Handling the Scrap

I got a longer email question from Cindy Nelson that I thought I would answer here on the blog as I think others are very interested in the topic as well.  Cindy writes, “Hello-  I know that you refer to BH (Bonnie Hunter) stash cutting, but how do you look at a piece and decide what to do with it?  What process and direction does your brain take?  I have so many fabric pieces I do not have a clue where to start!  Thank you for any help.  I probably could cut down and sort for at least 6 months, but I do want to start the process.”

I can feel your pain Cindy and I think at some point most everyone has.  I can only tell you the method that works for me…and without Bonnie Hunter, I would have been right where you are to this day.  Several years ago I found this that Bonnie Hunter wrote.  Honestly, reading it changed my life as far as scrap quilting goes.  I used to keep all scraps in big trash bags.  I never used it.  I vowed I would.  Felt guilty I didn’t.  Gave it away because reality struck I knew I would never use it as is.

After reading the article I vowed no more.  I was getting a handle on this after all scrap quilts are my favorite..why wasn’t I keeping scrap?  Why wasn’t I making scrappy quilts?  The main reason, I hated pulling out all the fabric and just taking a couple 2 1/2″ cuts off the yardage-thus no scrap quilts.

I had a plan.  I would get the scrap containers Bonnie suggested..  1 1/2″, 2″, 2 1/2″ and 3 1/2″ containers.  I started out with shoe boxes and have since moved to under the bed totes.  I know I use it.  I would cut the scrap up into usable pieces.

I found the easiest way from me to cut is to start looking at scrappy quilt patterns.  Pick one to cut out immediately and two that you want to do in the future.  Look at the size of scraps they take.  For me I did exactly this:  With my sewing room in a big upheaval from when we moved, I hadn’t been taking care of the scraps that I had the way I should.  I have three big boxes that needed attention.   I wanted to make Bonnie Hunter’s Garden Party quilt.


I also wanted to make her Wild Child quilt.


Both were really scrappy.

Garden Party needed 1 1/2″ strips and Wild Child 2 1/2″.  I kept this in mind as I cut.  I’d pick up piece…I’d ask myself….Do you want this in one of these quilts?  If it was for Garden Party…I’d cut a 1 1/2″ piece off.  Then I would see what was left.  If it was just over 4″, I’d likely cut two 2″ strips.  I’d just cut whatever made the most sense and used the most of the fabric.  Anything left over that was over 3/4″ but under 1 1/2″ would go into a string box.

If I want the fabric for Wild Child, I would cut a 2 1/2″ strip and save it for that quilt-then deal with the leftovers in a like manner cutting whatever made the most sense.

Here’s the good news.  You can’t do this wrong.  If you pull out a 7″ piece of fabric you can cut any combo of strips.  I doesn’t matter.  The only thing wrong is not doing anything and letting the fabric waste away.  You have more fabric..you can buy more.  Lets say 3 years from now you decided that you like a blue and white quilt and want to make it but you’ve cut most of your blues into a different size than what you need…big deal.  Pull from your fat quarters.  It’s all okay.

In the end, when I did this, I had two quilts cut out.  That was really cool for me.  I could see that the scrap user’s system would really work.

I have expanded my scrap users system.  I keep one set of the totes for darker, jewel tones and Civil War reproductions.  I keep another set for bright fabrics.  I keep yet another set for recycled 100% cotton shirt fabrics.  I don’t like mixing mine.  I find this works better for me.


Under my quilt machine from left to right I have two plastic drawer sets.  It’s only Civil War and jewel toned fabrics that are a fat quarter or bigger.  Right of that…the scrap users system that goes with it.

On the right of that, the brings and the right of that the recycled shirts.

I had to laugh when someone commented about how much fabric I have saying it’s a lot.  I know there is plenty but not as horrible as it might look.  I bought these totes so that they are large.  They are only about half full.  I want to be able to rummage through them and look to find the color of fabric that I want in the cut sizes…So it does look like lots but it’s really not what it looks like.

I hope that helps Cindy.  I do have to say that I keep a few other fabric out seperately.  I keep dog fabric, novelty and florals in a picnic basket.  I eventually want to make Bonnie Hunter’s Floribunda quilt…I also want to make a novelty and an only dog print quilts.  If I come across those fabrics, I just pull the fabric and put them in the tote without cutting them.

Best wishes with your new adventure in fabric storage.  It will take lots of time but SO worth it!!

7 thoughts on “Handling the Scrap”

  1. I use Bonnie’s method also, but I go a step farther. If pieces are smaller than strips I cut squares in the sizes you make your strips in. I find for mindless sewing I can piece 4-patches or 9-patches and get a lot of them done to use as elements in scrap quilts. The key is to make it work for your needs. If it is ugly cut it up smaller and it looks totally different also. Chris

  2. I also love Bonnie’s Leader Ender process and have made so many little blocks, thinking they would be doll quilts. I need to sew them together! They build up really fast, do you do that also?

  3. I also keep the squares and bricks that Bonnie suggested, but I have stopped cutting 3.5 in. strips. I find that I am enjoying the smaller pieces. I also have a crumb bucket and string containers. I was sorting the strings by color family, but found it was taking a lot of time. At this point in time, if I need a color family of strings, I will have my sons help me sort. I do need to get a string quilt going, as I have an abundance of them! I am trying to process scraps as they are given to me and as I make them, but I have a serious backlog to process. I work on it 15-20 mins here and there. Going down now to do some more!

  4. I have adapted a BH system that works for me too. I process things as they come in and any left overs from a project immediately – no sitting around. And think the biggest thing is people worry more about how to store them – it should be how you are going to USE them.

  5. Jo thanks for the info on how you handle your scraps. I agree with you cutting them into her style it works. Your idea of getting a pattern and keep this in mind for sorting is wonderful. You can always start one of her patterns and use it as a leader and ender. You and Bonnie have great ideas. Thank you for all of your help and ideas.

  6. Jo, I would really like to give you a hug right now…I have been using Bonnies Scrap Users System for at least 7 years now and have incorporated into that system a tad bit of just me now that I know what I really like to do. For the life of me, I had never thought to precut for a scrappy quilt that I really want to make. There is where the hug comes in, it is so brilliant! One that you would think more of us would plan for as we are cutting and organizing, browsing, buying or dreaming of fabrics quite a lot of our time. Right now I am doing a Scrap Dance Mystery Quilt Along and am cutting up some two and a half inch squares; I am going to pull out a pattern I have really been wanting to make for quite some time and get it all cut at the same time also! Just Brilliant! Thank You for sharing and have a wonderful creative day!

  7. I also use Bonnie’s system but now I’m going to pick our two of her quilts that I want to make and start cutting up my stash with them in mind like you do. Thanks So Much!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top