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  • Writer's picturePola Quilting

Magic numbers principle in quilting

I don’t know where was the first time I heard about magic numbers, but once I started looking into this idea, it made so much sense for someone who works with scraps and random sized pieces of fabrics. Since I often upcycle clothing, or get my scraps from the Scrapstore (random pieces), I never know how much fabric I will have, and what shapes these will be. The biggest pieces (like the back of a man’s shirts) I try to keep in one piece until I know how I will use it. The front, sleeves and yolk – these are ironed and cut straight away. It not only speeds up a process of making something but also takes much less space when storing in between the projects.

You can make “magic” with many different variations of the sizes. I found it works best when you somewhat narrow down to perhaps 5-6 different sizes which will all work together. It takes the pressure from the cutting process (sometimes we may overthink how to cut that scrap) and design process.

As far as you process your scraps in the same way each time, you will have building blocks for many different designs in no time. When you have a standard shapes of your “magic” sorted, you can add other elements like half square triangles, snowballing and sashing to make designs unique each time.

Tackling your scraps

There is no right or wrong way of sorting your scraps or what size pieces of fabric are worth keeping. It will hugely depend on what type of quilts you like to make, if you are into scrappy quilts at all or even based on how much storage you have available. Making scrappy blocks and quilts are mostly more time consuming and require a little bit of imagination. Some people like to follow patterns and do not like stitching small bits randomly. That is fine as well. It is a beauty of quilting craft, that whatever you like you will find a “branch” of quilting that will resonate with your skills and needs. If scrappy is not your thing, pack your scraps and take them to the next quilting guild meeting or just put a post online. I am sure you will find someone who will appreciate what you have to offer.

How I process my scraps

The largest size I am usually able to cut is 6.5 x6.5-inch square. Just using these will make a great, quick quilt top or beautiful backing.

Next is 4.5 x 4.5-inch square. Again, great on its own to make a quick project. What is left or all longer pieces are cut into 2.5-inch strips. Sometimes I also cut 1.5 strips.

If a 2.5-inch strip is shorter than 5 inch it will be trimmed to either 4.5 or 2.5 inch in length. If there is a remnant 1.5 or larger it is added to a ‘crumb’ block box. If a 2.5-inch strip is between 7-9 inches, it will be trimmed to 6.5 length and the remnant, as above, may end up in the crumb block basket.

Anything longer than 9 inch is kept as is until I know how I will use them.

There is also sometimes a special project I work on, which will require specific shapes such as half hexagons. Each time I have new scraps to cut, I try to cut a few of these as well.

As a result of all the cutting, I’ve also got a pile of random sized strips and pieces. Anything string shaped and 4 inch or shorter is put to the “adding tape” bucket, every longer string is stored in the “string quilts” bucket. Any remaining random off cuts at least 1.5 inch or larger are put into the crumb boxes.

I use a tray system to store my scraps and divide by “type” of the fabric: flowers, kids, Christmas and holidays, solids, shirts fabrics, African, anything else. The tray nicely fits 6.5-inch square, 4.5-inch square, 2.5-inch square, 2.5 x 4.5-inch rectangle and 2.5 x 6.5 rectangle.



A: 6.5 x 6.5 inch

B: 4.5 x 4.5 inch

C: 2.5 x 2.5 inch

D: 2.5 x 4.5 inch

E: 2.5 x 6.5 inch

Have a look at this 12.5 inch (unfinished) block made from 4 of 6.5 inch squares:

If I replace two of these blocks with a combination of B, D and E it looks as below. The magic numbers principle at work means I can replace a larger size with a combination of smaller ones because they will provide me with the same finished dimension.

And here is another stage of breaking down the block:

I am applying the rules using random scraps because this is the type of fabrics I like to work with. You can use fat quarters or larger pieces to do the same. With larger amounts of fabric, you have the advantage of including a particular colour placement into your design for a beautiful outcome.

Check my Magic Numbers playlist on YouTube:

Also, do not forget to subscribe as in preparation video about how scraps flow through my room and how I store various fabrics.

Happy Sewing!

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