Thursday, October 10, 2019

Giving Orphans a Home: Introduction and Simple Sashing

Welcome to a new series here called "Giving Orphans a Home." As you may know, one of my favorite charities is Covered in Love. CiL was started by Kat of Kat & Cat Quilts, and provides comfort quilts to patients who pass away in the hospital.

Hundreds of quilts have made their way into the arms of grieving families, providing a quilty hug during a difficult time. Those quilts come to Kat in several different forms: as completely finished pieces, as flimsies, and as individual blocks. Blocks can be part of Kat's regular block drives, or from her quilting bees, or donated from a contributor's own batch of left over blocks.

As you can imagine, after a couple of years of receiving these "orphaned" blocks, Kat has quite a collection! They are all sizes, colors and designs. Fabrics range from muted reproductions to solids and blenders to the latest angular modern design. What they all share, though, is a desire to go to work in a Covered in Love quilt. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Trustees of Covered in Love.)

I've been working away in my little studio for several months, playing with a huge, 10 lb batch of these orphan blocks. I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned. Maybe it will help you tackle your own batch of orphans.

First, I'd like to set some ground rules:

1. All Orphans Are Beautiful

Blocks end up in the orphanage for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps the quilter made too many for a project. Of course she/he would choose the very best blocks to go into their own project! The ones left behind might be the ones that aren't quite the right size. Or the ones with less than ideal contrast. Or the ones with a piece sewn in backwards. Maybe a point was chopped off. Or the block was distorted by ironing and isn't square anymore.

On the other hand, maybe the orphan was a test block, a one-of-a-kind experiment. It could be a perfect block, but lonely! Maybe the quilter made many very nice blocks, but lost interest in the project. Or really loves to piece blocks but isn't so keen on putting together flimsies.

Maybe they made almost enough blocks, but ran out of the coordinating fabrics. We've all been there, right? The point is that I will probably never know the history of the block, so I try not to assume that there's anything wrong with these blocks at all. Not my taste? Someone loves these colors! Odd size? Maybe the quilter makes ALL her blocks 8 1/8" x 7 7/8"! Very avant-garde!

A good orphan block quilt is like a choir. Not every voice can be a soloist. But combining these blocks with other, friendly orphans allows them to blend and make beautiful music. And even a few clunky harmonies can be charming, if performed with enthusiasm or a bit of distracting dancing!

So if you look at one of my finished quilts and think, "Huh. I can see why THAT block was donated," remember that each block is beautiful in its own way. On the other hand, if you look at one of my quilts and think, "Huh. That's one ugly quilt," blame my design skills, not the blocks!

2. All Orphans Are Useful

OK, so we've established that they are all lovely and they just need some friends to help them soar. How do you get 8 1/8" blocks to play nicely with 8.5" ones? After all, we need a relatively flat, square finished quilt.

My assumption is that the block maker wanted this block to end up in a quilt. So I figure that each block is willing to undergo a certain amount of surgery to make the cut, so to speak. The following actions do not harm the blocks: Trimming down, even if points are lost. Adding uneven borders to make into a square. Giving up on a technique/shape, such as cutting Dresdens into a circle. Changing the shape completely, such as cutting squares into triangles or vice versa. Repeat: No Blocks Were Harmed in the Making of These Quilts.

And never forget that the back of the quilt plays an important role, too! Some blocks are natural introverts and would rather snooze quietly on the reverse side.

3. All Orphans Are Respected

And finally, it's important to remember that these blocks were donated to Covered in Love. Not just any charity, but that specific one. So out of respect for that, I keep these orphans separated from the rest of my stash. I can ADD to these blocks, but not subtract. Kat also sent me yardage to use for backings, and that is also used only for CiL quilts.

There are a few, minor exceptions to this rule. Small trimmings from the backings do get folded into my own stash of random strings. I will sadly discard blocks that are obviously stained or have rips/holes in the fabric. And if I've made my best effort to use a block, but botched it completely, it might get thrown away. I accidentally sliced one block in half because it was hiding under something else. It didn't lend itself to repair, so I gave myself permission to scrap it completely. Sorry, anonymous block donor! I'll try not to do that again!

OK! Now that all that introductory stuff is out of the way, let's look at one of the most straight-forward ways to put orphans together.

Simple Sashing

I've shared these two quilts before here on the blog, so they might look familiar. (Click here and here to read more about them.) For each one, I had enough blocks of similar size, color, and theme to put them into a simple grid layout. I used sashing and cornerstones (sometimes called the "Puss in the Corner" block design) to bring each square block to the same size. 

This autumnal quilt plays nicely together because half the blocks are the printed "cheater" panels that look like fancy applique. They anchor the design so the other, more random blocks, can fill in the other spaces. I also chose muted reds for many of the sashing/cornerstone pieces and the binding for blending purposes.

For these diverse patriotic stars, I added an inner stop border and a scrappy squares outer border to bring the whole quilt up to a good size for CiL. The red inner border kind of corrals all the diversity and helps the eye see that each block contains a bit of red. Even though each star is quite different, their colors and starry essence gives them cohesion.

For the next installment of Giving Orphans a Home, I'll share some brand new quilts and another design technique. I hope you'll come back and visit!


  1. some great ideas here... I look forward to the sequel.... I love quilts that are 'scrappy' or at least make use of whatever is there..

  2. This is a great idea for a post, especially since there are very few quilters without an orphanage or Parts Department! CIL is such a great charity; thank you for the time and effort you give to them. xo

  3. Thanks for this post, really enjoyed reading it, thinking about orphan blocks and having your familiar examples to illustrate - just great!

  4. I'm excited about your new series. Thanks for sharing the quilty love for Orphan Blocks! I appreciate your dedication to Covered in Love. I'm may not be on the board, but I like to consider myself one of Kat's biggest fans.

  5. Louise, you just have a knack to make these orphans into useful quilts in just the right way. Looking forward to seeing more in this series.

  6. This is a fun post that explains your methods. At our guild we often have orphan blocks but not a lot of them to work with at any one time ....maybe I should send them your way.

  7. This is so helpful to read, Louise. Thanks for sharing this. How do you keep costs down when you mail the finished quilts to CIL? I was a bit stunned when I mailed two (almost queen size) quilts earlier this year. Even with poly batting, they were heavy and costly to mail.

  8. Wonderful post on how you bring all things together for good. beautifully expressed rules of orphan love.

  9. Great post. I give you enormous amounts of credit for being able to cheerfully work with these orphan blocks. Having put together a comfort quilt made with blocks from our quilt group, and having had to unsew about half of them, I know how challenging it can be. Now I must get this month's blocks in the mail to Kat.

  10. Thank you soooo much for all you do for Kat & Covered in Love. Your energy & enthusiasm for allowing orphan blocks to soar to great heights is so inspiring. I love that you have started this new series and look forward to seeing/reading about the magic you do in making each block special in your quilts for CiL.

  11. You're doing wonderful things with orphan blocks for a great cause. You have a knack for making disparate parts work together. I have orphan blocks I'd be happy to send, either to you or to CIL, just let me know where.

  12. Hey, Louise, great idea to show people how great orphans are!

  13. Louise, what a great idea for a post, and I love that you're beginning a series! You are a magician with orphan blocks, and I can always use some good ideas for those oddball blocks. It occurs to me, too, that a few of my CiL blocks could be orphans that you end up using, and for that I say thank you very much!

  14. I love the attributes you assigned to the blocks, and your respect for them. I have done a lot with orphans over the years, too...I never broke down what the mental process is, though. Well done! Beautiful work!

  15. When I was in high school, I volunteered for a community service trip to an orphanage. We spent the day playing and reading with some of the children and had a great time. I will never forget the nun who welcomed us and gave us some advice before we went in to work with the children. She told us that everyone we would meet needed a little love and attention to feel included and made whole. It sounds like that's what happens with the blocks Kat sends you. Thanks for a great post. You work magic with all of the odds and ends and make them whole.

  16. Excellent post! You are amazing.

  17. Great post on what to do with the challenging orphans. I look forward to the next announcement.

  18. Very sound ground rules on the blocks and the quilts. Sometimes it's easier to find the negative then the positives. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

  19. Good ground rules. No block goes unloved with this system!

  20. I used to get your newsletters and at some point they just stopped coming. Anyway, when I saw Kat's post about your CIL contributions, I went over to your site to see and it was my long lost sailing quilter! I have always enjoyed your posts so I was quick to sign up again for your newsletter even before reading your post.

    Thanks for all of your suggestions and a bit of history. I personally think scrap quilts are the best of all no matter how "unprecise" they might be, I know the recipient will it to be their most loved of all.

    Now, I am going to try to catch up on some of the posts I have missed!

    Oh, do you contain all of your quilting on your boat? I guess you quilt with a DSM?

  21. Great ground rules, Louise!!! Every block deserves a chance!


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