Week in Review 2020 – 12/18

Reuse, REDUCE, Repurpose and Recycle…

… That is the goal. When it comes to my artwork I am focusing on reducing. This has always been my plan since I started quilting in 1988. Sadly, it is only over the past year or so when my actions consistently match my intentions. Nothing like two household moves in 10 years to be confronted with the sheer volume of accumulated tools, books, fabric, thread, dyes, paint, appliances and all the other “essentials” of making fiber art my studio contains. I use the word studio loosely, since these supplies don’t reside exclusively within the four square walls of my studio.

Image of the completed top for Cautiously Optimistic when set on the horizontal.
Cautiously Optimistic – the front, visible side, referred to as the top.
Benefits of Moving

Both moves helped me recycle and reduce my collection of essentials. Each time we moved I culled my collection. I passed along duplicates, no longer used items, and fabric that didn’t speak to me. No matter how ruthless I am during a move, my studio has far more supplies than I will ever go through in life time.

EQ 8 piecing diagram for the Cautiously Optimistic's backing.
EQ 8 piecing diagram for the Cautiously Optimistic’s backing. EQ allows me to color the diagram with fabric. It helps me identify the various sections I will be piecing.

So, how I have I changed? The biggest shift is using the leftover pieces and scraps from my quilt tops to make up the back. This has two advantages. First, in the past I either bought new fabric for my backs or I used large lengths of fabric from my stash. However, with a secondary goal not to buy new fabric, sacrificing larger lengths of fabric from my stash means my stash is less flexible for future projects. Second, why I really love piecing my backs from leftovers, is I no longer have to sort and store those leftovers. I rarely, almost never, use them anyway. Now I do.

How I Do It

It does take a bit of ingenuity to create a backing from scraps. Fortunately, I have developed a few methods to cope. Just as I plan a piecing diagram for the quilt top, I do the same for the back. The backing needs to be larger than the top, approximately a 2″ margin all round, to give a hand hold while quilting. Since the margin is trimmed after quilting I treat that area more like a border I don’t piece this section.

All the blocks are pieced for Cautiously Optimistic's backing.
All the segments are pieced for Cautiously Optimistic’s backing. I didn’t have time to trim and stitch everything together this week. Still, pretty impressed I did all of this in a single week.

I take a very casual approach, for me, to piecing. This time I sorted all the leftovers into pieces and strips. First I gathered like pieces and sewed them into units, such as two triangles into a square. Cautiously Optimistic used strips in 3 widths. I trimmed the units to match the strip widths. Didn’t fret over points being lopped off or left dangling. The units are interspersed in the strips. This results in 3 very, very long strips I used to piece the segments. The result is a bit of a how mess, still a little mindless piecing with few leftovers to deal with is a big win in my book.

I am linking up with Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Fridays.

By Gwyned Trefethen

I am an artist who uses fabric, thread and miscellany to create designs gifted to me by my imagination.


  1. LOL! I’ve been making *fronts* that resemble your backs! 😉 Given my recent “inheritance” of assorted yardage, I have plenty of ‘plain’ fabric for backs now — especially if the fronts aren’t bed-sized. Some of the ‘fronts’ will be utilitarian, but some have titles and are meant to hang on walls. All I’ve been buying lately is batting — when I don’t have enough small pieces to cobble together anything decent to use instead. Here’s to repurposing!

    1. I was thinking my back, if there weren’t so many scraps, could be a Gee’s Bend quilt. Those quilters were into repurposing and intuitive piecing. When my children were both in primary school, perhaps late ’80s early ’90s Joann Fabrics had a big sale on solid color cottons. I dragged the kids to store and bought a half yard of every single color. I still have most of it – just not in half yard lengths. Lucky you to have inherited fabric usable for backing.

  2. A great way to repurpose those scraps. If I had to move right now, I shudder to think of what I would do with all the “stuff” in my studio. Fortunately I am here for the long haul. I hope!

    1. We know we will be moving again around 2031 give or take a year. When we do, I will either need to eliminate my studio all together or par it, especially the equipment and furniture way, way back. Knowing this, does influence how I think about my work. Working this way combines play, pot making (experimentation) and practicality.

  3. I have always hated piecing backs, but I’m being persuaded that it’s better to use up all that fabric than have it sitting on the shelves! And I’m an improv gal to start with, so wonky works just fine. Thanks for a bit of ‘use it up’ motivation!

    1. No reason to be precious with the piecing on the backside. You can be as wonky/creative as the mood compels. I’m not a big fan of doing appliqué be it fused or turned. Drives me crazy to have odd shapes, some looking like Swiss cheese, bits of fabric. Isn’t it wonderful that we can all use the techniques we love to turn out work that feeds our soul?

  4. Yes, use up that fabric. I love making scrappy quilt backs. My only issue is sometimes there are just too many seams for smooth quilting, between a heavily pieced front and back.

    1. You are correct, too many seams can lead to speed bump jumps when quilting. The good news is I rarely have more than a four way intersection of fabric. I’ve been pressing my seams open for years. This also keeps things flat. Finally, I fuse baste my top and my back to the batting. Helps keep things from shifting while I quilt.

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