Saving Orphan Blocks from the Landfill - Scrap Management Series

Today's scrap management post comes from Carole Lyles Shaw. Carole is a modern quilter, quilt pattern designer, lecturer and teacher from the Baltimore area. She started to teach herself to quilt when she decided to make quilts for her nieces and nephews, and has been published in many books and magazines. Today she shares how she saves orphan blocks from ending up in a landfill, and how she gives them a new life and purpose.

You can follow Carole's quilty journey on Instagram (@carole_lylesshaw) and on Facebook (@carolelylesshawquilts). She was also recently on the Quilt Buzz podcast, where she talks about sustainability in quilting and her own path to a more sustainable quilting practice.
If you'd like to hear more from Carole, click the button below to sign up for her email updates.

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Orphan quilt blocks

What are orphan blocks?

We all have a few leftover blocks languishing in our studio. These blocks get created for a bunch of reasons:

  • Test blocks for a new pattern we were making
  • Blocks for trying out a new piecing technique
  • A few blocks we made for a quilt that we never finished—and don't WANT to finish
  • A color palette that didn't work out

Sometimes these blocks have errors or mistakes and can't be used in the quilt that we finished. 

Well, ALL of these blocks can find a home. Here is how I made use of some very unsuccessful curved blocks. 

Cut up and repurpose

You can take any set of blocks and just cut them up! That may surprise some of you—but believe me it is the best way to 'disguise' blocks with mistakes or that you just plain don't like. 

Here's an example of what I mean.

I took a workshop to learn how to create blocks with improvisational curves using a technique that I was trying for the first time.  I pulled a lovely group of prints and solids to use to make my project. 

Well, despite my instructor's help, my blocks were kind of weird looking.  I just couldn't get the hang of the technique (although other students were very successful.) 

When I got home, I decided that I really didn't like the results, so I stuck the blocks and the group of companion fabrics for that project in a bin.

Many months later, I pulled out the blocks and fabrics. I was clearing up my unfinished projects and decided that these fabrics were very pretty and deserved to be put in to a quilt.

scrap management blog series, a pile of fabric scraps on a table

Here are the original unfinished curved blocks.

scrap management blog series, unfinished orphan quilt blocks

To start,  I sorted the original curved blocks which were different lengths and widths.  Then, I pieced them together improvisationally.  I trimmed the newly pieced curved blocks to 8-1/2"  square.  Here's a shot of the squares in progress on my design wall.

Scrap Management blog series, scrappy quilt blocks on a wall

I decided to make the quilt layout super simple—just 8-1/2" squares in a grid.  I made more blocks from the remaining prints and solids.  Here's a shot of the quilt layout in progress.

Scrap Management blog series, scrappy quilt top in the making

Finally, I finished the top and added a simple border.  I also pieced the back from other fabrics in my stash.

Those strange looking original curved blocks ended up being very attractive in the final quilt.  I was very pleased with the final result. I saved the blocks from being dumped in the landfill and I used almost 7 yards of other fabrics that were sitting in my stash.   This quilt was donated to my guild for our children's charity donations.

finishes scrappy quilt top by Carole Lyles Shaw

Thank you, Carole!

I hope you enjoyed this foray into quilt block recycling and have been inspired to try something similar with your own orphan blocks. If you'd like to hear more from Carole, click the button below to sign up for her email updates.

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