Ask Jo: Cutting Up Scraps

A while ago I did a little blurb about how I was cutting up scraps.  It was just something simple in the middle of a post about my sewing room.  I was surprised when I got so many comments and questions about it.  Today I’m expanding and writing more.  Hopefully in the writing I will answer all the comments that came my way.

Before I get started I do want to say that I use Bonnie Hunter’s Scrap User’s System for keep my scraps.  You can learn more about that here.

Here is the tote that needs to get trimmed into usable pieces.

In no real order I garb pieces and I stack them like this.  The largest on the bottom, graduated smaller pieces on the tops.  I layer about 6-8 to a cut.
For the example above the longer bottom pieces aren’t folded, the top two are.

I’ve been wanting to add to my 2″ bucket.  For me, I use 2″ and 2 1/2″ strips most often.  Today when given a choice, I plan to cut more 2″ strips than any other size.

I do an edge cut to start so all the edges are even.
Next I made the 2″ cut….

I reposition my ruler and make another 2″ cut.

Now, the top purple fabric is used up.  I measure the top piece.  It’s not 4″ so I can’t make two 2″ cuts.  
I end up opting to take two 1 1/2″ cuts.  It was the best use of the fabric as I only had less than 3 1/2″ I was working with…because remember, I only cut according to the top piece of fabric.

Now the top piece of fabric is gone.  The best way to use up this last bit is to make a 2″ cut…and I do.
I’ll do another batch so you get the hang of it…

I have graduated layers ready to cut.

I square up the edge and start thinking about what the best cuts are.  I start by measuring the top piece.
It’s looks to be about 4 1/2″.  I take two 2″ cuts.  
I pull the leftover scrap off.
Lucky me…I can squeeze a 1 1/2″ stip off next.  
…and another 1 1/2″ cut.  That made the best use of the fabric.Now hmmm.  What do I want to do with this next cut.  The top fabric is 3 1/2″ wide.  I could make a 3 1/2″ cut or I could or I could make a 2″ cut and then an 1 1/2″ cut.  It doesn’t matter.

The top piece is gone and I’m left with this…I ended up stripping this into 2″ pieces but I could have done anything with it.  I opted for 2″ as remember, that was the size I was focusing on.
The next piece in the box was this…These are a little harder and only can be dealt with one at a time.

I like working with things that are squared.  So this got cut up like this….
Bottom right is a 5″ charm square.  Bottom left is a 3 1/2″ piece.

The curved pieces went straight to the garbage.  Some people save for dog beds…I don’t.  It’s so important to have a garbage close.
It’s also important to have a scrap bin close for usable bits.  Mine is directly under my cutting station.

Pieces like this were in my bin….These, being they are thin, are easier to cut individually.  The one on the left was tapered so I cut it to 1 1/2″ then cut again to the part that wasn’t 1 1/2″ went in the scrap bucket.  The button fabric was trimmed and went to 2 1/2″ and the one on the right was already 2″.

Then there are goofy pieces like this.  How do you deal with them?

Well let’s start with the bottom piece.  I took off the selvage.  I have a blog reader that I collect them for….Jean who made awesome bags for me and ones for my girls.
I keep a canister for those…see it in the back?Then I treated like any other piece.  I squared the edge and cut it into strips.

I cut about this far…the stuff on the left really wouldn’t make long enough pieces to bother with.  I used to square the ends of the pieces I cut but I don’t anymore. I use a easy angle and companion angle ruler so sometimes the angled edge can be useful.
I ended up with a nice stack of cut pieces from that odd strip.
Now the other “odd” piece….that one was harder.  There was no “square to the grain” that was obvious to see.  I ended up pulling threads and fraying it.  After careful considering, it was really hard to get a decent cut that wasn’t biased so I didn’t keep that piece.

This is another hint I find helpful.  If you come across a piece that is wrinkled and needs ironing.  Don’t stop and iron it now.

Have a basket near by your cutting station and toss it in the basket.

I think stopping to iron breaks my momentum.

Later one of my kids will call me on the phone.  I’ll put my phone on speaker and then iron the scraps while I talk.  It’s a great way to multi-task as I can still totally keep up with the conversation.

Another tip…if you come across a fabric that you don’t think you’ll use…like this one for me….
Don’t waste the time cutting it or let it waste space in your scrap bit.  For the most part, this isn’t a piece I would pick for a scrap quilt I’m making.  I don’t have many other fabrics that would go with it.

In the short time I took cutting and snapping pictures for this post, this is my bounty….

I keep the cuts in stacks like this close to the cutting table.  I put them there as I complete cuts.  Left to rights there is some discards, 5″ squares, 1 1/2″ strips, 2″ strips, 2 1/2″ strips and 3 1/2″ strips.  These are the sizes I cut for.  Like I told you earlier, I was trying to focus and concentrate on having more 2″ strips…but my goal is always to use the fabric most efficiently so other sizes of cuts happen because of that.

I hope that answers your questions on how I cut and manage my scraps.  I will put a link to this post in the tutorial section on the right hand column of the blog so you can access this at your leisure.

Happy cutting.  I know it’s a pain to cut all the strips but seriously…it’s so nice to have it all when you want to make beautiful scrappy quilts like this.

American Patchwork & Quilting June 2015 | AllPeopleQuilt.comI think a healthy scrap users system is the key to making awesome scrap quilts.

Check out the variety in the quilt…


I keep individual scrap users containers for bright fabrics, Civil War fabrics, Batiks and even recycled shirts.  I don’t mix the different types of scraps together in one storage system.

When I go to make a quilt, I always start by looking through my scrap bins first.  If I need more, I go to fat quarters and then onto yardage.

I adore scrap quilts…and make primarily only scrap quilts.  Even if I use a fabric line, it still has to have a scrappy look to it for me.

My life in quilting completely changed once I heard of Bonnie Hunter’s Scrap User’s System and I started cutting my own scraps.

I know many of you aren’t into scraps and that’s perfectly okay…just note that there are those of us that are into scraps and we’d happily take them off your hands.  For many, the scraps and managing them is overwhelming…  However you are, scrappy or not scrappy…I just hope whatever you’re doing makes you happy.

29 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Cutting Up Scraps”

  1. I know I’m not suppose to but I do have quite a few scraps in storage. I can’t help myself! I have some here in the RV and some with my dd. It’s addictive, isn’t it?
    Love and prayers

  2. I use Bonnie’s system, too, but you had some really good tips I hadn’t thought of. And thanks so much for the selvages you sent me last week! My supply was almost gone!

  3. Judith Fairchild

    The scraps being cut into strips and stored according to width and style. Then shortens the time of making your quilts. So cool thanks it now makes sense. It will take care of my bits and pieces. Thank you, thank you again.

  4. Stearns Carol

    It is really dangerous putting out a request for scraps. OH, my. Can’t wait to see all the boxes you are sent. I have one ready.

  5. Hi Jo! I keep selvedges too and have a box overloaded with them. I need to get busy and make something with them! Thanks for your cutting tips. I learned something today.

  6. This was so informative and helpful and loved seeing the visuals. I intend to put in a new rotary blade and work on some bags of strips I have and see how things turn out. The photos were very nice and showed well how to do things. THANK YOU.

  7. Patricia Boelens

    I found it interesting that you cut 2 inch strips. What patterns do you use that width for? I can’t recall anything I’ve made that used 2 inch strips or squares. Thanks for all you share with us. That is why your boxes keep coming, because you share so much with us.

    1. You can check out Quilted Twins free patterns. She has a whole series of quilts that use 2″ strips. There are TONS of free patterns there that use them. Several of the Bonnie Hunter patterns I’ve made use them as well. 2″ stips partner well with 3 1/2″ strips as once the two 2″ strips are sewn together they work with 3 1/2″ strips.

  8. You have some great tips on how to cut strips. I like the idea of ironing at a different time, to make the time cutting more efficient.
    I would like to know what pattern the quilt with stars and blocks in RWB on the bed is. Thank you.

  9. This post was very informative on scrap cutting and managing. Sometimes a visual is just what I need to get going. Thank you for all the information. Have a good weekend.

  10. I don’t have a lot of leftovers – yet. Something is telling me don’t wait too long before chopping them up so it’s not overwhelming task. In looking back at quilt photos I’ve clipped out over the years, scrappy ones win hands down for me. The ones made with only a few fabrics seem rather blah to me now. Thanks for filling us in on how you handle your scraps and for the link to all those 2″ scrap quilts.

  11. Judith Fairchild

    I have a quilt in the making using 2″ strips and 3 &1/2 ” strips. They do ply nicely together

  12. Hi Jo,
    Thank you for showing us this awesome way of dealing with scraps. A few weeks ago I sent you an email asking if you have a blog post with photos on how you debone men’s shirts for quilting. I’ve not received an answer so I’m thinking you may not have received it. With that said I thought maybe if I asked about it here you would see my question. My husband passed away 2 1/2 years ago and just now I’m able have the ambition and not breaking down to think about doing something with his shirts that I had put away. Thank you in advance!!

  13. Thanks for the tips on cutting, I am working on getting my scraps into this type of system. Could you tell me where the pattern is for that cute scrappy plus sign quilt is. Thanks for all you do.

  14. Thank you for posting how you organize your stash and how you cut it up, as it really helps to know what a good system is.

    One thing that I do with a lot of my scraps, when they are too short to be a good strip, Is to cut them up into 2 1/2” squares or 2 1/2” half square triangles. I use these for a lot of community quilts and the colors can sing together.

    After I saw your quilt posted (I don’t know the name) that had a light 2.5” square sewed to the end of a 2.5 x 4.5 rectangle that is then sewed together upside down to form a block, I really thought it was a great idea. So I have been doing that, too. I have a lot of blocks sewn and continue to cut up these sizes, too.

    I am sewing on Bonnie Hunter‘S Unity Quilt right now, making star blocks that finish at 4”. So now I started cutting up even smaller pieces into 1 1/2” squares and half square triangles, for future projects.

    I have enjoyed sewing 1” finished squares and HSTs, and now as I sew on the Unity Quilt, I am prepping my box ahead of time.

  15. Thank you for the more detailed cutting lesson. I am looking forward to trying that method. My problem is storing them! Do you use the totes you have been buying for your other fabric?

  16. Debee_WestAus

    Hi Jo,
    Thank you for this post. I read Bonnie’s Bonnie Hunter’s Scrap User’s System before cutting the scraps I had left over (not many as I am not yet a full fledged patchwork/quliter) but enough that I knew I had to do something with them to make them usable and ready when inspiration strikes. Like you if the pieces require ironing I put them aside to iron later so as to not disturb the momentum of the cutting. However I did pick up some tips from this post to speed up the process next time. Stay safe.

  17. Pingback: Are You With Me?? | Jo's Country Junction

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