I know that I'm always whining about not having the time and/or the inclination to quilt. The fact is that I'm always doing something with my hands. It's absolutely impossible for me to sit in front of a TV or take a long road trip without something in my workbox or in my bag to occupy me.
I'm sure that there are times when all of you aren't in the mood to take out the sewing machine or go wading through your fabric stash to pull fabrics for a new quilt. We all have our down times. I'm also sure that there are a lot of you, (like me!), who just can't bear to part with your scraps. You throw them in a basket or a box and they sit there taunting you, asking you to either "throw me out or make something with me!" (I love it when my fabric talks to me....don't you?).
Anyway, I have the solution to your problem! It's one of my secret weapons, 1" paper/fabric squares. It's essentially the same technique as English paper piecing, but I don't whipstitch mine together. Instead I use them as applique accents to my quilts, or on their own as mosaic quilts. The great thing about making these is that except for the graph paper you use as backing, there's virtually no investment if you use your scraps. It's also all done by hand so it's a perfect thing to have on hand when you have a few minutes and don't want to waste them, and because they take very little thought you can do them while waiting at the DMV, watching TV, or even waiting in your car to pick up your kids from school or practice. (I always keep a ziplock bag of pieces with me!).
The pictures above show how I use them as accents. You can add embellishments or embroider them if you'd like. You can also use them to amp up your piecework, making it look more complicated than it is, (and like with all applique, get an added boost of texture in the bargain!).
This picture shows how I used them to add to my patchwork design, and as a border element.
To make the pieces all you need are scraps of fabric cut into 1.5" squares, some paper for backing, and a needle and thread. I made up a few clear templates because I like to fussycut mine, (since they're so small and they're going to have a paper stabilizer you don't need to worry about grain as much). I keep the templates in the same basket I throw my scraps into. I also cut off a slice of any new fabrics I get to cut out a few of these "babies."
I use graph paper for my paper pieces as I like that I can just cut down the lines to make my one inch squares. The 4 per inch is the easiest but any will do if you have a steady hand. I usually cut them into long strips and then cut them off into squares. You can usually get about 80 squares per sheet of paper so you can probably get by by snitching a few pieces from your kid's geography binder, (works for me!). I've tried cutting them with my paper cutter but have had little success. I'm actually a pro with one of these, (I do graphic design and am always cutting out cards and tags), but even I can't get them straight every time. In this case they need to be as straight as you can get them so the graph paper is your best shot.
I like to use odd spools of thread and a larger sized needle. It's a great way to use up bobbin ends or colors you can't imagine using again. And, because the thread is just for basting you can also use up old thread that might be too brittle for you machine. Recycling, woo hoo!! I recommend a larger sized needle mainly because you are going to have to push through at least two layers of fabric and one of paper. It also makes it easier to thread, which speeds it up for me, (particularly when I'm using up odd ends of thread).
To make a square, center a paper piece on the wrong side of your fabric square. Finger press the top edge down. Then holding that edge in place poke your needle up through the front of the piece through the paper and into the edge you just pressed down. Leave about a 1" tail on the right side of the piece. Then continue basting the edge down, catching the tail on the top side to hold it down. When you get to the corner, turn your piece and finger press that edge down and contine stitching. I usually only takes about 3 or 4 stitches per side. When you finish all four edges take an extra stitch and then leave another tail on the top. You don't need to knot either edge because you're going to pull these stitches out later.
One of my favorite things to do with these is to applique them together to make a "mosiac" quilt. It's a little more effort than piecing, but the look is entirely different and it's a great hand project because you don't have to press your seams open. To do this you'll need a piece of good quality cotton broadcloth or muslin. You can also use printed fabric as long as you can make pencil marks on it that can be seen. The backside of a lighter color print will work just fine. This is a great way to use up some of that dated fabric we all have in our stash.
Before starting take your grid ruler and mark 1" lines along one side, and then turn and do it again to make a 1" grid. I don't make these any bigger than about 16" square as it gets cumbersome to go any larger.
I like to start in the center of the piece and work my way outward. I've already stitched a few pieces and you can see the new piece all ready to join the others. This is a great exercise for those of you that want to improve your applique skills. It hides a multitude of sins so you'll have a satisfying result while getting comfortable with the technique.
Essentially you start off by appliquing one square and then just add to it, butting up each square to the others, (it's kinda like Scrabble without the points!). The first few squares are easy, just applique them on trying to stay as close as possible to the grid lines. Don't get too frustrated if they aren't perfect. Fabrics have different weights so even if you do everything perfectly you may have some pieces that are slightly larger than the others, don't stress about it as it all works out OK in the end.
When adding a square like the brown one above I start at the upper left side of the square. You need to use a smaller needle with a sharp point. Pull your needle and thread up under the back edge and into the corner. Then stitch the corner down as close to the adjacent piece as possible. Holding it in place with your hand stitch down about every eighth of an inch down the side until you get to the next corner. Now this is where your applique skills will be tested. As you're stitching your square down try to pick up a tiny thread of the square next to it. This will avoid any white showing between the squares. When you get to the corner take a little stitch attaching the new piece to one of the pieces already in place and then continue stitching all around the piece.
I leave the basting threads in place until I get a few pieces on and then remove them using my needle or a pin, (they come out easily). Then I turn over the piece cut a slit in the back and pull out the paper piece, (a pair of tweezers works great). The back of your piece should look something like this. Now, you can stitch the slits together if you want but I"ve found that it isn't necessary.
Here's what it looks like with the new piece added:
One quick tip! Sometimes when you're working with a fabric with a dark background you'll have white threads show through when you applique and sometimes even while piecing. I have a solution that I picked up while working in the catering business. Often black platters or props would get tiny chips or cracks, we just used a black Sharpie to fill in the spaces. Done correctly the repairs were virtually invisible. The same can work for quilts not intended to be washed.
I suggest that you purchase one of those sets of Sharpie fine line pens with lots of different colors, (they're sold everywhere). I recommend Sharpie because I've used them for years with no problem, and they last a long time.
To make the repair find a pen with the closest color. Test on a scrap of fabric first, you should only have to brush the pen lightly against the white fiber, (don't touch the darker fabric because it might be noticeable). Use your lightest touch at first and add more color if necessary.
I had a white fiber showing on the brown piece I just put in but with my Sharpie fix you can't even see it.