quilts in dim light, as Lynn suggests). When you look through the ruby red rectangle, all you see is value, which makes it easier to organize fabrics in shadings from light to dark. Don’t miss a quick video tutorial on the Ruby Beholder in tomorrow’s post!

What scares you about scrap quilts—or are you a pro with your own tips to share? Tell us about your scrappy triumphs and tribulations in the comments!

Also from Lynn: Therapy—compliments of your next scrap quilt Read post

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