Orphan Blocks and Scraps

You can make a great quilt from nothing but leftovers–orphan blocks and scraps!  Of course there are a lot of ways to do this, but here’s an easy one to get you started on both using scraps and trying out improvisational quilting.

Orphan blocks:  Go through your collection and pick enough, or almost enough, blocks to go along one edge of the quilt.  Pick some with colors that go together and set the color range for your quilt based on these blocks.

Yin Yang quilt blocks

These are all in the same color range, and of course all the same design–a good start for an orphan block quilt!

The blocks can be a “header” for the quilt, or an insert somewhere inside the quilt, or they can go down one side.  Or across the top and down one side.  Or…well, you get the idea! There are lots of ways to use them.  But if you’re new to improvising your own designs, consider making a row of orphan blocks across the top.

Orphan block quilt

Here’s a design I’ve already made, but I can’t show the actual quilt because I’m entering it in a show

The blocks do not all need to be the same size.  Just add strips to them to make them all the same.  A lot of times you’ll have something like two 7″ blocks and three 8″ blocks.  You COULD add 1″ strips to the smaller ones on two sides, but that’s a little tedious.  Better to add 2″ strips on 2 sides of the 8″ blocks and 3″ strips on 2 sides of the 7″ blocks.

quilt block with border

Quilt block with larger border added on 2 sides

quilt block

quilt block with small border added on 2 sides

See, they’re modern blocks already–asymmetry!  Because of adding larger strips, you didn’t have to fool around with tiny pieces, and you get a full row with fewer blocks.  Win-win!



In the quilt above it was easy to add grass and sky to adjust the size of the blocks.

After getting the blocks arranged on your design board, go to your scrap bins.  Pick out all the scraps in colors that go with your orphan blocks.  Since I save my scraps as strips, I make a stack of each strip size in the colors I’ve chosen, and I’m ready to go.  If you don’t save your scraps as strips, you really should–it’s so handy!  However, you can also cut strips to get you started.

Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable (and fun!) to make an improv quilt from scraps of any size and shape, but it’s easier with strips.  So if this is your first time, cut strips!

Now join those strips into rows, and the rows into sections, and keep going until you have the size quilt you want.  You’ll probably want to square it up after you get the top pieced; a top made of pieces of different sizes rarely comes out even on all sides.

Here’s another idea, assuming I had several leftover leaf blocks:

orphan block and scrap quilt

Leaves and scraps, assuming I had 5 leftover leaf blocks

Now, go for it!

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