Why Improvise?

Well, firstly, why not? It’s much more personal, and the results tend to be as individual as the maker..

And because it’s actually easier than being precise, and the opportunities to fail are much less available…

And because, when all is said and done, it’s Much More Fun

Up till about 3 years ago, the Improv word just made people run away in terror. Now, I can’t do too much to show how, why, and what.

So, I want to show you a variety of Improv Blocks – I hope you will take these ideas, improve on your improv, play, develop, and invent.. I also hope you will show what you’ve made, please…

There are a few Rules, and they are there to make life easier all round..

Always use good quality COTTON fabrics – they work, press and sew so much better. Later on, when you are an expert, you can sew silk, polyester, or granny’s old overalls. For now, start with the good stuff. And cotton threads, please. I have seen too many students cry when their cheap poly thread melted beneath the Hot Iron and the careful piecing they have spent so much time on, separated and sadly shrivelled…

A nice new blade, please, and a good mat – that old one with the holes in will not be helpful. New blades are one of life’s pleasures, second only to chocolate

And a good iron – I don’t use steam (prefer a spray bottle) but if you are making slightly random patchwork, a good press and possibly a little steam will help no end…

When you sew, it’s important to be consistent in the width of your seams. This is actually much more important than that “required” 1/4 inch. Yes, if your seams are too small, your work will eventually fall apart, and if too big, your blocks may come out a bit small.. If in doubt, make a bigger seam. But even-ness all the way along, please, as far as you can.. All these blocks will be trimmed after sewing, so use a SMALL stitch, please

And, I detest unpicking. I tend to start again rather than “rescue” a block.. It saves time, temper, and rough edges

So, we start with Tigers

For a 6-inch finished block, start by cutting two pieces 7 by 9 inches. Lay them on your mat RIGHT SIDES UP and make four gentle curved cuts through both layers, somewhat like this.

Separate the pieces out to make a pair of blocks, being very careful to keep them the right way up and the right way round

Pick up the first pair from the mat and set them face to face. The curves will not match, this is OK. Sew the two pieces together keeping the edges nicely aligned as you go, and gently matching

Then pick up the first pair from the other block, and chain piece from the first pair to the second

When you get to the bottom of the second pair, snip off the first, take piece 3 from the first block, and sew that on..

Keep on doing this until all the pieces are sewn together

You will have two blocks like this – note that they look quite different. Now press – if the colours are close, I press all to one side, as this block was black-and-white, I pressed to the black. Do NOT press seams open, and they do not need to be snipped to make them settle

Trim the blocks to 6-1/2 inches

Advantages of Tigers

If you want to make a whole quilt with these, set them alternate ways like so – no seams to match.

If you make a bunch of these with your quilt group, they will always work together when trimmed, as individual seam allowances can vary, but the end result is consistent…

When you make lots of these they need no pressing until finished.

If you run out of one fabric you can add more – each pair of blocks has only two fabrics.

For smaller blocks – to finish at 4 inches, cut 5 by 7 inches and trim to 4-1/2 inches. For 3-inch blocks, cut to 4 by 5-1/2, and trim to 3-1/2. I don’t make them bigger, but you may wish to…

And here’s one I made earlier – actually, this took a long time, as all the blocks were made as demos on one or another of my hand-cranked Singer 99s while “showing how” for the Modern Quilt Group over the last 5 years…

Next time, Tiger Variations…


  1. Corinne Curtis

    Thanks so much for that how-to. I’ve got a whole lot more excited about modern quilts and improv having seen a couple of demonstrations (including yours) and tutorials, and really looking forward to seeing what I can do with these blocks.