Scraps, Value and “Beautiful Buts”

Thanks to everyone who responded to my survey about quilt classes a few weeks ago. It was interesting to see how many of you like scrap quilts and it got me thinking about a technique I developed for sorting my scraps by value. Value is the relative darkness/lightness of a fabric and it can make or break many quilt patterns. I came up with a value  sorting technique when I was making a quilt I called Almost Charming.

I had been in my guild’s 6″ square exchange and decided to use those squares  in the Friendship Star pattern and this ended up becoming a very popular class. A true charm quilt has only one piece of each fabric used. Because I cut each square into triangles, there are two pieces of each fabric and thus it is “Almost Charming”.

When sorting scraps for a quilt, some patterns require just lights and darks, with the mediums needing to be removed for the pattern to work. Other patterns need lights, darks and mediums, but if there isn’t a clear delineation between the values, the pattern can get lost. The Friendship Star uses darks in the stars, lights in the background (which becomes the diagonal lattice when the blocks are set together) and mediums in the remaining “on point squares at the corners of each 9 patch star block.

I grabbed a bunch of 6″ squares (even after making this quilt I still have a box full – I think they multiply in the dark like bunnies)

Step 1 – quickly and without any deep thinking, divide the fabrics into 2 piles: lights and darks (there are no wrong answers, so just do it)

2. Using the same quick method, take the dark pile and divide it into 2 piles: light and dark (remember value is relative to what’s being sorted)

3. Now do this for the original light pile.

4. Here’s the tricky part (remember not to overthink anything) – of the four piles before you, set the dark/darks and the light/lights aside. Now sort the medium/dark pile from step 2 into 2 piles: dark and light; and sort the medium/light pile from step 3 into 2 piles: dark and light. This will give you 4 medium piles.

5. By removing two of these piles there will be a definite difference between the darks, the mediums and the lights. The pile on the far left and the pile on the far right above need to be removed. The two center piles will be combined to form the “mediums”.

So here you have it all. The 3 piles along the bottom of the picture are the dark, medium and light piles. The 2 piles at the top of the picture are the ones set aside for use in a future quilt.

So what are “Beautiful Buts”?

I wish I remembered where I learned this expression, but the concept has stuck with me. There are some fabrics printed with an equal amount of dark and light in them. They are usually “beautiful – but” they are not dark, light or medium. They are Beautiful Buts and they often don’t work well in scrap quilts and will need to be set aside. Here are just a few:

I hope you found this helpful. Do you have any helpful tips for sorting by value?



7 Opinions

  • Jeri Schulz said:

    I remember this class. It was fun!
    Where is your book for sale?

    • clkquilt admin

      Hi Jeri, You can get it through my blog by clicking on the book cover in the column to the right, or send a check for $21.95 to me at: N7568 Ceasar Road, Watertown, WI 53094; (includes S&H), or maybe we should just meet for lunch :-)! Any of those 3 choices works for me.

  • Louanne said:

    I have made a number of scrap quilts over the years. Just love them!!. If the fabric is not quite right, I often have looked at the back and used the “wrong” side up. This works best when using a medium fabric, flipping over for a lighter shade.

  • Jeanie admin

    I really can use this advice. Thanks a bunch, Chris.


  • Tari Hammons said:

    I have also found that some of those beautiful buts will be light when placed next to a dark, and appear dark when placed next to a light. So, I don’t always “discard” them from the scrap process. Most often they will work nicely in borders. Or if it’s a quilt that does use mediums as well, you can place them by their opposite to get the light or dark you might be needing.

  • Cindy Boyd said:

    A lot of my ‘Beautiful Butts’ make it onto the backs of my quilts! I bought them because I liked them so I might as well use them!


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