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Published on April 3rd, 2008 | by Skye Kilaen

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Top 5 Quilting Ideas for “Use What You Have” Month

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As you may already know, April is Use What You Have Month in the craft-o-sphere. Started by crafter Toni at her blog Simple Sparrow in 2006, this challenge asks crafters of all types to take 31 days and rediscover the treasures in their stashes instead of heading to the store.

(Yes, your stash. The one over there. Don’t bother closing the closet door or standing in front of it, we still know it’s there.)

Over 4,700 photos in the Use What You Have Flickr group demonstrate that this idea has caught on. Sometimes being green means supporting companies and artisans that are producing sustainable, beautiful materials. Sometimes, though, it means taking a break from accumulating more stuff and using the time to create something beautiful.

How can quilters spend the month of April? I’m glad you asked! Here are my picks for the Top 5 “Use What You Have” quilting ideas:

creative quilting book

The Journal Quilt

Jeanne Williamson, a mixed media artist, started making a small art quilt each week in 1999 and kept going until she had made 365 of them, which can be seen online in this gallery. These “journal quilts” were the inspiration for the Journal Quilt Project that has run in conjunction with the International Quilt Festival (IQF) for several years. Participants in that project make a quilt each month that’s the same size as a sheet of notebook paper, and each quilt is an exercise in developing their creativity. Karey Patterson Bresenhan’s book Creative Quilting showcases over 400 of the journal quilts that have been hung at IQF.

You don’t have to make a journal quilt every week, or even every month, but why not try one in April? You have enough in your stash already to try a new block, a new technique, or a color combination that you normally wouldn’t choose. Or use the opportunity to express a feeling or commemorate an event in your life.

miniature quilts

The Miniature Quilt

If you’ve always wanted to make a log cabin quilt, make a tiny one. If you’ve always wanted to make an art quilt, make a tiny one. The Miniature Quilt: Over 24 Projects for Quilters and Doll’s House Enthusiasts by Dinah Travis has patterns for every kind of quilter, but you don’t really need a pattern. Just scale down your blocks, or go block-free and improvise.

If you haven’t already tried paper piecing, you could try it out with a miniature quilt. Paper piecing, in which you sew pieces of fabric to a paper foundation, often makes it easier to achieve precision when working with very small shapes. Look for books by Carol Doak, such as Easy Paper-Pieced Miniatures, or other paper piecing books for ideas. You’ll need tracing paper, though, so if you don’t already have it, you may have to wait until April is over. (Learn from my experience and don’t use regular printer paper instead, as you will spend the rest of your life removing it from the back of your quilt blocks. With tweezers. And if you didn’t have carpal tunnel syndrome before, you will develop it.)

successful scrap quilts

The Scrap Quilt

The history of quilting in America is scraps. Leftovers from clothing, feed sacks, and other bits of cloth were made into quilts that ranged from utilitarian to exquisite. If you’ve made a few quilts, you undoubtedly have a collection of scraps in a box that you just couldn’t bear to throw away. Give them a new life during the month of April, and they’ll thank you for their second chance.

Successful Scrap Quilts from Simple Rectangles by Judy Turner and Margaret Rolfe is a great sourcebook for learning how to organize your scraps and plan quilts that are made of leftovers, but don’t look like it. They include a number of patterns to get you started, but the block system they present offers endless possibilities. The lessons they share about color and contrast are valuable for any project.

Quilt for Charity

Project Linus provides quilts and blankets to children in hospitals, social services agencies, and other settings where kids need some kindness. Quilts of Valor Foundation provides quilts to wounded soldiers and service members. If neither of those options strikes your fancy, just do an online search for “charity quilt” and you’ll find other causes and lots of free patterns that whip up quickly. The quilt doesn’t have to be intricate to mean the world to the person who receives it.

UFO

Tackle those UFOs

You knew I would say it, didn’t you? To many folks, a stack of Unfinished Objects is the proof that you’re a real quilter, but April would be a great month to make that stack a little shorter. There are so many reasons not to finish a project, but here’s a list of tips to help you break through those barriers.

(However, the tip “Evaluate why projects don’t hold your interest” seems kind of preachy and doesn’t really address the current situation. Also, they don’t provide any tips for “started a project for someone I was dating and then broke up with him before I finished it.”)

Good luck with Use What You Have Month, and we’ll be looking for your wonderful quilts on Flickr!

["UFO" Image by Alexander Rist.]

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About the Author

Skye Kilaen began sewing at an early age and eco-rabble-rousing shortly after that. Many years later, someone finally told her that there are books about how to make quilts. Life was never the same. In fact, she spent more on her sewing machine than her car. Bringing her green and crafty passions back together, Skye is now happily discovering ways to create beautiful and useful objects using thrifted and sustainable materials. No, that's not just an excuse to visit Goodwill more often. Honest.



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