Therapy—compliments of your next scrap quilt

Today at Stitch This! it’s a thrill to bring you our first guest writer, popular author Lynn Roddy Brown. Lynn is best known for her gorgeous scrappy quilts, and she’s the author of a trio of books on the subject.

Lynn is an expert when it comes to accumulating, controlling, and actually using your quilt scraps. If you’ve ever felt anxious, frazzled—even guilty—about how much fabric you have, read on. Today Lynn shares a liberating fabric philosophy: Your stash is your therapist. And it doesn’t charge a dime. Tell us more, Lynn!

When I lecture to quilt groups, I start with a question. I tell the audience I want them to answer honestly with a show of hands. The question I ask is, “How many of you have more fabric than you will ever use in your lifetime?” Almost all of the quilters laugh and raise their hands. If you are one of these quilters, scrap-quilting patterns are a wonderful way to use your varied fabric collection.

Scrap quilts are perfect for what I call my “mental-health sewing days.” I let decisions about sets, quilt sizes, and borders wait. Instead, I make simple, easy-to-piece units or blocks with no finished project in mind. Not knowing how the blocks will be used frees me to sew together any fabrics that I find pleasing. I store blocks in bags and wait for a more creative day to play on my design wall. Opening a bag of three hundred half-square-triangle units can be as much fun as being six years old with a new box of crayons.

These three quilts all started with the same bag of half-square-triangle units. Find these and more scrap-quilting patterns in Patchwork-Play Quilts.

I often hear quilters lament that they can’t possibly start a new project because they have too many UFOs (unfinished objects). My advice is always the same: If you already own the fabric, why not? When I see many of my quilts, I know exactly what was happening in my life at the time they were made. I find touching my fabric and hearing the hum of my sewing machine therapeutic. I love my steam iron. The rest of my life may be out of control, but the seam I am pressing will lie flat!

With no apology, I confess to owning a huge fabric stash. And I don’t discourage myself from buying more. If I used up my stash, I would no longer have it to play with in wonderful, creative ways. My fabric collection provides inspiration and infinite possibilities. When I decide I need something for a quilt, I always shop in my closet first. Usually I find what I need. Even if I don’t, the colors and patterns in the fabrics I choose guide me for when I visit my favorite quilt store.

In this quilt (left), "The Broken Path," I used fabrics that had been in my stash for years. I chose fabrics that had extreme visual textures or strange colors that I felt matched nothing else. With this quilt, it didn’t seem to matter what I added—as long as the values were right, it worked. (Get the pattern in Patchwork-Play Quilts.)

Shopping for scrap quilts is different than shopping for a planned project with limited fabrics. The sale table is a great place to hunt for treasures! Those fabrics that didn’t sell well are often just what a scrap quilt needs: great visual texture, unusual patterns, and not-so-pleasing colors.

When looking to add to your scrap-quilt stash, stock up on medium-to-dark fabrics that don’t have large areas of light colors. Also consider light fabrics—most quilters don’t have enough. Light fabrics don’t seem very exciting, but you need a variety for contrast. Avoid fabrics that feature only one color (known as tone-on-tones). These fabrics may be beautiful, but they don’t add much interest to scrap quilts. And finally, if the fabric is on the sale shelf, buy at least one yard if you can. A yard is usually enough for setting triangles, sashing, and narrow borders or a binding—and of course, it can be used to make blocks too.

A few final thoughts, suggestions, and tips:

  • Choose easy-to-piece units that you can combine into larger blocks or use in many different quilts.
  • Units such as half-square triangles, four-patches, and hourglasses can be trimmed to smaller sizes. If you have the fabric, consider making larger units to keep your options open.
  • If a unit uses two fabrics, it lifts my spirit to combine fabrics that go well together. But keep in mind that for scrap quilts, a contrast in value is important.
  • Join a quilt-block swap, either locally or online. I find sewing for block swaps very therapeutic because I don’t agonize over fabric choices. If the blocks will be traded, I have no idea how they will be used. Apply the same attitude even if the units you make will remain in your stash.
  • I never consider a bag of units a UFO. The fabric started in my stash. It’s still in my stash. It has just changed form.

I hope you’re ready to visit your fabrics with fresh eyes. Remember, if a quilt comes from your stash, it’s free—and so is the therapy.

Thanks for sharing your love of scrap quilts with us today, Lynn! You can find Lynn online here. All three of her books are available now—and when you purchase one, you get the eBook version for free. Download one of Lynn’s books in minutes and start enjoying your scraps today!

9 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Wonderful tips and I’m ALWAYS happy to be given permission to buy more fabric!

    —Cornelia on April 10, 2012
  • great ideas and tips. Our daughter told me yesterday that when college is out for the summer, she wants to make some
    new quilts – I will start her here!

    —Sally Watson on April 10, 2012
  • I’ve never been a "saver" of small scraps, mostly because I figured they were too small to do anything with but I’m going to look at scraps differently from now on. I love the look of the quilt on the cover Lynn’s book "Simple Strategies for Block-Swap Quilt, those are my colors!

    —Chris on April 10, 2012
  • Great ideas for diving into all those fabrics we all have stashed in our special places! Thank you for your knowledge.

    —Allie Bowling on April 13, 2012
  • If I won the $100 contest I would buy oodles of books including Simple Strategies for Scrap Quilts, Applique Flowers, and many more.

    —Dolores Ingraham on April 15, 2012
  • I am just beginning to collect scraps, but can’t wait to try a scrap quilt. The quilts in these books are absolutely gorgeous! What an inspiration!!

    —Kathy Biciocchi on June 10, 2013
  • Every quilt a have made is a scrap quilt. I justlove it. Thank you for the wonderful ideas.

    —Agnes on June 11, 2013
  • I love Lynn Roddy Brown! She is such a wealth of quitlty information! I have taken 2 workshops with her. I also have all 3 books. Now, If I could just put them to use! LOL
    I did, however, start a block swap group within my guild. So far so good!

    Sheryl on August 13, 2013
  • Scrap quilts are my personal favorites….like you, I can touch each fabric and remember where it came from, what was going on at the time, etc. Scrap quilts seem to be more "comfortable" to me than specific color-designated quilts. I maintain a rather large collection of scraps, thank goodness!!!
    Great ideas…thank you for posting!

    —Mary on April 18, 2014

Leave a comment

*Indicates required field