Tag Archives: rainbow quilt

A Night at the Improv (some days too). My take on Improvisational Piecing.

During my learning to quilt journey, I’ve found many quilt making techniques that intrigued me but none that appeared to be more personally freeing than Improvisational Piecing.  Think about it – no restrictions, no instructions, no complicated math; how much fun is that!

Here is the result of my first attempt at Improvisational Piecing (my way).

Improv Quilt

This quilt top was the result of several separate concepts I had over time which finally gelled into one:

  1. I wanted to use a rainbow or color wheel palette within a quilt so I begin collecting fat quarters, jelly rolls, and random yardage (when the whim struck me) to build that stash
  2. I wanted to use various geometric shapes within one quilt
  3. I wanted to try applique, eventually…
  4. I love batiks – must use them in more quilts
  5. I wanted to try improvisational piecing
  6. I wanted to continue to explore the concept of “modern” quilting – using more negative space, bold or unexpected color combinations/patterns, etc. (I’ve made a couple of quilts that might be considered modern already).

So about two weeks ago the time seemed right for me to sit down and merge these ideas into a quilt.  I thought I’d share how I worked through that process.

Getting Started

Improv Quilt1 Improv Quilt2

Although scraps would work great for this kind of project, I had started collecting batik jelly rolls, fat quarters and small amounts of yardage in my color scheme.  So my plan was to cut up random sizes of pieces from my strips.  I also chose a focus fabric that was going to be used as my shape foundation.  In other words, from the focus fabric I would cut a geometric shape for each block I wanted to make, but build on to that shape by adding strips or pieces of fabric around it until I liked the result.  I had no planned size in mind for the foundation shape or final block size.  I would make that decision when I was ready to make the block.

Square Block

Improv Quilt3

I started with a 2 1/2 inch square of my focus fabric.  I then started adding pieces of fabric or making strips out of different colors of cut-up fabric to sew around the square.  I did this in a kind of clockwise direction, probably similar to making a Log Cabin block but without being worried about to which side of the block I’m adding what color.

The only “rule” I enforced on myself was to keep the color order of my strip pieces the same as a rainbow; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple.   So if you look closely, you might be able to notice that was what I did.  If I sewed a Red strip to a side, then wanted to make a multi-colored strip for the next side, I had to use Orange, Yellow, and Green for instance.  The next piece had to be Blue, etc.  I think that kept me from over-thinking or stressing too much about color placement.  I would also audition each strip just to make sure I didn’t have the same sized pieces or colors bumping against each other too much; re-cutting and rearranging as needed.  I did not want any seams to match up either.

When I felt like I had added enough to make it a good size I stopped.  I also didn’t worry if it was an actual square, all sides the exact same length.  If it looked like a square, that’s all I wanted.

Rectangle Block

Improv Quilt Rec

I basically did this the same way as the Square.  I cut a rectangle out of the focus fabric than went around it with different strips made up of different sized pieces of fabric.  I would sew them on, then trim, then sew another side, trim, etc. as needed until I liked the result.

Improv Quilt8Improv Quilt11

Triangle Block

Improv TRI

Same concept here, however now I also had to add setting triangles to give me straight edges to incorporate the triangle as a “block” into the quilt.  So I just cut oversized triangles from my background fabric and sewed them to the right and left sides, trimming them down a bit as I deemed necessary.


Improv Tri2

Hexagon Block


This hexagon does not necessarily measure out like a true hexagon, but it looks like one!  So that was good enough for me.  The hardest part of this block was figuring out how to cut the background fabric to frame this into a proper block.

I ended up cutting two large squares of background fabric and sewed them to the left top diagonal and the right bottom diagonal.  Then I sewed two large strips of fabric across the top and bottom, trimming on the diagonal.  I then sewed two more strips on the right and left.  Somehow I went through that process without taking pictures, but I think the picture below shows what I’m trying to explain.  I squared up the block using a square ruler.

Improv Quilt13Improv Quilt12

Again, this looks like a hexagon but I wasn’t concerned if all sides were exact, like a true hexagon.


I took a different approach for the circle.  Using strips of fabric I made a square-like block from which I cut out a circle using a special ruler.  This was the first time I actually used the ruler although I bought it some time ago with another quilt idea in mind.  I haven’t gotten around to making that quilt yet. 🙂

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Improv Quilt18

The next step was to raw-edge applique the circle to a square of background fabric.  I had never done applique before but understood the process; kind of.  In the past I had watched videos on different applique techniques.

First I took some scraps of cloth and tested out various applique stitches built into my sewing machine.  When I found a stitch I thought would work I continued to practice on scraps.

When it was time to do the real thing I used safety pins to secure my circle to my background square, then used an Elmer’s, acid free, washable glue stick to glue the edges down.  I just flipped the edges back and ran the glue stick on the wrong side of the fabric then pressed the edges against the background fabric.  The goal was to keep me from accidentally shifting the edge as I stitched around it.

Improv Quilt19

After setting my sewing machine to the lowest speed I stitched all around the edge of the circle.


Improv Quilt20

I didn’t consider using a different color or weight of thread for the applique because I really didn’t want it to stand out.  Also, since batik fabric is “crisp” compared to regular cotton, I didn’t need a stabilizer either.


Improv Quilt21

Following my same plan, I randomly added strips around the focus fabric cut in the shape of a parallelogram.  This one I measured so that the focus fabric was an actual parallelogram. 🙂

Now that I had all the shapes that I wanted, I just put them up on my design wall to figure out a layout that was pleasing.  Once I finalized that decision I needed to map out what background pieces to add to my blocks to connect them all together.

In the picture below I outlined all of the background pieces that I added.  I believe you can see the logic and order for how I put this together.

Improv Quilt Outline

So there you have it!  My first foray into Improvisational piecing!  I really enjoyed it and see many more Improv projects in my future.  Now to figure out how to quilt this…