Monday, November 25, 2013

{Tutorial} An Improv Block

Today, I'm sharing a quick tutorial for "An Improv Block" similar to the block that I used in my Autumn table runner.  A sweet reader emailed me and asked me about how to put a block like this together, so I thought a tutorial might be helpful.  This might be a particularly valuable tutorial for someone who's sewn a quilt from my Arrow Tail tutorial, since it uses scraps from this quilt. 

I made this cute pillow with the block I made from this tutorial.  It uses mainly scraps leftover from this Arrow Tail Quilt and is backed in some gorgeous velveteen fabric.  Just something simple to spruce up my bed for Fall (because it IS still Fall). 


Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on improvisational piecing.  I suppose the intent of this tutorial is to teach you how to make a scrappy improv pieced block similar to mine.  But, perhaps you might also glean a method for piecing anything in an improvisational manner.  First things first, take off your "sewing perfect points and matching all my seams" hat and put on your "let loose and just sew two pieces together" hat.  Take a deep breath. 

Now, a word of advice...I find improv piecing to be much easier if I'm dealing with scraps that are roughly the same size or share a common width.  My improv block includes a mix of triangles, rectangles, and strips - all scraps leftover from a quilt.  Therefore, they happen to be about the same size and share common angles.  It is also important that the pieces that are sewn together have straight edges.

My block consists of three rows of scraps pieced together.  Each row measures approx 3-4" tall by 12-13" wide.  On my table runner, I added borders to make each block 14" square (more on this below).  For the pillow above, I added borders to achieve a block that is about 13.5 x 15.  Ok, let's get started! 

Below I've divided the scraps I used into triangles, strips or rectangles, and strips with angles.  The first step is to pick up two random pieces of fabric and sew them together.     

Let's start by sewing two triangle pieces together.  Pick two that are similar in size, place them right sides together and sew along the angled edge.  Next press the seam open.  Depending on the shape of the triangles you've chosen, you may have a very wonky block or an almost square block - either is fine!

Now, simply trim the block so that all edges are straight and meet at right angles to one another.  I do this by aligning one straight edge with a horizontal line on my rotary mat, trimming the edge on the left and then turning the block (aligning edges with rotary mat lines) and trimming until it is finished.  Note that my trimmed block is about 3.5" square.


Next, let's add a scrap to this block.  The scrap I selected is clearly bigger (taller) than the block I just finished.  That's ok!  Simply sew this scrap to the block and trim.


Continue in this manner, adding scraps to your strip until it is about 12-13" long (or whatever length you like).  Below, I chose to add another pair of triangles sewn into a block.  Always stitch, press seams open, and trim so all edges are straight! 


I added one additional scrap to my row so that it ended at about 13" long by 3.5" tall.  


Now, sew two additional rows in the same manner.  Choose different sizes and arrangements of scraps if you'd like a true improv style block.  Below, I encountered a situation where the piece I wanted to add to my row (shown on the right) was not big enough.  So, I decided to sew an additional scrap to that piece (shown below) first and then sewed the pieced block to my row.  Details like this add interest to your block! 


Once you've finished all 3 rows, lay them out and choose an arrangement.  Again, don't worry if the rows are different lengths.  You will trim your block once the rows are sewn together.  


Sew two rows together, press your seam open, and trim the overhang so that you have straight edges. 


Repeat for the last row.  Below is my finished improv block.  

If you would like to square off your block for use in a quilt or table runner like mine, I suggest adding borders to the block to achieve the size desired.  For my table runner, I made three square blocks at 14" each.  I then sewed these 3 blocks together, basted, quilted and stitched the binding down (using this tutorial).  

Below is the block with borders I made for this tutorial.  It measures around 13.5 x 15.  


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! It's a method I really enjoy when I need some no-rules, liberating sewing.  If you make a block or anything using my tutorial, feel free to share it in my Sing All You Want flickr group.  Happy {improv} Sewing!

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