Improv Piecing: Oh, the Possibilities!

The first few quilts I made were all about learning how to follow a pattern, learning basic quilting techniques and blocks, and getting comfortable with using my sewing machine and tools. Then I bought a Craftsy class taught by Joe Cunningham a.k.a. Joe the Quilter. The class was called “Pattern-free Quiltmaking.” I suddenly realized I could just take pieces of fabric, sew them together, and make beautiful blocks without any plan! This was so exciting!

Those of you reading this who are more experienced quiltmakers will know that this is not a new concept. “Crazy quilts” have been around for a couple centuries, but I had no idea at the time. As I began experimenting on my own as well as doing a little online research, I realized just how much freedom improv piecing can give you. Also, what a great way to use your scraps! (The image below is NOT MY WORK.)

My first real attempt to create something completely through improv piecing was a wine bottle holder. I had a bunch of Christmas-themed fabric scraps that I didn’t want to just throw away, and I had a Secret Santa party coming up. So I just started sewing, cutting, sewing, cutting, over and over until I came up with enough fabric to create the bottle holder. I loved the process and I loved the result!

I then decided to try an approach that combined a bit of a plan with improv piecing. I selected three fat quarters that were different shades of the same hue, cut them into strips, pieced the strips together, and then started randomly cutting and sewing them all back together. I then squared them off until I had enough to create a queen-sized quilt. My favorite discovery during this process was that I could take all of the scraps and put those together into rainbow strips which I used as partial inner borders for the quilt. This is one of my very favorite creations and it is proudly displayed on our bed.

My latest discovery that amped up my improv piecing was from reading Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s book Modern Quilt Magic. One of the chapters is about the kind of improv piecing I’d already been doing, but then she goes into free-form curves. Gasp!! I could improv piece curves??!! This blew my mind and it has opened up a whole new slew of possibilities for my improv piecing game.

While I still like just sitting down and randomly picking out scraps and sewing them together for a “crazy quilt” type style, what I really enjoy doing is combining sketched out ideas with improv piecing to come up with truly unique blocks that will never be completely replicated. That’s what I’m working on right now with my current quilt. Sometimes the process is frustrating because the improv just doesn’t work out the way I want it to. But for the most part, I find myself so fulfilled by this process.

Have any of you tried any sort of improv piecing? I’d love to hear from you. I find it meditative, but maybe some of you find it frustrating? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below and happy crafting!!

Published by Andrew Ve Hansen

I live in Brooklyn with my husband. I'm obsessed with all things quilting! Some of my other interests include taking advantage of all of the culinary delights this city has to offer, hanging out with my friends, board games and tabletop RPGs, reading, watching movies and tons of TV, crafting, and going to the theater (especially musicals).

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2 Comments

  1. So far, I have not been totally free in improvising with quilt fabric. I usually start with a rough sketch first, then work it up with scraps of fabric. One day I will be as bold as you.

    1. That’s actually the opposite journey I’ve had. I started out totally free, but now I’m more comfortable doing what you just described. I sketch out some ideas and then experiment with the fabric to get close to what I was envisioning. So much fun!!

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