Getting the Most Out of the Tiniest Scraps

Coasters made from crazy quilt squares
Coasters made from crazy quilt squares

I think that every quilter, after a while, grows to love one part or one type of quilting more than others.
For me, it’s become scrap quilting.

For the uninitiated, scrap quilting is not limited to using existing scrap. You can certainly do that but it is not the only way to scrap quilt.

The term can also refer to any quilt that’s made from a large number of fabrics. There are some patterns that just lend themselves to mixing a bunch of everything in one color way or one shade from light to bright or dark.

The result is always interesting to look at because you never know what seemingly strange combination of fabrics surprises you with their contrast or blend.

Then there are crazy quilt squares.

I maintain a hierarchy of scraps according to size. I keep strips that are two or two-and-a-half inches wide in one location. Scraps that are largish in another location. And odd-sized, smaller scraps in another location.

I use the latter to flip-and-sew crazy quilt squares from time to time.

These squares pile up (I only make them one at a time because doing a lot of them would be, to me, tedious) and have used them in all sorts of small projects.

Like these coasters that I made for my son’s fiancee, Jessica.

It was her birthday on Monday, and she’s long admired a set of these coasters (the prototypes) that I made for myself.

So now she has six of her own.

I cut the backings for these two-and-a-half inches bigger than I need, quilt them in a spiral with some batting, and then bring the backing up to the front for the binding.

Once the crazy quilt squares are made, they go quick. And the coasters absorb spills or the dewy stuff that gathers on a cold drink on a hot day. You can fling them in the washer and dryer without constraint.

And no two are ever alike. Which is part of the fun of scrap quilting.

Can I See a Show of Hands?

Denise finishes a quilt top
Denise finishes a quilt top

I heard a lot of stories during our Piecing for Parkinson’s day last Saturday.

Maureen, who I wrote about on Monday, brought two friends to sew with her in honor of Maureen’s mother who died of a rare form of Parkinson’s last year. This is her friend Denise who’s holding up one of the two quilt tops she finished that day.

The next photo is of Frances who drove from Sunapee to sew in honor of her husband who also died of Parkinson’s disease last year.

Frances finishes a quilt top
Frances finishes a quilt top

But the story I want to tell you today is about a couple named Nancy and David.

I met them three years ago at the kickoff event for the Parkinson’s Comfort Project when I spoke at a conference sponsored by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

David learns to cut fabric
David learns to cut fabric

Nancy has Parkinson’s disease. Before she did, she was a quilter, a quilter who loved hand work. She brought me a small book of photographs of her quilts that day. They were beautiful.

When Nancy heard about our Piecing for Parkinson’s event, she had to be part of it. When the couple first arrived at Quail Hollow where we were sewing, she pushed her walker slowly around the room to soak in all the fabric and motion and color.

Then she sat down near met Her husband placed a large piece of floral fabric in her lap that had been donated to us earlier in the day, and she spent 20 minutes just stroking it over and over.

David was ready to pitch in. He doesn’t sew but he doesn’t know how to cut so I set him up with a mat, rotary cutter and ruler.

After a while, Nancy said she’d like to do some hand sewing. I’d been binding a donated quilt off and on all day so I asked if she would like to take it over. She did so I threaded a needle for her, and tied a knot. Then I draped the quilt over her lap, gave her the needle, and she smiled.

The relationship between those two people was a marvel to witness. David is quietly attentive, making sure Nancy has what she needs without hovering over her or making decisions for her. But you can see him silently grieving for the losses that his beloved wife has sustained.

Nancy stayed until we were nearly done cleaning up. She stitched maybe ten inches of the binding, and I could tell what a struggle it was. But she was so content.

Watching her, I was forcefully reminded that I am fortunate to have hands that work, that can pat my dog, caress my husband’s face, make quilts or soup or bread or plant a garden or write a book.

The next day, David emailed me to thank me for welcoming Nancy. I asked if we could give her a quilt. Since she was a quilter herself, she may not want one of ours.

But he told me that she gave away the quilts she made so yes, she would treasure a quilt from us.

So we’re off to make a quilt for Nancy.

And that’s why we do this.

Dear Jane

Jane reading a pattern
Jane reading a pattern
Jane sewing at Piecing for Parkinson's
Jane sewing at Piecing for Parkinson’s

PfP-Jane finished a quilt top for web
In the quilting universe, there’s a Civil War era quilt that’s renowned for its amazing beauty and complexity. It hangs once a year at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont and it was made by a woman named Jane Stickle. Among quilters, it’s referred to as the “Dear Jane” quilt.

Well, in my quilt guild (Northern Lights in Lebanon, NH), we have a couple of Dear Janes, one of them being Jane Buskey who came bearing her sewing machine and a pattern to our first Piecing with Parkinson’s day.

We had fabric to start the day and then a woman showed up with four bags more so we had PLENTY of colors and patterns to choose from. So Jane got to town on this oversized chevron quilt.

From top to bottom, you can see Jane at the beginning of the day familiarizing herself with the pattern then sewing at her machine (we were all loving that great sewing table she found online), and then sharing her finished quilt top.

Love that pattern! And loved having Jane be a part of our special day.

The Gift of a Magical Day

Maureen Nevers at the Piecing for Parkinson's event
Maureen Nevers at the Piecing for Parkinson’s event

Most of the time, most of us go through our days without stopping to be grateful.

But then—once in a while—you receive the gift of a magical day, one that you know makes life worthwhile.

I had that experience on Saturday at our first annual Piecing for Parkinson’s day.

I founded the Parkinson’s Comfort Project in honor of my Mom and Dad at the end of 2010, the year my Mom died of complications of Parkinson’s disease. The last quilt I made for her was smallish—quilters call them lap quilts—because the bed quilts I’d made for her had become too heavy for her to manage.

After Mom died, I looked around for an organization that would take  quilts I made in her memory and distribute them to folks with Parkinson’s disease.

Well, no such organization existed. So I had to start one.

The Parkinson’s Comfort Project is now growing into a full-blown nonprofit that provides comfort in all sorts of way to people with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.

One of the other members of our board, Annette Houston, is a quilter as well. We had been talking about putting together a day of quilting for Parkinson’s. But the woman pictured here, Maureen, is the one who got it jump started.

Maureen lost her Mom to a rare form of Parkinson’s disease last year, and like me, was looking for a way to give support to those similarly afflicted. She heard about the Parkinson’s Comfort Project, and emailed me to ask: Do you ever have sewing days to make quilts? If you do, I’d love to be involved.

So Annette and I got to work, and the result was a magical day with a lot of stories brought to us by the people who came to help. I’ll be telling them all week long, right here.

Piecing for Parkinson’s

This quilt is the symbol of the Parkinson's Comfort Project
This quilt is the symbol of the Parkinson’s Comfort Project

Tomorrow is the day!

The first annual Piecing for Parkinson’s quilt making event will be at Quail Hollow in West Lebanon, NH starting at 9 a.m. and running until 5 p.m.

We have folks driving in from several different corners of the bi-state region to put together quilts to donate to people with Parkinson’s disease.

Should be quite the day. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by.

What Has He Got in His Pocketses?

Placemat 1 for web Placemat 2 for web Placemat 3 for web Placemat 4 for web Placemat 5 for web Placemat 6 for web
Our son’s birthday was yesterday.

And since he’s the child of DIY parents, that always means there’s something handmade among his gifts.

A couple of months back, I heard his fiancé say that they could use some new placemats.

Now if you’re a beginning quilter, placemats are the very best place to start learning because they are, essentially, very small quilts.

These got started when I was inspired by a pattern in my guild’s newsletter called “Cheaper by the Dozen,” a scrappy quilt made from sets of six rectangles measuring 6 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches.

I thought “Cheaper by the Dozen” was perfect for making Parkinson’s quilts so I took nearly all my fat quarters and largish scraps, cut them all to size, and now I have precuts to make easy tops any time I want.

I was laying out a single block (which measures 12 1/2 inches square unfinished) when I thought it would be fun to cut the two ends off and reverse them to make something a bit more interesting for a placemat.

So I did and liked the effect. But I obviously needed to add something more to make them long enough horizontally and that’s when I remembered that I had this stack of back pockets from old blue jeans just sitting around waiting their turn to be part of something.

Presto–placemats like no others.

The pockets are perfect for the inserting of napkins and silverware. Roll them up and take them on a picnic.

I even got to use up some of my 2 1/2 inch binding strips. I just love scrappy projects like that.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.