Quilt Soup

Way back…in the early to mid-1990’s, I had a meal process.  Stay with me here…I promise I will tie this back into quilting.  During that time, we were on a “snug” budget.  In 1989, I had Matthew, who was born an intensive-care unit baby.  As a result of his respiratory issues, I couldn’t put him in a daycare situation until he was two years old.  Long story short, for a while we had a one-income, a baby-and-a-toddler financial situation.  To say our budget was snug is really a euphemism.  I would search the grocery ad circulars every week, find the store that was had the best sale, and write out my menu.  I made my list and purchased only what was on that list.  

I always bought groceries on Thursdays, as that seemed to be the day that there was the most “extra, non-advertised” sales in the grocery stores.  So, Wednesday nights were “Surprise Soup” night at the Fields house.  The leftover veggies went in a stock pot along with some chicken or beef broth.  I’d chop up the left-over meat and it would go in there, too.  I’d add some spices and simmer that sucker all day.  At supper time, we would have a pretty good tasting soup and salad meal.  And not one morsel of food went to waste. Bonus:  my refrigerator stayed clean.

So now let me tie this back into quilting.  Let’s call your stash the leftovers and a quilt top can be the soup.  Do you know just by looking at your stash, how many quilt tops you have the potential of making?  I think most quilters – myself included – tend to over purchase fabric.  I mean, it’s pretty and it makes us feel better just by looking at it.  But let’s talk reality here.  If, the average quilter is age 63 and according to the same set of statistics that give us that age also tells us  the average stash is worth $6,000, how many quilts can we make in the years ahead with just what we have on hand? 


Let’s do some quilty math.  And I’ll use visuals.

A few of my fat quarter collections

See these?  These are stacks of fat quarters.  Years ago, when I was in education, I was the self-proclaimed Fat Quarter Queen.  Since my life was wonderfully chaotic and busy then like it’s not that way now the quilt projects I created were primarily small and primarily applique.  I’d buy fat quarters out the wazoo.  They were exactly what I needed and exactly what I could afford (see opening paragraph about a one-income-toddler-and-infant situation).  I still have lots of fat quarters and still gravitate to them when I’m in a quilt store.  But do you know how many fat quarters it takes to make a quilt?  

If you’re making a king-sized quilt, your looking at roughly between 40 – 50 fat quarters.  A queen takes approximately 30 – 40 fat quarters.  The difference lies in if background fabric is needed and if the quilt has borders.  So those numbers may vary, but not by much.   If you have lots of fat quarters on hand, it’s a good idea to group them according to color.  That way when you plan your next quilt, you will know if you’ve got enough “leftovers” to make that top. 

And while we’re talking about fat quarters let’s park it here and talk about what a fat quarter is.  It’s a 21-inch x 18-inch piece of fabric.  While they can certainly be used for lots of quilt pieces,  if you find you have a lot of fat quarters or have a few fat quarters left over from a project, there are other ways to use them up.  My go-to application is applique.  But if you’re not too hype about making an applique quilt, you can cut that fat quarter up into other pieces. 

Cutting the fat quarter up either of these ways gives you a variety of options, but if you’re only need the same-sized piece, keep in mind that you can get twenty-five 3 ½-inch squares, sixteen 4 ½-inch squares, and twelve 5-inch squares.  All of these sizes are unfinished.  Half-square triangles are also terrific options with left-over fat quarters.  To cut an HST, remember to add 7/8-inch to the finished size needed.  So, for example if you need 3-inches finished HST, you would cut them 3 7/8-inches.  You can get 40 HST that finish at 3-inches or 24 HST that finish at 4-inches out of a fat quarter.  That’s a lot of bang for your buck.  Strips are also a great possibility, too.  There are seven 2 ½-inch strips or six 3-inch strips in each fat quarter. 

Pre-cuts are great and versatile – to the point that I have an entire blog planned on this topic.  But let’s get back to the fabric you have on hand.

One of the issues I run into as an applique artist is that I never seem to have the exact color of blue or green I need.  I’m not sure what it is about these colors (or maybe it’s just me…), but for whatever reason I’m always searching for just one shade up or one hue down from the blues or greens I have on hand.  This is where it pays to have some quilting buddies.  Ask them if they have it.  Unless you’re quilting friends are the type that purchase fabric only for the project they’re working on, and thus have limited stash, most quilty friends are happy to share.  It relieves them from some fabric.  Offer to swap for something you have that they need. 

Despite the fact that we shop our stash before starting a quilt, often times we still have to make purchases.  Or we go to quilt shop that’s having a great fabric sale and we know we’re going to leave with several purchases to add to our stash.  How do we know how much to buy and what to buy?  Let’s talk about how much to purchase first.

If you’re buying fabric for a particular pattern, the pattern should tell you how much fabric you need, with a little extra built in.  It’s rare that a pattern will only give you exactly how much you need with no wiggle room for mistakes.  Let me clarify this with a couple of caveats. First, if you’ve never made a quilt by a designer before, take the time to Google the quilt.  Quite often, if there are issues with the fabric requirements or the quilt itself, there are will be hits on Google that highlight these. Second, if you plan to use a technique that’s not listed in the directions (such as no-waste flying geese or cutting borders on the lengthwise grain instead of the crosswise grain), additional fabric may need to be purchased.  Also, if you absolutely love the fabric and can see yourself using it in another project, go ahead and treat yourself to a half-yard or so extra.  Between the “wiggle room” built into a quilt pattern and the half-yard extra, you should have enough to use in something else.

But what if you have no particular quilt in mind and you’re purchasing solely to add to your stash?  If you’re low on a particular color that you use a lot, it makes sense to replenish that.  In my case, it’s greens.  I use a lot of greens in my applique work for stems and leaves.  Every couple of years, I find my greens are running low and will stock up.  Also check your favorite colors.  It should come as no surprise that quilters tend to use their favorite colors in their quilts and often that area of your stash will become depleted.  Neutrals are another area that allow for guilt-free purchases.  Neutrals (grays, ecrus, beiges, whites and any of their variations) are used in most quilts.  And while yes, I do know that the definition of what a neutral is has broadened in the last ten years, the basic neutrals are always in demand.  If you can find those on sale, three or more yards is a clear-conscious  purchase in my mind. 

Then there’s that fabric you just can’t say “No” to.  It’s either the color or the design, but you know you love it and you know you’re going to use it.  I will be frank with you.  There have been times when I’ve fallen in love with a fabric to the point that I’ve purchased the entire bolt.  And I can say with all honesty, that I loved the fabric enough to where it has shown up in three or more quilts.  I’m down to simply scraps with the remainder of the material, and those scraps are in my applique bins.  This phenomenon doesn’t happen often, but it does occur.  If you just love the fabric, first consider what kind of quilts do you make?  Are they mainly small quilts, such as wall hangings or lap quilts, or do you construct primarily bed quilts?  If it’s bed quilts, then you probably want to purchase no less than five yards.  If it’s wall hangings, no less that three.  The reason behind these amounts is this:  one a fabric line is depleted, most fabric manufacturers will not reprint a line unless there is HUGE demand for it. 

So, get it while it’s there…it may not be in stores forever. 

Next there are these:

Orphan blocks.  In the process of making a quilt, you’ve made too many blocks or too many prepped applique pieces.  What do you do with these?  Do you throw them out or push them aside and forget their presence until you clean out your sewing area and then throw them away? 

Soooooo many half-square triangles…..

If I have enough left-over blocks, like these from the scrappy quilt I’m making, I come up with a way to make these into a lap quilt that I donate to my guild for their charity quilt program.  My plan is sash these with some gray fabric I have in my stash.  Between the sashing and the 4 ½-inch HSTs, I’ll have a nice-sized quilt to give to the chemo patients at the Hayworth Cancer Center. 

And remember this quilt?

I had nine four-patch squares left over, so I set them on-point with some additional squares and triangles and put a plain pink border around them.  This is a made a nice mini quilt that I will lay on the table that the big quilt hangs over. 

My little quilt is ready for binding!

When I made this wall hanging,

I discovered I had prepped one too many applique pieces.  So, I used the leftover one on the quilt label. 

And in the process of making my Farmer’s Wife quilt, one of the blocks came out too big.  Instead of tossing the block, I’m using it as part of the quilt label.

I have two orphan blocks from my Farmer’s Wife. I’m not sure which one I’ll use as part of the quilt label.

My thoughts are these – use what you have on hand as much as you can in your creative process.  This not only cuts down on items heading for the landfill, it also keeps a little extra cash in your pocket, which is something we all can use.  By keeping our stash manageable, it allows us to see what we have and what we need to invest in.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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