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In the Quilting World

Quilt It As You Go & String Quilts

Dealing with scraps and small amounts of fabric can be overwhelming to quilters. With the high cost of fabrics and longarm quilting, it's always nice to have a plan or technique to use those small amounts of fabrics and scraps in a productive way. For many quilters that means making scrappy string quilts and using a quilt-as-you-go technique. The results can be stunning. It's the kind of project that can be worked on when time allows, and it gives such a sense of accomplishment when it's finished.

For years, I chose to work with only matching fabrics and colors. My idea of "scrappy" was controlling the outcome by selectively placing the fabrics and colors so they always looked perfect. Over the past seven years while working as editor of Quilter's World magazine and writing this update, I've discovered the beauty of scraps and of just letting go of the control. I still sort my fabrics by warm and cool shades, but I don't worry about prints or textures like I used to, and I've found that I truly love working with endless amounts of fabrics all in one quilt or project. I've found that working on a string quilt/quilt-as-you-go project is perfect for this sort of quilting. You can pick it up anytime and know where you are in the project. It's a great way to fill a free hour or so.

Our featured book for this update is the book Quilt It As You Go. It can be purchased at AnniesCraftStore.com. This book has five different ways to make a quilt-as-you-go quilt and contains 10 great projects. If variety is what you are looking for, this book has it.

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Quilt It As You Go pattern book, published by Annie's, is available at AnniesCraftStore.com.

My scrappy string quilt was started probably five years ago, and I get it out of my UFO closet every few months if I find I have a bit of free time. I keep it in a see-through container so I know what it is, and being able to see it helps remind me that it's there. Well, I pulled it out the first of this year and placed the container under my cutting table so that I keep it in mind. I've decided that it's time to finish it. Today is the day I begin. Digging into the box is like visiting an old friend. I'm familiar with all the fabrics from past projects.

The first thing to do is to sort the contents by colors, warm and cool. The photo shows just a small number of the huge amount of scraps and strips I've saved for this project. I could probably make 10 of these quilts, but for now, I just want to concentrate on finishing this project. I also cut all the batting scraps I've been saving into 10- and 6-inch squares. "Why two sizes?" you may ask. The answer is that I'm actually making two quilts at the same time. The pieces that don't fit on the 10-inch squares will go on the 6-inch squares. That way, I truly do decrease my stash fabrics. I also have a stack of 6- and 10-inch squares of fabrics for the backs of the blocks.

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Left: Just a few of my scraps for this project. Right: Scrap batting cut into 6- and 10-inch squares. 

I select a backing square and place it right side down on the work surface. Then I lay a same-size batting square on top of it. Starting somewhere near the center, I select two strips that will fit across the entire diagonal of the squares and pin the strips into place with right sides together and one long edge aligned. I then stitch the strips into place along the aligned edge using a 1/4-inch seam allowance. I flip the top strip over and press it open. I then add another strip that will fit across the diagonal of the squares to each free edge of the two original strips and then stitch in the same manner until I have covered the entire backing/batting square. As you can see, even very short strips of fabric eventually get used.

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Stitching strips to the backing/batting squares.

I flip over the unit and trim to the backing edges. Now I have what is known as a String block, and it's already quilted.

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Two different sizes of the String block completed.

The next step is to make the channeling that will connect the blocks together. Using black fabric, I measured and cut 1 1/8-inch-wide strips for the front and 1 5/8-inch-wide strips for the back side. With right sides together, I pinned the 1 1/8-inch-wide strip to the front of the block. Next, I folded the 1 5/8-inch-wide strip in half along the length, wrong sides together and matching the raw edges, and pressed it flat. Then I pinned the folded strip to the back of the block, lining up all the raw edges nicely. Then I stitched a 1/4-inch seam along the entire side.

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Left: Two different widths of black strips cut for channeling. Right: Strips pinned to block. 

The next step is to add the next block. I pinned another block to the other side of the 1 1/8-inch-wide strip, right sides together, and stitched a 1/4-inch seam on the other side of that black strip in the same way as the first block. I then flipped it over, pressed and pinned the folded strip over to the back of the second block, pressing and pinning it in place. To finish, I slip-stitched the folded edge into place on the second block. The two blocks are joined.

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Joining the blocks with channeling strips. 

I like to work with blocks in twos. They're easier to handle, and it's easier to attach the channeling. Once I had several units stitched together in twos, then I stitched a couple of them into a set of four blocks using the same technique.

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Four blocks joined with channeling.

Once I have a set of four blocks completed, I move on to the next stack of String blocks and assemble another set of four. One day soon, I'll have enough to complete my quilt!

If you'd like more information on quilt-as-you-go techniques with great tutorials check out the Quilt It As You Go book, available as a PDF download on AnniesCraftStore.com. It a great resource for both projects and techniques. I hope you try this with your scrap fabrics. I'm sure you'll truly enjoy it. If you do, I'd love to hear about your experiences.

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