My Beautiful Mess – A Story About Orphan Blocks

I know a few people whose very first quilts are stunning, but most of us have to make a mess before we can create something beautiful. This quilt is a HOT mess, but a lot of learning happened here. And it’s not all bad. There are quite a few elements I like. Most of all, I like that it’s finished.

What exactly is this quilt? It’s a mish-mash of blocks from quilts I started but never finished. Orphan blocks. Most quilters have some. Maybe you start a sew-along but don’t have time to finish. Maybe you try a new technique and hate it. Maybe you lose your pattern. All these scenarios are represented in this quilt.

I decided to turn my orphans into a quilt because I got a new long-arm frame and wanted to practice my free-motion quilting. My inexperience shines through but that’s okay. I’m giving it to the dog, and she loves it.

I try to focus on the positive. What do I love about it? The tiny pinwheels in the photo above are adorable, and so freakin’ old. Many years ago I started a blue and white sampler quilt. I loaned the pattern to someone and never got it back, so I had a lot of blue orphans. They are sprinkled throughout this quilt. It’s probably just as well… my ambition far exceeded my skills at that time, so these blocks are definitely subpar. Those two blocks in the bottom corners of the top photo… I quite like those but they too are older than dirt. You can tell because the background fabric is muslin. When I first started quilting it was an unwritten rule that all background fabric had to be muslin. I don’t know why I only ever made two of those.

I’m famous for joining sew-alongs. I’m infamous for not finishing them. Many of these blocks came from the Splendid Sampler. It was fun for a few weeks but I lost interest, thus I had another tidy stack of orphans. And that house… I thought I would enjoy making a scrappy house quilt, and I did, but not with that particular pattern. Into the orphan pile it went.

Making an orphan block quilt is easy. Just lay out all your blocks, jig-saw style, until you have a composition you like. Fill in the gaps with something that ideally ties everything together. I bought that black/pink polka dot fabric at a yard sale and I had LOTS of it, so I used it for the back and binding too. It’s super-improvisational but that’s what makes it so easy. No complicated math, no stress. Just eyeball everything and trim as needed.


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