The challenge a scrappy quilt poses fascinates me constantly. They are bit like a puzzle, with all the pieces fitting together to create a scrappy story that is most successful when it creates a visual story. Creating a good visual story with scraps is a great challenge for me. I start every one of these quilts from my fabric stash. I love the idea that I am constantly dipping into and using up all those fabrics. That’s why I bought them, right? But did you know that some fabrics are better to use than others? I have two tips for you!
Each new scrappy quilt I make begins with an open mind- that any fabric will work (printed or solid, depending on the quilt). I spend time choosing ones from my stash, then lay out my fabric pull to study it all together through the Ruby Ruler or the Ruby Minder. I pay close attention to what I like or don’t like about I’m seeing.
However, even with an open mind, experience has taught me that certain fabrics just work better than others. It takes a little practice to train your eye for what will work best for your quilt, but once you understand these simple guidelines, you can veer from them (or ignore them completely) when the design warrants a different perspective.
1. Small prints for small pieces
If you work with smaller sized pieces (my rule is 5″ and smaller), smaller prints will be more successful in scrappy quilts. In the apparel industry we used to call the fabrics with small motifs on them “ditzy” prints. The motifs can be one or many colors, that doesn’t matter so much. They can be a regimented repeat, or scattered, either is ok. Whatever works or doesn’t work within this type of print different with every quilt. But if the print is small in scale, the color value and effect it has in the overall quilt is much more predictable. Also, if you find you need more of a ditzy print in one quilt, once the design is laid out, you can cut more of that fabric knowing how it will look in the design. Here are some examples-
In this group of fabrics, all the prints are small in scale. Ditzy prints. They would work beautifully in a scrappy quilt made of small units. Any of these fabrics could be batch cut into squares and you could depend on the consistency from square to square-
These would work great!
In the grouping below, I’ve cut 2 squares from each print. The print scale of each fabric is much larger. Depending on where the print lands in each square, you’d get different values from square to square. Some might be light, some might be dark. To get consistency from square to square, fussy cutting would work, but waste a lot of fabric. I would use these prints sparingly in a scrappy quilt when I’m making a design based on value. It would just be too hard to get consistent value “information” from square to square in the same print. Plus, there are tons of pretty small prints on the market (and likely in your stash!) to choose from.
These? Maybe not as great!
2. Avoid strong linear designs
Strong lines are something I have learned to avoid in my scrappy quilts. (Again, keep in mind I’m referring to 5″ and smaller cut squares.) I find them very distracting. Cut them off grain the tiniest bit and there’s no hiding the skew of the stripe in the final square.
The examples below are two yarndyed stripes and one printed. These are fabrics I would avoid. They risk feeling strong, possibly even jarring, in a value-based, scrappy quilt. That’s not to say I’ve never used them, there’s always exceptions! Just not an obvious choice.
Strong linear designs
Alternatively, I would choose any of the fabrics below to use in a scrappy, value quilt. These would all work. Yes, even the strong diagonal pattern of the lines on the bottom left. Its a distinct linear pattern, but being a diagonal doesn’t create the same effect visually as straight lines. We view the diagonal more as a pattern and less as a stripe. Plus, it satisfies point 1, above. Meaning its a smaller design and would be consistent in color/value from square to square.
Not so strong
What about you? Tell me your scrappy quilt successes and no-nos. I’ve love to know.
I have been asked what I plan to do with them and there was never really a plan. Being some of my favorite things in my studio, I keep them, enjoy them, and find inspiration in them.
Playing around with the idea of creating a fabric image of my favorite photograph (the first one in my collection actually), I decided to create a new kit. Its called a doodle embroidery kit because the idea is to use the supplies that come with the kit to stitch as your heart desires.
A running stitch here, a lazy daisy stitch there… The maker gets to decide what gets doodled on. Its all about play, and sampling any kind of stitch you wish.
I’ve included every single thing you need in the kit. Its so easy! You will even have my favorite Japanese snips for thread clipping (I’m never without them), a full assortment of embroidery thread colors, a needle, a preprinted canvas panel with the black and white image of the photo from my collection, a hoop, tracing paper, double sided fusible webbing, fabrics to add to your piece, its all there.
(Ok, well, I didn’t include the iron and ironing board. The shipping costs…)
The top one was put in a thrift store frame. The one with the scalloped edges will probably be added to a quilt block of some kind. I have lots of ideas.
I am really looking forward to seeing these stitched up!
Doodle Embroidery Kit
This kit has everything you need to illustrate this lighthearted vintage photograph with your favorite embroidery stitches!
The Ruby Ruler is now just over a year old. Hard for me to believe! I had so much fun creating that product and getting it to market. There’s is a huge amount of satisfaction around thinking of “hey, what if…”, seemingly kooky idea (at first), and actually making it happen. Ruby Rulers have now shipped all over the world and I’ve now restocked 4 times!
A quilt of this type, an improvisational one, relies on color value more than you might think. In order to define the shapes and forms within the composition, you need contrast and flow from one area to the next. If the colors and values used are too many, or too similar, the result can a scattered look that has no real cohesion. Its important to evaluate this type of patchwork constantly during construction.
But don’t assume that value differences are only important in the fabrics you use. Hand stitched details, embroidery thread colors and values will all need consideration as well. For example:
Can you enhanced some areas with hand stitched details? Some sashiko patterns? You would want to choose a color and value of thread to show up a bit more for areas like these.
Hand or machine quilting details important to see? Value plays a role here too.
So, I began dreaming up a new value viewfinder tool. This one I wanted to stash in my sewing bag. What about a thread minder? One that could also keep my thread organized?
It will serve double duty in your sewing bag. First, it will keep your embroidery threads safe and tangle-free. But it will also be ready and able to help train your eye to understand how dark and light color value is working in your composition. Whether it be patchwork, embroidery, or appliqué.
I have some fun things planned for my newest tool, be sure you are on my email list to be the first to know!
When I am one of those creative stops- in between projects or not sure what to do next- creating a new collage for #myquiltcouldlivehere always gets me re-inspired.
Liberty Spikes was one of those quilts that resulted from me needing a project to sew. In the midst of other deadlines, I kept it set up and at the ready, by my machine. So I could work on it a little bit here and there. You see, during different phases of my work, I’ve learned an important lesson. Sometimes I just need to sew for the sake of sewing. Not to break it down and write it out, and figure this or that. Just sew.
This quilt was Foundation Paper Pieced. A piecing method I highly recommend as a good “set up and jump in when you can” type of sewing. Sessoms was another example of one of these projects. Pick a pattern, decide on fabrics, precut, and have it all set up close to the sewing machine. Sew a few blocks in the morning, or when there’s a few minutes. (I keep mine in a tray similar to this. It keeps it all together and I can move it when I need to.)
Now that I think of it, I never made a pattern of this one. Should I?
The Liberty of London tana lawn print used in this quilt is my all time favorite fabric these days. I actually get anxious when I don’t have at least a little in my stash. Using Rit Color Remover, I played around with removing the color on part of the yardage. This gave me several different variations of the same print to use in this quilt. (I am working on online class all about color altering/removal. If you’d like to know when its available, make sure you’re on the list.) The fabric was picked from and used randomly in each of the full blocks. This created a faded effect in some of the blocks. The color of the print changes as the spikes go around the center circle.
Someone at a lecture I gave recently winked at me and called me naughty for removing color from a Liberty of London fabric. Which made me want to do more!
When you begin making scrappy quilts using the power of their light and dark value differences, you will unlock a whole new side of your stash. Meaning, suddenly, its not about the fabric you love. Its more about the fabric that works. When you start thinking this way, you look at the fabrics on your shelves differently.
As I had accumulated more scraps, I started challenging myself to find ways to use them up. While its impossible to use every single fabric you have completely, you can begin to look at the differences in their color value as a fun design challenge. Scrappy quilting takes on a whole new meaning!
I posted previously about what I mean when I talk about relative lightness or darkness of a fabric. I hope that helped to clarify what value really is all about in quilt making. When I created the Ruby Ruler, I’d been carrying a neon red piece of acrylic around with me and looking through it at my own scrappy quilts. I knew it was something others would find interesting to use as well.
Today, I have two tricks I use all the time to get more value options my stash. Please let me know if you use them!
Use both sides of your fabric
This works well if you are working with a yarn dyed fabric. Yard dyed means that the individual yarns that create the cloth are dyed before woven. (In contrast, quilting cotton fabric is usually printed only on one side.) A good example is a man’s dress shirt. A nice quality one is usually yarn dyed. The two fabrics at the top in the photo above are a nice quality dress shirt fabric I have in my stash. As you can see, the fabric (the wrong side) on the right looks different, lighter than the swatch on the left, which is the front of the fabric. Imagine a WHOLE patchwork quilt made with only this fabric, but utilizing both sides of the cloth. How cool would that be? I’ve got some ideas!
The pink and cream fabric at the bottom of the photo is from a skirt I bought a few years ago while thrifting, also yarn dyed. I thought it was a wonderful pattern for quilting. There is sort of a flip flop of the pattern from the front to the back of the fabric, but its enough to create a value difference if used intentionally. Plus its the perfect color of pink!
Experiment with color removal
Are you a brave soul ready to try something a little unpredictable? I used a product called Rit Color Remover to play with the idea of taking color out of some Liberty of London Tana Lawns
Everybody calm down, sometimes you just gotta jump in with the nice stuff. And its really only fabric!
It was really fun, and as you can see below I got all kinds of results (the swatch with the color knocked back is in the front).
The advantages of this method is that where I had one print, I suddenly had two. Or more! Its also a better alternative than bleaching a fabric because it only works on the dye. Bleach actually attacks the fiber and can weaken the cloth.
The disadvantages? The results can be unpredictable, and you have to keep an open mind. Some of the treated fabrics I used in the Hammerhead Quilt I didn’t like so much on their own, but they worked great in combination with others. I have come across some fabrics that don’t seem to react at all to the color remover. This is most likely because of the type or color of dye used, or the type of fabric and how it holds on to the dye. Its a chance you take, but its worth it to me.
If you have fabrics in your stash that you aren’t crazy about, try the method to see what happens!
I am putting together a fun class on the whole concept of value and will be telling you more on that soon (be sure you’re on my online class mailing list).
Color value is a good thing to understand when you are designing your quilts. It can help you create and define shapes in the layout, and is an important thing to be aware of when choosing fabrics and deciding color placement. I just posted a little mini lesson on value in my Instagram Stories and thought I’d post it here too!
On its surface, determining color value differences between two fabrics is not a difficult. One is light and one is dark, right? In my lectures and workshops, I focus more on the concept of relative lightness or darkness of fabrics. This can be a bit harder to understand, especially in the context of a full quilt layout.
Relative lightness or darkness in color value
Here’s a green floral vintage fabric from my stash-
2. Paired with the Rifle Paper Fabric on the right, the vintage green floral is definitely the lighter of the two fabrics.
3. Paired with this Bari J fabric, the vintage green floral is now the darker of the two fabrics.
Its value changes based on what other fabrics are around it. This is the concept of “relative lightness or darkness”. And being mindful of these value differences can really sharpen up a quilt design.
Below, is the quilt “Value” from Wise Craft Quilts. I think it visually shows this idea perfectly. None of the fabrics in this quilt are necessarily light or dark value, but when they placed beside other fabrics in the design, they take on a role of darker or lighter. Using the value information I see can help me create the diamond pattern I want you to see.
Willy Loman, above, also from my book, using LOTS of different values.
Starflake, above, uses only 3 different value differences
The Ruby Ruler helps the eye judge subtle value differences you don’t always consciously see at first glance. Looking at your fabrics through the Ruby Ruler can pick up on some interesting and subtle differences in your stash. Two fabrics that you’ve been holding on to can suddenly look interesting when placed side by side, and maybe mixed with a few other fabrics.
Tell me, are you aware of value in the quilts you create? Is it something you want to get better at? Let me know, I’d love to hear how you use value.
The first assignments were clothing and books. The clothing category is easy. Studio clothing is a few aprons and a sweater. Books, however, is a large category! In total, it took 3-4 hours a day for 3 days to get through all the books and complete the entire category.
I am thrilled with the result!
Things I learned
Going through that amount of books is a physical process as well as mental one. To pull them all from the shelves, go through them, reshelve the ones to keep, loading the car with 3 donation trips… that is a lot of work!
When you’re that tired, “inspiration” becomes more tightly defined. I went into this realizing that now every single book I’ve acquired inspires me. In the past I could often talk myself into keeping those anyway. The process allows consideration of each book. It gets easier to make decisions as you progress. Questions like “do I want to take this into the future with me?” “Is this the person/artist/maker I want to see myself as?” “Does this benefit me?” The answers come quicker and more clearly as you move through the process.
Smaller groups of books equals more inspiration. In Marie Kondo’s book Spark Joy, she writes something to the effect of when you are left with one the books that truly spark joy, the quality of information you take in changes noticeably. I do feel I now have a clearer picture of the type of book that I find interesting, beautiful, and inspiring.
These books all have a prominent home and aren’t lost in a sea of books I didn’t read. I can grab a beautiful book without wasting time searching for it. I appreciate the books I still have, they make me happy.
This process with definitely change my book buying habits. Audio and digital feel more appealing than a physical book for some categories. But nothing will ever take the place of a beautifully photographed, inspiring book.
Here’s the result of my tidying. My next assignment is coming this week and I will continue to document!
KonMari 2 Books and Bookshelves are organized and done! - YouTube
Many of you, if not all, have seen or heard about Marie Kondo’s new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. A professional organizer with a lifelong love of tidying spaces and reducing clutter. Her books and now her show have many of us obsessed discovering what “sparks joy”. People inspired by her method of tidying have been lining up at donation centers across the country, to drop off tons of household goods, clothing, books that no longer spark joy for them.
I always aim to be tidy, but periods of extreme laziness, procrastination, and overwhelm can keep it from happening. Marie Kondo’s system of evaluating “stuff” and tidying up makes a lot of sense in our house. With one kid in college and one kid graduating from high school next year, my husband and I are ready to take charge of our physical stuff and downsize. No more kid toys to store, and everything we are looking at around us suddenly feels a little bit “heavier” if we have no real use or purpose for it.
But how to apply the KonMari Method in my studio?
Some of you may remember, this room (where I spend many hours a week) is on one side of our partially finished basement. I can tell you that as of this moment, its not an inspiring place to be. A major cleanup usually happens once a year, but it never goes deep enough. There just aren’t enough systems in place that make tidying easy. There is no closed storage except the cabinets and shelving I’ve set up (thank you IKEA). Many quilting rulers, tons of papers, and lots of things deemed “special” at one point. A lot of it matters, but not all of it. Many things don’t have a real, permanent home.
The thought of organizing it all myself is overwhelming. It makes me immediately want to go take a nap. Or stress eat.
I decided that I need some help. I’ve never used the services of a professional organizer before, but I decided to reach out to Tricia Fidler of Heywood Park Collective. Tricia, a gold certified KonMari expert, was a consultant on Marie’s Netflix series and the families on the show.
We talked on the phone and immediately hit it off. We are in different states (she’s in California, I’m in Washington), but decided that it would work remotely. Hello video calls and virtual studio tours! I’m so excited to have her guidance!
bookshelves before (on a clean day, they are usually much worse)
Maybe you are confused about using this method to tidy your creative space too? Hopefully, we’ll all gain some insight as I document this process.
KonMari 1 Bookshelves - YouTube
An older, but accurate tour of my studio (when its as clean as I can get it!) can be found on this page, scroll down to the bottom.
Follow along with the hashtag #wisecraftkonmari to see every step of the process! Wish me luck!
Have you been to Sew Expo? It takes place so close to me and I have never been! But that’s all going to change this year!
I am thrilled to be teaching two “one needle” workshops on designing modern quilts using color value. I will demonstrate how I determine color value using my Ruby Ruler, and how to create quilt “sparkle” and dynamic layouts. It will also be where I introduce a brand new Ruby product that is being designed as I’m typing this.
My class is #1954, and I will be in Room D on Friday 3/1 at 11:30am and also on Sunday 3/3 at 11:30am. Each workshop is 45 minutes long.
About a year and a half ago, I had a spec of an idea. To design a functional quilting and design tool that could be used to creatively utilize the many fabric scraps I had in my stash, accumulated over years of sewing patchwork. My thinking was, if I have this many scraps and fabric cuts that need to be used in quilts, there must be others out there with the same problem.
I took a big leap of faith- that I could design, trademark, and market a product. Take it from inception to market. And that became the Ruby Ruler.
I learned so much in the process of creating this ruler. Not the least of which was:
How to convey my design idea to the manufacturer without sounding like an idiot (translation- be careful not to overuse words like “cute)
Package a product for proper retail display (I got feedback from brick and mortar shop owners I admire, and worked to make a product that they could easily display and feature in their shop.)
Convey my own excitement of a product to those who like what I do. Whether we’re good at it or not, effective marketing is critical as an online business today. I took marketing classes and read everything I could to help me along the way. And I am STILL learning!
Its been an amazing experience to bring this product to market. Creating workshops to show students how to understand and use color value effectively in their quilts has been so much fun. Color is something that has always come pretty easily to me. I didn’t occur to me until just a few years ago that its not intuitive for everyone.
Made using the Sessoms quilt pattern by Carolyn Friedlander.
I am very excited to begin the second year of the Ruby Ruler. Also on its way? A new Ruby design product! Its in work and will be ready in a few weeks. Stay tuned!
If you or your guild would be interested in having me come and teach a workshop or give a lecture on my quilt design process and how I use the Ruby Ruler in my design work with color value, check out this page or .
In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has purchased a Ruby Ruler, told others about it, shared it in your workshops, and posted a project online showing how you have used it to design your quilt projects. Thank you. Thank you!