I’m Alison from Alison Barry Quilting and I’m excited to share with you the various ways I use orphan blocks and extra fabric solutions! I run a quilt pattern design and ghostwriting business and I love working with orphan blocks and using up my stash.
So the first question is, what is an orphan block? An orphan block is a unit or block that is created when making a quilt that is extra. I personally like having these extra blocks around because I usually mess something up and it’s nice to have some extra blocks 2 lying around to substitute in when those mistakes happen.
Now as a quilt pattern designer I end up with A LOT of orphan blocks. Before I make a quilt with my final fabric selection I make a couple blocks to make sure my math turns out.
Sometimes I purposely make orphan blocks after the fact because I love the fabric so much that I can’t resist making another project with it.
Also as a quilt pattern designer I always buy extra fabric because until I perfect the pattern there’s the likelihood I’m going to have to cut extra pieces. 9 times out of 10 I end up with extra yardage because of this and I am trying to limit my stash and be purposeful in my fabric buying.
A great way to use up this extra fabric is to make orphan blocks!
New Quilter or Advanced Pattern
The other great thing about orphan blocks is if someone is dipping their toe into the world of quilting or even sewing these projects give you a taste of quilting (and how addictive it can be)!
Also for an experienced quilter if a pattern looks too complex and you want to test it out before diving in head first this is a perfect way to adapt a pattern and still have a finished product at the end.
My go to options for orphan blocks are tote bags and pillows.
If you have 1 or 2 extra blocks hanging out these make great complementary pillows to a quilt. Don’t be shy in cutting up the blocks and sewing them back together in a different layout.
This cute little pillow started out as a couple Hunter’s Star blocks! I took the blocks, cut them into quarters, messed around with my arrangement and came up with an 8 pointed star!
I had a bunch of half and quarter square triangles left over from my Pathfinder Quilt and made a scrappy lumbar pillow with an envelope back.
My all time favorite way to use up orphan blocks are quilted tote bags! Not only do you get to use up extra blocks, but you also get to use those smaller pieces of batting and extra fabric for the lining and the handles!
To make this tote I made four extra blocks from my Carry Me Home quilt and used all of the fabric prints to give it a scrappy look. I took two of the blocks and cut them on both diagonals to provide some interest to the eye.
Some extra fabric and batting later, a fun tote bag that is perfect to take to quilt classes or around town!
Table Runners and Placemats
Table runners and placements are another great way to use up orphan blocks especially if your blocks are on the larger size (10” to 12”).
Depending on the size of your table you can easily put together several of the blocks and make a quick table runner or if you have a smaller table – say a coffee or end table, you can add some borders to a single block and make a great talking piece for the center of the table.
For place mats, rather than adding borders around all the edges, what about adding a fun accent border on the side, such as a braid, that complements the block.
If you have a ton of tiny blocks (think 2 ½” half-square triangles) pin cushions are a great option!
These are quick easy sews and if you use walnut shells for the filling your pins will be sharpened at the same time! You can even embellish a pin cushion with a cute button in the middle.
Ornaments or Gift Tags
Another great use for smaller blocks is making ornaments or gift tags. For both, rather than using batting, use interfacing to give it some strength. You can still quilt on the ornaments or gift tags (use it as an excuse to practice your free motion quilting or ruler work!) if you feel like it. They can be easily made by stitching right sides together and turning right sides out, or you can also use up some of those extra binding strips and bind the edges instead of top-stitching.
The options are endless in using up orphan blocks, but I hope you now have some ideas to spark that creativity and start using up those orphan blocks you have stashed away! It’s amazing what you can create with a couple of blocks and a little extra fabric.
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September 22, 2023
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