Ask Jo: Scrap Management

Hello, and welcome to another edition of “Ask Jo”.  I get many comments and questions from all sorts of places, the comment section here, Youtube, email, and from our Facebook group.  Sometimes I think others of you might want to know the answers as well so I answer them here on the blog.   Today I’m tackling a question from Cindy about fabric storage and use.

Cindy asked:
Hello, I just ordered the book scrap school, and I have a couple of questions regarding your technique. Do you have an Accuquilt machine or do you cut your pieces by hand? Do you have such a large precut stash that you just can pick out your reds, your blues, or do you pick your color for the block and then cut it out? Do you separate your size of squares by colors or do you just have one box for all 2-inch squares etc, with colors all mixed together? don’t have a lot of pre-cut stash, though I a huge stash of mostly fat quarters. Only recently have I started buying larger pieces. I don’t want to die with all this fabric. Postage costs so much otherwise lots would be coming to you. Maybe I should take a road trip, lol… I am excited to receive the book. I pray for you and your family often Jo. You have given so many of us joy and love for your family. ”

Cindy’s question came in after I showed this…my County Fair quilt.  Right now it’s only shown with the center finished.

For those of you who need a refresher, this is quilt comes from the book  Scrap School: 12 All-New Designs from Amazing Quilters put together by Lissa Alexander.

Cindy asked a lot of questions all at once. I’m going to try to tackle them all in one post…here goes…

Do you have an Accuquilt machine or do you cut your pieces by hand?

I do not have an Accuquilt.  I cut with a rotary cutter and mat.  I do have some tips and tricks that make it easier.  You can watch this video that I did that shows some of them.

Do you have such a large precut stash that you just can pick out your reds, your blues, or do you pick your color for the block and then cut it out?

I do have a large stash.  For the most part, I keep cuts that are 1/2 yard and fat quarters.  I have very-very little fabric that is larger than that.  The main reason for that is that I am a scrappy-looking quilt lover.  If you want scrappy it’s best to have smaller cuts so you can get more variety.

I also keep a scrap users system.  I first learned about that from Bonnie Hunter.  You can read about her system HERE.

What it breaks down to is that quilters keep leftovers in sizes that they will use.  Many people who use the system end things there.  I don’t.  I have gone on to actually have scrap user boxes in different genres.

On the left, I have a system of totes for scraps that are what I call cream-based.  They are more jewel-toned fabrics.  My Civil War reproduction fabrics go in there…anything that is darker deeper prints along with creams.  Think to yourself if I was making a reproduction fabric quilt, I’d find the scraps here.  On the right is the same style of system only there I have bright fabrics that I classify as white-based.  Think primary colors.  Think pinks and bright colors you’d use to make a quilt for the 12-year-old girl.


I have a tote for the following sizes.
1 1/2″ strips
2″ strips
2 1/2″ strips
3 1/2″ strips

These all work well together.

Here is the 2″ strip bucket that focuses on brights.  Some people sort by color within the tote but I don’t.  I don’t want to take the extra time.  If I’m going to make a scrappy quilt and need only red, I dump the box out on the floor and sort out the red.  I love doing that!  Lots of fabric petting and lots of memory lane time happens…remembering when I used that in what quilt.


I have smaller totes for my batik strips.  I don’t sew with batiks as often.  I could easily have kept them my regular fabrics.  There is nothing wrong with mixing them but do date, I haven’t.

I also have a system for my recycled shirt strips.  These aren’t overflowing like my original totes but I like to keep them and I like to keep them seperately.

I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE this system.  It has completely changed the way a quilt and sew.

Bonnie Hunter released a new pattern a bit ago and it uses strips.  I was able to sit down and start sewing.  No cutting for me.


I can just grab a tote and sew to my heart’s content…and best of all, THE SCRAPS ARE BEING USED!!

Patterns like this one where I can immediately grab and sew and so tempting to me.  They are immediate gratification for me…kind of like precuts.

Do you separate your size of squares by colors or do you just have one box for all 2-inch squares etc, with colors all mixed together?

Now specifically about the County Fair quilt.  This quilt is 2 1/2″ based.  In each of my totes I have a ziplock of squares that are the specific size.  So, when it came time to make this quilt I opened the 2 1/2″ bright colored fabric bucket.  I pulled out that bag and sorted the pieces into colors.  I noticed I didn’t have any orange squares so I looked for strips and quickly cut some into 2 1/2″ squares.  I check over each color I planned to use.  If I didn’t have squares, I looked and cut down strips.  If I didn’t have strips…that was the case with the white background prints, I went to my fat quarters and starting cutting them…first into strips and then into squares.


I always work from smallest to largest with the intention of using up the smallest pieces first.

I sorted the pieces into these little totes and worked from there.  I’m done with the quilt now and would normally put these pieces back into the ziplock bag and put it back into the 2 1/2″ tote.  I’ve left them sorted like this though.

I have my eye on a couple of more quilts in the  Scrap School book.  This one…


…and this one.  Both use the same squares.  I think in the one below I’d move to more primary colors.  Still, these will be useful if left sorted as they are, so that puts these two quilts on the back burner for me I guess.


I don’t have a lot of pre-cut stash, though I a huge stash of mostly fat quarters.

I keep fat quarters sorted by colors.  They are also kept so that the cream-based and white-based fabrics are kept separately.  You can watch my sewing room tour video and see how I do that.  Here is that video.

While I’ve been working on the Red Sampler Quilt Along, I’ve kept this box with fabric that I have been pulling from.  It was not clean and tidy like this.  I just straightened it out.  I pulled a bunch of fabrics that were getting small, these will be cut up and put into the scrap users system.  That’s how I keep it replenished.  As I finish projects, I cut the leftovers immediately and put them in.  They will be ready the next time I need them.

I’ve also kept this tote with mixed sizes.  These are leftovers from when I cut the individual blocks.  When I’ve been making these, I pull from here first and if there isn’t something that will work, I pull from the cardboard box in the above photo.

Once the quilt along is over, all of these will be sorted by size and put into the cream-based (think Civil War reproduction colors) scrap users system.

Some people think this is a lot of work.  Honestly, when I initially started it, I dreaded it.  It was a lot of work, but now, it’s amazing. It takes very little work.  Yes, some maintenance but it’s not “work”.  It’s worth the time as the scraps are getting used and I’m making the most of my sewing dollar.

I hope that helps Cindy.  As I was answering this question, another came in from Susan V.  She writes:
This post is great timing for me. Yesterday I was trying to assemble my blocks with side setting triangles and sashing and I got worried it looked like I wasn’t doing it right. I even triple-checked my math, so I knew I had the right size, but I’m still so inexperienced at on-point blocks. But, my blocks look similar to yours. I guess I just have to relax and know it will trim down later. Love the close-up of Rosie’s face. I can’t wait to see that colorful quilt when you have it all done.”

Susan was talking about his…see how the sides don’t line up?

See how much needs to be trimmed?  This is VERY common for designers to not give precise measurements for the side setting triangles when quilts are on point.  There is a margin for error there so they opt for larger and then ask makers to trim.  It’s very standard so if you get a quilt looking like this, no worries.  Trim is up and move on.

The only trouble is that when adding borders, they might not be the exact length the pattern calls for.  That’s why Kelli and I always encourage people to measure across the middle of a quilt and use that number for the length to cut your borders.  You will not get wavy borders if you use that method.

Thanks so much for the questions and comments.  Never be afraid to ask…

21 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Scrap Management

  1. Lisa

    Thank you for such an informative post! All great examples, too. I think I may start up a scrap saver system like you have once we move into our new house, which is under construction. I love scrappy quilts, too!

    Reply
  2. Kate

    Great answers to Cindi’s questions. I, too, would like to be doing the scrap method but it feels super daunting to me. I have done some strip cutting, but since I didn’t start long ago, I have sooooo many scraps to work with. Maybe I will tackle this some more. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply
  3. Nann

    Thanks for your informative post, Jo. My system is similar, though I confess that I do have (a lot) of yardage as well as strips and squares sorted into boxes.

    Reply
  4. Laurie Lauricella

    I cut strips and squares for My scrap user system while I watch tv. It’s super satisfying to take a pile of random scraps and end up with ali little pile of usable parts. I was able to make the Plus Fun with all from my pre cut strips and squares!

    Reply
  5. Judith Fairchild.

    Jo, thanks for posting your storage system again. Thanks to you and Bonnie Hunter I do have my scraps sorted by color mostly leftover squares and strips. I appreciate all I have learned from you.

    Reply
  6. Candy

    Jo, since you’re really into scrappy quilts and there are so many seams … can you please tell me how fussy to be about trimming off all those loose/stray threads on the back of a quilt top? Anyone else who has an opinion, please add your comments. Thanks for your help, and for sharing everything you do!

    Reply
    1. Sally

      Remember to give it a good shake and lots of loose threads come off! I trim off any threads I see as I am working (sewing, pressing, and just admiring the fabrics) and that helps to reduce the cleaning up needed after you have finished the quilt top (plus a good shake).

      Reply
    2. RuthW in MD

      It’s the back of a quilt, not the front! Who’s going to see it? Clip the threads that get in your way OR will show through the front, such as if you are doing a black and white quilt, you don’t want a long black thread trailing across behind a white square. That quilt does need extra trimming, I know.

      Reply
    3. Jill McCaughey

      Remember to use a leader/enter, which will eliminate some extra threads, and do as much piecing in a continuous line of stitching, NOT doing each piece separately and cutting between.
      Also, to prevent so much stretching on borders or solid pieces added to a pieced top, cut the border joins on the straight, NOT a bias 45 degree angle. This prevents stretching, saves a lot of fabric, and allows for easier matching of patterns on the fabric.

      Reply
    4. Jo Post author

      If they are on the back and no one if going to see them, I leave them. If they come through the seams to the front, I trim them.

      Reply
  7. The Joyful Quilter

    Scrap Users unite!! Bonnie’s system saved me when I forgot about a class I had signed up for. We were to have cut 3.5″ strips, but the morning of was too late for cutting! Going for the best, I grabbed my 3″ – 4″ bin and some background yardage before heading out the door. Lucky me! It ended up saving me a step in the construction process. :o))

    Like you, I have several systems in place. Making the most of my fabric dollar is a definite bonus. For the most part, I just enjoy using my fabric down to the very last inch! Unlike you, Jo, the majority of my scraps are sorted by color, as I participate in the Rainbow Scrap Challenge each year.

    Reply
  8. Sally

    This was a great post, Jo! I love reading about your system for scrap storage/usage.

    I tried to “reply” (with the reply button) to Candy’s question about loose threads but my reply doesn’t show. Usually my reply shows immediately, so I apologize if this turns up twice!.

    Be sure to give your quilt top a good shake and lots of loose threads will come off. I also trim off threads as I see them while I am working (sewing, pressing, admiring the fabrics). By the time you finish the quilt top, you will have just a minimum of threads to trim. I do my best to catch most of them, but it’s never perfect.

    Reply
    1. Leora

      This is one of my favorite topics to read about. I love scrappy quilts, I just need to figure out what works for me. Reading about how others make it work is always so interesting.

      What I am curious about, is if you have a strip length that you consider to be a minimum for the strip to be useful? For example, for a 2.5 inch strip would you consider anything less than x inches too short (x is whatever length you think is too short), and just cut it into 2.5 inch squares? Or do you just throw all strips regardless of length into your 2.5 inch strip bin?

      Reply
  9. Jan Smith

    Your posts on scraps are some of my favorites to read, and reread.
    My first question is what do you do with fabrics that have a stiff feel to them – so many of the earlier repros were like that. They also tended to crock. Do you just look away and put them in the trash?
    The second question is how do your strips look so tidy? Mine get so “thready” along the edges.
    Thanks Jo!

    Reply
    1. Jo Post author

      Stiff fabrics or fabrics that don’t feel good for whatever reason go in the charity quilt box and I pass them on.

      I use and recycle through my fabric fairly quickly. I think that helps them from getting thready.

      Reply
      1. Jan Smith

        Thanks for the personal reply. I didn’t expect that! You’re right about using your scraps. I tend to pass over strips in favor of others, and probably handle them too much. You would think I’d learn after quilting for so many years to use the good stuff, and part with the rest.

        Reply
  10. Candy

    Thanks everyone who replied about trimming threads on the back of a quilt top. With white fabrics and prints with white backgrounds being so popular nowadays, I worry more about those loose threads showing through. I bought an Amish quilt quite a few years ago when I was a fairly new to quilting, thinking they were the ‘gold standard’ of quilters. There are quite a few threads that are glaring through the top … so disappointing! Again, thanks for the comments … I appreciate them all!

    Reply
    1. Jo Post author

      Hey Candy…for white quilts, I do trim. I RARELY use white as the background for that very reason.

      Reply

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