How I Became a Scrappy Quilter


It happened quite by accident. Wasn’t planned at all. I mean, no one actually sets out to be a scrappy quilter, do they? Isn’t that how it all began? People used what they had to keep their families warm. I wish that were my excuse. My quilt career started as perfectly planned yardage for every quilt I made. Not anymore!

My first few years as a quilter, I bought other people’s patterns and books, and purchased the exact yardage required for each project. I studied the directions before planning and cutting anything. I bought fabric families in order to create a cohesive design. The leftover fabric from these projects started to accumulate, not to mention the fabric I bought just because l liked it and not because I had anything in particular in mind. Then, I got bored with the ease of purchasing fabric bundles. I started to fall in love with the quilts I would see at shows which had more fabric choices than I could count. But how did they pull it off? I didn’t even know where to start. Beyond three colors (never mind fabrics) in a quilt, I’d get confused.

Yummy scraps from a discarded project.

Enter Linda Fiedler, a now retired quilt instructor from Virginia who used to frequent the Mid Atlantic Quiltfest put on by the Mancuso brothers each February. She had a half day color theory for quilters class, and I signed up. It’s been over 15 years ago now, but I still use some of the concepts and tools she introduced to me in this class.

  1. A reducing glass – this has been arguably the most valuable tool to me when designing quilts and colors. It looks like a magnifying glass, but works in the opposite way. Stepping back from my design wall and tossing this glass up to my eyes makes those fabrics and colors which don’t belong jump out at me. It becomes instantly apparent which fabrics need to come out, and which colors I need more of. I can’t quilt without it!
  2. A color wheel – a color wheel is a great tool to get ideas for the color palette for your quilt. The various shades of each color can help you pull of a monochromatic quilt. While the colors on opposite or adjacent sides of the wheel will help with contrast options.

I remember this class as the turning point for me in colorful quilt design with a multitude of fabrics. I walked away from this class renewed and empowered to begin my journey into scrap quilting.

Emma’s advice:

If you have the opportunity, jump at the chance to take a color theory class for quilters!

The real story is: as the years went on, and I continued to learn and grow my quilting skills, my fabric stash also grew with the more quilts I made. I also made the mistake for several years at quilt show vendors’ malls of buying fabric that “spoke to me” without having a plan for what to do with it. This proved to be a costly habit, adding up quickly and spending much more than I’d planned at quilt shows. Having fabric go unused for years and years started to become stressful to me.

Triangles left over from a project my mom did, about to be repurposed into a foundation pieced border.

Finally, I hit a turning point when I made conscious efforts to become a minimalist in several aspects of my belongings. I paired down my clothing (Goodwill anyone?) and my cookbooks (Who needs the whole book just for one recipe? I photocopied the recipe I liked, and added the cookbook to my yard sale pile.). I even deleted hundreds of repetitive photos in my computer and phone. Then for my quilt fabric stash. I made a rule for myself that I couldn’t buy any new fabric bundles to start a new quilt. I disciplined myself to begin a new quilt with fabrics I already had, and only to purchase new fabrics to complete a specific project. No more blindly buying fabric with no clear project in mind.

I have been doing this for several years now. It has worked tremendously well. One would think my fabric stash has diminished considerably. It hasn’t. I think quilt fabric and scraps are like gremlins – they multiply while we sleep! Seriously though, just because I buy fabrics only with purpose now, doesn’t mean I don’t buy fabric at all. I still have fabric left over from projects. I do feel a tremendous sense of relief whenever I use up a scrap or large quantity of fabric in a quilt. It feels like a huge weight off. But I digress…

In summary, I became a scrap quilter for two reasons:

  1. I learned how to use a variety of colors and fabrics in quilts.
  2. My desire to minimize my fabric stash. (Gasp!)

My quilting styles have changed over the last 20 years that I have been quilting. Scrap quilting has been a resourceful way to continue to use fabrics purchased over the years as my styles have changed.

What about you?

Are you a scrappy quilter? If so, how did you get there?

Suzy Williams

Visit Suzy’s page here for great scrap quilt patterns.

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