Let’s Get Small (with Apologies to Steve Martin)

Those of us of a certain age remember an awesome comedian, Steve Martin.

Nowadays he’s known more for his music – primarily bluegrass, emphasizing the banjo.  But years ago – you may remember —  when Saturday Night Live was really new and really funny – he was a comedian.  And he had a catch phrase – “Let’s get small.” 

I remember just the simple mention of that phrase in a classroom setting would send my friends and me into belly laughs, much to the confusion of most of our teachers.  We loved Steve Martin. 

However, as a quilter, getting small means other things.  Small blocks.  Small quilts.  And this blog concentrates on small quilts.  Small quilts are great things.  They can be made from leftover blocks or from small blocks.  I love small quilts for both of those reasons – I can use up leftover blocks and a small quilt means I’m finished quicker.  If I’m in a quilting funk, a small quilt is often the cure.  I can cut one out, sew it up, quilt it, and bind it quickly – often all in one weekend.  There’s nothing like feeling productive to get you out of a quilting slump. 

But then you’re left with a small quilt.   What do you do with it?  That’s what this blog will explore.  It’s not just enough to finish a small quilt and feel productive.  You must know how to use it so that it doesn’t just take up space on your sewing table.    

Current small quilt serving as a table topper on my kitchen table. It was constructed from four-patches left over from my Ester Aliu Bunny Quilt.

1,  Use it as a table topper.  This is my favorite way to use small quilts.  I keep seasonal table runners on my dining room table, but my kitchen table is smaller.  A small quilt is perfect for it.  Bonus:  My oldest granddaughter (who loves to sew) looks forward to seeing how I change them out.  It gives me the biggest thrill for her to ask about the colors and piecing. 

2.  Put it on the wall.  Like other great works of art, hang it on the wall.  I hang a small quilt the same way I do a larger one —  I put a sleeve on the back and then slide the sleeve on a rod.  This is not only better for the quilt, it’s easier the change them out when you want to display another small quilt.

3.  Use a small quilt stand.  I invested in one of these when my guild had a monthly small quilt challenge.  I made a small quilt for every month and now I use the stand to display them.  It resides on top of a low bookcase in my entry way.  This makes it super easy to change out the quilts.  A small quilt stand is unobtrusive, can fit just about anywhere, and requires little assembly.

4.  Make a potholder or trivet.  Sometimes you’ll have one quilt block that’s left over and you’re not quite sure what to do with it.  It may be too small for even a mini quilt, but you just can’t toss it in the trash.  If this is the case, make it into a potholder or trivet to set hot dishes on.  Just be sure to use some Insul-brite instead of batting.  Quilt and bind as usual.

5.  If it’s super-small, make it into a mug rug.  Really small blocks may be too tiny to even make into a potholder.  If this is the case, make it into a mug rug (coaster).  If you have several small blocks, make a set of coasters and tuck it into a gift bag with a mug and some hot chocolate mix for that last minute Christmas present.

6.  Use it in less obvious places.  I’ve taken left over blocks and personalized tote bags, jackets, and vests.  I’ve also taken larger left-over blocks and turned those into pillows – which is a great way to coordinate pillows with your quilt top. 

7.  Give them away.  I’ll be upfront here — most of us have either started a quilt and then decided the quilt pattern wasn’t a good match for us or have made a quilt and had several leftover blocks.  In either situation, we have a stack of quilt blocks we’re not sure what to do with.  We don’t want to necessarily toss them into the circular file (trash can), but we really don’t want to invest anymore time or resources in them.  There are too many of them to justify constructing a mini quilt, or we don’t want or need another wall hanging.  My go-to way of re-homing these is the free table at my guild’s monthly meetings.  Usually somebody takes these home with them, seeing beauty in the blocks where I saw only hours of monotonous work. 

If that’s not an option for you, consider making a throw quilt for someone.  Even if the blocks don’t necessarily match, if you use a gray or especially a white (because if you use enough white as the background eventually everything goes together), they will harmonize and make a nice quilt for a child, or a cancer patient, or someone else who needs a tangible reminder of your love.  If the blocks are different sizes, you may have to exercise some creative layout skills, but using those blocks and then giving the quilt away as a gift will make you feel good for days.

Remember this quilt? For sure, the border fabric helped pull the whole thing together, but the white used as a neutral made all the colors sing with harmony.

 And this brings me to my last point about small quilts.  They make great gifts.  I keep a few small quilts on hand to give as birthday presents or Christmas gifts.  I can tuck one of them in a gift bag along with a container of homemade cookies and a good bottle of wine.  This makes a unique gift that is truly from my heart to theirs.

Keep these thoughts in mind as your left-over block collection grows.  I find it helpful to store these in a box in my studio where it’s in plain sight.  Every week or so I go through them and decide if I have enough to make a charity quilt or something else.  It’s a win-win –it keeps them out of the landfill and allows me to make something pretty and useful out of them.

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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