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.
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!