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Fiber of My Being: Cutting It Up

A pleasure for me is straightening up my sewing room. My buried treasures.

I revel in unearthing projects and leafing through my notes, visiting fabric and admiring blocks I haven’t touched in recent memory. I could happily spend weeks excavating in there. Within plain sight is my stash: starched, shelved and tempting.

Mitered Log Cabin Quilt Blocks

Self-Mitered Log Cabin

One straightening activity is cutting scraps deliberately into strips for ongoing Self-Mitered Log Cabin blocks. Smaller scraps become 2½” squares (though not triangles) for Nine-Patch Variations.

“Deliberately” means manicuring rather than arbitrarily carving out strips and squares, isolating any motifs or areas of color that intrigue me.

Strips of quilting fabric

I have a modest scrap stash because of how I cut yardage and pre-cuts. Whether I make hexagons, squares-on-point, or in my Craftsy classes arrowheads, churn dashes, lazy Xs, pineapples and stars, for every two blocks, two entire squares of fabric are required. There’s nothing leftover. Fifty blocks require fifty squares of fabric. Again, no juicy leftovers.

Yardage that can’t yield a usable square is deemed a scrap. I’ll even cut into yardage for a fresh scrap to spice things up. Otherwise, my scrappy quilts would be déjà vu. They’d resemble quilts I’d previously made.

Which cut do yo  like from this olive plaid fabric?

Possible plaid cut outs

Possible plaid cut outs

Cross-grain, lengthwise or on its bias? I prefer the bias strip at the right. If I was concerned about bias stretching, I’d first apply fusible interfacing (not fusible web) to it. I adore diagonal plaids, stripes, blocks, and quilts of diagonals.

Can you spot a fabric above that’s included twice?

Self-Mitered Log Cabin detail

It’s the white ground with blue numerals. The jazzy upper left strip is deliberately on the bias. Its imagery is ambiguous yet I can recognize the numeral 4 on it. The lower right strip was cut on grain. It’s ordinary and predictable compared to the other.

The benefit is two seemingly different fabrics included for the price of one.

A related trick is to use both the front and the back of the same fabric in a quilt. The secret of the scrappy blocks below is twofold. Every patch was cut with deliberation and happenstance was actually premeditated.

Nine-Patch Variation quilt blocks

At least seven patches in the block below were intentionally cut off grain.

Nine-Patch Variation featuring Olivia with olive plaid fabric

Olivia the pig went off grain for the sake of fitting upright in the space.

The brown fabric at the bottom was special to me even before I had a conversation about it with its designers, Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy, at the Great American Quilt Festival. Odds are (I don’t recall) I cut the patch to favor the brown background so the square would read as mostly brown.

I know I rotated it into position to link its red trail to the red squares on either side. The olive green seaweed linked to the triangle above it. I take advantage of fabric to suit my blocks. 

A Nine-Patch Variation block calls for squares and triangle patches. This is my design trick:

I cut scraps into 2½” squares but I don’t cut triangles. Only when I mock up a block do I cut triangles and then I cut them from the squares

I have two reasons:

  1. I store the patches in only two piles: light and dark, the selection at my whim. If I had cut triangles, I’d have four piles instead of two. I want to save on storage space.

  2. When cutting up scraps, I can’t predict if I’ll want a triangle or square of that fabric in the future.  If I delay cutting until the mock up stage, I have the option to trim a square into a triangle in one stroke.

This is my new favorite block. Until I find it in the world of existing quilt blocks I’m referring to it as Anita’s Fancy. 

Anita's Fancy blocks

By now you know exactly what I did with the dark fabric and why I did it, don’t you? If you don’t already cut patches on the bias, are you inclined to try it now?

My girlfriend took me to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, where I came upon this mannequin below.

Downton Abbey Housemaid Day Working Dress

I whispered to her that I own that exact woven blue fabric. I know where it was made, from whom I bought it, and where it lives starched and shelved in my sewing room. No surprise, it’s a diagonal print…

Lazy X Quilt Block

I came home, cut a square of it, and made the LazyX without using a pin. The Lazy X technique is one of my simplest original methods. It’s one of several I teach online in this Craftsy class.

12 Comments

Sharla Anderson

You have inspired me from your very first craftsy class…and of course your books. Thank you. I loved this article, you have an amazing eye for color!

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Lynda

Anita, this is the most original and fun article I have read on Craftsy. You have enticed me to try something new. Thank you!

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Joan Zamojcin

Really enjoyed your article – I am a fairly new quilter (about 4 years). One of my favorite things to do, as you describe, is “straightening up” my sewing room. I love scraps, and always find time to cut them into squares and strips (not triangles) like you do. I do strip blocks here and there also as part of my organizing fabric. Just read an article about “crumb quilts” and will probably start stashing small pieces in a basket to try this technique as well. I have not made a lot of large quilts, but love smaller projects that I can finish and give away.

Reply
dot

Anita always inspires me. Her creativity and energy are infectious!!

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Lr

What a great idea for scrap saving!

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Judy

Always inspired by Anita! Thanks for your ideas.

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Lela McKee Friel

Thank You Anita for another interesting article.
I am a big fan of yours! I love your style and have a book of yours ( love to see more ) and really enjoy your classes on Craftsy. You really speak to my style of choosing fabrics, and you have amazing tricks up your sleeve on how to cut your block designs! I look forward to seeing you in another class some day.

Warm regards,
Lela

Reply
Anita Grossman Solomon

Dear Lela,
I have a few things up my sleeve and hope I can share them one day. Thank you for your encouragement. 🙂
Anita

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TJ

I cut out a plaid fabric on the grain as part of a 9 patch block. When I laid it out it looked so predictable and boring…then I remembered your info on cutting plaids on the bias. I re-cut them, and the result was much more fun, unexpected and interesting. Thank you for saving me from the mundane!

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Anita Grossman Solomon

Who’d a thunk that going off grain would be so effective? I’m glad you got to see it for yourself.

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Melissa Milos

I have taken both your crafty classes beginning to end and still have no idea how you made Anita’s Fancy. squares in the trash bin. Help.

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Anita Grossman Solomon

Oh Melissa, I regret that I’m unable to help you. My “Anita’s Fancy” block isn’t in any of my books or Craftsy classes. It’s just a block that I have been toying with for myself. I showed the image in this blog post, “Cutting Up Fabric”, as an example of why I find directional fabric cut on the bias to be interesting.

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