Jan 20, 2014

Scrappy Improv Blocks

Are you ready to let your inner quilty bone go loose?  If you have tons of scraps, hold on to them!  There is always something cute and special waiting to be created out of scraps, like the Pieced Strip Blocks.

In this post, we are using still more scraps to create Scrappy Improv Blocks, a really fun and free technique full of unexpected surprises!


Scraps, scraps and more scraps!

And smaller scraps!


The first step is getting things in some kind of order. I grouped the smaller scraps by print and shape.  Feel free to use orphan units that didn't make it to a previous project!  For instance, a goose and an hour clock finally found a home in this mini quilt...  :)

Also, did you catch that little scrap in the lower right corner?  That's a unit with several scraps already sewn to each other. Don't discard anything! It only gets more interesting!  :)


Because this is an improvisational block, there is no specific set of instructions and your blocks will always be different. We will talk a bit about making everything uniform and consistent. That being said, I will share how I put together the three main "units" that make up the blocks of this wall quilt.  Some instructions are very similar, and I'll try to avoid repetitive information, but please, feel free to ask questions in the comments section if something is not quite clear.


The first step is finding scraps that are roughly the same length.  Note that two pieces are already made up of smaller scraps; these are leftovers of the borders I used in  my in-laws' washer and drier covers.

Also, I will focus on adding pieces to form a shape with this unit, so please keep reading to find suggestions on how to continue adding scraps and not going (so) crazy in the process...  :) 

Sew them together with a 1/4" seam. Press open and repeat.

Once you finish with this part, find more scraps that are -again- roughly the same length or width of the shape you just put together.  In the next picture, you can see the initial shape sort of upside down (compared to the original organization) and two larger scraps that are more or less the same width as that of the first piece.

Keep sewing and adding pieces from every side!

Something I really enjoyed was including orphan units from other blocks.  You can see that I used a flying goose.  

One suggestion is to vary the prints and shapes of scraps.  For example, there is a long, red strip and a chunky print going in different directions.  Also, I try to keep the same prints away from each other - the most obvious example is the print with black background; chunky guy and goose happily sewn in opposite sides of the unit.

You will probably end up with something that looks like this:

This is when you need to start trimming edges...

Like that, you will have a straight "line" to add more strips to.  In the following picture, you can see I added one strip to the top and one to the bottom.  And I found this other unit with three fabrics that had been previously pieced - remember, you can use all the scraps, and this one was no exception!

It just needed a little extra to roughly match the width of the larger unit...

...and a little trimming to those edges.  And the following picture shows one way of doing it - just put one scrap on top of the other and cut!


Here goes the second unit!  

Remember, find scraps that match closely; edges, points and seams do not have to be exact for this technique...  :)

Just do it all over again... Match scraps, sew 1/4" seams, open and keep adding scraps to either side of the section you are building up.

If you have an uneven seam and are adding a straight scrap, use the straight scrap as a sewing guide.

You can always trim before you iron...

Remember, this is spontaneous and it should be fun!  Don't worry if you have something that looks like the following picture.  Ultimately, it's a technique that allows you to use scraps that would have been thrown away... how cool is that!


At one point, I used up all the smaller scraps and had the following small pieces that really did not fit because the width and length just did not match at all... 

I did not want to do without them, so I just added an irregular scrap and trimmed it so that the unit you see to the right roughly matched up the one to the left.

However, I did not like that several prints were the same on either side.

This is where I took the larger leftover fabric and cut a stripe that I wanted to put in the middle, but there was still one matching print...

If you are caught in this situation, just flip the piece around and try to keep the same prints away from each other...

Here is another option for sewing your scraps together; just find several that are practically the same length. You'll end up with a piano key sort of effect... Notice that I used an orphan flying goose unit, so don’t hesitate to use whatever is left from other projects.

Now we go to a different section...  It's just general guidelines that make this improv technique way more fun and enjoyable!


If one of the two main pieces you are sewing is not pieced, put that one below the pieced fabric; this will avoid any seam warping due to the feed dogs.  In other words, and like you can see in the following picture, the fabric that has not been pieced goes on the “table” and the pieced fabric goes on top, on the “machine” side. (Table=bottom and machine=top, hehe.)

Another tip is sewing the seams open.  It’s not necessary, but this helps reduce the bulk, particularly after so many scraps are sewn together.

The last suggestion is to sew seams a tad wider than ¼ inch. I found it was easier to iron and open the new seams; once more, this is optional, but handling is definitely made easier this way.


Once you have several units finished, it’s time to combine them in order to make the blocks.  Because all the scraps are different sizes, the units will also be different each time you try this technique; however, keep in mind that straight edges are needed for the final assembly.

In the next picture, you can see how I cut off the uneven ends and ended up with a straight edge on the bottom part of the unit.  

By doing this on all sides, it was easy to sew the red strip on top, and an extra unit to the right.

Now we only need new straight edges in the larger units.

Once you trim one unit, use the edge as a guideline to trim the other unit...

... like so:

Sew by the straight edge and trim the larger piece you now have.

Although the piece was large enough to square and form a block, I was still not very happy with the result, so I took a deep breath and...

...sliced it up diagonally!

Other than the new straight edges, the diagonal line broke the evenness of the piano key effect and created new interest in the piece.

Try different orientations and go for the one you like the most!

I decided to go back to the larger scraps of fabric and cut a strip that would go right in the middle of this unit.  I love it!  It looks so complex, but it was so easy to make...  :)

Let's go to the finishing touches...

Remember that the idea is to have straight sides, not a particular shape.  For example, the next block is kind of rectangular, but it is obvious that the right side is shorter than the left. This is what I was looking for; however, if you feel more comfortable with even shapes, go for it! Although it's a different look, I'm certain it will also be beautiful! We will come back to this particular picture ahead, so hold on for a sec to find out how I tied all the three final blocks together.

Remember that diagonal cut? Well, I actually used diagonal cuts from two different units...

... and added the strips in the middle; one was from a larger scrap and one from leftovers that I got from trimming another unit.

The following is what I had after trimming the edges and having a more regular shape.

This is how the third unit ended up.  Although smaller, it's still interesting and with a red stripe inside, which sort of links all of the blocks together.

We're almost done! Just some finishing touches, and this baby will be ready to assemble!

And here is where we go back to the previous pic of that uneven shape, shorter on the right side... Once more, what is necessary at this point is straight edges, not perfect shapes.

Here is another example of the uneven shapes. Once more, we have a block that has edges of different sizes, but all of them are straight.

And here is a pic of my final three shapes. All of them are different sizes, but the red fabric provides some consistency throughout. Although it is impossible to have completely equal shapes with this technique, try to use at least one larger piece of fabric that can be easily identified once the blocks are finished; in this case, it is the long, red strips that provide a focus point and the common denominator among the blocks.

However, if you prefer to do so, feel free to use a template or a ruler to obtain a perfect square!


The only thing we are missing now is a frame; this step is completely optional, but I found that by having a frame the blocks seem to be more defined and there is even more cohesion, achieved once more by the use of the red fabric. 

Also, before going on, I would like to acknowledge that the idea for a frame and the final composition are based on Elizabeth Hartman's Icy Improv Scrap Pods. Click here to find out more about this super creative quilter and her gorgeous techniques!

Going back to the blocks... Up to this point, we have three uneven blocks. Because of the business of the patterns, I really wanted to have some kind of order in the midst of all the craziness.  As I said, a common frame will help achieve that.

Sew a strip of fabric (my "leftover" strips were mostly 1" and 1 1/2" wide) to one side of the block and press open.  Then sew a second strip to an adjacent side and press open; you will have something that looks like this:

Now is when squaring begins! Keeping in mind seam allowance, trim the framing fabric using a square ruler or the cutting mat as guidance. I liked using the ruler because it let me see whether I was about to slice any of the pieced fabric - which we do not want...  Do the same with the two other sides and square all up!  

As you can see , there is still some wonkiness left, and it still can be seen. However, because this is a minimalist composition, the frames give it quite a character!


Following Elizabeth's inspiration, I cut smaller strips of the red fabric to connect the blocks.  You can find more information in her blog, Oh, Fransson!

At this point, I wanted to bring some kind of simplicity to the business of the blocks, and I decided to go for a neutral background. I had enough of a cream cotton and some natural linen left, and I thought either could be a great background. I decided to use the cream fabric; it blended more subtly with the pieced blocks. 

And here are the blocks, after assembling the different strips together:

In the following picture is another example of a mini-quilt, made with the same technique. In this case, the scraps were larger, so a completely different effect was achieved.

It is so much fun and just think that those scraps were in risk and almost thrown away!

And here it is! An eye-catching mini quilt, perfect for that empty spot on the wall or a lonely table that needs some eye candy.

I do hope you give this a try. It is amazingly simple, but the results are beautiful. It also provides a great chance for improving your technique; all those itty bitty seams need to be tamed! 

I created a Flickr pool so that we can all share our experiments, WIPs, practice pieces and finished projects.  Just click HERE to go to the page and start sharing! 

I hope you  have LOTS of fun making this quilt and remember to leave your comments below.

God bless!


  1. Your tablerunner is beautiful...and thanks for the great tutorial!

    Greatings from Germany,

  2. Danke schon! :) I'm glad you liked it :)

  3. I love this! It looks great. I'm definitely going to give it a try!

  4. I love this! It looks great. I'm definitely going to give it a try!

  5. Hi Nancy! You'll have tons of fun! I'm planning on opening a new online album where we can share projects. I would love to see what you come up with.