Sunday, June 9, 2013

Scrap Heaven: A 'Come As You Are' Creativity Game

Scrap Heaven I, 93"x 41". 
My scrap bin - an overstuffed 1960s-era blue cardboard suitcase - is like the Hotel California. I can check out those scraps any time I want. But they almost never leave.

I won't claim that this project will create vacancy in your scrap pile, but you will use up several of your most interesting fragments, and have fun doing it. It will transport you out of your left brain, and deposit you into the shape/color/intuitive right brain zone. It will open the doors to serendipity. Plus, you'll wind up with something that might be described as a "modern" quilt.

The most important rule of this particular exercise is to avoid cutting into the scraps. You can chop off segments so they'll fit into the background. But that's it. Cutting out shapes is cheating! (Or more precisely, it's a different creative exercise.) We want these scraps to arrive on your quilt and be loved just the way they are. Then again, we are in scrap heaven here, so no matter how much you cheat, you are totally and unconditionally forgiven.

1.  Begin by diving into your scrap collection and coming up with (a) an inspiration fabric - maybe a print with abstract  shapes, and (b) scraps that connect to #1 in some way, like shape, color, vibration, etc.

I started with three strips of this fabulous blue/white/red/black print, which I adored and was desperately sorry to be almost out of .

Close up: 
(It's Midori, apparently from the 41st century. If any of you time travellers have any more of this, I'd like to buy it from you. Seriously)
It's a gorgeous cotton sateen, with Miro-like abstract irregular shapes, including triangularish white shapes. 

Here's where the serendipity enters. I found I had a lot of scraps with arched triangular pieces missing (cut out during yarmulke-making adventures), as you can see in the red fabric, and the black-and-white fabric below.  The curvy triangles started talking to each other. 

I found other parallels; the blue strip had a red circle; and my black scrap, plus one of my yellow scraps, also had circles cut from them.

2. Once you have a bunch of candidate scraps, press them out with starch or sizing. Stiff is good.

3. Arrange them on a neutral background. I used a piece of very dark grey/light black fabric, full width off the bolt. I made it as long as it needed to be to accommodate my relevant scraps. (which turned out to be a rather overlong  91") Overlap pieces or not - that's your call. Most of my shapes hang in space, with only a tiny bit of overlap where the black shape hits the red one.

4. Using a nice new temporary glue stick, or applique glue, gently adhere each scrap all the way around its edges.

5. When the glue is dry, stitch the shapes down around the edges with invisible thread and/or matching thread, and a wide zigzag. Frayed edges and strands are part of the charm.

6. Sandwich, baste, and quilt as desired. I quilted a double-line wavy grid in grey thread, across everything. (It sort of represents the dark matter of the universe, and/or curved heavenly space.)

The view at the top of this post shows the quilt on the vertical. That's how I designed it. But I also like it on the horizontal:
I can't decide which I like better, tall or wide. (Opinions welcomed).  At 2 1/2 yards long, I'll be needing a larger couch, in a larger room, in a larger house, to hang it horizontally.
Doesn't that look fun? Give it a try. I predict that your family and friends who admire modern art and Gees Bend quilts will love it. I was astonished by how genuinely enthusiastic my Local Guys were about this quilt. (They tend to like abstraction, cosmology, and science fiction. They thought that the black shape looks like a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey or Star Wars Fighter Pod.) Friends who prefer your complex, realistic, meticulous quilts (like, say, your portrait quilts) will fear that you have gone over to the dark side. And you have. But you can always come back.

Quilting all these wavy grid lines took a long time, so I did a lot of thinking. One thing I thought: This is sort of a meta-quilt, about sewing and quilting. The pieces laid out on the long piece of yardage remind me of garment pattern layout. Also: I love that the cutaway shapes are, in their absence, still present. That makes it a sort of memory quilt.

So, yes, I would love to hear about/see your vision of scrap heaven!

6/14 Update: This link has been shared on Nina Marie Sayre's Off the Wall Fridays project. Lots of wonderful art quilts there!


  1. Fusible web would be perhaps a more efficient answer than gluing around the edges of scraps.

  2. Dear Cathy,
    I LOVE this piece! I'm a big fan of randomness, chance, and serendipity in art, and this has it all. Beautiful interplay of positive and negative space, and I really like the wavy grid imposed on top of the free-form color pieces.

    Keep up the good work,

    1. Linda, thank you so much for your comment! I'm so delighted that you enjoyed it! And I'm glad you're voting for the wavy grid! I did agonize over it!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Alison. The reason I didn't use (or recommend) fusible is because with scraps with ravelly edges, it' can be a big mess getting fusible on, and then trimming it away at the exact edges. (For the purpose of this "game," cutting back the edges breaks the rules!). I do agree with you that fusible would be the easier to keep in position and stitch neatly than glue stick. Glad you stopped by!

  4. What a fun idea!

  5. Lately everything I want to do seems to involve black/white. I love your "game" of applying odd-shaped pieces which relate to one another. Reminds me of Matisse paper cut-outs. Thanks for describing the way you go about it--you may be the only one who is disciplined enough NOT to trim the scraps! ha-ha.

  6. Martha, I did cut back a few scraps to fit them in, but it's MOSTLY come as you are. The rule forced me to relax and not obsess excessively about whether things were perfect! Thanks for your comment and for stopping by. Black and white rocks!

  7. This looks like a really fun project. I think I will suggest it to my art quilt group, next time we need a play. Thanks

  8. This is wonderful! I tried to make an abstract piece like this, but it wound up being representational. Maybe I will try again like you did, without cutting.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. If you promise yourself not to cut (except in case of emergency!), I predict you'll start finding more interestingly cut pieces!


Thank you for commenting!