Saving Quilt Fabric by Piecing Pieces



This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here.

The link below takes you to the Balloon Notquilt project.

This post, we’ll talk about saving quilt fabric like our ancestors, and how we applied a lesson learned from the design process.

So far, I sewed down the inner and outer frames of balloons on a light sky-blue fabric. I then sewed down the four corners using the darker blue sky with balloons and kites. I covered up a missing corner with a square of teddy-bear fabric (which wasn’t done when the photo was taken), and sewed on percale strips to match the planned binding.

saving quilt fabric notquiltYou can see the dark blue percale in the photo above. I laid the NotQuilt on the floor, to see how it looked, and the percale stood out too dramatically against the sea of white. But I wanted the binding to have matching elements in the quilt face, so instead of removing it, I added eight more strips of dark blue percale, echoing the corner, and framing the darker blue with kites and balloons. It gives me almost a chevron-like pair of dark blue lines at each of the four corners, an inner one and an outer one.

This is the lesson learned from my design process: If you do something that appears to be a mistake, double down on it. You might be pleasantly surprised at the result.

As you can see in the above photo, I sewed a few pieces down into the center medallion using the fabric I most wanted to showcase.

saving quilt fabric notquilt center medallion

The center medallion

Quilting books never talk about this, but on a utility quilt it’s possible to piece fabric to make a larger square. I love the violently colored bits of polished cotton paisley. Sadly, I did not have very much of it and what I did have were very irregular in shape.

So I cleaned up the edges, sewed the bits together to make larger bits, and then sewed those bits down. From a distance, the irregularity of the original paisley helps conceal the joins. Close up, it shows.

I saw this method at the 2016 Quilt Odyssey Show in Hershey. I was looking at the antique quilts and there it was. It was a beautiful piece made almost entirely from triangles. When the woman didn’t have enough fabric to make a triangle, she took two smaller pieces of the same fabric, seamed them together, and cut out her triangle. With all the other triangles in the busy pattern, the join on that one disappeared.

Once I knew what to look for, I could see this repeated in the other quilts. Quilters today are comparatively wealthier than their spiritual ancestors from the 19th century. They did not have huge stashes of fabric and did not buy anything they did not have to. They made do and so do I. Quilting instructions don’t address sewing two or three or four smaller bits of the same fabric together to cut out a shape. Yet people do it all the time.

So how do you do it? It depends on the fabric. If the pieces have clean, straight edges that are the same length, sew the right sides together with a 3/8-inch seam, press it flat, and press the seam margin either to the side or open, your choice. Then cut out the polygon.

If the fabric lengths don’t match up, then you get to either trim them (losing precious fabric) or sew the shorter bits together to make a larger bit. Then you sew the pieced section to the larger bit of fabric. Press your seams so that they don’t pile up in one place, and try to keep them open to reduce bulk at the joins. When the piece is big enough, cut out your polygon, leaving behind many tiny shards of fabric.

Using this method, you probably won’t keep your grain lines true unless you are very methodical or you don’t mind wasting fabric. I don’t worry about it, as those tiny bits will be sewn down into submission.

If you’re concerned that the extra seams will weaken the patch, press the seams to one side and add an additional layer of stitching alongside the seam-line to reinforce the layers. This seam line will show but that is better than having the joint come apart.

Where I couldn’t get edges to line up, I used overlap seams. I decided, based on the fabric motif and the shape of the edges, which was going to be the top piece. Then I pressed under the raw edge 3/8 of an inch. I laid that piece over top of the corresponding scrap, pinned, and sewed the pieces together from the top. Keep your stitch line as close to the folded-over edge as you can. Then follow it up with another stitch line just inside, to reinforce the layers. You will have a double line of stitching showing but this is a utility quilt, one you use every day and you don’t want it to fall apart in the wash.

saving quilt fabric

My fabric stash gave me a lot of small pieces that I had to stitch together.

I did this a lot on this NotQuilt. I pieced the bluish feather rectangles, the pale blue butterfly patches, the darker blue butterflies, both patches and rectangles, the blue sort of lily pads, and the rainbows as well as the aforementioned paisleys.

My design, because of the inner and outer frames and my limited fabric palette, requires plenty of similarly sized rectangles. My fabric stash, alas, is resisting strenuously. Therefore, I am forcing the fabric to comply by making little bits of cloth into bigger bits of cloth.