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How I Design my Scrap Quilts

Updated on April 17, 2016

Anyone can make a scrap quilt

I started making quilts about 35 years ago. I am completely self-taught and learned by trial and error. I think that anyone can make a quilt.

I first began making quilts because it was an economical way to get blankets for my family and use up left over fabric scraps. My first efforts were not much to look at, but they served their purpose.

I still have never gone out and bought new fabric just to make a quilt. I really believe in the tradition of using scraps. I used to go to thrift stores when they had dollar a bag sales, and choose clothing made of fabric with interesting prints.

My quilts are still not the kind to win blue ribbons, they are to put on beds and sleep under every night.

Some books and classes make quilting look complicated and scary. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. You will get better with practice, and making mistakes is how you learn.

All photos and graphics by Sherry Hewins

Rail Fence
Rail Fence

Rail Fence Pattern

Super easy, but beautiful, pattern

Rail Fence is a great quilt pattern for beginners. You can use large pieces so it goes together really fast, and it's pretty forgiving if the corners don't match up exactly.

Rail Fence is made up of blocks called Roman Stripe. Each block is made up of 3 stripes, each in a different fabric.

For this nap quilt I used 24 blocks, it's 4 blocks wide and 6 blocks tall. So, 24 pieces of each fabric, 3 1/2" x 9 1/2" each (1/4" seam allowance). With a 5" border the finished quilt measures 46" x 73."

The blue part is made from old blue jeans, one of my favorite fabrics for my quilts.

Roman Stripe
Roman Stripe

Roman Stripe Block

I like to have some idea how my quilt will look when it's finished. I used to draw it out on graph paper, but now I use my computer.

I've tried a few different programs for this purpose. For this quilt, I found some photos similar to the patterns and colors of my fabrics, then I cropped them and used them to build the pattern in Illustrator.

Below are 2 patterns that can be made with identical blocks, Rail Fence and Windmill. I ended up choosing Rail Fence, mainly because I was short on one of the colors and Windmill takes an extra row to complete the pattern.

Rail Fence and Windmill patterns
Rail Fence and Windmill patterns
9 Patch Quilt
9 Patch Quilt

9 Patch Pattern

This quilt I made when I had a lot of, mainly blue, fabric scraps I needed to use up. I didn't have very much of any one of them, so I had to figure out a pattern that used a variety. This quilt is made up of 2 different blocks, each a 9 patch pattern.

To make the mock-up I actually scanned the fabric and placed the blocks in Illustrator. I liked the way it came out.

Below are 2 slightly different 9 patch patterns using the same fabrics. I chose the one on the right.

Devil's Claw

Bear's Claw Quilt
Bear's Claw Quilt

Devil's Claw is the most complex pattern that I have attempted to date. I was making a king sized quilt, so I opted to use setting blocks between the pieces squares. I found this pattern in Quilter's magazine. There was a photo of a vintage quilt done in this pattern. The quilt in the magazine used a wide variety of fabrics, as I have here. The repeating of the pattern, and the use of light and dark fabrics bring unity to the finished piece.

The article remarked how the quilter had "overcome the limitations of her scrap bag." I thought those were inspiring words, and I had a bag of scraps I had gotten for a bargain at a thrift store. It did have some severe limitations, but it worked well in this instance.

I love creating something beautiful from scraps that might otherwise be discarded.

Indespensible Tools for Quilting - Don't make it hard on yourself

For years I cut my quilts using regular cutting shears, and it can be done. However, these tools will make the job much easier. With the proper tools, your cutting will not only be easier, but more accurate. The set includes a rotary cutter that allows you to cut through many layers of fabric at the same time, a cutting mat and a clear acrylic ruler.

So, how do you like my scrapbag quilts?

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    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      5 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Beautiful! The patterns looks pretty complicated to me, but it sounds fun to try it.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      5 years ago

      Very much, and I appreciate the way you tell your story along the way. If I had ever thought of making such quilts I'd be motivated by your experience to go ahead and do it now.

    • shewins profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Most of my quilts have been tied, it's so much faster and easier. The last few though, I've tried my hand at quilting. My stitches are not as small and straight as I'd like them to be, but it's my understanding that it will make the quilt last longer. The stress on the fabric is more spread out.

      There is the Quilt Design Wizard (Amazon capsule just above the comment section). It software specifically made for designing quilts. I haven't tried it myself, but it gets great reviews.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      5 years ago

      Love your quilts, love your attitude. I took a class on them once and the instructor made a fuss about the width of your pencil marks because everything had to be so exact. I thought "ooh, this is not for me"" I like your free flowing approach. My son said our computer is not fancy enough for illustrator. Any suggestions? Do you tie or quilt the quilts together?

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I love them! I have tried real patterns and am just too impatient to match up the corners, etc. I love making free form quilted items (like tissue holders and bookmarks). I have a very short attention span!

    • Mommy-Bear profile image


      5 years ago

      I love your quilts. They really are a labour of love. I made a small one for my little girl using fabrics from her dresses that she had out grown. It's more sentimental to me than her but it does make me smile and bring back memories.

    • maryseena profile image


      5 years ago

      They are beautiful! It's good to know that with the same type of blocks(roman stripes) you can make two entirely different patterns. I'm going attempt the windmill soon. Thanks a lot for sharing the patterns.

    • shewins profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @lionmom100: It really is very easy. I really encourage people to just try it. So many books and articles make quilting seem complicated. With a simple pattern like this, it's really not. Once you've done this you will have more confidence to tackle more complex patterns.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I Love the Windmill quilt pattern. It looks very easy. I will have to try this.

    • kristalulabelle profile image


      5 years ago from Wisconsin

      I absolutely LOVE the windmill quilt pattern! I loved how you broke down the steps and wrote your instructions like you were talking to me at my kitchen table. Great lens!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I love quilts and have a few that my grandmother made when she was a very young woman. One day I hope to make one myself. Love your quilts and thank you for sharing your process for making them! :)

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Wow. You are amazing! I agree about how much easier it is now than 30 years ago... You have such lovely quilts. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Love that 9 patch pattern. I would love to try my hand at making a quilt someday!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Sure designer quilts are showy, but these have the folksy feel of homemade quilts of old. I'm sure our great-grandmothers didn't have a fabric store to buy lots of coordinated fabric for elaborate patterns. Very nice explanation of your hobby.


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