By Alison Dea Bolt
I was taught never to waste anything, especially food. Leftovers, no matter how small, were always kept. Three creamed onions, half a chop-someone might eat them. Only after they grew green fuzz was I allowed to dump them. I treat fabric leftovers the same way. Even the small and hideous have a home. You never know when you might need a one-inch trapezoid of neon telephone fabric. Unfortunately, scraps don’t mold, so I can’t seem to get rid of them.
I’m still seeking the answer to one of life’s great questions. How big is a scrap anyway? I was told early on that useable scraps are at least two-inches square, so I threw out anything smaller-until the day a quilter friend dove into the trash to fish out a wad of my fabric confetti. Obviously I was misinformed. To save money and use the bits I had been pushing into pretzel jars for years, I took a scrap quilt class. Apparently, a scrap can also be 18 inches by 22 inches, because I needed 29 fat quarters to make that quilt. Had I needed to piece a balloon for the Thanksgiving Day parade, I might have had scraps that size. However, my quilts rarely measure 18 feet across, so I had to buy all new materials, which, when cut, yielded even more scraps that, of course, added to my ever-growing cloth mountain!
One day last summer, at dawn, I went to Keepsake Quilting’s tent sale. I found myself in a long line of quilters camped out with food and sleeping bags. It was like a Rolling Stones concert, without the drugs. As we awaited the opening, I asked the woman behind me why she had come. "For the scraps!" she said excitedly. We were offered plastic bags to fill for $4.99. I took one, but I wasn’t about to buy something I was already drowning in. At that moment, an employee plunked down a cardboard box full of cuts. I was instantly descended on by "scrap piranhas" who emptied the box and then sat meticulously folding the pieces into fabric origami to fill every crevice in the bag.
Another box several feet away was surrounded by Canadians chattering in French. Between their shoulder bags and backsides, they created an impenetrable line of defense. Finally, a box was put next to me. I jumped in and grabbed a big handful, stepping out of harm’s way to examine them in peace. No such luck. I was accosted by a wild-eyed woman, perhaps with simian blood, who snatched a piece of banana fabric out of my hands. I learned immediately that when you are in a combat shopping zone and hear a hyperventilating quilter ask, "Are you going to use all that?" you’d better clutch those scraps to your bosom, plant your feet, and hold on for dear life. The last thing I needed was more scraps, but I was in an estrogen-induced buying frenzy. I had no idea what I would do with them, but the banana woman wasn’t getting them. As I stood there pushing batiks into my bag, a veteran told me to poke holes in my bag to let the air out. "You can get yards in there if you do that!" - and I did.
As I scan the army of pretzel jars lining my sewing room wall, I figure I’m probably sitting on a gold mine. Next time I have quilting friends over, I’m giving each a Ziploc bag with holes in it. Do I have a deal for them!
Alison Bolt lives in Littleton, New Hampshire, and is a regular columnist for Quilters Newsletter magazine.
Our thanks to Quilters Newsletter for granting us permission to reprint this column from their November 2008 issue.