The exploitation of orphans

img_4802Before you think of Dickensian villains exploiting vulnerable children in the 1800s I am of course referring to the orphan blocks that I guess every quilter has tucked away in some corner. These are blocks that for a whole variety of reasons have been abandoned and left behind by luckier blocks that ended up in the quilt or whatever was being made at the time. Or perhaps they were  blocks that were never part of a family and were practice pieces  but are now all alone with no purpose other than taking up valuable space.

When I did my recent sort through my drawers of  shame I was surprised by quite how many I’d got and what a varied collection they were.  So I thought it was timely to review what you can do with orphan blocks to give them some purpose and useful function as well as hopefully being decorative in the process and then link this up to Yvonne’s and Stephanie’s (The Late Night Quilter) tips and tutorials on the Quilting Jet Girl’s  blog. I’ve found the posts in this series and in the past so useful and they have improved my quilting experience no end so I thought if you take out you should put back in!  In fact my main tip is to periodically to go through any leftover projects, large or small. I was really very pleasantly surprised when I went through my drawers of shame to find amongst some decidedly ugly ones some real gems that really do deserve being used or projects that were once put away and forgotten in the excitement of a new project but in fact are lovely and really deserve to be put back on the list. But let me introduce you to my orphan blocks and quite how I ended up with so many. Maybe these will ring a bell with you.

There are blocks that you have made to see whether you enjoyed making them and whether the pattern looked as good as you hoped. Here are some blocks from a tutorial from the Missouri Quilting Company by the wonderful Jenny Doan. It is a lovely block and it does make a great quilt but too late I realised that they were quite time consuming, lots of seams to match which I never find enjoyable and the colours were just too white for our house. So I made a few for the project before it got abandoned.


There are trial or test blocks where you don’t ever intend to make a full quilt but just want to play. There are quite a few like this in my collection. The bright yellow ones are the Kona colour of the year Highlight and were for an IG challenge which I never got to participate in because I forgot to tag it the way you should do!


There are mistake blocks. The picture below shows a tear in the block when I used a seam ripper to remove the papers from the back of this log cabin. Not a tip I would offer up!!! And the blue block at the back made too small for a charity bee.

There are other blocks that never quite made the grade when it came to assembling the final quilt. Maybe like the red and cream ones below that were just not going to be pointy enough!


So what to do. Well here is an open ended list and by that I mean add your own ideas!!

1. Make a pouch. Most blocks are a size which would make a perfect pouch and if you have got a couple spare like the red and cream ones above then it’s a quick job to make up a pouch. It saves having to cut awkward sized pieces out of a fat quarter or half meter which I always hate doing and the finished product looks I think very effective.


2. Make a needle case like the wonderful stitchy pies, which is a very creative and useful needle case by the talented Lucy Brennan. One for me and one for a quilty friend.


3. Mug rugs/ quilted mats/pot holders  are perfect for leftover orphan blocks. I used my accidentally torn block to make a rug mug and it’s in daily use. I also used it to test out spiral quilting for this block and then discovered that I  didn’t like it for the finished quilt so it was doubly useful.


4. Quilt backs. The obvious solution to  excess blocks. And there are some beautiful quilt backs out there that use the extras to make a creative pieced backing. On my first drunkards path quilt there were a great number of poorly pieced curved blocks which had no chance of matching up so they got used on the back and really adds to the final finish.


6. Cushion covers. Cushion covers would be perfect to use for these blocks and I have thought of doing that but it would have been for one of my son’s rooms and I know exactly where that cushion would end up just adding to the already overly cluttered floor. But this lovely little star block in the bottom picture is one that I pattern tested for Esther could easily become a Christmas cushion.



8. Use to brighten up something boring! I use these cheap canvas tote bags for all my wips. It was just fun to quickly add something to make it more interesting.


9. Charity blocks. I know our local Project Linus Cordinator happily receives any orphan blocks to make up quilts for this excellent cause. Alison at Little Island quilting does the same and she has made dozens of beautiful quilts for orphanages and children’s homes across the world.

10. Bin them! Or in my case put them into pillows for dogs at our local dogs home. This will only to apply to the most ugly or truly failed blocks like these…. actually the photo has been kind to them, they are really ugly….


There are countless ways of using these leftover blocks please do tell what what you’ve done with yours.

4 thoughts on “The exploitation of orphans

  1. Every once in a while I find a stack of orphans…and have an urge to use them in one way or another. It can be a big challenge! All your suggestions are worthy of using those left overs! Guess I better hunt more orphans down!


  2. Pingback: Tax Avoidance | The Lilac Cat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s