Secondhand News: Room for squares: Turning fabric scraps into something special

Photo courtesy of Three Little Birds Sewing Co.

By LAUREN FLYNN KELLY — This past Christmas I received one of my most favorite gifts ever: a brand-new sewing machine accompanied by my mom’s old sewing cabinet and a box of fabric scraps that had been kept by my family of savers. I recognized a calico print from a hand-sewn stuffed pony and the gold lamé my aunt used to make a pair of parachute pants one Christmas for my Barbie doll — all tangible pieces of my childhood!

I immediately brushed up on my sewing skills with an Intro to Quilting course at Hyattsville’s own Three Little Birds Sewing Co. and found a kindred spirit in proprietor Kate Blattner. Her store/sewing studio had only been open a few weeks, yet she had a massive box of scraps ready to be incorporated into a quilted pillow. Some of them were from her own personal stash, which was evident as we picked through all the pretty prints and she’d occasionally tell us about one’s history.

Since that class seven months ago, I’ve made a twin size quilt and matching pillow for my daughter, incorporating scraps from the curtains I’d sewn for her room years earlier. Blattner said there’s been a “whole movement” toward modern quilting in recent years, with people of all ages learning the art and using less traditional colors and patterns in quilts. But there are also plenty of other things you can do with scraps, and many of them don’t have to involve sewing. That’s why you’ll see “scrap bags” and “fat quarters” (18-by-22-inch pieces of fabric) for sale at Three Little Birds, which recently moved into a street-level location at 5132 Baltimore Avenue.

For this column, Blattner let me pick her brain about some sewing and non-sewing projects for scrap-savers like myself and directed me to Pinterest for additional ideas. Here are a few:

Handmade bibs. All you need are two fat quarters and a little fabric fastener or a snap. Three Little Birds hosts bib-making classes for $25 per person (plus supplies).  

Decoupaged decor. Blattner suggested using a large wooden letter from a craft store and adhering your scraps to it with specialty glue such as Modge Podge. I lined the bottom of an old tray with glue and a scrap of fabric left over from re-covering my dining chairs.

Pretty presents. Blattner said her mother would often layer the dry ingredients for a cookie recipe in Mason jars as Christmas gifts and cap them off with fabric. You can cut a circle of fabric with decorative-edge pinking shears, cover the lid, and paint the rim a matching color. To go along with it, try cutting a gift tag out of card stock and layering strips of fabric over it with glue.  

Small bags, like zip-up pouches, coin purses, clutches, pencil cases or kid-sized totes. Or if you’re intimidated by quilting but want the look of a patchwork tote, you could just sew a few large squares together to make an oversized bag.

Do-it-yourself pin cushions. There are a million tutorials for these on Pinterest, including ones that you can embed in the lid of a teapot or on top of a Mason jar while storing buttons on the inside.

Cut-and-sew dolls. Ready-to-use doll kits to make mermaids and Little Red Riding Hood out of fabric have been selling like hotcakes at Three Little Birds, said Blattner. Another idea is to bring your child’s simple drawing of a monster or other creature to life by re-creating it with scraps and leftover stuffing.  

Rag wreaths can easily be made by weaving strips of cut or torn fabric through wire wreath forms (sold at craft stores) or pinning the center of a few layers of fabric into a foam form for a flower effect. You can also use those strips to make decorative banners or garlands.

Tiny bedding for your children’s dolls. It’s a lot easier than making little doll clothes! My daughters love to play “sleepover” with their Barbies, so I’m constantly being asked to make another comforter or sleeping bag for them.

Decorative paper quilt. My daughter’s pre-K class did a project where the children were given small scraps of fabric to sort and glue onto a piece of paper to make their own quilts. I thought this was so creative, and I loved seeing the prints and colors she chose.

Next time you think about donating or tossing some old fabric, I hope you’ll feel inspired to give it a second look and consider one of these or the many other easy project ideas available online.