Got orphan quilt blocks? There’s a pincushion collection in your future

Pincushion from Simple AppealRaise your hand if you’re a Kim Diehl fan! I know that there are a LOT of you out there joining me as I wave wildly. As if Kim’s beautiful patterns aren’t enough, her books have the added value of her “Pin Point” tips sprinkled throughout. If you can’t have Kim in the room with you while you sew, then these tips are the next best thing! (See 25 of Kim’s “Pin Point” tips in this post.)

Recently, I came across a couple of English-paper-pieced blocks that I’d made that didn’t end up in a project. I thought about making them into mug rugs or coasters but just didn’t feel inspired—not to mention the fact that I didn’t want them to end up with coffee stains on them! Then, I remembered one of Kim’s Pin Points, and my problem was solved. The tip comes from Kim’s recent book, Simple Friendships, which she co-authored with Jo Morton.

Kim DiehlWhen I make scrappy quilts, I like to stitch a handful of extra blocks for added choices as the design is laid out. I found that my leftover “orphan” Old Italian blocks could be repurposed beautifully to make sweet little pincushions. To do this, I layered a finished block with a coordinating print 5½" square, right sides together, and joined the pieces, leaving a 2″ opening on one side for turning.

Pincushions from orphan quilt blocks
Kim’s Old Italian block pincushion

Next, to box the corners, I pulled the front and back pieces apart at one corner, laid the unit flat on my cutting mat with the corner pointing upward and the seam centered and running vertically, and used a pencil and acrylic ruler to draw a horizontal line across the corner (through the seam) ½" down from the stitched point. After pinning, I repeated with the remaining corners, and then stitched each corner on the drawn line (beginning and ending with a few backstitches), before trimming away the corners to leave ¼" seam allowances.

To complete the pincushion, I turned the unit right side out, filled it with crushed walnut shells (which was easy to do using a quart-size ziplock bag and snipping one corner for pouring), and hand stitched the opening closed. These are super-fast to stitch, super cute, and make great gifts for quilting friends.

Pincushions! Can we ever have enough? I have a bunch of them and I never mind getting a new one as a gift. I keep the ones I’m not using in a basket, looking ever-so-cute, on a shelf in my sewing room. I try to swap them out occasionally, but I seriously enjoy just looking at them and remembering who and/or where they came from.

Pincushion collection
My pincushion collection

Simple FriendshipsYou can see more from Kim and Jo’s book, Simple Friendships, in this post.

What happens to YOUR leftover blocks?

a) They languish in my scrap bin
b) I use them on the back of my quilt
c) I repurpose them

Tell us in the comments!







71 Comments (leave a comment)

  • All of the above!

    —Sara on July 17, 2017
  • They are pieced into the backing of the quilt for which they were made. All of them, every time.

    —Marlene Clausen on July 17, 2017
  • I nearly always put them into the backing, however, I really like the pincushion idea. I’ll have to try that idea very soon.

    —Debby on July 17, 2017
  • They get made into placemats for Meals on Wheels

    —Carol on July 17, 2017
  • Left over blocks, usually not many are plieced into the back. Or I have used in another project. And occasionally they might languish until the perfect project comes along to include them as an embellishment.

    —Marilynn on July 17, 2017
  • They are taped to the wallboard behind my sewing machine. Love the idea of making pin cushions out of them.

    —Bernice Restivo on July 17, 2017
  • I make hot pads and larger ones to put hot dishes on. I also give them away as fast and easy gifts.

    —Sue on July 17, 2017
  • They do languish in my this will eventually be a sampler quilt pile. I do like the pincushion idea. In fact I’ve been thinking lately of making one for by my sewing machine.

    —Joy Dickson on July 17, 2017
  • Unfortunately, mine usually languish 🙁 I am keeping them & some of the ideas in this book may help them come to life!

    —Angelia Ulrich on July 17, 2017
  • I like the pincushion idea but do not very often have extra blocks.

    —Peggy on July 17, 2017
  • I use my orphans in pieced quilt backs if colors work. Larger ones are worked into totes. I hadn’t thought of pincushions though for the smaller blocks. Great idea and clear instructions. Never hurts to reduce the load as orphans keep arriving. Thank you!!

    —Gayle Mitchel on July 17, 2017
  • I’m sorry to say orphan blocks languish in my scrap bin. But I do like the idea of making pincushions. I will try that.

    —Roberta J on July 17, 2017
  • I always have a bunch of left over blocks–every once in a while I dive in and wow –you never know what might come out of it–shopping bags–mug mats –pot holders–bathmats–table runners–and some times a new quilt–scaps and left overs are always fun

    Bea Donald on July 17, 2017
  • I have used them for backing, but I more often combine them for ‘dolly’ quilts for my grandchildren. Before that they are used to practice new quilting techniques and patterns.

    —Mary Hawthorne on July 17, 2017
  • I turn them into accessory pieces such as pillows, table quilts, miniature quilts, etc.

    —Julie Janitscheck on July 17, 2017
  • I try to repurpose them in a bag, or as a placemat. The rest sit in a project box, waiting to inspire me!

    —MoeWest on July 17, 2017
  • My leftover blocks are just left with the scraps of the project they came out of. With Kim’s book, maybe I will be inspired to use them in a small project.

    —Frances Claassens on July 17, 2017
  • I always seem to end up with "orphans" & yes, I do use them for little projects. Can’t wait to see inside the new book.

    sonja on July 17, 2017
  • Leftover blocks often go on the back of the quilt, along with leftover yardage. It’s fun to play with fabrics this way. Sometimes you come up with really cool designs. And if not, you still have a great top on the other side. And there’s this: funky pieced backs may not impress quilters, but non-quilters are often blown away by a ‘second quilt’ on the back.

    —Barbara Nevaril on July 17, 2017
  • I have a stack of them…so I guess they languish. They are lovely just to look through, like an album of blocks.

    —susan on July 17, 2017
  • I’ve been reusing them in backs, and also scrap quilts or doll quilts. I have one I did a pincushion with years ago, good idea! How about using them for a machine cover, or a thread catcher or other scrap projects? and she has a stained glass block and holder in one picture, if you have a particularly intricate block that you got frustrated and ended up changing your pattern(been there done that!) it would fit well in one of the mini quilt hangers!

    —Sharon Schipper on July 17, 2017
  • They sit around until an inspiration hits me on how to use them. The fun part is having a stack of odd sized orphans and making them work in a quilt top. The layout and final decisions turn out to be a work of art with leftovers or unwanted blocks.

    —connie b on July 17, 2017
  • Probably all of these apply to my leftover blocks and pieces. I love scrappy quilts and projects so I like to look for ways to use them😊

    —Melba on July 17, 2017
  • Oh, I have used a couple to make a wall hanging and maybe one found its way into a pincushion. But the majority of my orphan are sent to a friend in OH who belongs to a group that makes quilts for a womens’ shelter. Someone loves them!

    —Sandy Navas on July 17, 2017
  • My leftover blocks are a design wall where they have resided for a loooooong time. I’m going to do something with them………soon.

    —Barbara Dahl on July 17, 2017
  • depending on size, small ones end up in the scrap bin to use in charity quilts, larger ones for a guild that has us make pot holders for a festival event where they sell them (our way of paying rent for using their hall)

    —Jenny on July 17, 2017
  • Last year one of the Guilds I belong to asked for orphan blocks in order to put them together into Community Quilts which were donated to a local nursing home. Guild members then sewed the donated blocks into strips and the strips were sewn together into quilts. I was able to donate quite a few blocks and felt they had found a good home. Needless to say, the resulting quilts were quite interesting and were received with pleasure.

    —Loretta on July 17, 2017
  • I am Guilty of A. Just laying around at various places. Not thrown away, not used creatively. Love these pin cushions.

    —carol on July 17, 2017
  • I have a basket full of blocks that I haven’t done anything with but this is such a good idea I’m going to whip some of these up! Thanks for the idea.

    —Rose on July 17, 2017
  • I repurpose them into smaller items, especially for gifts – tote bags, placemats, potholders, mug rugs, and reusable gift bags. Sometimes they even wind up in actual quilts that go to the less fortunate.

    —Sandy May on July 17, 2017
  • I’d say, more times than not, they languish in my orphan block drawer. I really need to get in there & repurpose some of them.

    —Susan L. on July 17, 2017
  • I put them in a basket with every intention of using them, some of them have been there for over five years. I love the idea of using them for pincushions, an easy idea that never occurred to me before. Thank you for the great suggestion.

    —BeeGee on July 17, 2017
  • Some get re-purposed and some are in the "I don’t know what to do with this but I can’t throw it out" collection

    —Sue on July 17, 2017
  • I repurpose them as potholders, etc. Pincushions would be a great idea.

    —Kim Brownell on July 17, 2017
  • If the block is 12″ – 14″ I quilt it with a light batting and use it underneith a centerpiece on a table or kitchen counter or island.

    —Jean Greene on July 17, 2017
  • I repurpose some of them….depending on the size….mug rugs…pin cushions…pot holders….mini quilts….the rest re in left over limbo!

    —Kay on July 17, 2017
  • My orphan blocks tend to just languish in a box, along with "bonus" units. I could actually make quite a few pincushions! I do have a question about the mini quilt hanger shown in one of the pictures- is that a mini quilt, or a stained glass block? And most importantly, where can I find a stand like that? I love it!!

    Hi Angela, you can find that quilt stand and others like it at Ackfeld Manufacturing – thanks for your question! –Jenny

    —Angela Nohe on July 17, 2017
  • They keep each other company in a ziplock bag.

    —gail on July 17, 2017
  • They hibernate, get included in other projects, become leaders & enders depending on the size of the scraps. I love pincushions & may have made too many for friends, but I always see another one I have to make!

    —Sharon Groves on July 17, 2017
  • I use left over blocks to make mug rugs, combine them with other blocks to make small throw quilts for kids and some time use them to make small bags and also use some to make Christmas stockings.

    —Cheyenne Reilly on July 17, 2017
  • Pincushions are good but I usually make mug rugs with extra blocks.

    —Mary Jean Price on July 17, 2017
  • I like to use my old blocks depending on size,hot pads for the table, pot holders,or eyeglass case or small coin purse.

    —Shirley Smith on July 17, 2017
  • I have my left over blocks in a box, I take them our once in a while to try to decide what to do with them….pincushions here we come, great idea, thankyou!

    —Jacqui Delchau on July 17, 2017
  • Most of my left over blocks wind up on the back of my quilt. Others are made into charity quilts, they are always appreciated.

    —Stephanie Woodward on July 17, 2017
  • I repurpose them. All my family members get something made from them for Christmas.

    —Sandy on July 17, 2017
  • I usually practice with Christmas fabrics and later save them in a spot where they will end up in a scrappy Christmas Quilt. I have made one pincushion and what a mess it turned out to be.

    —Althea Klosterman on July 17, 2017
  • I repurpose my orphan blocks, either on the back, or in a scrappy quilt, pot holders, or placemats.

    —Carol on July 17, 2017
  • So far my blocks are sitting in my orphan drawer. I do want to make a quilt with the blocks.

    —Marilyn Rogez on July 18, 2017
  • I repurpose them ….. Making various gifts

    —Marsha on July 18, 2017
  • So far I’ve been keeping them together in a storage box. One of my "One Day" projects is to do an "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" quilt like the beauty that Victoria Findley Wolf made!

    Vivian on July 18, 2017
  • I have made them into some really nice pot holders. I love using them!

    —Glenda McCarthy on July 18, 2017
  • I use them in other projects, hot pads, or just make little hanging blocks. Sometimes I take apart and use in scrappy paper pc. blocks.

    —Charlotte on July 18, 2017
  • Cool ideas. Fresh colours.

    —Susan Earl on July 19, 2017
  • c) I repurpose them

    —Gwendolyn Clark on July 19, 2017
  • In the past our quilt guild has collected them in groups to be bid on at our December Holiday Party auction. We use "guild dollars" we have earned/accumulated over the year by our participation in the guild charity events as well as other fun events. Many ‘orphan’ blocks show up on the backs of other quilts, are repurposed into new charity quilts, or show up in items for our bi-annual quilt show quild table, ‘Star Wares’.

    —Patricia Hambrick on July 19, 2017
  • All three things happen to orphan blocks. Most often they end up in mug rugs or small( mini) quilts

    —Virginia Smith on July 21, 2017
  • If I have an extra block it might be sewn into the back of that quilt but like Gwendolyn above, most of my orphan blocks go to making charity quilts.

    —Sue on July 21, 2017
  • If the colors are correct I make tiny quilts for NICunit at the hospital. The staff is thrilled to have them and the parents are delighted to see something non-institutional.

    —Kay on July 21, 2017
  • Hand raised 🙋🏼 And I have all her books☺️
    Love her style of quilts and fabrics, too.
    I’d have to say a, b, AND c.
    Pincushions are a fun idea!

    —Karen on July 21, 2017

    —Karen Morton on July 21, 2017
  • Many are recut and used in scrappy quilts.

    —Lillian Klaeger on July 21, 2017
  • C I try to use them in the next quilt.

    —Linda Christianson on July 21, 2017
  • I have started using left-over blocks as labels on the back of my quilts. I write on them using permanent markers. Otherwise, I incorporate them into the backing for the quilt by piecing large pieces of fabric together.

    —Debbie Hewitt on July 21, 2017
  • I would have to say all of the above. Even though that was not one of the choices.

    —Donna W on July 21, 2017
  • I try to use a leftover block as a label and put it on the back.

    Joyce J on July 21, 2017
  • Left over blocks have been known to show up in any of those places. Right now, too many of them are languishing with the scraps. I think I should try pin cushions.

    —Pearl on July 21, 2017
  • A. For right now until I get enough for a quilt.

    —Vicki Allen on July 21, 2017
  • They serve as reminders that not every block is doable with my current skill set . Beyond that, some have made it into other quilts or hot mats. Some would make rather large pincushions!

    —Linda Towers on July 22, 2017
  • They are sitting in a drawer, waiting for "inspiration"!!

    —barb on July 22, 2017
  • I repurpose them. I make mug rugs, coasters, coin purses, whatever.

    —Rebeca Wells on July 24, 2017
  • orphan blocks become part of my stash waiting for the right project. Some wait longer then others. If nothing else when I have accumulated enough I make a charity quilt or two. I am a mood quilter, so many projects going at once. Sometimes an orphan block inspires a new quilt.

    —caroline Rohrer on July 10, 2018

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