The Therapeutic Power of Cutting Fabrics, Plus a Cutting Guide
Wednesday, April 03, 2019
In the next few months, several friends and family members are having new babies. Boy babies! As I thought about what I might want to make for them, and sifted through my stash of fabrics, I had a realization. Because I’ve been accumulating so many different pink fabrics for my black and pink quilt (which I really, really am going to finish this year!), I have a TON of pink scraps. I could make quilts for five or six baby girls, but I have far fewer boy-ish scraps.
This is also partly because I’ve changed my position on scraps lately. I usually would toss anything smaller than about 2”. I KNOW! The scrappy quilters among you are horrified. Honestly, I’m sad to think about all of those good scraps I tossed. But now I know better! Now if it’s 1” or larger, I straighten it up and keep it. (I generally sew with a 3/8" seam instead of a 1/4"; I'm just more accurate that way, but it means anything smaller than 1" would just be too small for me to deal with.) I’m accumulating scraps for two different projects; I want to make a bookcase quilt sort of like this one, and then I have several ideas for another scrappy quilt that I’ll have to choose from once I have enough. (The book quilt scraps are bigger than the other ones, and many of them are fussy cut).
I decided that while I LOVE making scrappy rag quilts for babies, I also want to try something new. So for the past little while, I’ve been accumulating boy-esque fabrics. This process started with THIS quilt, which I made for my friend’s daughter’s baby. I gathered enough fabrics that none of the squares are repeats (which means…49 fabrics! Yikes! But not all of those were new, some were scraps I had that I cut to fit), and I love the colors I was able to put together in that one.
For two of my upcoming new arrivals, I was inspired by Amy Smart to make scrappy log cabins. I’ve made ONE log cabin quilt, a Christmas one, but it is just one really big log cabin. For these quilts I wanted scrappy and pieced, but with a more consistent blue color scheme. So, I might’ve done a bit more shopping. I might’ve gone to literally every fabric store near me. (I might be really, really lucky that there are three independent fabric stores and two Joanns within ten-ish miles of my house.) I gathered low- and medium-valued patterns and a lot of different navy patterns. I decided that a few flowers are OK, because why can’t boys love flowers? But there are also moons, bumble bees, hiking boots, construction trucks, raindrops, baby prints, dinosaurs, various aquatic creatures, words, and geometrics. I tried to keep everything in a blue colorway, but there are a few aquas. Also, I love a mixture of flannel and cotton, with a few pieces of minky, in a scrappy baby quilt. (In case anyone ever tells you differently, let me set you straight: You absolutely can mix flannel and cotton!) All of those different textures add to the scrappy look and the tactile pleasure.
One of my favorite parts of making quilts is cutting the fabrics. It’s a repetitive process, but since the fabrics are different it’s also got some variety. And, honestly: the past little while as my sisters and I have been cleaning out my mom’s house has been emotionally draining. And so I’ve just been cutting fabric. Making scraps where I didn’t have scraps. Cutting squares for future babies whose parents might not even know each other yet. The swish of the blade through cotton and through flannel, the view slowly changing from winter to spring out my window, the squares and strips piling up. I thought about babies, my own and the ones on their way. I thought about the moms of these new babies, who I’ve known all their lives. I thought about my own mom. About making things, and grief, and memories, and how things change. And how they don’t.
Let’s be honest: I have more than enough blue scraps to make a couple of scrappy log cabin baby quilts.
But this calming process of cutting has eased my heart a little.
This is why I make quilts. Partly because I think babies need beautiful or cute things, things that are soft, things that are their own. But it’s also partly for myself. Everyone must arrive at this phase of life I am in, where there will be no more babies of my own, to make beautiful or cute things for. Making them for other people’s babies brings me happiness. It is a process by which I can also process my experiences.
But enough mushy stuff. Here is a practical guide for how you, too, can cut fabric to prepare for upcoming babies.
- Buy a variety of ¼ yard fabrics (9”). I like to buy quarter yards instead of fat quarters because you can cut longer strips.
- Prep the fabrics: Wash and iron if that’s your thing. I almost never pre-wash my fabrics, but I do iron if they are especially wrinkly. Carefully fold in half, selvedge to selvedge.
- Gather your cutting supplies: a mat, a rotary cutter, and at least one 24” ruler. I used a 6x24 and an 8.5x24 for this project, but you can do it with one. It just takes more shifting of the ruler.
- Cut as illustrated here:
- Straighten the right edge.
- Straighten the left edge.
- Cut the selvedge edges off, making a folded rectangle that’s square on three sides.
- Cut one 8.5” square (which is actually two because you’re cutting through two layers of fabric) from the top, cutting the fold away.
- Cut a 6” strip from the piece that’s left. This will be 6” by about 12.5-13.5, depending on how wide the fabric is.
- From the smaller piece, cut strips. I wanted my strips to be random sizes, so they vary between 1.5”-3”, depending on how big the pattern is.
- Cut the strip that is 6” wide into two 6” squares. (So now you have four 6” squares.)
How wide/tall your strips end up will depend on how closely the fabric store cut your quarter yards. Many of mine were wider than 10”, so I could also get some usable strips from the other side of the 8.5” squares.
Another thing to consider is the direction of the pattern. If you want the direction in your quilt to be like a frame, then you have to cut strips that are lengthwise and some that are crosswise to the grain. In that case, you might only end up with two 6” squares. Also some patterns you might want to fussy cut, so again, you’ll get fewer squares or strips.
From one quarter-yard cut of fabric, I end up with 2 8.5” squares, 4 6” squares, and 4-6 strips of various widths. After all of this cutting is done, I have a bunch of squares for making boy baby rag quilts, and all the strips I’ll need for those log cabins.
I’m excited to finally start on the next step, which is actually making the log cabins!