Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Reproduction of Fabric Scraps

Sooner or later, every quilter begins to suspect that fabric scraps multiply like proverbial rabbits.  We don't know how or why they do it, we only know that after a project that was supposed to use up our scraps is finished, we end up with yet another bucket of scraps.  It's like fabric scraps are impossible to eradicate.  They multiply faster than we can sew them up!  After studying this phenomenon, I think I've found two methods of fabric reproduction.

Fabric Mitosis Method
Remember high school biology class?  Cells can multiply by splitting apart into two cells, a process called mitosis.  Whenever we apply scissors or rotary cutter to fabric, we're basically causing that one piece of fabric to become two: fabric mitosis.  Let's start with a yard of fabric.  We cut it in half, and then we cut each half into half to create four Fat Quarters measuring 18" x 21".  One piece has now become four pieces of fabric.

Now let's cut FQ #1 into 5-inch charms.  We get 12 charms plus one 1" x 18" strip and four 3" x 5" scraps for a total of 17 fabric pieces.

We'll cut FQ #2 into 6.5" squares for a block swap.  We get six squares plus a 1.5" x 18" strip and three 5" x 6.5" pieces for the scrap bucket.  Total: 10 pieces of fabric.

That 4-patch baby quilt needs more 4.5" squares, so we cut FQ #3 into 16 squares and get a 3" x 18" strip leftover, making 17 pieces total.

Nearly every project needs half-square triangle units, right?  So we cut FQ #4 into 43 3" squares.  Assuming our FQ really is 18" x 21", we have no leftover scraps of fabric.  Wow!

After all that cutting, we have a grand total of 86 pieces of fabric!  Ten of those pieces got tossed in the scrap bucket.  We dig into the bucket and trim the four 3" x 5" pieces to 3" x 3" squares for the HST pile, but we still have four 2" x 3" scraps that go back in the bucket.  Project pieces 80, scrap pieces 10.

Now we cut the three 5" x 6.5" scraps into three 4.5" squares for the 4-patch project.  We toss the three half-inch slivers in the trash can (I have a 1" minimum rule), but we still have three 2.5" x 5" scraps.  Project pieces 83, scrap pieces 10.  Only one large scrap left!  We cut the 3" x 18" strip into six 3" squares - no scraps leftover.  Project pieces 89, scrap pieces 9.

Nine scraps from a yard of fabric isn't bad, but eventually we'll have to cut those two long, skinny strips into several pieces to make string blocks.  The other seven scraps will sit in the scrap bucket waiting with all the other scraps for just the right project as they get buried under future scraps.

Fabric Attraction Method
I've watched enough nature documentaries to have noticed that when a young male comes of age and is outcast from the family group, that young male doesn't stay a "lone wolf" for long.  Eventually he attracts at least one female and they reproduce.  Fabric seems to do much the same thing, especially holiday and novelty prints.  If I have only one Halloween fabric left in my stash, sooner or later I'm going to acquire at least one more in order to make a patchwork project.  And then the reproduction by mitosis begins all over again.

I can't do much about fabric mitosis - it's a natural part of the patchwork and applique process and we just have to accept it.  But, by golly, I can do something about fabric reproduction by attraction!  When I end up with large scraps of a fabric that I don't want to multiply, I use it up quick.

After finishing my little Halloween wall hanging, I had two largish scraps of backing fabric left over.  I did not want this fabric to attract more like it and I knew it would if I tossed the scraps into the large-scrap bucket.  So I cut four small rectangles and four large rectangles, cut the leftover binding in half, foraged for a small zipper and, hocus-pocus, the scraps turned into a little zippered case and a tote bag with no scraps left over!

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