(Giveaway is now closed.)
If you want any pointers about cutting fabric squares, just ask me. I could be a professional square cutter. I am positive that I have cut at least 150,000 squares so far, and suspect it may be many, many more. I have cutting and storing down to an efficient system!
My sons think that I am obsessed with squares. Probably true. It started years ago, when I first started cutting two-inch squares and saving them in shoe boxes. Every cotton fabric that I have sewn with in the last 35 years is represented in those shoe boxes. I have no die cutter, but I should own stock in rotary cutting blade and mat companies.
When I took stock of my non-cut stash a few years ago, I realized that it was out of control. So I cut ten-inch squares and taught “quick quilt” classes for teens. That was the start of the Classic Squares Quilts. Of course I started a bin of ten-inch squares then. When charm packs came on the market, I thought, hmmm, five-inch squares. Soon bins were being filled with those as well.
I do like to piece with triangles and other shapes as well, but my seemingly endless supply of squares does get prime time quite often. I may have to declare a “square-free month” soon, to remind myself that I do enjoy piecing other shapes.
Despite all that, I spent a good part of last weekend cutting fabric squares. I thought about the questions I get here, from people thinking about creating postage stamp quilts. I decided to share some of what I have learned about gathering, sorting, planning, and otherwise obsessing over little fabric squares. (Actually you have plenty of thinking time while cutting squares, but be careful. Too many wandering thoughts occasionally make for a ten-by-nine-inch “square.”)
Two years ago I decided that it was high time to sew something with all those two-inch treasures, and knew that I wanted to do a quilt with as few fabric repeats as possible. That is when I realized that my obsessive cutting and haphazard storage method had created a nightmare. Before I could create my first “Big Hug,” I had some shuffling to do. Trust me, if you want to create more than one postage stamp quilt, some planning before you start saving squares can be a very good idea.
If you are planning to make only one postage stamp quilt, and want no repeats, of course you simply save one little square of each fabric. There are a couple of exceptions. You may elect to cut several from a small-scale novelty with many different featured items. Squares cut from different parts of a very large-scale print may appear to come from unique fabrics.
Likewise, if you are making one quilt, but are okay with repeats, cut the number you are shooting for, then store them in sets with one of each fabric. This way you will have sets with no repeats to work through, and avoid getting all four little frog squares in one corner of your quilt.
But I learned the hard way that, if you want to make several of these quilts, some planning as you cut and store makes your life a lot easier later. I started cutting 24 of each fabric, tidily stored in bunches. Each shoe box had up to 150 of these bunches. When I was ready to start sewing, I had to go pull one piece out of each little bunch, which was very tedious, and linty.
To resolve this, I had to rearrange all my squares. I made piles with one of each item from a given shoe box in it, and popped little bits of paper between each set. That way each shoe box had 24 sets of unique fabric squares in it. I labeled each box, set A, set B, etc. When I was ready to pull for a quilt, I just needed one or two sets from each box, depending on the size of the quilt.
After I had ten boxes like this (told you I was hooked) I realized even that was annoying, having to drag out all the boxes over and over. So I pulled sets from each box and put them in one gallon plastic zip bags. I still labeled these 1, 2, 3, etc., and left some room. Then, as I cut new squares, I added to each bag. I got in the habit of stacking fabrics and cutting in sets as I went, so I had very little sorting to do. I kept a couple of shoe boxes for extras, as sometimes I had tons of a given square.
I have made four quilts from these bags, and still have twenty bags nearly full, with about 4,000 two-inch squares in each. Some of the bags are labeled for the person they will eventually belong to. That allows me to customize a bit as I go. For instance, one future owner of a “Big Hug” is a cat fanatic. When I fussy-cut cats from a scattered cat print, that bag gets one of each cat. But another person, who is not so fond of cats, has only a couple of cats in their set.
Yes, I have started to do this with the five- and ten-inch squares as well. And no, I do not plan to make twenty more two-inch treasure quilts, so I have been parting with some of the squares. The bags make it easy to ensure that the person getting the squares has a great variety.
Some Other Random Thoughts About Cutting Squares:
- From the average fat quarter you can cut two ten-inch squares, four five-inch squares, ten two-inch squares and still have some nice bits left to go in the fabric-string bin.
- Fussy-cutting specialty fabrics is well worth the effort, unless you are cutting squares smaller than two inches. At that point each square tends to become a color point, not a feature, and it is difficult to find novelty prints that cater to that tiny scale.
- Fussy-cutting a couple dozen squares can be fun, but I find doing a hundred in one sitting to be rather stressful. Spread your fussy-cutting time out!
- Those leftovers from fussy-cutting can be diced up into small squares as well, as postage stamp quilts can use a real variety of fabrics.
- Keep a lint roller handy! Unless you are a magically meticulous cutter, who never strays from cutting on true grain every time, you will have lots of little threads floating about.
- If you are acquiring new fabrics for cutting squares, it pays to go way outside your normal comfort level. It is the wild variety that makes scrappy postage stamp quilts really fun.
- Do not hesitate to cannibalize used clothing items that have meaning to you. In the bags of squares assigned to my family members, I have snippets from a dashiki that one son wore to prom, and some bits from skateboard shorts my other son tie-dyed and sewed when he was eleven.
- Perfection is a lovely idea, but when you cut squares over range of time, you will have tiny variations in your accuracy. No biggie, in most cases you can just use them the way they are.
- At some point, start sewing! Even if you are planning to cut many more pieces, having a couple of blocks done can be very inspiring.
Did someone mention a giveaway? (Giveaway is now closed.)
Well, yes! I love to share these fun squares! Let’s make it a Winner’s Choice: The winner can pick from a set of 80 five-inch squares, or choose a set of 500 two-inch squares. Either set will have no duplicates, include a wide variety of fabrics, and have many novelties. All fabric squares are cut from new cotton fabrics which were washed before cutting. I will email the winner to find out which set they choose.
Four Ways to Enter:
- Leave a comment here for one chance. You can share how you would use these squares, or talk about your personal obsession with fabric.
- Leave a comment on my Facebook pages for a second chance.
- Tweet about it, including @CuriousQuilter so I know that you tweeted.
- If you blog, share the giveaway info and comment here to let me know.
The deadline for entries is 11:59 PM CDT, Saturday, April 16, 2011. Winner will be selected randomly from all entries and announced on Sunday, April 17th. As always, International entries are welcome.
Another day I will share my thoughts about actually assembling a postage stamp quilt, or other simple quilts from squares. Indeed, I will document my next one in great detail. But now I must go cut flannel squares for a quick home-warming gift, which I need in three days.
My other posts and pages about classic squares or postage stamp quilts:
- Thoughts from a Fabriholic, No Obsessions Here!
- Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part One: Topper
- Classic Squares Quilt Tutorial, Part Two: Finishing
- Another Big Hug: Finishing Feels Great
- Postage Stamp Quilts: Playing With Color
- Also check out the Gallery.
©2011, The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com.