LS: Art of Quilting Column October 05, 2008

Quilter heaps praise on scraps

Most quilters have an abundance of fabric scraps, our leftover pieces from previous projects. I know I do.

No matter how small, I stuff them in drawers, bags and boxes, always with the idea that someday I’ll find a place for them in a new quilt.

Sometimes, these extra pieces of material do become part of the next item I decide to make, and that pleases me.

For the most part, though, my pile of scraps grows deeper as my quilts multiply and I buy new fabric.

I’ve never made an entire quilt from scraps, but some quilters build their reputations on such designs. The results I’ve seen, mostly in magazines, can be most effective and even beautiful.

Successful designs seem to depend heavily on color values and contrast.

Originally, scrap quilts were made during hard economic times from fabric patches the quilt maker could not afford to waste. Now, they’ve developed into an art form in their own right.

I’ll learn more about scrap quilts this week when author and teacher Sally Schneider of Albuquerque, N.M., presents a program Wednesday evening called “Confessions of a Scrap Maniac” in Grand Junction.

Schneider, a specialist in scrap quilts and built-in borders, has written nine books on her techniques.

She’ll bring a trunk show of her quilts and talk about how she prepares her scraps for use and chooses her designs.

She’ll lecture on borders at an earlier meeting that day.

According to her Web site,, she has been making quilts since 1971 and teaching her craft since 1980.

While in Grand Junction, she will teach a class Saturday on “Pinwheel Stars.” I understand the class is full at this time, but there is a waiting list.

I asked Schneider about her methods in advance of her trip to Colorado.

What size scraps does she use, I wondered.

“Pretty small,” was her answer. The tiniest scrap is about 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 inches.

Because she cuts fat quarters (or leftover pieces from other quilts) into strips, Schneider says she has a large stash of all sizes of strips — from 1 1/2 inches to as wide as 5 inches.

“I keep them separated by size, not color or type of fabric,” she says.

When she’s ready to make a quilt that requires strips, Schneider goes to a wire storage basket with the proper width strips in it. Her precutting simplifies the process.

A new book tentatively titled “Scaptastic Quilts” is in the works, she says. The expected publication date is October 2009 by That Patchwork Place.

“It’s a compilation of the best quilts from ‘Scrap Happy,’ ‘ScrapMania’ and ‘Scrap Frenzy,’ ” three of her previous titles from that publisher.

“It’s kind of a ‘Sally’s Greatest Hits!’ ” Schneider says.

Besides her scrap designs, she also has a line of built-in border patterns that make various size
quilts. Some also include wall hanging and table runner options. These show her method for making complex pieced borders from quilt blocks, rather than from long fabric pieces that sometimes don’t fit properly. She has written a book about her borders as well.

A class with Mary Ellen Hopkins in the mid-1980s was the inspiration for Schneider’s built-in borders. Nine-patch blocks in a diagonal setting had colors that formed a border when they were put together, she recalls.

“I made that quilt (pattern) several times, then asked my favorite question: What if?”

“I kept experimenting with different pieces in those blocks that went around the outside of the quilt and have come up with many fun borders that are all easy to make,” she says. 

So, if you’d like to know what to do with that depressingly large pile of scraps you’ve been saving or how to frame your blocks with more dynamic borders, Schneider’s lectures are sure to make you “scrap happy.”

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