Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Condition of Quilting Tailings

*Tailings are the debris left over from mining for silver and gold, much like the scraps we acquire from making quilts.

I did a short demonstration at my quilt guild a couple of years ago on how to piece the Bow Tie Block. I don’t know why this simple Bow Tie Block captured my interest. Was it the possible color combinations, or the ease of piecing? Maybe it is the awakening of a love of scrap quilting. It’s like my love of popcorn. I can’t stop. I want to make Bow Tie Blocks in every color combination from my scraps. I’m not much of a traditional quilter so my scraps are very heavy with batiks and fabrics that read as solid. I have very little in the way of prints and multi colored fabrics. If I want the combination of blocks to sing, I would need more scraps.

My little boxes of tailings. At the end of a project, I sweep the remains of my cutting into little boxes. The idea is to use these boxes for quick creative jump starters. Everything in the box is already color coordinated.
My little boxes of tailings. At the end of a project, I sweep the remains of my cutting into little boxes. The idea is to use these boxes for quick creative jump starters. Everything in the box is already color coordinated.
Only one block was singing, but not the music I was hoping to hear.
Only one block was singing, but not the music I was hoping to hear.

I knew better than put the word out to all of my quilting friends that I needed scraps. If I did I would have more piles than I could fit into my car let alone my house. So I listened for opportunities to acquire the little gems I was looking for. My sister-in-law was the first to donate to my cause. She had a big plastic bag she wanted to give to our Community Service Committee. All of those little pieces would have been tossed aside because it would have taken too long to cut into usable units. Our Community Service Committee needed yardage to work from to create the kits they passed out to our members. Her bag of treasures was like a gold mine to me. It was filled with a variety of prints in lots of colors and many design styles. And most of it was already in even little stacks that allowed me to cut multiple squares at one time. Most of my scraps were single strips of end cuts, jumbled into a wad and shoved into small boxes.

This will take me years to sort and cut my little squares.
The hand-me-downs. This will take me years to sort and cut my little squares.
The varied designs add more texture.
The varied designs add more texture.

The next bag of scrap jewels came from a new quilter. We were sharing our latest quilting projects when I told her I was working on a scrap project. She had only been quilting for a couple of years and she offered her growing collection to me. Her scraps were grouped into color groups and again mostly even little stacks. Before I could sort through this pile of reserves, she gave me a bucket of scraps from her sister. This recycled kitty litter container of scraps resembled the appearance of my left overs, a twisted pile of tailings that begged to be shifted through.

The Bucket. Lots of conversational prints.
The Bucket. Lots of conversational prints.
from the bucket. Conversation prints are bringing life to the pile of blocks.
from the bucket. Conversation prints are bringing life to the pile of blocks.

As I sorted and cut my 2 ½” and 1 ½” squares for my Bow Tie Blocks I noticed something about the size of everyone’s scraps. I found strips as narrow as 1 ½” and quite a few 2 ½” strips. There were a few stacks of right triangles. These were what I would expect to find in a scrap stash from a traditional quilter. What I wasn’t expecting was the large pieces of fabric. These pieces were the size of a fat quarter and larger. What made these quilters decide these pieces of fabric were now scrap? Were they just finished with the project and had overestimated the amount of fabric they would need? When I look at my fabric stash, I see individual crayons. As long as I can still hold the little stub of color and make a mark, I keep it in my stash. It has to get fairly tiny before I can relinquish it to the scrap pile or even the trash. My scrap pile would keep a miniature quilter happy for several life times. I am not a miniature quilt maker so maybe it’s time to pass my scraps on to the next person.

My little boxes of tailings.
My little boxes of tailings.
Pink & Orange. Fresh off the ironing board, ready for basting and quilting.
Pink & Orange. Fresh off the ironing board, ready for basting and quilting.
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