So You’ve Got Ugly Quilt Blocks…

We’ve all probably had this happen.  At some point, in our quilting journey (especially if you’ve quilted for a while), it happens.  And if it hasn’t happened to you yet, you can be pretty sure it will.

What am I talking about?

The ugly quilt square.

You’re not sure how it came about… you were so careful in picking out your fabric.  So exact and tedious with the construction…but somehow, something went terribly wrong. 

I have two universal theories about ugly fabric:  Can it be used somehow in applique?  Can it pass for grass or a flower center or something?  If you don’t applique, there’s only one other thing you can do with ugly fabric – cut it in small pieces.  And if it’s still ugly, the pieces are too big.

But ugly quilt blocks are a whole different matter.  The colors could have looked great in the fabric shop under the florescent lights.  But in different lighting the material may look off.  You may have honestly believed the quilt block would look better with more of the same quilt blocks surrounding it, but no, those just ramped up the ugliness about 500 per cent.  So now you have an ugly quilt block (or three…or more) and don’t know what to do about it.  I know some of you would just throw them in the circular file and move on with life – make something different with the fabric or put it in your stash for another day.  But for some of us, once we’ve made a few blocks, we feel like we’ve made a commitment to the cause. We’re bound and determined to perservere, even if it means we’re surrounded by ugly quilt blocks. This blog will offer a few suggestions about what to make with an ugly square or some squares you have no idea what to do with.

  1.  Make a pillow.  If you’re only dealing with one large, unattractive square, frame it with some other fabric and make it into a pillow.  If you have a few small squares, join those together and make a pillow.  Even if you’re still not thrilled with them after constructing the pillow, a pillow is much easier to hide than a quilt. 
  2. Put it (them) on the back of a quilt.  Even the most unattractive blocks can add a little spice to a plain quilt back.
  3. Make more of the same ugly block, then cut them up.  I have found one of the best ways (and one of my favorites) to use both ugly fabrics and ugly quilt blocks is to cut them up and make a Disappearing Nine Patch Quilt

Not only is this super fun, it’s also really easy.  Add some dark or light fabric to unify the blocks and quilt and you may find those ugly blocks aren’t so ugly after all.

Another way to cut up the blocks for use is to make them into 5-inch charm squares.  Cut them down into 5-inch squares and then peruse the patterns on the internet which use these charms.  Once again, altering the blocks from what they were supposed to be into something manageable and useful may be all you need to do.  When these 5-inch charms are paired with a consistent 5-inch charm (all the same color) to create half-square triangles, you may discover you’ve made an awesome quilt you absolutely love.

  •  Make more of those ugly blocks, sash them, and make a table runner or table topper.  I have found that with both ugly fabric and ugly blocks, the color fabric used for sashing is crucial.    Black, dark-ish gray, and white seem to make everything play nicely together.  And with a small project such as a topper or runner, at least you don’t have to make a ton of those ugly blocks.
  •  Make them into another project.  They can be used for appliance covers, bags, iPad holders – the list is as endless as your imagination.  
  • When all else fails, give the block(s) and the fabric away.  My regular readers know this is an escape route I’ve used more than once.  When the I dislike the project so much I have to force myself to stitch it, when I have lost all interest in it, or I really fight with myself to try and like the fabric, I’ve been known to kiss that project good-bye. I will leave it on the free table at my guild, turn around, and walk out.  I will toss it in my box of donation goods for the thrift store.  If another quilter really likes it and mentions that to me, it will be in her backseat before she pulls out of my driveway. 

There is no shame in that game.  You’ve unburdened yourself from an albatross of a project and it’s found a welcome home somewhere else.  It’s a win/win. 

  •  Throw the block(s) away and put the remaining fabric in your stash.  Believe it or not, you’ll probably use it.  It may work great for a quilt back, applique, or wonderfully match a future purpose. 
  • Use them for quilting practice.  Sandwich them up with backing and batting.  Stack them near your sewing machine.  One evening a week, drop those feed dogs and practice quilting on your sewing machine.  If you have time, do this daily.  I can’t even begin to tell you what a confidence building exercise this is and how much it will improve your quilting. 

So, with all the escape routes marked for ridding yourself of unattractive quilt blocks, how do you avoid making them in the first place?  It all pretty much boils down to the basics.

  • Be careful purchasing your fabric.  In this blog: I discuss how different lighting can alter the appearance of the material.  Most stores have florescent lights and those can really throw colors off – especially blues and greens.  If possible, take your fabric to the window and look at it.  Sunlight does little to alter the fabric’s true appearance and it’s your best friend if you have some doubt about a choice.  Also be careful what fabrics you have next to each other.  The adjacent colors have been known to throw a color “off” a little.  If you place a lime green or purple next to a warm color, they tend to heat up.  Likewise, if you put them adjacent to a cool color, they’ll cool down.  If you place a white next to a red, it may appear pink.  The blog I mentioned earlier covers all of this. 
  • Be careful about the complexity of a quilt block.  The more pieces a block has, the more opportunities there are to make mistakes.  Those blocks will have more seams, more fabric placement, and more block units.  My go-to for complex blocks – even after 35 years of quilting – is paper piecing. For me, it simplifies everything and lowers the chances of making construction mistakes. 
  • Make sure you have a range of true values.  Lights, mediums, and true darks should go into any quilt/quilt block to show true contrasts.  Often the very reason a block looks ugly is because only mediums were used or lights and mediums.  This will make a quilt/quilt block look “muddy.”
  • Search for a border fabric to pull all the fabrics together.  Sometimes a great border fabric will cover the many sins of the blocks.  Some of my long-time readers know I have problems with brown fabrics.  Brown is probably my least favorite color.  If I have to use it in piece quilts, I tend to automatically search for a border fabric with some brown in it.  It will soften the color and make (at least in my mind) everything go together.  For whatever reason, I’m okay with brown in applique quilts.  Probably because it serves a function such as stems or vines. 

I hope this blog does two things.  First, I hope it gives you some ideas about what to do with an ugly quilt block – or several ugly quilt blocks.  There are some options out there for you if you find yourself between the rock of not being able to throw the blocks away and the hard place of not know what to do with them.  However, I hope the second thing you may get from this blog is this — it’s okay to throw those blocks away if you need to.  There are no quilt police.  It’s not a wrong decision.  Sometimes ridding yourself from the blocks is what you need to move forward with the next project.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,


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