Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

Please note: You’ll only get the full impact of this post if you read to the end. It’s worth it, I promise!

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I stumbled upon a great scrap quilt via Pinterest not long ago and got very excited about making one like it. It’s by Karen Griska of the popular Selvage Blog. Karen posts daily and is always succinct and interesting. It’s a great recipe.

atticstairs Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

Attic Stairs by Karen Griska of The Selvage Blog. Used with permission.

The colors in this scrap quilt grabbed my attention and would not let it go. I loved it. Without much planning, I decided to wing it. I started cutting 2.5″ x 4.5″ rectangles from just about everything in my scrap basket. After all, the caption on Pinterest claimed, “Attic Stairs is a no-thinking-required scrap-buster.” How hard could it be?

ugly1 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

Very soon I had several hundred patches ready to go. I had at least six piles like this one. I was on a mission. I started sewing patches together—it’s easy sewing, just right for evenings after work when you’re a little tired. I sewed a few and pressed a few. Sew, press, repeat. I made a couple of rows of four little blocks and threw them on the design wall.

ugly2 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not! Uh-oh. We’re aboard the ugly train. Should I try and get off now or hold fast for the next whistle stop? I decided to keep going. Sewed some more and pressed some more. And repeat.


ugly3 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

Hmm. Still pretty ugly. So I try to analyze why my quilt looks awful and Karen’s model quilt looks fabulous. I can see ways in which the quilts are similar:

106256872428132119 bOq4YC7H c Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not! ugly3 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

• Light, medium and dark values are present
• Plenty of black in the darks
• Plenty of pink, yellow and green
• A liberal sprinkling of polka dots

Maybe I just have too many lights. ?  Maybe the original quilt’s color scheme is more planned than it first appears. ?  I keep sewing, thinking this will probably turn into a donation quilt.

ugly4 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

But then a funny thing happens. As I continue to add strips to the design wall, the piece starts to become less ugly. Then there’s a ray of hope—it might actually become attractive, or at least interesting.

ugly5 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

I think back to some other scrappy quilts I have made and remember a lesson I learned:

The first few blocks of a scrap quilt always look terrible. You just have to keep going. The more variety you add, the more things will play together and the better it will get. Push yourself forward because odds are it will improve.

Now back to those patches! This is easy and attractive and I think I’ll make it a king!

il 570xN.305007496 Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

Days later I realize that I once purchased Karen’s fabulous Stairstep Quilts pdf on, where this quilt and several others are patterned. It turns out that Karen’s patches are smaller than mine, which may explain why hers works better! (If all else fails, use the pattern.) This gal is a river of ideas. Drink up, I tell you! You’ll love her stuff.

And remember, if it looks ugly at the start, just keep sewing!

About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email:
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17 Responses to Running Smack Dab into Ugly. Or Not!

  1. Pingback: One Scrappy Story | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  2. Pingback: QM Scrap Squad: Gina’s Bright and Sunny Mandarin Express | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  3. Merry says:

    Need a quick cute quilt, this may be it. My quilt has to be purple, could I pull it off using lots of varing shades watching the light dark pattern if you will

  4. Cassandra Lancaster says:

    It appears that the placement of lights and darks is the key, as it develops a pattern of sorts and ‘gives the eye a place to rest’.

  5. Mary Ann says:

    This whole post made me laugh! In the past few weeks on Instagram people have been doing Bonnie Hunter’s Scrappy Trip Around the world, kind of a virtual quilting bee that went viral in a few days between Christmas and New Years. I had the same feeling doing mine all scrappy from the basket with a few lost jelly row strips thrown in for good measure. In the end its going to be one of my favorite quilts. And now that I have seen this block I am adding it to the idea pile. If you are interested in seeing all versions checkout #Scrappytripalong on Instagram!

  6. Cathy Buel says:

    I love your quilt. I try not to think too much when doing scrappy. Thanks for sharing the information on the web site and the pdf. Hugs

  7. I love this post…what great inspiration and an important lesson in scrap quilting! I hope I remember it!

  8. Shirley V says:

    Wow! Your quilt DID turn out gorgeous!! Nice job!!

  9. Kaye M. says:

    I love your scrappy quilt! Scrap quilts are my favorite. When you look it up close you see all these different prints, then when you step back and look at the overall picture, its great!

  10. Cathryn H. says:

    Love it! What a marvelous way to use up those scraps. I’ve had a couple like that – the first block wasn’t what I was expecting. But I persevered and it turned out just fine.

  11. Ida says:

    I think it looks great! And, you’re right. The first few blocks of a scrap quilt do look ugly… and daunting. But, if you hang in there and mix it all up, the finished product will look great!

  12. Claudia says:

    This reminds me of my first “Thousand Pyramids”. It seems to be a question of value. Darker or lighter? Darker or lighter? Dark on the bottom, light on the top (oops, sorry), or dark on the left, light on the right. Things are a little undefine on the left center, but the steps are pretty well defined. You could just say the “tipsy squire” missed a couple of steps. Put some fantastic quilting pattern over it and it will be wonderful. I have a whole box full of “logs” that size left from the windmill blocks I made with the kids last spring. At least you are getting something done. That is more than I can say for myself.

  13. Barbara says:

    You are absolutely right! I was a somewhat inexperienced quilter on my guild’s raffle quilt committee for our 2000 quilt. We asked for donations of 20th century fabrics from guild members. When we met to make the kits and dumped the fabric on the table, it was an u-g-l-y mess. We all wondered, “what are we going to do?” The committee chair said, “scrap quilts have a way of working out”. When guild members began bringing back the blocks I overheard some of them talking about how ugly the fabrics in their kits were. But, the chairman was right. That was one of the most beautiful and popular raffle quilts. I only wish I’d been the lucky winner.

  14. Heather says:

    Hmm, you have me thinking. I have 3 boxes of candy bars from moda with those sized strips already cut. What I think I’m seeing is that the darker color is always on the left or the top on Karen’s quilt. Either way, how many squares did you go through to get to the size you had in the last picture? I think I might have 360 squares but I’m not sure what size that’s going to give me. I could add more from stash no problem, but I’m curious if the pre-cuts will work without additions for a lap sized quilt.

  15. yvonne says:

    Yes scrap quilts really are a matter of faith. I’m working hard on this concept, not easy for we matchy matchy types. I’ve found Bonnie Hunter mysteries are a great way to manage some of my scrap anxiety. Looking forward to working on her upcoming mystery in Quiltmaker.

  16. kaholly says:

    How funny you should post this today. I’m working on a similar darn ugly quilt and am ready to trash it………but wait! Perhaps the more I add the better it will become? I’ll keep going, then!! Thanks!

  17. PennyDog says:

    Oh this is so encouraging! I often think my scraps are ugly and boring which is why I never really dip into them except for applique

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