The Joy of Scrappy Quilts

I love scrappy quilts.

Summer Breeze detail.

My readers probably recognized my love of scraps ages ago. Not that I do not also like color-coordinated quilts. But scrappy quilts call to me.

Scrappy fits my life, is part of who I am. My family is a patchwork of interests, origins, and attitudes. My friends are an extremely diverse lot in every sense of the word. I would prefer the stray cat, or a dog of undetermined background, to a purebred any day. My furnishing and gardens are pieced together from a little bit of everything, often saved or rescued. When I hear someone say that they hope to redo their bedroom to look like a room in a five-star hotel, I am puzzled. I am most comfortable in a space that fits with who I am at heart, and want my surroundings to reflect where I came from, places I have wandered, moments that have meaning, and the people who are important to me.

My garden walkway

My garden paths are a patchwork of pavers, other people

I hold nothing against all the quilters out there who prefer to work in carefully planned colorways. I admire many of these quilts. I have been known to plan to create such marvels myself. Once I start, my joy of whimsy and random surprises usually sneaks back in. Walking through fabric stores or browsing online, I tend to slip right by the packaged sets of coordinated fabrics, and go for a bit of this, a bit of that.

This may be what draws me to vintage quilts lovingly made for daily use. Sure, the Baltimore Album quilts are stunning, and brilliant displays of the talent of the quilter. But I prefer the practical application of quilting. The cherished old bed quilts made from leftovers, feed sacks, and used clothing speak of family and home. The quilter created this quilt for warmth, and used her creativity to make something wonderful, often out of what was at hand.

That creativity can be truly set free, or sorely tested, when making scrappy quilts. The very lack of coordination in the scraps makes you look at the fabric very differently. In the simplest scrappy quilts, the fabrics are allowed to fall where they might, without planning. Postage stamp quilts are prime examples of this. The color, pattern, and value of each individual fabric becomes unimportant. The new cloth created by piecing this wild assortment together becomes a marvelous fabric on its own. Contrast that with the wonderful spirit of the Gee’s Bend Quilts, made from fabrics at hand. They can be large-scale and feature almost architectural graphics, with marvelous results.

Gee's Bend Quilting Bee, wikimedia common license

Gee's Bend Quilters

Making a scrappy quilt using formal blocks, or striving to create a pattern with the colors, can be more challenging. Value, and the intensity of color, become very important. Color flow and balance become more of an issue as well. When you are creating a patchwork from scraps, you may find yourself sorting and resorting often, just to get the contrast and flow you need to make the design show through.

Summer Breeze Quilt

Summer Breeze quilt is scrappy goodness, bound together with one fabulous focus fabric.

I had that challenge when I made the Summer Breeze quilt. It was for my sister, who does not sew. She had some old clothing scraps, and went to the fabric store and picked up several fat quarters that she liked. I knew that her vision was for something more planned than scrappy, but the fabrics were not headed in that direction. And they were all firmly in the light value. I tore into my scraps looking for medium and dark fabrics that had the same spirit as her choices. But it needed an anchor. Centering each section with pieces of one fabulous fabric, in this case a very large-scale floral, really brought it together. She loves the quilt, and her grandchildren spent most of a Sunday afternoon counting triangles that have bugs or birds, are purple, have daisies, and so on.

My Great-Aunt Ebba made many scrappy 'utility' quilts, as did other quilters in the 1920's and 1930's.

Today there are several excellent quilt designers and teachers who create patterns just for scrappy quilts. Books on scrappy quilts abound. Every quilt magazine features some of these patterns at some point in the year. There are social networks and websites dedicated to scrappy quilts and quilters who love them. I think that all these resources are terrific, as every experienced quilter has a bundle of scraps just itching to be made into a happy, scrappy quilt for someone they love. New quilters may find that fat quarters and remnant table gems can give them an eclectic starting point.

If you have yet to make any scrappy quilts, I hope you try soon. I am guessing they will become cherished pieces in your quilt collection.

©2011, The Curious Quilter,,


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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2 Responses to The Joy of Scrappy Quilts

  1. Martin says:

    I agree, scrappy quilts are fun, and rather satisfying to make. Personally I cringe at the fabric sets. Recently I was at a large unnamed quilt show, and most of the quilts for sale were made from those sets. I felt like I walked into a certain bake shop! They were nicely quilted and executed, but the challenge of choosing and combining the perfect fabrics was, well, done for them by some unknown manufacturer. Sometimes several booths had chosen the same sets of fabric, and they looked alike despite the different patterns.

    If you are a quilter who loves only the sets, pardon me for voicing my opinion. Hopefully, you like doing many things, and have plenty of scraps to show for it!

  2. Cindy says:

    When I first started quilting, I would choose a couple of fabrics that would ‘go’ together. Now that I’ve been quilting many years, I have a huge stash and really enjoy the scrappy type quilts. Those large pieces that I bought years ago are now ending up as the backing.

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