As a beginner quilter and fan of Craftsy.com online classes, I got suckered into thinking that charm packs are the bestest most awesomest idea, ever! They sure sound like they would be: you get a precut 5 x 5 inch square of every fabric in a collection. They should be easy to make basic quilts with (blocks, triangles, disappearing 9 patches, etc.). The problem is that the so called squares are rarely exactly square or exactly 5 x 5 (see my previous post on the matter). In quilting, this can be a big deal. If things don’t line up just so, your seams may not line up without a lot of extra effort on your part. Often, the seams are only off by a tiny bit and many people don’t care, but as someone who takes pride in the work she does and wants to make nice things (… and is possibly a little anal retentive), it frustrates me to no end.
Under normal circumstances, I would just avoid them at all costs, but when I was starting out, I bought a few charm packs that were on sale. I hate to waste things and I do want to work with the fabrics, so I decided to keep them. For one collection (see below), I’m choosing to try and not be too annoyed with the occasional seam that doesn’t line up (though, this is difficult as I’m making the quilt for a friend). For the other I bought lots of extra fabric and will trim down the fabric pieces (probably to 4.5 or 4.75 inches squared) to be perfect squares.
If you’re a beginner, here’s what I think about charm packs: They are great for getting a piece of every fabric in a collection and they can be easily used for scrappy projects. If you want to use them for more precise quilting, trim them first so that you can be *sure* that you have pieces that are all square and the same size. If you are looking to work with a fabric and don’t really care if you have all fabrics in a collection, pick your favourites from the collection (or at random) and start with fat quarters or some other size that lets you cut the correct size and shape.
Side note: Fat quarters are da bomb. They’re just enough fabric to do something interesting with (a quarter of a half yard, so 18 x 22), but not so much that you get left with loads of left overs. They’re great for developing a nice stash, for example a collection of all greens if you want to make a quilt for someone who loves green. But, if you find a fabric you *love*, get more. It was suggested to me to always get at least a half yard. I only do this for fabrics I’m madly in love with, but I will often get a quarter yard (basically 2 fat quarters).
Like I said, I have some charm packs that I still want to use. One of them is a pack of Fox Trails fabric. I started working on a triangle-based quilt last night. I’m still waiting for some more of the stars fabric to be delivered, but this is the focal point of the quilt top (I sewed it together after taking this pictures and it looks pretty good, despite a few seams that aren’t lined up perfectly). I intend to continue the brown and green stars triangles as a border around this and I think that I will do a wide binding in the orange version of the stars. The back may be just plain green stars, or I may use this quilt as my first experiment in doing some blocks on the back. It won’t be a standard size (this is only 17 x 21 so far, which is much smaller then the recommended minimum of 36 x 45 for a baby quilt), but who cares! It will still be nice.